The Turkish Language
Submitted by Funda Derin
Turkish, spoken in Turkey, Cyprus, the Balkans and Western Europe, is one of the Turkic languages. Turkish belongs to the Western Oğuz group of the southwestern branch of the Turkic languages which most scholars consider to belong to the Altaic family of languages.
Turkish is one of the best-documented Turkic languages. Most scholars consider that the earliest history of written Turkish dates back to the inscriptions of the 8th century, along with the other Turkic languages. Southwestern Oğuz tribes were distributed over a broad territory in Central Asia and the Middle East. Today their descendants live in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaycan, Turkey, the Balkans, and other countries of the Balkans and the Middle East.
Literary Turkish developed in Anatolia under the Seljuks and Ottomans, whose written documents can be traced to before the 13th century. Turkish can be classified into three major historical periods: Old Anatolian Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, and modern Turkish. The modern Turkish literary language was shaped during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries under the influence of Arabic and Persian as well as European languages and cultures.
Despite the rivalry between Shi`a communities and worlds biggest power, the Ottomans, in the 16th and 19th century Azeri language and literature remained common between two people.
Modern Turkish, relatively purified of Arabic and Persian words, took form after foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. The language reform movement (known in Turkish as dil devrimi or ‘language revolution’) led by the government aimed to reduce the influence of Arabic and Persian on Turkish in order to serve the foundation of political philosophy of the Republic of Turkey which reduced influence of Islam and turned the country towards the modern West. The Turkish Linguistic Society (Türk Dil Kurumu) has been the official authority on Turkish language since 1934. The Society’s accepted that modern standard Turkish based on the Istanbul dialect.
Approximately 85% of the population of Turkey speaks Turkish as a first language, although many other ethnic groups such as Kurds, Greek, Judeo-Spanish Ladinos, Armenians, Serbo-Croatians, Circassians, Georgians, Laz, Arabs, etc. live in Turkey. There is no official statistic about ethic groups who speak any Turkic languages in Turkey other than Turkish. The official language as well as the language of education must be Turkish according to the constitution.
Turkish is also spoken by people who live in a large geography outside of Turkey in territories which used to form a part of the Ottoman Empire. Albanians, Macedonians, and others adopted Turkish under the Ottoman Empire. There is a considerable number of people speaking Turkish as a first language in Bulgaria. Turks were settled in Cyprus in the sixteenth century by the Ottoman government. In 1974, the northern part of Cyprus became the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus under Turkey’s protection. A group of Turkish speaking people living in Georgia who are called Meshkhetians or Ahiska Turks who were deported to Central Asia by the government of the Soviet Union. Finally, Turkish is spoken by more than 2 million migrant workers who went to western, central and the northern Europe, (Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, France, the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, etc.) during the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to the population of Turkey and former guest workers throughout Europe, Turkish is spoken by indigenous populations in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, and Bosnia as well as Syria and Lebanon, with approximately 80 million people in the world speaking Turkish as the mother tongue.
Turkish has been written since 1928 using the Latin alphabet which replaced the Arabic alphabet used by Ottoman Turks.
The Latin alphabet has 29 characters including 8 vowels a,e,ı,i,o,ö,u,ü and 21 consonants b,c,ç,d,f,g,ğ,h,j,k,l,m,n,p,r,s,ş,t,v,y,z.
The Turkish vowel system based on the oppositions of front vs. back, high vs. low and unrounded vs. rounded. Officially standard Turkish has a total of eight vowels, four of which are back (a, ı, o, u) and four of which are front (e, i, ö, ü); four are unrounded (a,e, ı,i) and four are rounded (o,ö,u ü); and four are high (ı,i,u,ü) and four are low (a,e,o,ö). Turkish has a strong tendency for vowel harmony, with syllables within a word usually sharing front or back harmony; the last syllable governs from or bak forms of suffixes. Most suffixes are alternative forms based on the stem, as in çocuk (stem)-lar (suffix), çilek(stem)-ler(suffix).
Turkish has an elaborate and highly regular system of sentence constructions. Word order is Subject+Object+Verb. Nominal and verbal predicates are core whereas subject and objects are optional, as in Yorgunum ‘I am tired’, Geldi ‘S/he came’.
Hendrik, Boeschoten. “The Speakers of Turkic Languages”, in: The Turkic Languages, ed. Lars Johanson and Éva A. Csató (London-New York: Routledge, 1998), pp. 1-15.
Csató, Éva A. and Lars Johanson. “Turkish”, in: The Turkic Languages, ed. Lars Johanson and Éva A. Csató (London-New York: Routledge, 1998), pp. 203-235.
Lewis, Geoffrey. The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
Underhill, Robert. Turkish, http://www.scribd.com/doc/32322192/Turkish-by-Robert-Underhill
Underhill, Robert. “Turkish”, Studies in Turkish Linguistics, ed. D.I. Slobin and K. Zimmer (Amsterdam-Philadelphia, 1986), pp. 7-21.