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10 things I love about the Turkish language 

Ayak izi / footprint.
© aNadventures

My first encounter with the Turkish language was in 2008, when I befriended an exchange student from Istanbul. Among the first words she taught me were sucuk (sausage) and tamam (ok). In August 2011, I enrolled in a Turkish course to prepare for my 1.5 year adventure in Izmir that started the following summer.  

This means that, as of this month, it has been 10 years that I’ve been serious about learning Turkish: Happy language aNaversary to me! To commemorate this milestone, I’d like to summarize 10 things I’ve come to love about the Turkish language. Hazır mısınız? Başlayalım. [Are you ready? Let’s get started.]

  1. Turkish is a “LEGO language”

From my perspective, Turkish is a “LEGO language”. And by LEGO language I mean that its grammatical structure allows you to attach all sorts of specific information to a single word. Where we’d use several words in English (and other languages) to bring across a message, in Turkish, that same information can be expressed in just one word, by “simply” adding a number of suffixes to nouns and verbs. It’s just like joining LEGO bricks:

Evindeydim. (House-your-at-I-was – I was at your house.)

Gelmemeliydik. (Come-not-should-have-we – We shouldn’t have come.)

As you can see, the Turkish language allows all sorts of suffixes that indicate possessive forms as well as prepositions of time and place, among other grammatical cases

In the beginning, this kind of structure may require some getting used to but once you’ve understood its logic, creating sentences in Turkish will feel like building a LEGO brick chain.  

  1. Turkish is a painting

I’ve said it before and I’ll write it again: Speaking Turkish feels like drawing with your tongue. 

Here are some examples: 

a) günaydın: good morning. Literally, this translates into “the day is bright”. 

b) kahvaltı: breakfast. This word is composed of kahve (coffee) and altı (below). It thus labels the meal that comes before coffee, the one that creates a foundation for coffee to trickle onto.  

c) alış veriş: shopping. This expression is derived from almak (to take) and vermek (to give) and it pictures the transaction taking place while shopping. You take an object and you give money in return. 

d) gök görültüsü: thunder. The literal translation of this expression is “noise from the sky”. Now if that isn’t poetic, what is?

e) kulak misafiri olmak: to overhear something. This is one of my favourites. It translates into “becoming an ear guest”. 

f) Amerika armudu: avocado. It’s an “American pear”. When I first found out about this term, I had to laugh so hard. 

This gives you an idea of the vast sorts of imagery that can be found in the Turkish language. 

  1. Turkish is French in disguise 

The Turkish language is full of French expressions, as I’ve previously stated here and here. In the beginning of my Turkish language journey, I’ve come to find this particularly motivating since I was already fluent in French. It helped me feel like I could express myself. Or at least I got a sense of what some words might mean. Some of my favourite Turkish adaptations of the French language are the following ones: 

  • anket = survey (French: enquête)
  • bagaj = suitcase (French: bagage)
  • bisküvi = cookie (French: biscuit)
  • duş = shower (French: douche)
  • egzersiz = exercise (French: exercice)
  • fok = seal (French: phoque)
  • plaj = beach (French: plage)
  • poşet = plastic bag (French: pochette)
  • şezlong = deck chair (French: chaise longue)
  • şövalye = knight (French: chevalier)

Which one is your favourite?

  1. Turkish is repeating

In Turkish, certain words are expressed twice, either for emphasis, as adverbs or to indicate time, among other cases. 

These are some examples I’ve previously shared here

Repetitions as a means of emphasis

A: Bizimle gelmek ister misin? 

[Would you like to come with us?]

B: Olur olur. 

[Alright (x2) // strongly agreeing]

A: Neredesin?

[Where are you?]

B: Geldim, geldim

[I’m coming (x2) // literally: I came (x2)]

Repetitions as adverbs

A: Yavaş yavaş, çocuklar!

[Be careful, kids! // literally: slowly slowly]

B: Problemlerimizi tane tane çözeriz. 

[We’ll solve our problems one after the other.]

Repetitions to indicate time

A: Kim arıyor acaba gece gece?

[Who might be calling this late at night? // literally: night night]

What else, what else? Let’s move on to the next thing I love about the Turkish language, shall we? 

  1. Turkish is all about vowels

If you’re starting to learn Turkish, you might have heard about the vowel harmony. I won’t go into detail here but to summarize: You will observe that the vowels used in a root word will tend to be “in harmony” with the ones in the suffixes that are added to it. Let’s take one of the examples stated above: Evindeydim. The vowel in the root word (ev – house) is “e”. Therefore the vowels of the subsequent suffixes are either “i” or “e”, both vowels harmonizing with “e”. 

If all of this sounds confusing, let me reassure you: There’s a way of expressing yourself in Turkish by using only three basic sounds or vowels. You can read about it here

  1. Turkish is names with a meaning

Another thing I love about the Turkish language is that Turkish names have a meaning. These meanings are very present in everyday life which allows you to address people all while learning new vocabulary. When I first arrived in Turkey in 2012, I regularly met new people that introduced themselves as “Peace”, “Dimple”, “Wish” and the like. Retaining the meanings of their names actually helped me remember them. And the more people I met, the more vocabulary I learnt. To retain that vocabulary, I created name classifications in my head. For example: flowers, water, nature in general, emotions, months, adjectives, animals and so on. 

While in Turkey, I also got confronted with a new meaning of my very own name: Ana. As far as I know, its origin is Hebrew and it means “favour” or “grace” or “beautiful”. In Turkish, though, ana is an endeared form of anne which means mother. So my name usually provoked a smile whenever I introduced myself and it was often shouted out loud in public, especially by children. 

  1. Turkish is clear family relations 

When you tell a story mentioning an aunt, uncle or any other family member, the Turkish language allows a very precise way of expressing how that person is related to you. There’s no need for lengthy explanations since there are specific terms such as the following ones: 

  • teyze = aunt [from the mother’s side]
  • hala = aunt [from the father’s side]
  • yenge = aunt [the wife of an uncle]
  • dayı = uncle [from the mother’s side]
  • amca = uncle [from the father’s side]
  • enişte = uncle [the husband of an aunt]
  • babaanne = grandmother  [from the father’s side // literally: father’s mother]
  • anneanne = grandmother [from the mother’s side // literally: mother’s mother]

In case of doubt: When addressing someone, everyone can be your abla (older sister), abi (older brother) or your kardeşim (younger sibling) This comes in handy especially if you have difficulties retaining people’s names. 

  1. Turkish is genderless 

In Turkish, there is no distinction between grammatical genders. Most nouns have a generic form which can refer to all genders: doktor (doctor), öğretmen (teacher), polis memuru (police officer) etc. There are some exceptions that do specify gender such as anne / baba (mother / father), kız / oğlan (girl / boy) and hanım / bey (lady / sir), for instance. 

Adjectives aren’t adapted either, contrary to how it is the case in Romance languages, for instance. And since most nouns are genderless, so are pronouns. He/she/it is simply “o”.

A genderless language is not necessarily a gender inclusive language, though. Sadly, machism is a reality that is also reflected in the Turkish language. Everytime I come across the following expression, I am reminded of it: bir şeyi adam gibi yapmak (to do something right // literally: to do something like a man). Looking for alternative expressions, I came upon this video that introduces kız gibi yapmak (doing it like a girl). 

  1. Turkish is çok güzel

If there’s something to retain from the Turkish language it’s that everything is çok güzel (very nice). The weather is çok güzel. The food is çok güzel. The way you speak Turkish is çok güzel. Learn these two words and you’ll make it far in terms of communicating your enthusiasm about life in Turkish. If you’d like to emphasize your excitement even more, you can say things are çok çok güzel.

  1. Turkish is of great use even outside of Turkey

Turkish isn’t only spoken in Turkey and in Northern Cyprus, where it’s the official language, but also in some areas of Iraq, Azerbaijan, the Balkans and other European regions that have large Turkish immigrant communities. If you’re based in Germany, you have a chance to apply the Turkish language on a regular basis, especially in Kreuzberg, Berlin’s most Turkish neighborhood which is also known as Little Istanbul.   

Azerbaijan is on my list of places I’d like to visit sometime soon and I’m looking forward to being able to communicate when I’m there. When having a look at their language, you’ll recognize notable similarities with Turkish.

The other day, as I was around my Croatian neighbour, she happened to talk on the phone in her native language. From everything she said, I caught a word that sounded very similar to the Turkish word komşu (neighbour). After she hung up, I asked her if she’d said that she was with her neighbour. She was quite surprised I’d understood her words. It was just one word, actually, but I felt reassured to know I’d manage to understand a few bits if I ever find myself in Croatia. 

How about YOU? What do you particularly love about the Turkish language or any other language you’ve been learning? Let me know in the comment section. 

  1. It’s fun to apply systems or words from other languages. Like the Latin or Greek words that almost work universally 🙂

    • Thank you so much for reading this post. I know it’s a long one but there was so much to say after ten years… 😉

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How to love in Turkish | aNadventures
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  3. Things that make me happy | aNadventures
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  6. Anılar | aNadventures

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