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Turkish Language

The Turkish Language

Turkish is the official language of Turkey, Macedonia, Cyprus, and Kosovo while Germany, Bulgaria, Iraq, and Greece have large populations of Turkish speakers. A study done in 2006 by the European Commission estimated that there are about seventy-seven million Turkish speakers world-wide.

Turkish is a branch of the Oghuz language group, named after the early Turks who moved from central Asia to settle in eastern Europe and western Asia beginning beginning in the 800s. In 950 the conversion of the Kara-Khanid Khanate and Seljuq to Islam created the need for an official Turkish language. This new language mixed Arabic words with Turkish spoken in the area and was written in a script similar to Arabic, with characters being written right to left.

This type of writing is an abjad system, one that uses only consonants, creating major ambiguity problems for writing vowel-based Turkish speech. Some texts dating back as far as the 1600s avoided this problem by using Latin characters to represent sounds. As part of Ataturk's reforms the script was officially replaced in 1928 by this phonetic Latin script, allowing direct representation of the language. Latinized Turkish writing includes several unique characters including two which resemble the letter "i," one with a dot above the line and one without.

In 1932 the Turkish Language Association was formed to be the central source for information on the language including the creation of an official dictionary called the "Güncel Türkçe Sözlük." The latest edition of this book contains over 100,000 entries. This official language is based on the Istanbul dialect. The association also publishes the "Büyük Türkçe Sözlük," translated as either the "Great Turkish Dictionary" or "Big Turkish Dictionary." This book covers all Turkish words and phrases, containing over 600,000 entries.

The Turkish Language Association also handles the introduction of new words into the official language. Since its establishment there has been a push to replace foreign words and older official Turkish words of Persian origin with words directly derived from current or old Turkish. For example, a computer is a "bilgisayar," a combination of bilgi (information) and say (count.) This swift change in language makes texts that are only a few decades old very difficult for modern Turks to read without a recent translation. Between this localization of language and the switch to a simpler writing system Turkey saw a massive increase in literacy rates, going from just 1.1% of the population in 1927 to about 80% today. Women, who were almost completely illiterate before the reforms, now have a literacy rate almost equal to men.

Turkish is an agglutinative language: Words are made of a series of affixes, often creating new words. Native prefixes always relate to intensity, while there will always be at least one suffix showing the word's part of speech. Technically there is no limit to the length a word can be, with the longest Turkish word currently being "muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine" which literally means "Like you who are those we could not make easily a maker of unsuccessful ones."

Sentences typically follow a subject-object-verb form, although this can be changed so that words that need to be emphasized can be moved to the front of the sentence. Verbs in this language use affixes to express if something happened, when something is happening, if it can happen, and the mood related to the action. For example, a single verb could express that you wish that an object had not been sold.

Spoken Turkish uses vowel harmony: A native word will use only front vowels or rear vowels. Affixes also follow this rule, switching pronunciation depending on the vowels used in the word they are attached to. Unlike most other languages with this system, there are no neutral vowels that can be placed with either front or rear vowels. Some consonants are also tied to either front or back vowels, but this isn't as consistent, especially in foreign words.