Turkish language is spread over a large geographical area
in Europe and Asia; recent studies show that this language
goes back 5500 years,and perhaps even 8500. At the same
time, it is one of the most widely spoken tongues in the
world - the sixth most widely spoken , to be precise. It
is spoken in the Azeri, the Türkmen, the Tartar, the
Uzbek, the Baskurti, the Nogay, the Kyrgyz, the Kazakh,
the Yakuti, the Cuvas and other dialects. Turkish belongs
to the Altaic branch of the Ural-Altaic family of
languages, and thus is closely related to Mongolian,
Manchu-Tungus, Korean, and perhaps Japanese. Some scholars
have maintained that these resemblances are not
fundamental, but rather the result of borrowings, however
comparative Altaistic studies in recent years demonstrate
that the languages we have listed all go back to a common
Turkish is a very ancient
language, with a flawless phonetic, morphological and
syntactic structure, and at the same time possesses a
wealth of vocabulary. The fundamental features which
distinguish the Ural-Altaic languages from the
Indo-European are as follows:
- Vowel harmony, a
feature of all Ural-Altaic tongues.
- The absence of gender.
- Adjectives precede
- Verbs come at the end
of the sentence. The name of the script of the language
spoken in Turkey proper, the dialect falls into the
southwestern dialects of the Western Turkish language
family and also into the dialects of the Oguz Türkmen
language group. When the Turkish spoken in Turkey is
considered in a historical context, it can be classified
according to three separate periods because of the
inherent characteristics of each of the periods:
Old Anatolian Turkish
(old Ottoman - between the 13th and the 15th centuries)
- Ottoman Turkish (from
the 16th to the 19th century)
- 20th century Turkish
The oldest written
records are found upon stone monuments in Central Asia, in
the Orhon, Yenisey and Talas regions within the boundaries
of present-day Mongolia. These were erected to Bilge
Kaghan (735), Kültigin (732), and the vizier Tonyukuk
(724-726). Apart from these, there are some one hundred
inscriptions of various sizes mentioned by the Swedish
army officer Johan von Strahlenberg. The first to read
them and publish his results was the Danish Turcologist
Wilhelm Thomsen, while the Russian Turcologist (of
Prussian extraction) Wilhelm Radloff contributed in a
major way to the deciphering of the script. The perfection
of the language used in these records, which document the
social and political life of the Gokturk Dynasty, proves
that Turkish, as a language of letters, has been in use
from very ancient times.
In later periods many
forms of writing would appear: Nestorian writing in the
northeast, Sogd, Uighur, and Pali writings in the
southeast, Manichaean texts. In Brahman writing, and from
the 11th centuary onward, Arabic script for Islamic texts.
In addition, depending on the region in which they lived,
the Turks have employed Suryani, Armenian, Georgian and
ancient Greek alphabeths, producing literary works which
have transmitted the Turkish culture up to the present
After the waning of the
Gokturk state, the Uighurs produced many written texts
that are among the most important source works for the
Turkish language. The Uighurs produced many written texts
that are among the most important source works for the
Turkish language. The Uighurs abondened shamanism(the
original Turkish religion) in favor of Buddhism,
Manichaeanism and Brahminism, and translated the pious and
philosophical works of all of them into Turkish. Examples
are Altun Yaruk, Mautrisimit, Sekiz Yükmek, Huastunift,
etc. These were collected by european turcologists in
The Kokturk (Gokturk)
inscriptions, together with Uighur writings, are in a
language called by scholars Old Turkish. This term refers
to the Turkish spoken, prior to the conversion to Islam,
on the steppes of Mongolia and Tarim basin.
With the emergence of the
Cagatay Dynasty, which came about when the Empire of
Genghis Khan was divided among his sons, a new wave of
Turkish literature was born and flowered under the
influence of Persian literature. It reached its pinnacle
with the works of Ali Sir Navai in the 15th century.
The Turkish of Turkey
that developed in Anatolia and across the Bosphorus in the
times of the Seljuks and Ottomans was used in several
valuable literary works prior to the 13th century. The men
of letters of the time were, notably, Sultan Veled, the
son of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, Ahmed Fakih, Seyyad
Hamza, Yunus Emre, a prominent thinker of the time, and
the famed poet, Gulsehri.
Language up to the 16th Century
With the spread of Islam
among the Turks from the 10th century onward,
the Turkish language came under heavy influence of Arabic
and Persian cultures.
(1072), the dictionary edited by Ka?garly Mahmut to assist
Arabs to learn Turkish, was written in Arabic. In the
following century, Edip Ahmet Mahmut Yükneri wrote his
book "Atabetü'l-Hakayyk", in Eastern Turkish, but the
title was in Arabic. All these are indications of the
strong influence of the new religion and culture on the
Turks and the Turkish language.
In spite of the heavy
influence of Islam, in texts written in Anatolian Turkish
the number of words of foreign origin is minimal. The most
important reason for this is that during the period
mentioned, effective measures were taken to minimize the
influence of other cultures. For example, during the
Karahanlylar period there was significant resistance of
Turkish against the Arabic and Persian languages. The
first masterpiece of the Muslim Turks, "Kutadgu Bilig" by
Yusuf Has Hacib, was written in Turkish in 1069.
Ali ?ir Nevai of the
Ça?atay Turks defended the superiority of Turkish from
various points of view vis-a-vis Persian in his book "Muhakemetül-Lugateyn",
written in 1498.
During the time of the
Anatolian Seljuks and Karamano?ullary, efforts were made
resulting in the acceptance of Turkish as the official
language and in the publication of a Turkish dictionary, "Divini
Turki", by Sultan Veled (1277).
AhmetFakih, Seyyat Hamza
and Yunus Emre adopted the same attitude in their use of
ancient Anatolian Turkish, which was in use till 1299.
Moreover, after the emergence of the Ottoman Empire,
Sultan Orhan promulgated the first official document of
the State, the "Mülkname", in Turkish.
In the 14th
century, A?ykpa?a, Gül?ehri, Ahmedi and Kaygusuz Abdal, in
the 15th century Süleyman Çelebi and Hacy
Bayram and in the 16th century Sultan Abdal and
Köro?lu were the leading poets of their time, pioneering
the literary use of Turkish. In 1530, Kadri Efendi of
Bergama published the first study of Turkish grammar, "Müyessiretül-Ulum".
characteristic in the evolution of the written language
during these periods was that terminology of foreign
origin was accompanied with the indigenous. Furthermore,
during the 14th and 15th centuries
translations were made particularly in the fields of
medicine, botany, astronomy, mathematics and Islamic
studies, which promoted the introduction of a great number
of scientific terms of foreign origin into written
Turkish, either in their authentic form or with Turkish
Scientific treatises made
use of both written and vernacular Turkish, but the
scientific terms were generally of foreign origin,
The Evolution of
Turkish since the 16th Century
The mixing of Turkish
with foreign words in poetry and science did not last
Particularly after the 16th
century foreign terms dominated written texts, in fact,
some Turkish words disappeared altogether from the written
language. In the field of literature, a great passion for
creating art work of high quality persuaded the ruling
elite to attribute higher value to literary works
containing a high proportion of Arabic and Persian
vocabulary, which resulted in the domination of foreign
elements over Turkish. This development was at its extreme
in the literary works originating in the palace. This
trend of royal literature eventually had its impact on
folk literature, and numerous foreign words and phrases
were used by folk poets.
The extensive use f
Arabic and Persian in science and literature not only
influenced the spoken language in the palace and its
surroundings, but as time went by, it also persuaded the
Ottoman intelligentsia to adopt and utilise a form of
palace language heavily reliant on foreign elements.
As a result, there came
into being two different types of language. One in which
foreign elements dominated, and the second was the spoken
Turkish used by the public.
From the 16th
to the middle of the 19th century, the Turkish
used in science and literature was supplemented and
enriched by the inclusion of foreign items under the
influence of foreign cultures. However, since there was no
systematic effort to limit the inclusion of foreign words
in the language, too many began to appear.
In the mid-19th
century, Ottoman Reformation (Tanzimat) enabled a new
understanding and approach to linguistic issues to emerge,
as in many other matters of social nature.
The Turkish community
which had been under the influence of Eastern culture, was
exposed to the cultural environment of the West. As a
result, ideological developments such as the outcome of
reformation and nationalism in the West, began to
influence the Turkish community, and thus important
changes came into being in the cultural and ideological
life of the country.
The most significant
characteristic with respect to the Turkish language was
the tendency to eliminate foreign vocabulary from Turkish.
In the years of the
reformation, the number of newspaper, magazines and
periodicals increased and accordingly the need to purify
the language became apparent.
The writing of Namyk
Kemal, Ali Suavi, Ziya Pa?a, Ahmet Mithat Efendi and ?emsettin
Sami which appeared in various newspapers tackled the
problem of simplification.
Efforts aimed at "Turkification"
of the language by scholars like Ziya Gökalp became even
more intensive at the beginning of the 20th
Furthermore, during the
reform period of 1839, emphasis was on theoretical
linguistics whereas during the second constitutional
period it was on the implementation and use of the new
trend. Consequently new linguists published successful
examples of the purified language in the periodical "Genç
Kalemler" (Young Writers).
Era and Language Reform
With the proclamation of
the Republic in 1923 and after the process of national
integration in the 1923-1928 period, the subject of
adopting a new alphabet became an issue of utmost
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had
the Latin alphabet adapted to the Turkish vowel system,
believing that to reach the level of contemporary
civilization, it was essential to benefit from western
The creation of the
Turkish Language Society in 1932 was another milestone in
the effort to reform the language.
The studies of the
society, later renamed the Turkish Linguistic Association,
concentrated on making use again of authentic Turkish
words discovered in linguistic surveys and research and
bore fruitful results.
At present, in conformity
with the relevant provision of the 1982 Constitution, the
Turkish Language Association continues to function within
the organizational framework of the Atatürk High
Institution of Culture, Language and History.
The essential outcome of
the developments of the last 50-60 years is that whereas
before 1932 the use of authentic Turkish words in written
texts was 35-40 percent, this figure has risen to 75-80
percent in recent years.
This is concrete proof
that Atatürk's language revolution gained the full support