Turkish language

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Turkish (Türkçe)
Spoken in: Turkey, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Greece, Iran, Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Syria, Iraq, Azerbaijan; and immigrant communities in Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Canada, United States, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Belgium, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria
Region: Turkey, Cyprus, Balkans, Caucasus
Total speakers: ~60 million native, ~75 million total
Ranking: 19-21 (native), in a near tie with Italian, Urdu
Genetic classification: Altaic (disputed)

    Turkish (Gagauz), etc.

Official status
Official language of: Turkey, Cyprus, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus¹, Bulgaria², Republic of Macedonia³ ¹: TRNC is a de-facto state ²: Turkish is a national language in Bulgaria ³: Turkish is a municipal official language in Macedonia
Regulated by: Türk Dil Kurumu (Turkish Language Association)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 tr
ISO 639-2 tur, ota
See also: LanguageList of languages

Turkish (Türkçe) is a Turkic language spoken natively in Turkey, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Bulgaria, as well as by several million immigrants in the European Union. The number of native speakers is uncertain, primarily due to a lack of minority language data from Turkey. The figure of 60 million used here assumes that Turkish is the mother tongue of 80% of the Turkish population, with Kurdish making up most of the remainder. (Linguistic minorities in Turkey are, however, bilingual in Turkish.)

There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between Turkish and other Oghuz languages such as Azeri, Turkmen, and Qashqai. If these are counted together as "Turkish", the number of native speakers is 100 million, and the total number including second-language speakers is around 125 million.



Turkish is a member of the Turkish family of languages, which includes Balkan Gagauz Turkish, Gagauz, and Khorasani Turkish in addition to Osmanli Turkish. The Turkish family is a subgroup of the Oghuz languages, themselves a subgroup of the Turkic languages, which most linguists believe to be member of an Altaic language family.

Like Finnish and Hungarian, Turkish has vowel harmony, is agglutinative and has no grammatical gender. Word order is usually Subject Object Verb. Turkish has a T-V distinction: second-person plural forms can be used for individuals as a sign of respect.

Geographic distribution

Turkish is spoken in Turkey and by minorities in 35 other countries. In particular, Turkish is used in countries that formerly (in whole or part) belonged to the Ottoman Empire, such as Bulgaria,Romania, the Former Yugoslav and the Republic of Macedonia.

Official status

Turkish is the official language of Turkey, and is one-although today it is less spoken- of the official languages of Cyprus. It is also an official or national language in Bulgaria.

In Turkey, the Turkish Language Society (Türk Dil Kurumu) was founded by Kemal Atatürk in 1932 as the Türk Dili Tetkik Cemiyeti ("Society for the Investigation of the Turkish Language"), an independent body. In August, 1983, when Turkey was under martial law as a result of the military coup of 1980, the Turkish Language Society was brought under the control of the prime ministry.


Dialects of Turkish include Danubian, Eskişehir (spoken in Eskişehir Province), Razgrad, Dinler, Rumelian, Karamanlı (spoken in Karaman Province), Edirne (spoken in Edirne), Gaziantep (spoken in Gaziantep Province), Urfa (spoken in Şanlıurfa Province), and Goynuk (a village in Bolu).


One characteristic feature of Turkish is vowel harmony. For example, if the first vowel of a Turkish word is a front vowel, the second and other vowels of the same word are usually the same vowel or another front vowel:

vişne "sour cherry": i is close unround front,
                     e is  open unround front. 

Stress is usually on the last syllable, with the exception of some suffix combinations and words like masa ['masa].


Consonants phonemes of Standard Turkish
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosives p b t d c ɟ k g
Nasals m n
Fricatives f v s z ʃ ʒ ɣ h
Affricates ʧ ʤ
Tap ɾ
Approximant j
ɫ l

The phoneme /ɣ/ usually refered to as "soft g", "ğ" in Turkish orthography, actually represents a rather weak front-velar or palatal approximant between front vowels. When it is word-final or preceeding another consonant it lengthens the preceeding vowel. In all other positions, it is not pronounced at all.


Front Back
Close Unrounded i ɯ
Rounded y u
Open Unrounded e a
Rounded œ ɔ


For more details on this topic, see Turkish grammar.

Turkish has an abundance of suffixes, but no prefixes (apart from the reduplicating intensifier prefix as in beyaz="white", bembeyaz="very white", sıcak="hot", sımsıcak="very hot"). (Some Arabic loan words have their own prefixes, but those are the common prefixes of Arabic.) One word can have many suffixes. Suffixes can be used to create new words (see #Vocabulary) or to indicate the grammatical function of a word.

Turkish nouns can take endings indicating the person of a possessor. They can take case-endings, as in Latin. (The series of case-endings is the same for every noun, except for spelling changes owing to vowel harmony, and variation between voiced and unvoiced consonants.) Finally, they can take endings that give them a person and make them into sentences:

ev                         "house",
eviniz                "your house",
evinizde           "at your house",
Evinizdeyiz "We are at your house."

Turkish adjectives as such are not declined (though they can generally be used as nouns, in which case they are declined). Used attributively, they precede the nouns they modify.

Turkish verbs exhibit person. They can be made negative or impotential; they can also be made potential. Finally, Turkish verbs exhibit various distinctions of tense, mood, and aspect: a verb can be progressive, necessitative, aorist, future, inferential, present, past, conditional, imperative, or optative.

gel-                                                       "(to) come",
gelme-                                                 "not (to) come",
geleme-                                     "not (to) be able to come",
gelebil-                                        "(to) be able to come",
Gelememiş                  "She [or he] was apparently unable to come."
Gelememişti                   "She had apparently been unable to come."
Gelememiştiniz                "You had apparently been unable to come."
Gelememiş miydiniz? "Was it the case that you had been unable to come?"

All Turkish verbs are conjugated the same way, except for the irregular and defective verb i- (see Turkish copula), which can be used in compound forms:

Gelememişti = Gelememiş idi = Gelememiş + i- + -di

Word order in Turkish is generally Subject Object Verb, as in Japanese and Latin, but not English. This can be seen in the following sentence from a newspaper (Cumhuriyet, 16 August 2005, p. 1). The sentence uses all noun cases except the genitive:

Türkiye'de modayı gazete sayfalarına taşıyan,
gazetemiz yazarlarından N. S. yaşamını yitirdi:

Türkiye'de    "in Turkey"        (locative) 
modayı        "fashion"          (accusative of moda)
gazete        "newspaper"        (nominative) 
sayfalarına   "to its pages"     (dative; sayfa "page", 
                                          sayfalar "pages",
                                          sayfaları "its pages")
taşıyan,      "carrying"         (present participle of taşı-)
gazetemiz     "our newspaper"    (nominative)
yazarlarından "from its writers" (ablative; yazar "writer")
N. S.         [person's name]    (nominative)
yaşamını      "her life"         (accusative; yaşam "life")
yitirdi.      "lost"             (past tense of yitir- "lose" 
                                     from yit- "be lost")

"One of the writers of our newspaper, N. S., 
 who brought fashion to newspaper pages in Turkey, lost her life."


For more details on this topic, see Turkish vocabulary.

Turkish has the resources for building up many new words from old: from nouns:

göz         "eye",
gözlük      "eyeglasses"
gözlükçü    "someone who sells glasses"
gözlükçülük "the business of selling glasses" 

and from verbs:

yat-      "lie down"
yatır-    "lay down [that is, cause to lie down]"
yatırım   "instance of laying down: deposit, investment"
yatırımcı "depositor, investor".

Turkish vocabulary has gone through drastic changes in the history of the language. In the last sixty years, Turkish vocabulary has gone through changes that might take three centuries in another language.

Replaced old words

When the Turks came from middle Asia to Anatolia about a thousand years ago, they came in contact with Islam and the Arabic societies. Since the Turks accepted Islam, Arabic words (and fewer, Persian words) started infiltrating the language. During the course of over six hundred years of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish kept borrowing loan words from these two languages. Towards the end of the 19th century, this got to a point where the language was rather called the Ottoman language. This is because Turkish had been inundated with so many loan words that the language became a mix of Turkish, Arabic and Persian. In contemporary Turkey, the Ottoman language is almost incomprehensible.

After Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey, he established the "Turkish Language Foundation" (Türk Dil Kurumu, TDK), whose task was to replace Arabic and Persian origin words with their new Turkish counterparts. The foundation succeeded in removing several hundred Arabic words from the language. While most of the words introduced to the language by TDK are new, TDK also suggested using old Turkish words which had not been used in the language for centuries.

Older and younger people in Turkey tend to express themselves with different vocabulary. While the generations born up to the 1940s tend to use the old Arabic origin words (even the obsolete ones), the younger generations favor using the new expressions. Some new words are not used as often as their old counterparts or have failed to convey the intrinsic meanings of their old equivalents.

Among some of the old words that were replaced are terms in geometry, directions (north, south, east, west), some of the months and many nouns and adjectives. Many new words have also been derived from verbs. Some examples of new and their old counterparts are:

Old word New Turkish word English meaning Remarks
müselles üçgen triangle derived from the verb üç, which means "three"
tayyare uçak airplane derived from the verb uçmak, which means "to fly"
nispet oran ratio the old word is still used in the language today together with the new one
şimal kuzey north
Teşrini-evvel Ekim October

Please see List of replaced loan words in Turkish for an extensive list of replaced old words and current loan words

Writing system

Turkish is written using a modified version of the Latin alphabet, which was introduced in 1928 by Kemal Atatürk as part of his efforts to modernize Turkey. Until 1928, Turkish was written using a modified version of the Arabic alphabet (see Ottoman Turkish language), but use of the Arabic alphabet was outlawed after the Latin alphabet was introduced. See Turkish alphabet.

The language in daily life

Turkish has many formulaic expressions for various social situations:

  • Merhaba "Hello"
  • Alo or efendim (for answering the telephone)
  • Efendim "my esteemed person" (a polite way to address any person, male or female, married or single; efendi means Lord or Master in Turkish)
  • İyi günler "Good day[s]"
  • İyi akşamlar "Good evening[s]"
  • İyi geceler "Good night[s]"
  • Evet/Hayır "Yes/No"
  • Hoş geldiniz "You came well", that is, "Welcome"
  • Hoş bulduk "We found well", = "We're glad to be here"
  • Nasılsınız? "How are you?"
  • İyiyim; siz nasılsınız? "I'm fine; how are you?"
  • Ben de iyiyim "I too am fine"
  • Affedersiniz "You make a forgiving", = "Excuse me"
  • Lütfen "Please"
  • Teşekkür ederim "I make a thanking", = "Thank you"
  • Bir şey değil "It's nothing"
  • Rica ederim "I make a requesting", = "Don't mention it", "You're welcome", "Don't say such bad things of yourself", "Don't say such good things of me"
  • Geçmiş olsun "May it be [something that has] passed" (to somebody in difficulty such as sickness, or somebody who has just come through difficulty)
  • Başınız sağ olsun "May your head be healthy" (to somebody in mourning)
  • Elinize sağlık "Health to your hand" (that is, to the hand that made this delicious food or other good thing)
  • Afiyet olsun "May it be healthy", = bon appétit
  • Kolay gelsin "May it come easy" (to somebody working)
  • Güle güle kullanın "Use smilingly" (to somebody with a new possession)
  • Sıhhatler olsun "May it be healthy" (to somebody who has bathed or had a shave or haircut)
  • Güle güle "[Go] smilingly", = "Fare well" (said to somebody departing)
  • Allaha ısmarladık "We commended [you] to God", = "Good-bye" (said to the person staying behind)

A famous quotation and motto of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk:

  • Yurtta sulh, cihanda sulh "Peace at home, peace in the world."

In the current language, this is

  • Yurtta barış, dünyada barış.


  • International Phonetic Association (1999) Handbook of the International Phonetic Association ISBN 0-521-63751-1
  • Sevgi Özel, Haldun Özel, and Ali Püsküllüoğlu, eds. (1986) Atatürk'ün Türk Dil Kurumu ve Sonrası [Ataturk's Turkish Language Society and After], Bilgi Yayınevi, Ankara. no ISBN

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