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About Turkish Language

Turkish (Türkçe IPA [ˈt̪yɾktʃe]) is spoken as a first language by over 77 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Cyprus, with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and other parts of Eastern Europe. Turkish is also spoken by several million immigrants in Western Europe, particularly in Germany.

The roots of the language can be traced to Central Asia, with the first written records dating back nearly 1,200 years. To the west, the influence of Ottoman Turkish—the variety of the Turkish language that was used as the administrative and literary language of the Ottoman Empire—spread as the Ottoman Empire expanded. In 1928, as one of Atatürk's Reforms in the early years of the Republic of Turkey, the Ottoman script was replaced with a phonetic variant of the Latin alphabet. Concurrently, the newly founded Turkish Language Association initiated a drive to reform the language by removing Persian and Arabic loanwords in favor of native variants and coinages from Turkic roots.

The distinctive characteristics of Turkish are vowel harmony and extensive agglutination. The basic word order of Turkish is Subject Object Verb. Turkish has a T-V distinction: second-person plural forms can be used for individuals as a sign of respect. Turkish also has no noun classes or grammatical gender.

Classification

Turkish is a member of the Turkish, or Western, subgroup of the Oghuz languages, which includes Gagauz and Azeri. The Oghuz languages form the Southwestern subgroup of the Turkic languages, a language family comprising some 30 living languages spoken across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Siberia. Some linguists believe the Turkic languages to be a part of a larger Altaic language family. About 40% of all speakers of Turkic languages are native Turkish speakers. The characteristic features of Turkish, such as vowel harmony, agglutination, and lack of grammatical gender, are universal within the Turkic family and the Altaic languages. There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between Turkish and the other Oghuz languages, including Azeri, Turkmen, Qashqai, Gagauz, and Balkan Gagauz Turkish.

History

The earliest known Turkic inscriptions are the two monumental Orkhon inscriptions found in modern Mongolia. They were erected in honour of the prince Kul Tigin and his brother Emperor Bilge Khan and dating back to some time between 732 and 735, constitute another important early record. After the discovery and excavation of these monuments and associated stone slabs by Russian archaeologists in the wider area surrounding the Orkhon Valley between 1889 and 1893, it became established that the language on the inscriptions was the Old Turkic language written using the Orkhon script, which has also been referred to as "Turkic runes" or "runiform" due to an external similarity to the Germanic runic alphabets.

With the Turkic expansion during Early Middle Ages (c. 6th–11th centuries), peoples speaking Turkic languages spread across Central Asia, covering a vast geographical region stretching from Siberia to Europe and the Mediterranean. The Seljuqs of the Oghuz Turks, in particular, brought their language, Oghuz Turkic—the direct ancestor of today's Turkish language—into Anatolia during the 11th century. Also during the 11th century, an early linguist of the Turkic languages, Mahmud al-Kashgari from the Kara-Khanid Khanate, published the first comprehensive Turkic language dictionary and map of the geographical distribution of Turkic speakers in the Compendium of the Turkic Dialects (Ottoman Turkish: Divânü Lügati't-Türk).

Geographic distribution

Turkish is natively spoken by the Turkish people in Turkey and by the Turkish diaspora in some 30 other countries. In particular, Turkish-speaking minorities exist in countries that formerly (in whole or part) belonged to the Ottoman Empire, such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece (primarily in Western Thrace), the Republic of Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia. More than two million Turkish speakers live in Germany, and there are significant Turkish-speaking communities in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Due to the cultural assimilation of Turkish immigrants in host countries, not all ethnic Turkish immigrants speak the language with native fluency.

The number of native speakers in Turkey is over 67 million, corresponding to about 93 percent of the population. There are roughly another 10 million native speakers worldwide. Turkish is spoken as a first or second language by almost all of Turkey's residents, with Kurdish making up most of the remainder (about 3,950,000 as estimated in 1980). However, even most linguistic minorities in Turkey are bilingual, speaking Turkish as a second language to levels of native fluency.

Official status

Turkish is the official language of Turkey and is one of the official languages of Cyprus. It also has official (but not primary) status in the Prizren District of Kosovo and several municipalities of the Republic of Macedonia, depending on the concentration of Turkish-speaking local population.

In Turkey, the regulatory body for Turkish is the Turkish Language Association (Türk Dil Kurumu or TDK), which was founded in 1932 under the name Türk Dili Tetkik Cemiyeti ("Society for Research on the Turkish Language"). The Turkish Language Association was influenced by the ideology of linguistic purism: indeed one of its primary tasks was the replacement of loanwords and foreign grammatical constructions with equivalents of Turkish origin. These changes, together with the adoption of the new Turkish alphabet in 1928, shaped the modern Turkish language spoken today. TDK became an independent body in 1951, with the lifting of the requirement that it should be presided over by the Minister of Education. This status continued until August 1983, when it was again made into a governmental body in the constitution of 1982, following the military coup d'état of 1980.

Dialects

Istanbul Turkish is established as the official standard language of Turkey. Dialectal variation persists, in spite of the levelling influence of the standard used in mass media and the Turkish education system since the 1930s. Academically, researchers from Turkey often refer to Turkish dialects as ağız or şive, leading to an ambiguity with the linguistic concept of accent, which is also covered with these words. Projects investigating Turkish dialects are being carried out by several universities, as well as a dedicated work group of the Turkish Language Association. Work is currently in progress for the compilation and publication of their research as a comprehensive dialect atlas of the Turkish language.

The standard dialect of the Turkish language is İstanbul. Rumelice is spoken by immigrants from Rumelia, and includes the distinct dialects of Deliorman, Dinler, and Adakale, which are influenced by the theoretized Balkan linguistic union. Kıbrıs is the name for Cypriot Turkish and is spoken by the Turkish Cypriots. Edirne is the dialect of Edirne. Ege is spoken in the Aegean region, with its usage extending to Antalya. The nomadic Yörük tribes of the Mediterranean Region of Turkey also have their own dialect of Turkish. This group is not to be confused with the Yuruk nomads of Macedonia, Greece, and European Turkey who speak Balkan Gagauz Turkish.

Güneydoğu is spoken in the southeast, to the east of Mersin. Doğu, a dialect in Eastern Anatolia, has a dialect continuum with Azeri, particularly with Karapapak dialects in some areas. The Central Anatolia region speaks Orta Anadolu. Karadeniz, spoken in the Eastern Black Sea Region and represented primarily by the Trabzon dialect, exhibits substratum influence from Greek in phonology and syntax. Kastamonu is spoken in Kastamonu and its surrounding areas. The Hemşinli dialect, known as Hemşince, is spoken by the eastern group of Hamshenis around Artvin, influenced by Armenian. Karamanlıca is spoken in Greece, where it is also named Kαραμανλήδικα (Karamanlidika). It is the literary standard for Karamanlides.

Grammar

Turkish is an agglutinative language and frequently uses affixes, and specifically suffixes, or endings. One word can have many affixes and these can also be used to create new words, such as creating a verb from a noun, or a noun from a verbal root (see the section on Word formation). Most affixes indicate the grammatical function of the word. The only native prefixes are alliterative intensifying syllables used with adjectives or adverbs: for example sımsıcak ("boiling hot" < sıcak) and masmavi ("bright blue" < mavi).

The extensive use of affixes can give rise to long words. It is jokingly said that the longest Turkish word is Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız, meaning "You are said to be one of those that we couldn't manage to convert to a Czechoslovak". This example is of course contrived; but long words do frequently occur in normal Turkish, as in this heading of a newspaper obituary column: Bayramlaşamadıklarımız (Bayram [festival]-Recipr-Impot-Partic-Plur-PossPl1; "Those of our number with whom we cannot exchange the season's greetings"). Another example can be seen in the final word of this heading of the online Turkish Spelling Guide (İmlâ Kılavuzu): Dilde birlik, ulusal birliğin vazgeçilemezlerindendir ("Unity in language is among the indispensables [dispense-Pass-Impot-Plur-PossS3-Abl-Copula] of national unity ~ Linguistic unity is a sine qua non of national unity").

Word order

Word order in simple Turkish sentences is generally Subject Object Verb, as in Korean and Latin, but unlike English. In more complex sentences, the basic rule is that the qualifier precedes the qualified: this principle includes, as an important special case, the participial modifiers discussed above. The definite precedes the indefinite: thus çocuğa hikâyeyi anlattı "she told the child the story", but hikâyeyi bir çocuğa anlattı "she told the story to a child".

It is possible to alter the word order to stress the importance of a certain word or phrase. The main rule is that the word before the verb has the stress without exception. For example, if one wants to say "Hakan went to school" with a stress on the word "school" (okul, the indirect object) it would be "Hakan okula gitti". If the stress is to be placed on "Hakan" (the subject), it would be "Okula Hakan gitti" which means "it's Hakan who went to school".

Writing system

Turkish is written using a modified version of the Latin alphabet introduced in 1928 by Atatürk to replace the Arabic-based Ottoman Turkish alphabet. The Ottoman alphabet marked only three different vowels—long ā, ū and ī—and included several redundant consonants, such as variants of z (which were distinguished in Arabic but not in Turkish). The omission of short vowels in the Arabic script was claimed to make it particularly unsuitable for Turkish, which has eight vowels.

The reform of the script was an important step in the cultural reforms of the period. The task of preparing the new alphabet and selecting the necessary modifications for sounds specific to Turkish was entrusted to a Language Commission composed of prominent linguists, academics, and writers. The introduction of the new Turkish alphabet was supported by public education centers opened throughout the country, cooperation with publishing companies, and encouragement by Atatürk himself, who toured the country teaching the new letters to the public. As a result, there was a dramatic increase in literacy from its original Third World levels.

Latin was applied to the Turkish language for educational purposes even before the 20th century reform. Instances include a 1635 Latin-Albanian dictionary by Frang Bardhi, who also incorporated several sayings in the Turkish language, as an appendix to his work (e.g. alma agatsdan irak duschamas – 'An apple does not fall far from its tree').

Turkish now has an alphabet suited to the sounds of the language: the spelling is largely phonetic, with one letter corresponding to each phoneme. Most of the letters are used approximately as in English, the main exceptions being , which denotes [dʒ] ( being used for the [ʒ] found in Persian and European loans); and the undotted <ı>, representing [ɯ]. As in German, <ö> and <ü> represent [œ] and [y]. The letter <ğ>, in principle, denotes [ɣ] but has the property of lengthening the preceding vowel and assimilating any subsequent vowel. The letters <ş> and <ç> represent [ʃ] and [tʃ], respectively. A circumflex is written over back vowels following , , or when these consonants represent [c], [ɟ], and [l]—almost exclusively in Arabic and Persian loans. An apostrophe is used to separate proper nouns from any suffixes: eg İstanbul'da 'in Istanbul'.

 

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