Origins of the Turkish Language

From a philological standpoint, Turkish belongs to what are referred to as the Altaic languages, though this is disputed. The Altaic languages, which are thought to have originated in the Altai mountain range of central Asia, are divided into

• Turkic languages

• Mongolic languages

• Tungusic languages

The Turkic languages, which are spoken in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and all the way to China among the Uyghurs, for example, together form the seventh largest language family in the world. Depending on the source, there are currently between 160 million and 400 million Turkic language speakers.

The Turkish spoken in Turkey specifically falls under the Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family, and with approximately 80 million speakers, it makes up the most important part of this branch. The strongly related Azerbaijani language takes second place with 30 million speakers. Furthermore, there are also less well-known languages such as Turkmen, Khorasani Turkic, Afshar, and others.

The Turkic languages are also said to be related to Hungarian and Finnish (Finno-Ugric languages), as well as certain Indigenous languages of the Americas. The commonalities are due to the fact that these languages, too, are agglutinating (word particles, referred to as suffixes, are attached to root words to form entire sentences) and use vowel harmony. A relationship is heavily disputed among experts, however.

Nevertheless, “Turks from Turkey” are indeed able to at least partially communicate with other Turkic language speakers from the regions mentioned. 

In Turkey itself, Turkish is spoken by at least 90% of the population, with the Istanbul vernacular being the predominant dialect. Furthermore, there are still old minority languages that don’t belong to the Turkic languages, such as Kurdish, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Laz, Circassian, and others.

At the time of the Ottoman Empire (14th–20th century), Ottoman Turkish, the predecessor of the Turkish spoken today, was strongly influenced by Arabic and, to some extent, Persian. This is still noticeable today, though there is absolutely no relationship between these languages. Arabic characters were used in writing, but these had always been insufficient for expressing the sounds unique to Turkish.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, the secularists (secularism refers to the strict separation between the state and religion), led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, took power and initiated a language reform in 1928. The Latin alphabet was used from then on. Moreover, a state-led initiative started in order to make foreign words – mainly Arabic words – Turkish. This pertained and still pertains to French, English, and Italian loan words, among others. This initiative continues today and is spearheaded by Türk Dil Kurumu (