Unveiling the Intriguing Relationship Between Turkish and Korean Languages

Turkish and Korean are more connected than you think. Supposedly… 👀

Unveiling the Intriguing Relationship Between Turkish and Korean Languages

What do Turkish and Korean have in common? Nothing, you’ll say, if you don’t know the whole story. At first glance, anyone would be tempted to claim that Turkish and Korean are worlds apart. Both literally and figuratively. However, despite their geographical distance and distinct cultural heritages, these two nations share some intriguing points of intersection. Could two languages coming from different language families be related?

Their potential connection has perplexed linguists and historians alike for many years. So, let’s see what this is all about and how two apparently different languages echo each other in syntax, structure, and soul.

Historical Roots and Origins of Turkish and Korean

Before exploring the intriguing points of intersection between Turkish and Korean, it’s important to look back at their historical roots.

The Turkish Language

The Turkish language (or “Türkçe” – as the Turkish people would say) is the most widely spoken Turkic language, with around 100 million native speakers worldwide. Turkish is a part of the Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family, along with Azerbaijani, Turkmen, and Qashqai.

The earliest proof of Turkish is the Orkhon script found in modern Mongolia. Erected in honor of a prince and his emperor brother, these inscriptions date back to the Turkic tribes in the 7th century CE. When these tribes began to move westward, their interactions with diverse people and cultures – including Mongols and Persians, shaped Turkish into a new language.

The process continued during the Selijuk and the Ottoman periods when Turkish became infused with a plethora of Persian and Arabic words, giving rise to Ottoman Turkish.

In the 20th century, though, a linguistic revolution followed when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk replaced the Arabic script with the Latin alphabet, aiming to modernize and simplify Turkish. This strategic move not only transformed the language but also contributed to a cultural renaissance.

Discovering more about the modern Turkish alphabet will help you understand its importance.

The Korean Language

Unlike Turkish, Korean’s roots are more enigmatic. That means we don’t know much about its ancient history. However, we can say the language started its long road to becoming the Korean language we know today in ancient times, under the rule of the Three Kingdoms of Korea: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla.

Later, the evolution of the Korean language was significantly influenced by historical interactions with neighboring China and Japan. During the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties, Chinese characters were integrated into the Korean writing system, adding multiple layers of complexity to its structure and vocabulary.

However, the same as Turkish, Korean had a pivotal moment in its development that changed everything for the future of the language. In the 15th century, to help more common people become literate, King Sejong the Great commissioned the creation of Hangul, the new Korean alphabet. Although it was met with opposition, the new alphabet led over time to increased literacy rates and a cohesive national linguistic identity.

In modern times, K-pop and K-dramas from South Korea have further disseminated the Korean language and culture worldwide.


The Controversial Altaic Language Family

The major point of intersection between Turkish and Korean is what some linguists call the Altaic language family. But why is it controversial?

While Korean is a member of the Koreanic family and Turkish is a member of the Turkic family, some linguists believe that these families are, in turn, part of a greater family called Altaic. The controversial language family is also said to include the Mongolic, Tungusic and Japonic language families.

The Altaic language family was initially introduced in the 18th century and gained widespread acceptance until the 1960s. Despite its demise, many encyclopedias and handbooks still include Altaic and references to it persist in modern sources through these older works. However, starting in the 1950s, most comparative linguists have discredited the Altaic proposal. This rejection stemmed from the discovery that supposed cognates were not valid, hypothesized sound shifts could not be substantiated, and Turkic and Mongolic languages were observed to be converging rather than diverging over time (which would not be the case with sister languages).

Presently, the consensus is that the relationship between Altaic languages is better explained by a sprachbund, indicating linguistic similarities due to prolonged contact rather than a shared ancestry.

As you may have guessed, a sprachbund is a group of languages that share areal features resulting from geographical proximity and language contact.

However, you should know that the Altaic hypothesis still has a small degree of support from individual linguists. That’s why it is considered controversial.

Similarities Between Turkish and Korean

The Altaic family controversy was born mainly because of the remarkable linguistic features Turkish and Korean share. When you get to discover how similar these two languages actually are, you begin to understand why some experts strongly believe there’s a potential historical connection between them. (And you probably start to believe in it yourself.)

But before listing all the similarities between Turkish and Korean, I want to tell you a personal story about their connection. My friend’s mother is Turkish and about a year or so, she started watching K-dramas, although she doesn’t speak a word of Korean. However, being a very modern and young mom, it’s not surprising. As you’ll see later in the article, Korean television dramas are very popular in Turkey.

So, she watches K-dramas on Netflix in their original Korean with subtitles. The thing is – and you’re not gonna believe this – she claims to understand some of the Korean words and phrases used in the dialogue that – she says – are similar to Turkish. The thing is the woman speaks not a word of Korean. Isn’t this crazy? Aren’t Turkish and Korean supposed to be two completely different languages with completely different alphabets?


Well, as it turns out, that’s not entirely true. Turkish and Korean share a lot of similarities:

  • both employ agglutination, adding affixes to base words to change meaning and grammatical function;
  • both follow a subject-object-verb (SOV) sentence structure (relatively uncommon in other languages);
  • both follow the same syntax alignment for nouns and adjectives;
  • both exhibit post-positional particles;
  • both have modifiers that always precede modified words;
  • both have the close back unrounded vowel (ɯ) (a striking similarity, considering it is relatively rare in the broader spectrum of languages);
  • both feature a significant distinction between formal and informal language.

Moreover, Turkish and Korean seem to share a good deal of vocabulary. Many people identified words that appear to have a common root, possibly related to a common ancestor.

Do you see now why some people still support the Altaic theory?

Cultural Exchange and Influence between Turkey and Korea

To our knowledge, historical interactions between Turkey and Korea began during the Korean War (1950–1953), when Turkey sent troops to aid South Korea.

This act of solidarity laid the foundation for cultural exchanges, fostering mutual respect and appreciation that have grown over the years.

Nevertheless, it was not until later that the young generations in Turkey developed a passion for Korean culture (and vice-versa, more recently).

Korean Pop Culture in Turkish Society

Both Turkish and Korean enjoy an increasing worldwide popularity thanks to their TV series. Because yes, Turkish TV series have started to take the world by storm in the last couple of years.

However, Korean pop culture, widely known as the Hallyu wave, was the one that swept across the world with a significant impact in Turkey. The influence is evident in various aspects, including music, television, fashion & beauty, language, and food. For example, Turkish remakes of popular Korean dramas and movies are now very popular in Turkey.

According to X (formerly Twitter), Turkey is in the top 20 countries tweeting most about K-pop. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what will.

K-pop in Turkey

The young generations in Turkey are such big fans of Hallyu that, in 2021, three girls fled their home in Istanbul to go to South Korea. Their action resulted in an investigation started by the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs in Turkey on the influence of K-pop and K-drama on Turkish youth.

Due to conservative Turkish families and the fact that in K-drama, males and females seem to be more equal, young Turkish girls identify with the Korean culture more.

All in all, Korean culture has made a significant and multi-dimensional impact on Turkish society that goes beyond music or television. Younger generations seem to look for inspiration in K-pop and K-drama icons. In the long run, this has the potential to change Turkish culture forever.

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New 2021 Study Reveals Millennia-Old Evidence on the Turkish-Korean link

A new 2021 study revealed that the Transeurasian (Altaic iteration) language family, including languages like Japanese, Korean, and Turkish, originated from millet farmers in northeastern China 9,000 years ago. As you can see, the findings of the new study basically support the Altaic family theory.

Covering 98 languages, the research integrates linguistic, archaeological, and genetic data, showing these languages spread over 5,000 miles as their speakers migrated.

The study contrasts the evolution of the Transeurasian languages with Chinese languages, attributing their development to separate agricultural practices. Additionally, it underlines that the formation of the Transeurasian (Altaic iteration) language family was not only the result of a single Neolithic migration but involved complex, prolonged interactions and mixing.

The Turkish-Korean Connection – A Mystery

Are Turkish and Korean part of a single language family? Given the very little historical evidence, we can’t know for sure yet.

Although the discussion about whether these languages are related remains, the clear similarities and recent cultural exchanges reveal a profound human narrative of connection and curiosity.

The original puzzle is not entirely solved, but this exploration has shown us the interesting ways two languages can resemble each other across different continents, cultures and millennia.

Before you go, make sure to check out these FAQs.

How has the historical relationship between Turkey and Korea influenced their languages?

The Korean Wave has influenced an increased interest in learning the Korean language in Turkey. Educational Turkish institutions and language centers have started offering Korean language courses to cater to this growing interest.

Are there any language learning resources available for those interested in Turkish and Korean?

Mondly is one of the few language learning resources that allow you to learn both Turkish and Korean with one single app.

How did cultural exchange impact the connection between Turkish and Korean languages?

According the historians and linguists, the direct impact of cultural exchange on the linguistic structures of Turkish and Korean is minimal. However, the recent interest in learning and appreciating each other’s languages as a result of cultural diplomacy, media exchange, and educational programs is a significant aspect of the connection between the two nations. This cultural exchange fosters a mutual understanding and respect, bridging the gap between the two cultures through language.

Learn both Turkish and Korean with one app

Do you think Turkish and Korean are equally fascinating? Do you want to learn both languages in one go? Try Mondly, the award-winning language app that can teach you both.

Instead of tiring yourself for hours with inch-thick textbooks, slip a few Mondly lessons into your routine and make learning a breeze. You will learn Turkish and Korean naturally using:

  • practical topics;
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  • intelligent suggestions and instant feedback on pronunciation;
  • crystal-clear audios of fluent speakers;
  • real-life conversations and so much more.

Start using Mondly for free on your computer or download the app and learn languages anytime, anywhere.

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Diana Lăpușneanu - Linguist at Mondly Blog

Diana is a Linguist at Mondly by Pearson. Learning English as a second language early on fueled her lifelong passion for language learning, leading her to pursue a diverse array of languages as a hobby alongside her academic endeavors. With a Master’s Degree in advertising and a fascination for historical linguistics, she brings a unique perspective to her role, making language learning fun for readers worldwide.

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