Turkish: Güle güle!

Oh, do I really have to move on? I grew rather fond on Turkish in the short time I reviewed it. It also made me reconsider some of the things I didn’t like about languages I already sampled (e.g., noun cases, vowel harmony, etc.). But time is getting short as there are only seven languages left in the project.

Turkish is a Turkic language coming from the Altaic language family, which includes Azeri (previously reviewed in the blog). It is derived from Oghuz Turkic, spoken by the Seljuks, who settled in modern-day Turkey. Ottoman Turkish was used throughout the empire, which lasted from about 1299-1923. The language was heavily reformed in the 1930s by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who introduced a new alphabet, did anyway with words with Persian/Arabic roots and created the Turkish Language Association. Turkish is spoken by over 70 million.

FINAL IMPRESSION: I have a very good one of Turkish! Like I mentioned earlier, I was worried that I’d be turned off by some of the things I saw in other languages, specifically Finnish. These things include vowel harmony, noun cases and suffixes. I grew to love Turkish’s vowel harmony, as I think it makes it sound very distinct and beautiful. Also, the noun cases and suffixes are very logical, as I will get to those later.

Turkish is considerably different from English in the fact that is uses suffixes to indicate case, make nouns plural and conjugate verbs. I also doesn’t have grammatical gender or definite articles.

As for case, English speakers don’t use case at all really, so learning the forms can be kind of confusing. What Turkish does is tack on suffixes to nouns, which indicate the case, as prepositions don’t exist in English. It’s very logical, albeit hard for English speakers to grasp.

Here are the cases in Turkish (and what they mean, in case you don’t know):

Nominative – usually the main subject of the sentence (I bought a dress.)
Genitive – possession (This is the woman’s dress.)
Dative – noun is indirect object (I gave the dress to her.)
Accusative – noun is direct object (I bought the dress.)
Locative – shows where a noun is (I pointed at the dress.)
Ablative – shows that the noun is away from something (I stepped away from the dress.)

Here’s a chart from Wikibooks site on Turkish. If you notice, the suffixes also change according to the last vowel in the noun (vowel harmony comes into play):

after e, i:
Nominative:  no change
Genitive: -(n)in
Dative: -(y)e
Accusative: -(y)i
Locative: -de, -te
Ablative: -den, -ten

after ö, ü:
Nominative: no change
Genitive: -(n)ün
Dative: -(y)e
Accusative: -(y)i
Locative: -de, -te
Ablative: -den, -ten

after a, ı:
Nominative: no change
Genitive: -(n)ın
Dative: -(y)a
Accusative: -(y)ı
Locative: -da, -ta
Ablative: -dan, -tan

after o, u:

Nominative: no change
Genitive: -(n)un
Dative: -(y)a
Accusative: -(y)u
Locative: -da, -ta
Ablative: -dan, -tan

For example, otel (hotel) becomes otelin (the hotel’s) in the genitive case, and otelde (at the hotel) in the locative case.

Nouns are made plural by added -lar and -ler. -lar comes after nouns that have a, ı, o, u (back vowels) as the last vowel and -ler after nouns that have e, i, ö, ü (front vowels) as a last vowel. So … kanepe (sofa) becomes kanepeler (sofas) while kitap (book) become kitaplar (books).

Verbs sort of work the same way. Infinitives (to + verb) only end in -mak or -mek and tense is indicated by suffix. Infinitives are negated by adding -ma after the stem (for verbs ending with a back vowel) and -me (for verbs ending with a front vowel). Almak (to buy) becomes almamak (to not buy) for example. One helpful thing is that almost all Turkish verbs are regular.

As for actual conjugation … wow, there are SO many forms. I won’t put them all, but here’s an example of how simple present is formed with the verb almak (to buy):

Alıırım– I buy
Alırsın – you buy
Alır – he/she/it buys
Alırız – we buy
Alırsınız – you (formal) buy
Alırlar – they buy

Notice how the suffix changes. -ıyor indicates something is happening now. The following suffixes (-ım, -ın, ız, etc.) indicate the speaker.

To negate verbs, a m-, ma- or mi- is added in between the stem and the suffix (e.g, almam, I do not buy).

Please refer to Basics of Turkish Grammar for more detail on how Turkish verbs work.

I asked several native and non-native speakers of Turkish for their thoughts about the language and English. Their comments were very helpful and they generally resonated with one another.

Most of the native speakers acknowledged some difficulty in the language. Kemal, a non-native speaker, thought Turkish would be difficult for English speakers. He pointed out that the pronunciation, grammar and word formation are different between both languages. He said Turkish is easier for those fluent in languages from sister language groups.

My friend Mehmet said that hardest part for English speakers are the extra [suffixes] in the language. He used the word geliyorum, which means “I am coming” for example. He also mentioned the difficulties with vowel harmony. Another friend İlker said to basically be open-minded and that learning Turkish will take “lots of … hard work and one spoon of willing, and half a glass of adequacy.” He also said “blocking” English grammar and starting from scratch could help beginners. He said that English speakers already use the Latin alphabet, which helps, but because the alphabet is phonetic (e.g., no digraphs like th- or ch- in English) it could throw beginners off.

Meanwhile, my friend Umut, another native speaker of Turkish, said English speakers have the advantage because English speakers are able to pronounce words from different languages (e.g. French) which isn’t possible in Turkish, but the different letters (İ,Ö,Ü,Ğ) could pose problems.

Ryan, a non-native speaker, said it was relatively easy for him to learn. He speaks English, but said the key to learning was immersion, not only in classes but also just by living in Turkey. Gökçe, a native Turkish speaker, said that Turkish was more logical than English and Italian, other languages she learned. She explained that English speakers may think Turkish is difficult, but as long as they master the word order (SOV), suffixes and vowel harmony, everything else was easy. It took her longer to learn English due to the differences in grammar.

Everyone said Azeri was extremely similar, unequivocally. Some mentioned it sounded funny or a little different, but both İlker and Ryan said that the differences in vocabulary can lead to some surprising results.

So … this is a lot to take in. I do like Turkish much, much more than Azeri. My biggest worry is learning the suffixes for the verbs. I think I am able to understand vowel harmony pretty well, though and can pronounce the words without much difficulty. On a side note, going through Turkish made me reconsider the feelings I had about Finnish and Czech, both languages I originally said I wasn’t fond of due to vowel harmony and noun cases, respectively.

I think this language may make it to Part Two. We shall see.

Oh, and of course, more Turkish music. This was Gökçe’s suggestion!


Intelligibility: 3
Complexity: 3
Resonance: 4
Continuation: 4


Basics of Turkish Grammar
Learning Practical Turkish
UniLang – Turkish for Beginners


3 thoughts on “Turkish: Güle güle!

  1. Awesome post. I love Turkish so much, it is so logical, so lyrical, and the Turkic family is so far reaching that a decent grounding in Anatolian Turkish can help hugely in understanding Turkic languages from Central Asia. You should check out some videos in Uighur to hear how similar they are to each other.

    1. Thank you SO much for your comments and for reading, Josh! I’m interested in hearing the other Near Eastern languages as well. There is something about Turkish that is so distinctive, something that draws you into its sound. I enjoy listening to it quite a bit, and it is very logical, I agree.

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