Turkish: A growing language with a rich past
By United Language Group
The language now known as Turkish has a rich history that spans far more time and geography than the country now known as Turkey. Today it is natively spoken in Turkey and Cyprus, by Turkish diaspora in some 30 other countries. Where? Find a map of the Ottoman Empire—that will give you a good starting place.
There are Turkish-speaking minorities in countries that used to—either whole or in part—belong to the Ottoman Empire including Iraq, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece (primarily in Western Thrace), the Republic of Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia. And, that’s not all.
Did you know?
…. that there are significant Turkish speaking communities across Europe? Wikipedia puts the number of Turkish speakers in Germany at over two million. In addition, there are significant Turkish-speaking communities in France, The Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
There are over 116,000 Turkish speakers here in the United States, according to 2015 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. At that time, New York, California, and New Jersey had the most Turkish speakers, followed by Florida and Texas.
The larger picture
Turkey is the most widely spoken of the Turkic languages. The Turkic language family comprises some 30 living languages spoken across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Siberia. About 40% of all speakers of Turkic languages are native Turkish speakers.
Translator Abdullah Erol, founder of the website Yeminli Sözlük, foresees increasing interest in the Turkish language, noting that that Turkish airline operators now fly to nearly 195 countries compared to almost 100 countries a decade ago.
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Language reforms help grow a country
When the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, as part of modernizing the country, Turkey's first president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk instituted various policies to support language reforms during the first several years of Turkey’s independence. This included these major events:
- In 1928, Atatürk mandated the use of the Turkish alphabet. Turkish used to be written in a version of the Perso-Arabic script called Ottoman Turkish. In 1928, Atatürk had the Latin alphabet adapted to the Turkish vowel system. This new alphabet was in use from that point on.
- In 1932, the Turkish Language Association(Türk Dil Kurumu or TDK) was formed. One of its goals was identifying and removing foreign-sourced words from the Turkish language and replacing them with authentic Turkish words.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before 1932 the use of authentic Turkish words in written text was 35-40 percent. This figure has risen in recent years to 75-80 percent, proof that Atatürk's language revolution gained the full support of public.
A sample Turkish translation
- Bütün insanlar hür, haysiyet ve haklar bakımından eşit doğarlar. Akıl ve vicdana sahiptirler ve birbirlerine karşı kardeşlik zihniyeti ile hareket etmelidirler.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Similar alphabet, quite different language
- Where'd Q, X, and W go? The letters Q, X, and W are not included in the Turkish alphabet, though they can appear in foreign names.
- Where are the verbs? English is a subject verb object (SVO) language, but Turkish is not. In Turkish, verbs appear at the end of a sentence.
- What is vowel harmony? It’s OK if that’s an unfamiliar term—they aren’t included in the English language. Many languages including Korean, Mongolian, and many Turkic languages have them. Vowel harmonies are “long distance” connections between vowels in a word that are not connected to each other. A vowel at the beginning of a word can trigger assimilation at the end of a word—or across the entire word.
- Honorifics? We've got 'em. Like English, the Turkish language uses honorifics—words that imply or express high status, politeness, or respect—but the syntax is a bit different. Instead of the honorific appearing before the person's name, as it does in English—for example, a teacher may be addressed Professor Yusuf—they appear directly after the person's name: Yusuf Hoca.
Turkish is a beautiful language that differs from English in some fascinating ways. But don’t let its complexity scare you! VIA’s team of native-speaking Turkish translators can handle anything from marketing copy to complex legal and healthcare translation.
Learn more about ULG and our award-winning translation process here!
United Language Group
Andrew is a staff writer at United Language Group. He is especially interested in digital marketing, translation technology, as well as cultural and linguistic studies.
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