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Turkish (Türkçe), the westernmost of the Turkic languages, belongs to the Turkic branch of the Altaic language family. It is the largest of the Turkic languages in terms of number of speakers. There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between Turkish and other Oghuz languages such as Azerbaijani,Turkmen, and Qashqai.

Turkey occupies a central geographical meeting point between Asia and Europe. Anatolia, the western region of Asian Turkey, is one of the oldest inhabited areas of the world. It is thought that the first human inhabitants appeared in Anatolia as far back as 7,500 BC. The Ottoman Empire, established by the Oghuz Turks of western Anatolia and ruled by the Osmanli dynasty, ruled the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea from 1281 to 1922. It was defeated by the Allies during World War I, and its territories were colonized by the victors. After the Turkish War of Independence (1918-1923), the Republic of Turkey was founded from the remnants of the fallen empire by Mustafa Kemal, who was later given the name of Atatürk ‘Father of the Turks’. He was responsible for a wide range of reforms that helped to modernize Turkey, including far-reaching language reforms that concentrated on replacing the Arabic script with the Roman one, and purging the language of Arabic andTurkey mapPersian words.

Turkish is the official language of Turkey. There are a number of different estimates of how many people speak it as their first language given the multiethnic makeup of Turkey’s population.  According to the CIA Factbook, Turkish is spoken as a first language by 70-75% of the country’s population which translates into somewhere between 52.5 and 56 million people. It is also the official language of Cyprus along with Greek. The rest of the Turkish speakers live in 35 different countries in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Americas (Ethnologue). Most of these countries were part of the territory governed by the Ottoman Empire. The worldwide population of speakers of Turkish is variously estimated at up to 63 million people.

Language and language reform are hot political issues in Turkey. There is an ongoing struggle between supporters of a native Turkish lexicon and supporters of a modern vocabulary with a large number of western European loanwords. Religious publications continue to use a variety of Turkish that is influenced by Arabic and Persian. The resurgence of Islam in recent years has resulted in many Islamic words becoming part of modern spoken Turkish.


Turkish has a number of dialects. Ethnologue lists the following major varieties of the language:

  • Eastern Turkish which is further subdivided into Eskisehir, Razgrad, Dinler, Rumelian, Karamanli, Edirne, Gaziantep, and Urfa
  • Western, or Danubian Turkish

Modern Standard Turkish is based on the variety spoken in Turkey’s former capital of Istanbul.


Sound system
The sound system of Turkish is characterized by vowel harmony, a type of phonological process that places limitations on which vowels may be found near each other in a word. There are two kinds of vowels — front vowels, which are produced at the front of the mouth, e.g., /i/, /e/, and back vowels, produced at the back of the mouth, e.g., /a/, /u/, /o/. Native Turkic words can contain either only all front or all back vowels, and all suffixes must conform to the vowel of the syllable preceding them in the word. For example, a vowel at the beginning of a word can trigger assimilation of the rest of the vowels in that word, e.g., in Turkish, ev– ‘house + -ler ‘plural’ is evler ‘houses’, çocuk– ‘child’ + –ler ‘plural’ is çocuklar ‘children’. In the first example, all vowels inevler are front vowels. In the second example, all vowels in çocuklar are back vowels.

Turkish has 28 phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning.

Turkish has eight vowel phonemes. There is a contrast between unrounded and rounded front and back vowels. Rounded vowels are produced with rounded protruding lips.

  • /y/ = second vowel in statue
  • /ø/ has no equivalent in English

Turkish has 20 consonant phonemes. There are no consonant clusters at the beginning of words. Stopsfricatives, and affricates are devoiced in final position, e.g., kitap ‘book’ (in the nominative case), kitabi ‘book’ (in the accusative case).

Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates voiceless
Approximant z z z z
z z
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /ʒ/ = s in vision
  • /c, ɟ/ have no equivalents in English
  • /j/ = y in yet

Stress is normally placed on the final syllable in Turkish words.

Like all Turkic languages, Turkish is agglutinative, i.e., grammatical relations are indicated by the addition of suffixes to stems. There are no prefixes. There is a one-to-one relationship between suffix and meaning, so suffixes are strung together one after another, resulting on occasion in long words. There are various rules for their ordering. Turkish uses postpositions rather than prepositions to signal certain grammatical relationships.

Noun phrase

  • Turkish nouns are marked for number (singular and plural).
  • There is no expressed grammatical gender: the pronoun o means ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘it’.
  • There are six cases: nominativegenitivedativeaccusativelocativeablative. Cases are marked by inflectional suffixes.They are governed by verbs and postpositions.
  • There are no articles.

Verb phrase
Verbs agree with their subjects in person and number. Verbs have the following grammatical categories:

  • two numbers: singular and plural;
  • three persons: 1st, 2, 3rd;
  • five moods: indicativedubitativeimperativeconditionalsubjunctive;
  • two voices: active and passive with different forms for passive transitive and passive intransitive verbs;
  • three tenses: present, past, future;
  • evidentiality that is required at all times and which indicates whether evidence exists for a given statement. Turkish contrasts direct information (reported directly) and indirect information (reported indirectly).
  • interrogative and negative forms; below is an example showing how the 1st person singular ending attaches itself to the verb etmek ‘do’ in statements and migrates to the negative in negations (ben means ‘I’):
Ben ediyorum I do.
Bediyor musum Do I?
Ben etmiyorum I do not.
Ben etmiyor muyum Do I not?

Word order
Word order inTurkish sentences is normally Subject-Object-Verb. However, other orders are possible, depending on discourse-oriented considerations such as emphasis.

The basic vocabulary of Turkish is Altaic in origin. The language has also borrowed extensively from Arabic and Persian, and more recently from western European languages. Below are some common words and phrases in Turkish.

Hello Merhaba
Good bye Hoşça kalın
Thank you Teşekkür ederim
Please Lütfen
Excuse me Affedersiniz
Yes Evet
No Hayir
Man Adam
Woman Kadın

Below are the Turkish numerals 1-10.




Turkish is written with an adapted version of the Roman alphabet adopted in 1928 as part of Atatürk’s effort to europeanize Turkey. Before that, Turkish was written with the Arabic script that was adopted in the 15th century. Prior to the 15th century, Turkish was written with the Uyghur script.

The modern Turkish alphabet has 29 letters. The following letters were adapted to represent Turkish sounds: ÇĞI, İÖŞ, and Ü. The alphabet is given below.

A a
B b
C c
Ç ç
D d
E e
F f
G g
Ğ ğ
H h
L l
İ i
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
O o
Ö ö
P p
R r
S s
Ş ş
T t
U u
Ü ü
V v
Y y
Z z

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Turkish.

Madde 1
 Bütün insanlar hür, haysiyet ve haklar bakımından eşit doğarlar. Akıl ve vicdana sahiptirler ve birbirlerine karşı kardeşlik zihniyeti ile hareket etmelidirler
Article 1
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.


Did You Know?

Turkish words in English
English has borrowed a number of words from Turkish, mostly by way of other languages. Among them are the following:

baklava baklava
Balkan balkan ‘mountain chain’
bulgur bulgur ‘pounded wheat’
caftan qaftan ‘long tunic’
cossack quzzak ‘adventurer, guerilla, nomad,’ from qaz ‘to wander’
divan divan
horde ordu ‘camp, army’
oda oda ‘room’
(shish)kebab şişkebap, from  şiş ‘skewer’ + kebap ‘roast meat’
turban tülbent ‘gauze, muslin, tulle’
yogurt yogurt


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Turkish?
Turkish is considered to be a Category II language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

11 Responses to Turkish

  1. Colonel Hakî

    Actually, Modern Standard Turkish is based on the variety spoken in Turkey’s ex-capital of Istanbul.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for your comment. We will look into it.

  2. Akif Demir

    Turkey’s population is around 76 million but it’s written as 46,3 million in the text.”The worldwide population of speakers of Turkish is estimated at around 51 million (Ethnologue)”. Is it logical?

  3. Kaan


    “Ben ediyor muyum” means “Do I” not “Bediyor musum” which does not mean anything in Turkish.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for your comment. We will fix the error. Keep the corrections coming!

  4. Pingback: Bulgaria Population in 2013 | Population Fun

  5. nalan

    The verb “et-” does not mean anything itself as it is a helping verb and is always used with certain nouns preceding it. So “Ben ediyorum” is not meaningful. You should give an example such as “(Ben) kahvaltı ediyorum”.

  6. Graham Howe

    I would disagree that there are 7 cases in Turkish; there are only 6. There is no separate instrumental case, and this is expressed by means of postpositions or the ablative, depending on context.


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