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FAQ about Turkish

Updated: Apr 19

I get many questions about my mother language, Turkish, from Japanese and non-Japanese colleagues and friends.

I will keep updating this post as the new questions come up.

The questions or comments are something like these:

Q: What does Turkish sound like?

A: It depends on the listener. Some people said it sounded like nothing they heard before. It is natural because it is less commonly available in media.

This is the artwork of Mr. Sergen Şehitoğlu. I am showing his Instagram post:

It is all suffixes, and you can convey a lot of meaning by adding suffixes.

The artwork of Sergen Şehitoğlu above explains the Turkish word,

görüşemeyeceklermiş = I heard they are not going to be able to see each other.

Wow. The English version wastes a lot of ink or computer pixels. Maybe Turkish is more eco-friendly:)

Q: What is the root of Turkish?

A: Let me quote from Wikipedia:

Turkish (Türkçe [ˈtyɾctʃe] , Türk dili; also Türkiye Türkçesi 'Turkish of Turkey') is the most widely spoken of the Turkic languages, with around 80 to 90 million speakers. It is the national language of Turkey and Northern Cyprus. Significant smaller groups of Turkish speakers also exist in Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Greece,Cyprus, other parts of Europe, the South Caucasus, and some parts of Central Asia, Iraq, and Syria.

Q: What are the Turkic Languages?

A: Let's check Wikipedia again:

The Turkic languages are a language family of more than 35 documented languages, spoken by the Turkic peoples of Eurasia from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe to Central Asia, East Asia, North Asia (Siberia), and West Asia. The Turkic languages originated in a region of East Asia spanning from Mongolia to Northwest China, where Proto-Turkic is thought to have been spoken, from where they expanded to Central Asia and farther west during the first millennium. They are characterized as a dialect continuum. Turkic languages are spoken by some 200 million people.

Q: What is the language closest to Turkish?

A: I would say Azerbaijani, the language. I am again quoting from Wikipedia,

Azerbaijani (/ˌæzərbaɪˈdʒæni, -ɑːni/ AZ-ər-by-JAN-ee) or Azeri (/æˈzɛəri, ɑː-, ə-/ az-AIR-ee, ah-, ə-), also referred to as Azeri Turkic or Azeri Turkish, is a Turkic language from the Oghuz sub-branch spoken primarily by the Azerbaijani people, who live mainly in the Republic of Azerbaijan where the North Azerbaijani variety is spoken, and in the Azerbaijan region of Iran, where the South Azerbaijani variety is spoken.

Q: We thought it was closer to Arabic or Persian. Is it not?

A: No, the nomadic tribes who spoke variants of modern-day Turkish moved to Western Asia and South East Europe from Central Asia over the centuries. Over time, as happens in many other languages, Turkish borrowed many words and expressions from the languages of the region, such as Arabic, Persian, and Greek. It is also important to remember that when Turkic tribes changed their religion from Shamanism to Islam, Arabic words and concepts were adapted as it was the language of the Quran and religious practices. Persian was the language of literature in the Middle East for a long time. Knowing Persian was a "must" if you were to be considered an intellectual.

Q: But what is the root of Turkish?

A: Many people may not be familiar with the concept, but there are many "language" families in the word. For example, according to Wikipedia,

English is a West Germanic language in the Indo-European language family

As far as I understand, we don't know for sure. At least, not 100%, because linguistics and historians still argue about the root of Turkic languages. In school, we were taught the common root was Altaic. Again, from Wikipedia:

Altaic (/ælˈteɪ.ɪk/) is a controversial proposed language family that would include the Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic language families and possibly also the Japonic and Koreanic languages. The hypothetical language family has long been rejected by most comparative linguists, although it continues to be supported by a small but stable scholarly minority.

Q: Why can you and other Turkish people we know speak Japanese relatively well?

A: I am sure not everyone would speak Japanese well. But, back in 1993, when I and my closest Turkish friend at that time were learning Japanese at the International University of Japan (IUJ), we realized that Japanese grammar was very similar to Turkish grammar, but it was much simpler. Then, we saw that the sounds were also very similar. There wasn't anything we couldn't pronounce.

Years later, I heard from a professor in IUJ's Japanese program told me that the students from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Krygisitan could also learn Japanese relatively quickly.

So, there may be an ancient link, as the Wikipedia article on Altaic Languages mentions, but the link needs to be scientifically proven.


I am not a linguist or a historian. Although I am using Wikipedia as a resource, as you know, it has its own limitations. So, please use the information here with caution.

The map of Turkic Languages is from Wikipedia. The image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.


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