Turkish Program at Cornell University
The Turkish Language
Turkish belongs to the Altay branch of the Ural-Altaic linguistic family; the same as Finnish and Hungarian. It is the Westernmost of the Turkic languages spoken across Central Asia and is generally classified as a member of the South-West group, also known as the Oguz group. Other Turkic languages, all of which are closely related, include Azerbaijani (Azeri), Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tatar, Turkmen, Uighur, Uzbek, and many others spoken from the Balkans across Central Asia into Northwestern China and southern Siberia. Turkic languages are often grouped with Mongolian and Tungusic languages in the Altaic language family. Strictly speaking, the "Turkish" languages spoken between Mongolia and Turkey should be called Turkic languages, and the term "Turkish" should refer to the language spoken in Turkey alone. It is common practice, however, to refer to all these languages as Turkish, and differentiate them with reference to the geographical area, for example, the Turkish language of Azerbaijan.
The history of the language is divided into three main groups, old Turkish (from the 7th to the 13th centuries), mid-Turkish (from the 13th to the 20th) and new Turkish from the 20th century onwards. During the Ottoman Empire period many Arabic and Persian words were intermixed in the Turkish language. Turkish formed the basis for Ottoman Turkish, the written language of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Turkish was basically Turkish in structure, but with a heavy overlay of Arabic and Persian vocabulary and an occasional grammatical influence. Ottoman Turkish co-existed with spoken Turkish, with the latter being considered a "gutter language" and not worthy of study. Ottoman Turkish, and the spoken language were both represented with an Arabic script.
In 1928 A "new language" movement was started by Kemal Ataturk. Five years after the proclamation of the Republic, the Arabic alphabet was replaced by the Roman one, which in turn sped up the movement to purge the language of foreign words. The Turkish Language Institute (Turk Dil Kurumu) was established in 1932 to carry out linguistic research and contribute to the natural development of the language. Today literacy rates in Turkey are over 90%.
Who speaks Turkish?
Through the span of history, Turks have spread over a wide geographical area, taking their language with them. Turkish speaking peoples have lived in an area stretching from today's Mongolia to the North coast of the Black Sea, the Balkans, East Europe, Anatolia, Iraq and Northern Africa. Due to the distances involved, various dialects and accents have emerged. Turkish is also the language spoken at home by people who live in the areas that were governed by the Ottoman Empire. For instance, in Bulgaria there are over a million speakers. About 50,000 Turkish speakers live in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan. In Cyprus, Turkish is a co-official language (with Greek) where it is spoken as a first language by 19 percent of the population, especially in the North (KKTC). Over 1.5 million speakers are found in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece; over 2.5 million speakers live in Germany (and other European countries) where Turks have for many years been "guest workers." About 40,000 Turkish speakers live in the United States.
Turkish has several dialects. The Turkish dialects can be divided into two major groups: Western dialects and Eastern dialects. Of the major Turkish dialects, Danubian appears to be the only member of the Western group. The following dialects make up the Eastern group: Eskisehir, Razgrad, Dinler, Rumelian, Karamanli, Edirne, Gaziantep, and Urfa. There are some other classifications that distinguish the following dialect groups: South-western, Central Anatolia, Eastern, Rumelian, and Kastamonu dialects. Modern standard Turkish is based on the Istanbul dialect of Anatolian.