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The Turks were one of many linguistic and ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire. Members of the military, civil and religious elite conducted their business in Ottoman Turkish dialect, a mixture of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. Arabic was the primary language of religion and religious law, while Persian was the language of art, literature. and diplomacy. Ottoman Turkish borrowed vocabulary words as well as entire expressions and syntactic structures from Arabic and Persian.

Pure Turkish was used primarily by the lower class and illiterate. It was generally not used in writing. Ottoman Turkish, on the other hand, was the language of the educated elite, in both written and oral communications .

When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk came to power in 1923, he instituted sweeping reforms in Turkey. One of these reforms dealt with language. The goal was to introduce a language more Turkish, modern, practical, precise, and easier to learn than the old language. The two basic elements of this language reform were the adoption of a new alphabet and the purification of the language.

Beginning in May, 1928, numbers written in Arabic were replaced with their Westem equivalents. In November of that year, the Grand National Assembly approved the new Roman (or Latin) alphabet, which had been devised by a committee of scholars including several American linguists.

Although some assembly members favored introducing the new system gradually over a period of years, Ataturk was determined that the transition last only a few months. As one who set an example by doing, Ataturk traveled throughout Turkey with chalk and a portable blackboard, personally teaching the new alphabet in schools, village squares, and other public places. On January 1, 1929, it became unlawful to use the Arabic alphabet.

The new alphabet represents the Turkish vowels and consonants more clearly that does the old alphabet.

Composed of Latin letters and a few additional variants including s (as in church), 6 (as in shell), and U (as in few), it contains one symbol for each sound of standard Turkish. The adoption of the Latin alphabet was a conscious tum away from the Islamic world and toward the West.

The long-term effects of the language reform have been considered positive overall. Reading, spelling, and printing are now mush simpler than before, and literacy has greatly increased. Modem Turkish is more direct and concise than Ottoman Turkish which makes it better suited to modem life, including science and technology.

Guide to Pronunciation

Pronunciation of Turkish words is phonetic with all letters having the same value in every situation. The Turkish alphabet contains all the letters of the English alphabet except for q, x, and w. In general, most letters are pronounced about the same as in English with a few exceptions.

The stress on Turkish words is more pronounced than in English. It usually falls on the last syllable, although many people argue it is the first syllable. Names of places are the exceptions where stress can be on any syllable, such as Istanbul, Marmaris, and Izmir.


  • Pointers to Turkish Language

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