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The Turkish Language Explained for English Speakers

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About the Turkish Language, Street Turkish and advice for visiting Turkey. Manisa Turkish answers some of the difficulties which learners may encounter along their way.

Wikipedia says: "The best website for learning Turkish with detailed explanations."

The Origins of Turkish.

The Turkish Language originated in The Altai Mountain Range in Northern Siberia centuries ago. For this reason it is called an Altaic Language. As nomads expanded further into Asia Minor, they brought their language with them to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and other countries. Many of these languages are mutually intelligible although local usage and vocabulary, spelling and alphabet may differ. However they all exhibit the same grammatical structure of agglutination and vowel harmony.

Turkish being a language emanating from Central Asia, is spoken from the borders of Greece into the hinterland of Western China. While the Ottoman Empire flourished Turkish was spoken from Vienna to Arabia, Egypt and Northern Africa. The Turkish vocabulary contains many words from Arabic, Persian and European languages. These imported words mostly follow the basic grammar and vowel harmony of native Turkish.

An Overview of The Turkish Language.

  • In Turkish word meanings are changed by fixing other words on to the root as direct suffixes.
  • These little important words show motion towards/motion from or static location of the suffixed word.
  • The suffixes change their spelling according to set rules and they must follow the same vowel pattern Vowel Harmony as the word to which they are being added. Sometimes they also have a consonant change Consonant Mutation for ease of pronunciation.
  • Those added to the stem of a verb may indicate its positive or negative form. Suffixes are then added for tense and person.
  • Further moods may, might, can, can't, must can be added on to the original verb root, thus producing a new verb.
  • Nouns are suffixed with possessor and the motion or location words are then added.
  • There is no definite article "the" as a subject, but there is a specifier "the" as a direct object suffix.
  • There are no gender forms (no "le" or "la" as in French) in Turkish. One single word is used for "he, she, it"
  • As in English, adjectives describe their noun and remain in their basic form : there being no gender thus no gender agreement is required.
  • The sentence form is SOV Subject, Object, Verb.

The Structure of Turkish.

Turkish is not a Classical Structured Language.
The Turkish grammar is not looked on by the Turks themselves as a Classical Structured Language. They have their own grammar rules which are not based on the Classical System as those in Latin or Greek.

Most Turkish grammars for foreigners are written by linguists and grammarians, usually in consort with a Turkish national, and they tend to use a classical language framework. Consequently most grammars are peppered with such classic terms as accusative, dative, locative and ablative together with such tenses and moods as aorist, subjunctive.

Manisa Turkish uses Turkish grammar nomenclature and many classical grammar terms have been discarded.

Turkish has the concept of Vowel Harmony where the vowels of suffixes must mirror the final vowel of the root word being suffixed. Also Consonant Mutation where spelling changes are made to preserve phonetic euphony with actual pronunciation. English has some consonant change but not for the same reasons.

There is also a Reflexive Genitive in Turkish where both the owner/possessor and owned/possessed are suffixed. This construction does not occur in classical grammar so many teachers have resorted to using a Persian name izafet. In this website Manisa Turkish follows Turkish Grammar nomenclature, calling it the Possessive Relationship.

Turkish is characterized by vowel harmony, consonant mutation (consonant change) and agglutination (word suffixation.)

Post positions are used instead of prepositions. Thus suffixes added to the stem of the verb may indicate positive or negative forms of the passive, reflexive, causative, potential, subjunctive moods plus further additions for tense and person.

Nouns are also suffixed with possessor my, your and noun condition to, from, in, by.

The subject definite article and grammatical gender are lacking. Adjectives precede their noun and do not have to agree in number or case.

The Features of Turkish Grammar.

The Turkish Alphabet: Consists of twenty-one consonants and eight vowels. The Turkish alphabet is phonetic as each letter always retains it own sound. In English the sound of the letters can change, as the letter a does in fat, fate, fare etc. In Turkish there is no such pronunciation change to letters of the alphabet.

The Adjectives: Adjectives and adjectival phrases precede their noun and do not agree in number.

Vowel Harmony: Turkish has eight vowels, four pairs (A-E, I-İ, O-Ö, U-Ü) with corresponding front/back, and rounded/unrounded sounds, which form the basis for vowel harmony. According to vowel harmony rules, vowels of suffixes must have the same properties as the vowel in the last syllable: either front/back or rounded/unrounded.

Consonant Mutation: In certain circumstances changes are made to the spelling of consonants. If the pronunciation of a consonant changes the spelling also changes to reflect this.

Agglutination: [a "gluing together". The combination of simple words to express compound ideas.] Agglutination in Turkish takes the form of suffixes attached to the end of a word, whether noun or verb. Suffixes add to the word's meaning and/or mark its grammatical function. (i.e. ev - house evlerden - from the houses)

The Absence of Gender: Turkish does not have a definite article, nor does it have gender pronouns. A single word signifies he, she, it.

Verbs: Always come at the end of the sentence. Sentence construction follows the subject-object-verb pattern.

The Structure of Turkish: Differs in both grammatical structure and vocabulary from the Indo European Group, English, Spanish, French etc.

The Six Turkish Noun Conditions.

These six conditions are suffixed to the root word according to Vowel Harmony Rules. The vowels of the suffix match the final vowel of the root word.
Title Condition (Nominative):
The root word which carries no suffix. el hand, the hand.

Ownership Condition (Genitive): -in/-ın/-un/-ün
This is the condition of "belonging to" meaning of, 's in English elin [el-in] the hand's, of the hand.

Specific Object Condition (Accusative): -i/-ı/-u/-ü
This is is the direct object of a verb meaning specific the in English eli [el-i] the hand (obj.)

Movement Towards Condition (Dative): -a/-e
This is the condition of movement towards meaning to, towards in English ele [el-e] to/towards the hand.

Static Position Condition (Locative): -da/-de or -ta/-te according to Consonant Mutation rules.
This is the condition of place and position meaning in, on, at in English elde [el-de] in/on/at the hand.

Movement Away Condition (Ablative): -dan/-den or -tan/-ten according to Consonant Mutation rules.
This is the condition of movement away meaning from, by, via in English elden [el-den] from/by/via the hand.

Turkish Grammar is Regular.

Turkish pronunciation is Phonetic, In Turkish each letter of the alphabet always retains its basic pronunciation.
Turkish grammar is regular but differs in that it consists of post-positions which are suffixed directly to nouns or other parts of speech to modify their meaning. This use of suffixes is called agglutination, literally meaning "a gluing on". This is in contrast to English which uses individual prepositions for the same reasons.
Another peculiarity of Turkish is the Vowel Harmony where vowels change in pronunciation and spelling to mirror the previous vowel in a word.


Agglutination a "sticking on to"

The putting together of language particles where each expresses a single definite meaning, thus forming a new word.
In English there are many words which agglutinate (extend) to form other words.

The word argue can be agglutinated to argument by sticking on a -ment suffix. This word can take additions of further suffixes: -ative giving argumentative and even further to argumentatively by adding a the -ly suffix.

This then is the way of Turkish but even the little words like in, from, at are suffixed to their noun, thus producing an extended word. As examples, adding the suffix -de in, on, at and the suffix -dan from
ev house
evde [ev-de] in the house.
evden [ev-den] from the house.
These suffixes harmonize with the vowel in the word ev.

Most suffixes follow the Rule of Vowel Harmony [see below]. There is both an A-UnDotted Vowel Form A I O U, and an E-Dotted Vowel Form E İ Ö Ü for the same suffix. Similarly adding suffix -da in, on, at and -dan from
oda room
odada [oda-da] in the room
odadan [oda-dan] from the room
These suffixes harmonize with the final vowel of the word oda.

Consonant Mutation.

Changes in pronunciation and spelling of consonants to preserve phonetics and euphony.

About Voicing of Consonants.

A Voiced Consonant is one where the voice box is used to produce the sound d b are in this category.
An Unvoiced Consonant is where the voice is silent and only air is expelled to produce the sound such as t p.

The Main Consonants with Two Forms in Turkish.

There is some consonant mutation in English. The terminal -y of lady changes to an -ie- in the plural ladies, and the terminal -f of knife changes to a -v- in the plural knives. Turkish has consonant change, but it is on a larger scale than English.

The changes: k to ğ and d to t.

The main changes that occur in Turkish words is that a terminal -k may change to a (soft g) when a suffix with a vowel is added.
The first letter -d of a suffix may change to a -t when the suffix is added to a word ending in a hard consonant ç f h k p s ş t. There are also some other minor consonant changes.

Turkish Vowels.

In Turkish the voice sounds are separated into two main groups, consonants and vowels. When there is no obstacle to a voice then the sound is called a vowel. There are eight vowels in Turkish: a e ı i o ö u ü.

The Eight Vowels of Turkish.

The eight vowels are divided into two groups, the A-UnDotted Vowels and the E-Dotted vowels.
The 4 A-Undotted Vowels are a ı o u.
The 4 E-Dotted Vowels are e i ö ü.
E-Dotted vowels are pronounced at the front of the mouth, as the French Language, while their A-UnDotted counterparts are pronounced at the back of the mouth (more like English).

Vowel Harmony Basics.

The harmony lies in the fact that all original Turkish words are pronounced either entirely containing A-UnDotted Vowels as kapılar doors or bulmacaları their crosswords, or entirely containing E-Dotted Vowels as evlerinden from their house or köylüler the villagers. Grammatical and verb suffixes also follow vowel harmony, being divided into two groups for front-vowel words and back-vowel words.

For example, the Undotted back-vowel plural suffix -lar would be added to kapı to form the word for doors kapılar
whereas the Dotted front-vowel plural suffix -ler would be added to köylü to produce villagers köylüler.

Vowel Harmony Reference

A-UnDotted Vowels follow each other.
E-Dotted Vowels follow each other.

Turkish Verbs.

There are no irregular verbs in Turkish. One single conjugation is used for all verbs. Turkish Verbs also obey vowel harmony rules. All verbs belong to one of two groups determined by their infinitive forms, those ending in -mak [The A-UnDotted Vowel Group] and those ending in -mek [The E-Dotted Vowel Group].

The suffixes for all -mak verbs have only A-UnDotted Back Vowels bakmak to look becomes bakacak he will look.. However only E-Dotted Front Vowels are found in the suffixes of -mek verbs gelmek to come becomes gelecek He will come. In consequence there is more than one form for the tense sign suffix and in this case the future suffix may be -acak or -ecek to follow Vowel Harmony Rules.

Turkish Definite Articles.

Turkish Lack of Gender.

There is no gender distinction in Turkish, so there is no "le" and "la" problems as in French, Italian etc. This borne out by the fact that Turkish only has one word for he, she and it, namely o.

Turkish does not have a subject definite article "the". However the object of a verb does have a objective suffix "the" in Turkish. This is one of the difficulties for those learning Turkish as English does not distinguish between subject "the" and object "the" as it uses the definite article "the" for both.

The Subject (nominative)

There is no separate Definite Article "the" in Turkish as the subject is already considered as specific in Turkish,

Fincan masada. The cup is on the table.
[subject, not suffixed: fincan "The cup"]
The Subject, the cup fincan is considered as definitive (specific) in Turkish.
It is the way of saying "the" cup as a subject.

The Object (accusative)

An accusative suffix -(y)i -(y)ı -(y)u -()ü is added to objects. This is difficult for English speakersas we use the definite article "the" to distinguish the object of a sentence.

Masadaki fincanı bana verin. Give me the cup which is on the table.
[object, suffixed: fincan-ı fincanı "The cup"]

Here the object the cup fincan has been made definitive (specific) by the addition of the objective suffix to produce fincanı.

It is the way of saying "the cup" as an object.

Turkish Adjectives.

Turkish is a descriptive language, adjectives abound and if Turkish can make something into an adjective then it will do so.

Being an descriptive language basically the adjective or adjectival phrase always preceded its noun: kara kedi a black cat as in English. However Turkish makes great use of adjectival phrases and clauses to describes nouns, actions and thoughts.

In English we may say:
The black cat with the long tail which is sitting on the mat looks hungry.
The Turkish way will describe the cat not only as black, but also where and upon what it is sitting together with any other attributes, such as its long tail:

  • Minderin üstünde oturan uzun kuyruklu kara kedi aç görünüyor.
  • On the mat which-is-sitting long tailed black cat hungry looks.

In Turkish the subject and object are described adjectivally with regards to place and disposition.
Once all the describing is done, the verb is placed last in the sentence.

Structure of Turkish Words.

The structure of Turkish words is vowel followed by a consonant by a vowel or vice versa. A vowel always follows a consonant and a consonant always follows a vowel. There are no diphthongs (two vowels occurring together) in Turkish words, other than imported foreign exceptions.

In order to preserve this rule certain consonants are inserted as "buffers" between vowels. These buffers are always Y, N, S.. The Y is considered as a consonant in Turkish.

The majority of Turkish Vowels are always pronounced quite short, there is no lengthening of vowels. For Turkish learners this sometimes makes understanding difficult as there is little and light stress in Turkish pronunciation.

Turkish Word Order.

Word order is regular, but differs from English:

  1. Adjectival Descriptions of Subject.
  2. The Subject.
  3. Time Clauses.
  4. Adjectival Descriptions of Object.
  5. The Object.
  6. The Verb.

The verb is always last in a sentence.

Turkish punctuation normally puts a comma after the subject of a sentence. It is good practice to do this especially if the subject is extended by a long adjectival description.

An English example:

The man with the fishing rods in his hands, a long described subject, will be found, the verb, at your friend's 50th birthday party, a long described object, tomorrow night, time phrase.

Put into Turkish Structure:

Ellerinde oltası olan adam, yarın gece arkadaşının 50'ci doğum günü partisinde bulunacak.
Hands-his-in fishing-rod-the which-are man, a described and suffixed subject, tomorrow night, time phrase,friend-your-of 50th birthday party-his-at, a described and suffixed object and at last the verb, will be found.

Foreign Influence on Turkish Vocabulary

Turkish has imported many words from French, such as televizyon télévision and müzisyen musician, kuaför coiffure which have been modified phonetically to the Turkish Alphabet and incorporated into the language. These are spelled according to Turkish phonetics and often have both front and back vowels within one word which is unnatural for Turkish.

Such is true for the numerous Turkish words of Arabic origin, such as mektup letter and merhaba hello, and of Persian origin as hane office where vowel harmony does not occur in the word itself. In these cases, consistent with the general rule for vowel harmony in Turkish, the final vowel of the word determines the vowel harmony for suffixation.


"The Turkish Language Explained for English Speakers"

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This Treatise on the Turkish Language and its Grammar explains and answers some of the difficulties that the learner of Turkish may encounter along their way. Its focus is on Turkish grammar and logic.

Those interested in the whys and wherefores of Turkish will find the key to the particular problem of Turkish grammar and syntax by covering the basics of Turkish using many examples with explanations.

It does not contain any practice exercises or sound files as many of these can be found in other text books and internet.

It is a book to use over the whole of the learning process from basic beginner through to intermediate and advanced stages of learning.


"The Turkish Language Explained for English Speakers"

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The contents of the 43 chapters range over:

Turkish Basic Grammar: Alphabet, Vowel Harmony, Agglutination, Consonant Mutation, Lack of Gender. Intermediate: Nouns and Pronouns, Adjectives, Verbs and Tenses, Possessive Relationship and Possession. Advanced: Verb Moods, Participles, Clauses, Spatials and Spatial Relationships, Word Formation in Turkish. Conversational Items: Time, Seasons, Numbers, Colours, Saying "Thankyou", About "buyurun", Expressing Need, Daily Interjections, Modes of Address, Turkish Sign Language, How to say "too much, too many", Daily Talk, Common Door Signs. Glossaries: List of Daily Locutions, Daily Word List, Irregular Tense List, Turkish Single Syllable Verb List, Intensified Adjectives List.


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