The Turkish language (or “Türkçe” – as the Turkish people would say) is the most widely spoken Turkic language with around 80 million native speakers all around the world. Turkish is a part of the Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family together with Azerbaijani, Turkmen, and Qashqai (a language spoken by the Qashqai people). All these three languages – sometimes considered dialects of Turkish – are mutually intelligible with Turkish, meaning that if you speak Turkish, you will understand a great deal of these languages as well.
Now, moving on to the Turkish writing system and the Turkish alphabet, there is great news for everyone who wants to learn Turkish. Turkish is an almost entirely phonetic language. This means that for each sound there is one letter, so when you read a word, you’ll know how to pronounce it, and when you know how to say a word, you’ll also know how to write it.
But Turkish didn’t always use the Latin script. Let’s look a little bit at the history and see how today’s Turkish alphabet was born.
The Turkish alphabet – a short history
The Turkik languages have a long history of writing systems. Over time, these languages have been written using different alphabets like Cyrillic, Uyghur, Greek, Arabic, Latin and some other Asiatic writing systems.
But when it comes to Turkish, the earliest proof of a Turkish alphabet goes back to the 7th century when the Orkhon script was used. Then, for over 1,000 years, the Turkish language was written using a Turkish form of the Arabic script. That is also probably why some people believe that Turks speak Arabic.
Then, in the 19th century, together with the introduction of the printing press and telegraph appeared the need for a more Turkish-oriented script. The Arabic script was perfect for writing Ottoman Turkish – which included a lot of Arabic and Persian words – but it was poorly suited for the Turkish part of the vocabulary.
In other words, while the Arabic language is poor in vowels and rich in consonants, Turkish is exactly the opposite. Thus, the Arabic script was inadequate at representing Turkish phonemes. And this is exactly why Turkish reformists promoted the adoption of the Latin script.
Fortunately, in 1928, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, finally adopted the 29-letter Latin script as a part of his famous Reforms in Turkey – the same alphabet that Turks use today.
The pronunciation of each letter of the Turkish alphabet
The 29-letter Turkish alphabet is modified from the Latin alphabet and it includes seven Turkish letters that are not in the English alphabet: Ç, Ğ, I, İ, Ö, Ş, and Ü. What’s more, there are also three English letters – Q, W and X – that the Turkish alphabet doesn’t have.
There are 8 vowels – A, E, I, İ, O, Ö, U, Ü – and 21 consonants in the Turkish alphabet – B, C, Ç, D, F, G, Ğ, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, R, S, Ş, T, V, Y, Z.
As already mentioned, Turkish is an almost entirely phonetic language, so once you master the pronunciation of each of its 29 letters, you’ll know exactly how to read in Turkish. Let’s dive in and discover the pronunciation of the Turkish alphabet:
Rules to help you get started with Turkish
Language aficionados such as yourself know that Turkish is not the hardest language you can learn. The FSI (Foreign Service Institute) from the US government puts Turkish on the fourth tier on their Interagency Language Roundtable (IRL) with 1100 hours or 44 weeks of study needed to achieve the professional working proficiency. This means that Turkish is indeed profoundly different from English.
However, at the same time, languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Arabic are even harder to learn. Besides, once you master the alphabet, you will already be able to read in Turkish – a great boost for your motivation!
Let’s see some rules and characteristics of the Turkish language to help you get started faster:
- the basic word order in Turkish is subject – object – verb;
- the distinctive characteristics of Turkish are extensive agglutination and vowel harmony;
- Turkish has no grammatical gender and no noun classes;
- the letter “Y” is considered a consonant in Turkish and it is used as a buffer to keep vowels apart when it comes to work building;
- Turkish does not allow two vowels to occur together (except for situations where you have a foreign imported word);
- the Turkish language has no diphthongs – expect for some foreign loan words;
- Turkish uses second-person pronouns for varying levels of politeness, age, social distance or familiarity toward the addressee;
- the plural second-person verb and pronoun forms are used to address a single person to express respect.
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