Turkey is home to some of the earliest advanced civilizations in human history, with highly developed cities that date back to 7000 – 6000 BCE. Nowadays, Turkey is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, with over 30 million visitors per year. But despite its rich history and thriving tourism, the English-speaking world tends not to know much about the language spoken in the country that they so frequently visit. For example, do you know anything about the complex system of Turkish vowel harmony? Did you know that many English words, such as yogurt, are of Turkish origin? If not – or even if you did – here are some more facts about the language spoken in the 6th-most visited country in the world.
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1. More people speak Turkish than Italian.
With a population of almost 80 million people, Turkey is a big country, and has more inhabitants than the United Kingdom, Spain, and France. Though English speakers tend to be more familiar with Italian than Turkish, there are actually more native Turkish speakers than there are Italian speakers.
2. Turkish has been strongly influenced by Farsi, Arabic, and French.
Given its geographical location, it makes sense that Turkish has been influenced by Farsi and Arabic, two languages spoken in countries that border Turkey. In addition, Turkish has borrowed substantially from France, especially with words relating to finance or economy. For instance, döviz (“currency”) comes from the French device; kriz (“crisis”) comes from the French crise; and bono (“bond”) comes from the French bon.
3. Turkish is spoken natively in two continents (but only one country).
The largest Turkish-speaking city, Istanbul, has a population of 14 million. Istanbul is unique in that it spans two continents: half of it is in Europe, and the other half is in Asia. There are approximately 10 million native Turkish speakers in Europe, and just under 70 million in Asia.
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4. Turkish is an agglutinative language.
A language is classified as agglutinative when complex phrases are formed by adding prefixes and suffixes instead of adding different words. Turkish is a prime example of an agglutinative language. For example, the word evlerinizden means “from your houses”, and consists of four individual parts: ev (house), ler (plural), iniz (your), and den (from).
5. Titles abound.
In Turkish, it’s considered impolite to address somebody by just their first name upon meeting them (especially for those older than you). Instead, you must accompany their name with a title, such as teyze (auntie) or amca (uncle). If you don’t know somebody’s name, address them as hanımefendi (madam) or beyefendi (sir).
6. It’s governed by the Turkish Language Association.
The Turkish Language Association was established in 1932. Like the Real Academia Española of the Spanish language, this association is the official authority on all things Turkish, and has the last word in vocabulary and grammar rules.
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7. Turkish changed radically in the past 100 years.
One of the main goals of the Turkish Language Association was to “purify” the language. Before 1932, only 35-40% of Turkish words were of Turkish origin, the rest being derived from other languages like Arabic or Farsi. Now, almost 80% of Turkish words are of “pure” Turkish origin.
8. Turkish features vowel harmony.
As we have established, Turkish is an agglutinative language, which means that it has a lot of prefixes and suffixes. It also has two classes of vowels: a, ı, o, and u are hard vowels, whereas e, i, ö, and ü are soft vowels. Vowel harmony means that suffixes will use either hard or soft vowels depending on the final vowel in the root word. For instance, if the last vowel in a word is soft, then the vowels in the suffixes will also be soft in order to preserve this harmony.
9. Many English words are of Turkish origin.
Do you ever browse the kiosks at the mall? Have you ever been kayaking? Do you like yogurt? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, congratulations: you speak a little Turkish! All of the above words are examples of Turkish words that have snuck their way into the English-language lexicon.
Even if you’re one of the millions who has traveled to Istanbul on vacation, we bet you hadn’t heard about the Turkish Language Association!
If you’re thinking about learning Turkish, don’t go at it alone. A native speaking Turkish teacher can help you navigate the confusing world of titles, as well as the complexities of vowel harmony. Contact us if you’re interested in learning this beautiful language and joining the 76 million other Turkish speakers in the world.