About Learning Turkish with Berlitz
Turkish is the national language of Turkey, spoken by about 60 million people, or 90 percent of the country’s population. There are also some 750,000 speakers in Bulgaria, 150,000 in Cyprus, and 100,000 in Greece. In recent decades a large Turkish-speaking community has formed in Germany, numbering over 2 million people, and smaller ones exist in France, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, and other European countries.
Turkish was originally written in the Arabic script, which had been in use since the conversion of the Turks to Islam in the 10th century. But the Arabic script is poorly suited to Turkish, and in 1928 President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced a slightly modified version of the Roman alphabet, consisting of 21 consonants and eight vowels. In Turkish the letters q, w, and x are absent, while the letter c is pronounced like the English j (e.g., cep – pocket), j like the French j ( jale – dew), ç is pronounced ch (çiçek – flower), and ş is pronounced sh ( şişe – bottle). The letter ğ merely serves to lengthen slightly the preceding vowel (dağ – mountain).
The Turkish vowels are divided into the so-called front vowels, e, i, ö, ü, and the back vowels a, ı (undotted i), o, u. The dotted i retains the dot even when capitalized, as in İstanbul. As in all the Altaic languages, most Turkish words adhere to the principle of vowel harmony: that is, all the vowels in a given word belong to the same class (front or back), and any suffixes added generally contain vowels of the same class. Thus the plural of a noun with a front vowel or vowels is formed with the suffix -ler (e.g., ev – house, evler – houses), while the plural of a noun with a back vowel or vowels is formed with the suffix -lar (at – horse, atlar – horses). In the accompanying poem, notice the word uykusunda (“in its sleep”), with the vowel u appearing throughout, as against türküsünde (“in its song”), büyüdügüm (“where I grew up”), and gündüzün (“by day”), with the vowel ü throughout. As an agglutinative language, Turkish frequently adds on suffix after suffix, thus producing words that may be the equivalent of a whole phrase or sentence in English.
The English words caviar, yogurt, and shish kebab are of Turkish origin. The word tulip comes from a Turkish word for “turban”, because its flower was thought to resemble a turban. The word meander comes, via the Greek, from the ancient name of the Menderes River of western Turkey which was noted for its winding course.