About the Turkish Language

About the Turkish Language

An initial distinction should be drawn between Turkish which is the spoken language, and Turkic which is the family of languages to which Turkish belongs.  The main geographic locations of Turkic languages are Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, The Caucuses and Siberia. In addition there are substantial Turkic speaking communities in North West China. In terms of linguistic structure, the Turkic languages are very close to one another.

Turkish is the official and dominant language of Turkey where it is the native language of 80 per cent of the population. The largest linguistic minority in Turkey is formed of Kurdish speakers mainly in South Eastern turkey. Turkish is also the co-official language of Cyprus (with Greek). But the largest number of Turkish speakers outside turkey is to be found in the Balkans, especially Bulgaria, but also Macedonia and Greece.

Modern Turkish is a standardisation of the Istanbul dialect of Anatolian. The first Anatolian Turkish documents date from the Thirteenth century show that the literary tradition of Central Asia was only very tenuously carried over by the Turkish tribes (who had converted to Islam earlier) after invading Anatolia from the East in the late Eleventh century.  These tribes were influenced heavily by Persian and Arabic from the beginning of their settling in Anatolia because of the higher prestige and development of the culture and literature of those neighbouring Muslim nations.

From the beginning of its Anatolian period, Turkish was written in Arabic script, until the Latin script was adopted in 1928, one of the various reforms introduced after the founding of the Turkish Republic with the aim of westernising the country.

In the literature written for Scholarly, administrative and literary purposes, the Persian and Arabic components became so prevalent that Ottoman became a mixed language, having lost some of its characteristic Turkic properties to the point of not being usable as a medium of communication between al social classes. During the same time, however, there was also a considerable production of mystical literature and folk poetry which was written for the less educated classes, in the language used by those segments of the population, namely Anatolian Turkish as influenced very little by Persian and Arabic. These works are very close to the Republican Turkish of today and can be understood without much difficulty.

After Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey, he founded the “Turkish Language Foundation” (Türk Dil Kurumu, TDK), which had the aim of “purifying” the language by replacing words of Arabic and Persian origin. By banning the these words in the newspapers, the foundation was successfull in removing  hundreds of Arabic words from Turkish. While most of the words brought into the language by TDK are new, TDK also suggested using old Turkish words which had not been used in the language for hundreds of years.

Katia Reed
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