Turkish 101

Turkish is written using a modified version of the Latin alphabet introduced in 1928 by Atatürk to replace the Arabic-based Ottoman Turkish alphabet. The Ottoman alphabet marked only three different vowels—long ā, ū and ī —and included several redundant consonants, such as variants of z (which were distinguished in Arabic but not in Turkish). The omission of short vowels in the Arabic script was claimed to make it particularly unsuitable for Turkish, which has eight vowels.

The reform of the script was an important step in the cultural reforms of the period. The task of preparing the new alphabet and selecting the necessary modifications for sounds specific to Turkish was entrusted to a Language Commission composed of prominent linguists, academics, and writers. The introduction of the new Turkish alphabet was supported by public education centers opened throughout the country, cooperation with publishing companies, and encouragement by Atatürk himself, who toured the country teaching the new letters to the public. As a result, there was a dramatic increase in literacy from its original Third World levels.

Latin was applied to the Turkish language for educational purposes even before the 20th century reform. Instances include a 1635 Latin-Albanian dictionary by Frang Bardhi, who also incorporated several sayings in the Turkish language, as an appendix to his work (e.g. alma agatsdan irak duschamas – 'An apple does not fall far from its tree').

Turkish now has an alphabet suited to the sounds of the language: the spelling is largely phonetic, with one letter corresponding to each phoneme. Most of the letters are used approximately as in English, the main exceptions being <c>, which denotes [dʒ] (<j> being used for the [ʒ] found in Persian and European loans); and the undotted <ı>, representing [ɯ]. As in German, <ö> and <ü> represent [œ] and [y]. The letter <ğ>, in principle, denotes [ɣ] but has the property of lengthening the preceding vowel and assimilating any subsequent vowel. The letters <ş> and <ç> represent [ʃ] and [tʃ], respectively. A circumflex is written over back vowels following <k>, <g>, or <l> when these consonants represent [c], [ɟ], and [l]—almost exclusively in Arabic and Persian loans. An apostrophe is used to separate proper nouns from any suffixes: eg İstanbul'da 'in Istanbul'.

The specifically Turkish letters and spellings described above are illustrated in this table:

Turkish spelling Pronunciation Meaning
Cağaloğlu ˈdʒaːɫoːɫu [İstanbul district]
çalıştığı tʃaɫɯʃtɯˈɣɯ where/that s/he works/worked
müjde myʒˈde good news
lâzım laˈzɯm necessary
mahkûm mahˈcum condemned


Dostlar Beni Hatırlasın by Aşık Veysel Şatıroğlu (1894–1973), a minstrel and highly regarded poet in the Turkish folk literature tradition.

Orthography IPA Translation
Ben giderim adım kalır ben ɟid̪eɾim ad̪ɯm kaɫɯɾ After I pass, my name remains
Dostlar beni hatırlasın d̪ost̪ɫaɾ beni hatɯɾɫasɯn May the friends remember me
Düğün olur bayram gelir d̪yjyn oɫuɾ bajɾam ɟeliɾ Weddings happen, holidays come
Dostlar beni hatırlasın d̪ostɫaɾ beni hatɯɾɫasɯn May the friends remember me

Can kafeste durmaz uçar dʒan kafest̪e d̪uɾmaz utʃaɾ Soul flies from the cage
Dünya bir han konan göçer d̪yjja biɾ han konan ɟœtʃeɾ World is an inn, settlers depart
Ay dolanır yıllar geçer aj d̪oɫanɯɾ jɯɫːaɾ ɟetʃeɾ The moon wanders, years go by
Dostlar beni hatırlasın d̪ostɫaɾ beni hatɯɾɫasɯn May the friends remember me

Can bedenden ayrılacak dʒan bed̪end̪en ajɾɯɫadʒask Body will be deprived of life
Tütmez baca yanmaz ocak t̪yt̪mez badʒa janmaz odʒak Hearth won't burn, smoke won't rise
Selam olsun kucak kucak selaːm oɫsun kudʒak kudʒak By armfuls, salutes I pass
Dostlar beni hatırlasın d̪ostɫaɾ beni hatɯɾɫasɯn May the friends remember me

Açar solar türlü çiçek atʃaɾ solaɾ t̪yɾly tʃitʃec Many blooms thrive and fade
Kimler gülmüş kim gülecek cimleɾ ɟylmyʃ cim ɟyledʒec Who had laughed, who'll be glad
Murat yalan ölüm gerçek muɾat jaɫan œlym ɟeɾtʃec Desire's lie, real is death
Dostlar beni hatırlasın d̪ostɫaɾ beni hatɯɾɫasɯn May the friends remember me

Gün ikindi akşam olur ɟyn icindi akʃam oɫuɾ Into evening will turn the days
Gör ki başa neler gelir ɟœɾ ci baʃa neleɾ ɟeliɾ Behold what soon will take place
Veysel gider adı kalır βejsel ɟideɾ ad̪ɯ kaɫɯɾ Veysel departs, his name remains
Dostlar beni hatırlasın d̪ostɫaɾ beni hatɯɾɫasɯn May the friends remember me

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