First Impressions Of The Turkish Language

In my recent look into the Complete World Traveler language list, many people were surprised to see Turkish make the list. But the influences of the Ottoman Empire have left their marks from south-eastern Europe, through the Middle East, and across all of Central Asia, even going well into Mongolia and northern China, where Uyghur (a Turkic language) is common language.

While I do have some Turkish friends, and a passionate love affair with Turkish food, it was my recent visit to Uzbekistan that truly sparked my interest in Turkish. The Uzbek language is, of course, a Turkic language, and similar enough that a fluent Turkish speaker could understand Uzbek... and Uyghur, and pretty much all of them.

Characteristics of Turkish

The first feature one notices about a language is its alphabet, and the Turkish alphabet is a Latin alphabet with 29 letters, mostly the same as English, and borrowing a few vowels from German. Apparently this is a relatively recent development, though, as Turkish languages used an alphabet like that of Arabic-script, but changed to the Latin alphabet only about a century ago. It's not at all hard to learn as long as you remember that c is pronounced like a hard j, and that ı is different from i.

Grammatically, it's completely fascinating to me. Word endings denote not only verb conjugation and noun declension, but also possession, and even the forms of "to be". Yeah, that's right, there's no verb "to be"... it is expressed by adjusting the ending of the word that is the object of "being". Wow.

That's a lot to swallow already, and there's plenty of other interesting twists, so it's really nice to learn that there is no noun gender to worry about. There is, however, a concept that is brand new to me: vowel harmony. With vowel harmony, the vowel used in a particular ending is chosen based on the vowel(s) preceding it in the word. It sounds pretty difficult at first, but I imagine that it would quickly become second-nature, since the whole point is to make things sound nice, and it's easy to know when something doesn't sound nice!

The next detail that stands out to me is that Turkish word order is Subject-Object-Verb, which I am surprised to learn is the preferred word order of 75% of the world's languages. Apparently, the remaining 25% must be the Latin languages, Germanic languages, and Slavic languages, because prior to my exposure to Turkish I had never heard of such a thing.

To add to the interesting new word order, Turkish puts prepositions after the words to which they refer. That means they're not really prepositions at all, but post-positions. If that's unclear, think of saying "in the house" as "the house in"... only it would actually be "house in", because Turkic languages do not use articles.

So putting it all together (and I hope I get this right!), instead of saying "he is inside of my house", the construction in Turkish would be something more like "he house-my inside-is." Of course that does nothing to reflect the noun declension through six cases, or the fact that the negative particle can actually be inserted into the middle of the word it negates!

My impressions

My first impression is utter fascination. I love the idea of unfolding this mysterious collection of grammatical features, which is so completely foreign to me. On first examination, it looks incredibly strange, and therefore difficult.

But I already learned about different word order with German, and that became second nature for me in no time. And I feel like I've got a pretty good handle on noun declension thanks to Russian. So I guess what I'm saying is, yes, it's sure to be hard, but certainly not impossible. I've already done it all before.

On curiosity alone, I can feel Turkish climbing higher as a candidate for next year's language. Not only do I love a challenge, but I am particularly fond of any language which is capabable of making other languages easier. Knowing that Turkish can open up all of the Silk Road countries of Central Asia makes it very desirable and useful for me. And knowing I can use it whenever I go to a Turkish restaurant — that's just a bonus. 🙂

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Author: Yearlyglot
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