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Turkish is the official language of Turkey, uniting not just its citizens, but also a diaspora of Turkish-speaking peoples throughout Asia. The Turkish language originated in the highlands of the Altay Mountains of central Asia and is heavily spoken in lands stretching from Turkey to China, including Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Özbekistan, Turkistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizistan, Tajikistan, and Northern Cyprus. At the height of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman language was a mélange of outside influences heavily infused with Arabic, the language of religion and law; Persian, the language of art and diplomacy; and French, well, just because it's French. Pure Turkish, spoken primarily in the home, was considered inappropriately informal and familiar for public use.

Atatürk was convinced that pride in one's language was critical in instilling a sense of nationalism in a people, and one of his landmark reforms was to uplift Turkish to its rightful and preeminent role as a national language. He began by purging foreign influences from the Turkish language and introducing the Latin alphabet. Words of Arabic origin still maintain a tremendous presence in daily usage, especially concerning religious matters, and knowledge of some foreign languages will nevertheless come in handy in places like the kuaför (coiffeur), the asensör (elevator, in French), or the likör (liquor) store. English is slowly creeping into the language, particularly in the area of technology, with words like telefon, Internet, and the less high-tech seks.

Turkish is an agglutinative language, which means that words (and sometimes whole sentences) get formed by tacking stuff onto the root. Each suffix has some grammatical function but also provides for a discreet amount of flexibility in shades of meaning. To make matters worse, the suffix must follow rules of spelling and phonetics, so that there are eight ways of expressing the word "of."

In 1924, when Atatürk introduced the mandatory use of the Latin alphabet, Turkish became a phonetic language and is pronounced exactly as it is written, making it relatively easy to read. Is it hard to learn? Compared to what? Will a novice's pronunciation be any worse than an American's attempt at getting his lips around French? Probably not. But Turks are so uncommonly adept at languages that in all likelihood your contact with Turkish will be kept to a minimum. In most major tourist areas and many secondary ones, the local merchant population speaks English, along with French, German, Spanish, Italian, Danish, and even Russian.

Even so, it's absolutely the minimum of courtesy to put yourself out there in an attempt to communicate a few words in the native language of the country you are visiting, and knowing a few basics will help you feel less isolated and helpless.

Pronunciation Guide

a like the "a" in father

â like "ya" (the circumflex adds a diphthong)

e like the "e" in bed

i like the first "i" in indigo

i like the "e" in the

o like the "o" in hope

ö like the German "ö" or like the "u" in the English word further

u like the "u" in super

ü like the French "u" or like the "u" in the English word funeral

c like the "j" in Jupiter

ç like the "ch" in church

g like the "g" in gather

g is silent and indicates that the preceding vowel should be elongated (dag becomes "daaah," meaning "mountain")

h is always aspirated

j like the "s" in pleasure

s like the "s" in simple

s like the "sh" in share

Numbers

1 bir

2 iki

3 üç

4 dört

5 bes

6 alti

7 yedi

8 sekiz

9 dokuz

10 on

11 onbir

12 oniki

20 yirmi

21 yirmibir

30 otuz

40 kirk

50 elli

60 altmis

70 yetmis

80 seksen

90 doksan

100 yüz

101 yüzbir

200 ikiyüz

1,000 bin

2,000 ikibin

1,000,000 birmilyon

2,000,000 ikimilyon

Days of the Week

Sunday -- Pazar

Monday -- Pazartesi (literally, "the day after Sunday")

Tuesday -- Sali

Wednesday -- Çarsamba

Thursday -- Persembe

Friday -- Cuma

Saturday -- Cumartesi (literally, "the day after Friday")

Months of the Year

January -- Ocak

February -- Subat

March -- Mart

April -- Nisan

May -- Mayis

June -- Haziran

July -- Temmuz

August -- Agustos

September -- Eylül

October -- Ekim

November -- Kasim

December -- Aralik

Expressions of Time

1 hour -- bir saat

Morning -- Sabah

Afternoon -- Ögleden sonra

Night -- Gece

Yesterday -- Dün

Today -- Bugün

Tomorrow -- Yarin

What time is it? -- Saat kaç? (literally, "how many hours?")

Useful Suffixes

ci, ci, çi, çi, cu, cü, çu, çü -- indicates the seller of something

i, i, u, ü -- indicates "of something" (an "s" is added after a vowel)

ler, lar -- makes a word plural

li, li, lu, lü -- indicates the presence of something; "with"

siz, siz, suz, süz -- indicates the absence of something; "without"

Useful Words & Phrases

Open -- Açik

Closed -- Kapali

How much? -- Kaç para? (literally, "how much money?") or Ne kadar?

One ticket, please -- Bir tane bilet, lütfen

Gate (travel) -- Kapi

Where? Where is it? -- Nerede?

Where's the toilet? -- Tuvalet nerede?

Yes -- Evet

No -- Hayir (higher)

Please -- Lütfen

Greetings

Excuse me -- Pardon (French pronunciation) or Afadersiniz

Hello -- Merhaba

Goodbye -- Güle güle (said by the one staying); Allahai Smarladik (said by the one leaving)

Goodbye -- Hosça kalin (an all-purpose goodbye)

Good day -- Iyi günler

Good evening -- Iyi aksamlar

Good morning -- Günaydin

Good night -- Iyi geceler

How are you? -- Nasilsiniz?

I'm fine, thank you -- Iyiyim, tesekkür ederim

Pleased to meet you -- Memnun oldun

Thank you (formal) -- Tesekkür ederim (try to remember: "tea, sugar, a dream")

Thank you (casual) -- Sagol

Thank you -- Mersi

Welcome! -- Hos geldiniz! (response: Hos bulduk)

At the Table

Check, please! -- Hesap, lütfen!

Cheers! (drinking) -- Serefe!

Do you have any dishes without meat? -- Etsiz yemek var mi?

Is there . . . ? -- Var mi . . . ? (question of availability, as in "süt var mi" -- do you have any milk?)

Is there any meat stock in this dish? -- Içinde et suyu var mi?

There isn't any; no; none -- Yok

Very beautiful -- Çok güzel (said also when the food is good)

Well done! -- Bravo! or Aferin!

Glossary of Terms

Acropolis -- Highest part of a Greek city reserved for the most important religious monuments

Ada(si) -- Island

Aga -- Arabic title given to commanders in the Ottoman military

Bahçe(si) -- Garden

Bayanlar -- Ladies

Baylar -- Gentlemen

Bayram -- Arabic term meaning "feast," denoting several of the Muslim holidays

Bedesten -- Covered inn or marketplace

Bey -- Turkish title of courtesy following a man's first name meaning "Mr." as in "Mehmet bey"

Bulvari -- Boulevard

Büyük -- Big

Caddesi -- Avenue

Caldarium -- Hottest section of a Roman bath

Caliph -- Literally "successor" to the prophet Mohammad; in the past, the title was held by the religious leader of the Islamic community and was known as "commander of the faithful"

Cami/camii -- Mosque; derived from the Arabic jama meaning "place of reunion"

Caravansary -- A fortified inn; Turkish spelling is kervansaray

Çarsi(si) -- Market; bazaar

Celebi -- Nobleman

Çesme -- Fountain

Cikis -- Exit

Cumhuriyet -- Republic

Cuneiform -- Linear script inscribed into tablets; used by the ancient Mesopotamians and in Asia Minor

Deniz -- Sea

Dervis -- A member of a mystical order of Islam

Divan -- Word used to refer to the Ottoman governmental administration

Dolmus -- Minibus, minivan, or any car that operates as a group taxi

Döviz -- Foreign currency

Eczane -- Pharmacy

Efendi -- Turkish title of courtesy following a first name meaning "sir" or "ma'am"

Emir -- Arabic title for a military commander or governor of a province

Ev/evi -- Home, house

Fatih -- Conqueror

Frigidarium -- The cold room of a Roman bath

Gar -- Station

Gazi -- Literally, "warrior"

Giris -- Entrance

Gise -- Ticket window

Hadith -- Traditions based on the words or actions of Mohammad

Hamam(i) -- Turkish bath

Han(i) -- Inn or caravansary

Hanim -- Address of respect meaning "lady"

Harem -- Women's quarters of a house (literally: "forbidden")

Havaalan(i) or hava liman(i) -- Airport

Hegira -- Literally, "the emigration"; see hicret

Hicret -- The date in 622 when Mohammad left Mecca for Yathrib (Medina) to escape local hostilities; this event marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar

Hijab -- From the Arabic hajaba meaning "to conceal"; used to mean any modest covering worn by a Muslim woman

Hisar -- Fortress

Iconoclasm -- 8th-century A.D. Christian movement that opposed all religious icons

Imam -- Literally "leader"; an educated religious guide

Iskele(si) -- Wharf, quay, or dock

Janissaries -- The select corps of the Ottoman army

Jihad -- Literally, "struggle" or "striving" (Arabic; in Turkish: cihad)

Kaaba -- Muslim sacred shrine in Mecca

Kale(si) -- Castle or fortress

Kat -- Floor (of a building)

Kervansaray -- See caravansary

Kilim -- Flat-weave rug

Kilise -- Church

Konak/konagi -- Mansion

Koran -- The holy recitations of the Prophet Mohammad; Muslims believe that these revelations are the direct words of God

Küçük -- Small

Kule -- Tower

Külliye(si) -- Religious and social complex consisting of mosque, school, and buildings for public use

Kümbet -- Literally, "cupola" or "dome"; synonym for türbe

Liman(i) -- Port

Mahalle(si) -- Neighborhood

Medrese -- Muslim theological school

Mescit -- Small prayer space; mini-mosque

Mevlana -- Title of respect meaning "Lord" (Arabic)

Meydan(i) -- Public square

Meyhane -- Tavern, pub, or rowdy restaurant

Mihrab -- The niche in a mosque oriented toward Mecca

Minaret -- The towers of a mosque from which the muezzin chants the call to prayer

Minbar -- Pulpit

Muezzin -- The Muslim "cantor" of the call to prayer

Necropolis -- Ancient Greek or Roman cemetery

Oculus -- Round "skylight" in the top of a dome

Oda(si) -- Room

Otogar -- Bus station

Pansiyon -- Pension, guesthouse

Pasa -- Title given to commanders in the Ottoman army (close to general) and to governors of provinces

Ramadan -- Islamic month of ritual fasting; Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish) follows the lunar calendar, so that the festival is not confined to one season

Sadirvan -- Literally, "reservoir"; used for ablution fountains

Sarap -- Wine

Saray(i) -- Palace

Sarcüteri -- Delicatessen

Satrap -- Persian governor of a province

Sehzade -- Crown prince

Selamlik -- In a traditional Turkish house, the part reserved for the men and the reception of guests

Sema -- Mystical dance of the Mevlevi order of the dervises

Seraglio -- Sultan's palace

Sokak/sokagi -- Street

Stele -- Ancient tombstone

Sublime Porte -- Originally the main door of the palace where meetings of the divan were held; the term was eventually used to refer to the government, and the entire Ottoman Empire in general

Tepidarium -- The tepid room of a Roman bath; used for relaxation

Tugra -- Sultan's imperial seal

Türbe(si) -- Turkish monumental funerary tomb

Ulu -- Great

Valide Sultan -- Turkish title equivalent to queen mother

Yali -- Traditional wood Ottoman house, usually a secondary residence, built on the sea

Yol(u) -- Road (karayolu: highway or autobahn)

Yurt -- Nomadic tent, traditionally made of felt

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.