History of the Turkish Language

Turkish is a Turkic language, spoken by between 65 and 73 million people in the world. It’s the official language of Turkey and at a regional or partial level in countries like Cyprus, Macedonia and Kosovo. Turkish is also spoken by large emigrant communities and by the Turkish population remaining in Eastern European countries after the extinction of the Ottoman Empire, including Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia. Some of its major linguistic particularities are vowel harmony and extensive agglutination.

Origins

Turkish is a Turkic language, first spoken on the territory of today's Mongolia. It gradually suffered the strong influence of Persian and Arabic, and in the times of the Ottoman Empire, the impact of local Slavic languages such as Bulgarian, Serbian, etc. Modern Turkish is a descendant of Ottoman Turkish, but the reform at the beginning of the 20th Century substituted the alphabet with a more phonetic version of the Latin alphabet, and tried to ‘purify’ the language by substituting Persian and Arab loan words with their original Turkish equivalents.

Official Language

Turkish is the official language of Turkey. It’s also official in Northern Cyprus, being co-official for Cyprus together with Greek. At a regional or partial level, Turkish is official in Kosovo and Macedonia. Large communities of ethnic Turkish population inhabit the Slavic countries, which were formerly included in the Ottoman Empire, and Turkish is spoken there.

Varieties

Standard Turkish is based on the Istanbul dialect. Since the reform undertaken by Ataturk in the beginning of the 20th Century, Standard Turkish uses the Istanbul variety, a phonetic version of the Latin alphabet and a purified version of the vocabulary (where many of the old loanwords from Arab and Persian do not exist.). Several distinct dialects of Turkish exist, the most significant of which include deliorman, dinler, adakale, edirne, ege and cypriot.

Brief History

The History of Turkish can be traced more than 1,200 years back. At that time, the Turkic linguistic community inhabited the territory of today's Mongolia. The development of Old Turkish was strongly marked by the gradual impact of Persian and Arab, not only in terms of vocabulary, but also sentence construction, orthography, etc.

The next stage, and maybe the most significant, is the period of Ottoman Turkish. It coincided with the historical existence of the Ottoman Empire, which gradually enlarged to encompass the entirety of Eastern Europe. At that time, Turkish also suffered the impact of local linguistic communities, mainly Slavic, but also from Greek and other languages.

In the beginning of the 20th Century, one of the greatest Turkish leaders, Kemal Ataturk, undertook critical reforms of the state of Turkey, aiming to establish both a strong and independent national identity and a less religious-dominated perception of the world. He adopted many of the achievements of Western Civilization. As for the language, the reform eliminated the old Arabic-based alphabet for the sake of a new phonetic version of the Latin alphabet. It also aimed to re-establish Turkish equivalents for old loanwords from Arab and Persian. Since then, the official version of Standard Turkish is based on the dialect of Istanbul.

Did you know?

Turkish is a Turkic language, historically very close to Arab and Persian, but has been using the Latin alphabet for more than a century. Turkey is a Muslim country, but a considerable part of it is located in Europe. Therefore, Turkey is the only Muslim country which is currently an applicant for EU membership.

Turkish is spoken by 65 to 73 million people all over the world, a considerable part being native speakers located outside of the national borders – emigrants in Western Europe and ethnic Turkish communities in Slavic countries, which were formerly included in the Ottoman Empire.