I will be the first person to admit that my Turkish sucks. Besides looking like something out of an Iranian propaganda cartoon, I probably sound like a Middle Eastern version of Borat even when ordering food. After living here for four months it’s been a slow, arduous process (that is never helped by google translate) to learn phrases to get around, let alone carry engaging conversations.
I bring this up because it was brought to my attention that even the name of my blog was incorrect. (Thanks, Cansu. It has since been fixed for all those that are curious.) Obviously, I felt it was necessary to have the title of my blog at least make sense when it’s in a language I’m trying to learn. Once I was able to get over the initial embarrassment and decided to forge on with this blog I figured it made the most sense to make my next post talk about the language.
When most of my friends from the States ask me what the language is over here they do so assuming Arabic is the answer. When I tell them Turkish I usually get blank stares followed by, “so is it kinda like Arabic?” or “what’s it like?”. The answer to the first question is there are some similarities. The second one is difficult to answer though because most people have never encountered anything like Turkish so it’s hard to frame it for them.
Some people assume because Turkey is seen as what’s left of the Ottoman Empire, depending on who you ask, the language they used must be what Turks use now. However the Ottomans, at least upper class ones, used what was a hybrid of Modern Turkish, Arabic, and Persian that used a written alphabet similar to Arabic. While the lower class or rural population used something that is closer to Modern Turkish. When the Empire fell and Turkey became a State they reformed the language and changed to a Latin alphabet, which what is used today.This was to make the language look more like what was being said, as well as to separate the then newly formed Republic from the failed empire. So, Modern Turkish only dates back to 1928. While that doesn’t seem that new in the grand scheme of things. For a language and its ability to spread less than a hundred years isn’t a lot of time. Not to mention, most former Ottoman conquests continued to speak their original tongue anyways.
It doesn’t help that Turkish comes from the Turkic language family which are not commonly heard, especially in the western world. They’re a family of languages (like Germanic or Romance) that are spoken in countries like: Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakh. So, if you’re like me, you may have heard of these languages and places but never actually heard it.
The biggest defining characteristic of these languages are they’re agglutinative and employ vowel harmony. This basically means that you just add suffixes to words to change the meaning. For example, travel-seyahat, travels-seyahatler, my travels-seyahatlerim. Another example is using the phrase “can or I can”. If I say “I go” it’s “giderim” but “I can go” is “gidebilirim”. Can therefore is just a suffix and not its own word. Vowel harmony is a little less confusing and just a matter of memorization. Simply when you add these suffixes the vowels from them need to agree with the last vowel of the word. Example, kız (girl) becomes kızım (my girl). Whereas, el (hand) becomes elim (my hand). It’s a weird but seemingly simple practice. So, if you’re reading this and laughing at my struggles I’ve attached a diagram to show you how I get my mind blown on a daily basis with this stuff.
Crazy, right? Even though I’m not quite sure how one makes someone a European…I don’t think this is how it’s done.