Musings On Turkish


I’ve been spending a lot of time recently – especially this weekend, as I’ve been recovering from food poisoning or stomach flu or something – trying to improve my Turkish. Along the way, I’ve noticed a few really cool things socio-linguistically that I’d like to share.

  • Turkey was created as a staunchly secular country, although slowly religion has been finding its way into the open more and more – either a good thing, or something terrible, depending on who you ask. This extreme separation of religion and society though has lead to a division in language, enabling someone to “speak like a Muslim.”
    For example, there are two ways to say hopefully in Turkish: umarım (I hope) and inşallah (God willing). Generally umarım is said by those who are more secularly orientated, while inşallah is said by those who are more religious; however, for those who don’t care one way or the other, they may change their language depending upon who they are talking to. So, you could pepper your conversation with more Islamic terms if you’re talking to religious people, etc.
    Last year while I was in Ankara living with a host family, I was unaware of this division and constantly was saying things like inşallah and maşallah to such a high degree that my family finally stopped me and asked me if I was Muslim. When I told them I wasn’t they laughed at me and said “why are you speaking like a Muslim then?”

  • Turkish is peppered – or maybe more likely thoroughly seasoned – with foreign words. The most common donators being Persian and Arabic, but there are also plenty of French terms from the turn of the 20th century when the Ottomans were desperately trying to modernize. Interestingly, it is not uncommon to have a Persian, Arabic, and Turkish word that all have the same meaning, although with radically different contexts. For example – if I remember correctly – the Arabic word for magic carries with it the connotation of party tricks, whereas the Turkish word for magic carries more the meaning of dark sorcery. Again, people would use different words in different contexts for the message they were trying to send.
  • Right now I can’t think of anymore interesting tidbits about Turkish, but it is definitely a fascinating language. If you buy into the Sun Language Theory – which you absolutely have no reason to do – Turkish is even the mother of all languages of the world. Anyway, I’ll stay on the lookout for more fun facts that are definitely worthwhile.

    5 thoughts on “Musings On Turkish”

    1. I hadn’t realized that there would be a more secularized version of spoken Turkish, but now that you’ve pointed it out, it certainly makes sense. And you’re learning some French words too which is great!!

      Sorry I got a bit behind on commenting on your blog, but I’ve enjoyed spending the afternoon catching up and hearing about your wonderful adventures. Hope you feel better soon!

      1. Well, I wouldn’t say I’m really learning any deep and world changing French words – most of the ones borrowed into Turkish were also borrowed into English, like: istasyon and nostalji.

        No worries about falling behind, though! I know I was behind on your blog too – it happens :)

    2. Languages are fascinating. Perhaps an analogy from Israel:

      In Hebrew, just about everything rhymes due to changing both nouns and verbs based on gender, with the suffix being basically the same. The end result (I assume) is that there are far more Israeli rappers.

      1. That’s really cool! I had no idea Hebrew did that… Although that does certainly explain why Hebrew rap always sounds so awesome. I wonder if Arabic does the same thing, since the two languages are so closely related to each other and it is also supposed to be a very poetic language.

        Thanks for the analogy, Mike!

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