Happy New Year!

Sorry for the break in posting! Visiting family and a nasty cold will do that to you.

Turks may mark the same three “New Years” as Iranians and many Arabs: the Islamic New Year, the Gregorian New Year, and Nevruz or Nowruz. Here we’ll focus on the Gregorian New Year.

“New Year” will be Yeni Yıl, the literal translation, or perhaps Yılbaşı, the “start of the year” or “New Year’s Day.” “New Year’s Eve” would be Yılbaşı arifesi, the “Eve of New Year’s Day” or Yılbaşı gecesi, “Night of New Year’s Day.”

“Happy New Year” is Yeni Yılınız kutlu olsun! or “May your New Year be blessed!”


Mutlu Noel

In Turkish, “Noel” is often the preferred term for Christmas, but others are possible. Yirmibeş Aralık, literally “December 25th,” is on the nose, and İsa’nın doğum yortusu and İsa’nın doğum bayramı both mean “Feast of the Birth of Jesus” and may come from the Arabic ʿĪd Mīlād Masīḥ for which they are basically translations.

“Merry Christmas” is most often something like Mutlu Noel (“Happy Christmas”), İyi Noel (“Good Christmas”), or Kutlu Noel (“Blessed Christmas”). You may also encounter Noeliniz kutlu (mutlu/iyi) olsun, “May your Christmas be blessed (happy/good).”

Happy Holidays!

Hello and Goodbye

Turkish borrows heavily from Arabic and Persian in its greetings. Turks often employ the Persian selâm (“peace”; the circumflex is used to emphasize the Persian long “a” sound, like a longer and deeper “a” in “father”) or the Arabic merhaba (“welcome”). When formality is called for they may use the formal Arabic greeting, assalamu aleyküm or selamünaleyküm (“peace be upon you”), with the response aleyküm assalam or aleykümselam (“upon you be peace”). Alo should be familiar to an English speaker. The idea of “welcome” is expressed as hoş geldin or hoş geldiniz (the latter is the plural/formal/polite “you” form, which we’ll encounter later) by one party, to which the reply is hoş bulduk (literally, “we found it well”).

There are a whole bunch of goodbyes to choose from. Elveda is “farewell,” a loanword from the Arabic al-wadāʿ. “Until we meet again” is conveyed with görüşmek üzere, while görüşürüz conveys something like “see you later.” The person leaving may say Allahısmarladık, which means something like “I commend you to God,” while the person being left may reply güle güle, “bye-bye.” Hoşça kal or hoşça kalın (the latter is formal/polite) can mean “so long!”

Yes and No

Getting a late start today so I thought I’d do something easy, and what can be easier than yes and no?

“Yes” is simple: evet (Ottoman اوت)

Peki can be used to mean “yes, alright.”

Oldu also works in the sense of “agreed”

Turkish has a few options for “no” depending on the situation and your mood:

The most common word for “no” is hayır (Ottoman خیر, ḫayır).

If you need an interjection, something emphatic like “no way!” or “no deal!” then you may want to use olmaz.

A third word, yok, is more often used to mean “none,” or when negating possession, but can be used as “no” for a simple one-word response to a yes-or-no question. If you want to elaborate, though, use hayır.

etmek = “to do, make”

Today’s word is etmek (Ottoman: ایتمَك), which does mean “to do, make,” but is almost never encountered on its own. Instead, it serves an auxiliary function and is paired with nouns (often loanword nouns) to mean “to do [noun].” For example, kabul (from the Arabic root قبل qabila) means “agreement, acceptance” so kabul etmek means “to agree, to accept,” teşekkür (from the Arabic root شكر shakara) so teşekkür etmek means “to thank,” and af (from the Arabic root عفوʿafawa) means “pardon, forgiveness” so affetmek (notice that in the case of single syllable words they may be joined with etmek by doubling their last consonant) means “to forgive, pardon.” This works just as well for western loanwords, so verbs like telefon etmek and dans etmek mean exactly what you think they do.


“He thanked the woman.” = Kadını teşekkür etti.

Couple of notes here: kadın is “woman,” and the –ı ending puts it into accusative case as the direct object of the verb; also, we’re encountering definite past tense, which is formed by dropping the “-mAk” infinitive marker to get the stem, and then adding the past marker -DI (which given vowel harmony and voiced/voiceless consonant variations could be -dı, -di, -du, -dü, -tı, -ti, -tu, or -tü; a and ı harmonize with ı, e and i with i, o and u with u, and ö and ü with ü). Etmek is reduced to the stem et-, which takes the ending -ti because “et” ends in a voiceless consonant so the ending begins with one, and “i” is in vowel harmony with “e.” There is nothing else added to the past marker because the verb is third person singular. If the verb were plural and/or in another person an additional ending would be tacked on to signify it.

“I danced yesterday at the party” = Partide dün dans ettim.

Parti has the “-DA” (meaning -da, -de, ta, or te depending on vowel and consonant variations) particle attached to it, which means “in” or “at.” The “-im” added to the past tense verb signifies first person singular. Dün, I gather you figured out, means “yesterday.”

Etmek is thus similar to our Persian word of the day, kardan, in that its primary function is and auxiliary role making verbs out of nouns, but even though seeing kardan by itself is uncommon in Persian, I would argue in my limited experience that it’s still more common than finding etmek by itself. Turkish has another verb, yapmak, that means “to do, to make” in a standalone context, but that’s a word for another day (specifically, the day we cover words meaning, “to make”).

Başlamak = “to begin”

Today’s word is, appropriately, başlamak (bash-la-mak, Ottoman: باشلامَق, bāşlāmaq), meaning “to begin, start, commence.” It derives from the noun baş (باش), which has a number of meanings including “head” (the body part), “leader/chief/commander,” “peak,” “near,” and “beginning.” It has a more archaic meaning as “to lead.”

Note for future reference that the ending “-mAk” denotes the infinitive form of the verb. The verb’s root, in this case, is “başla.”

Sentence example:

I am starting a new job today. = Bugün yeni bir iş başlıyorum. (Lit: “Today a new job I am starting.”)

Turkish verbs generally are placed at the end of the sentence.

For future reference: the -Iyor construct denotes progressive tense (“doing X right now”) but increasingly (and particularly in speech) has come to mark present tense. There is a Turkish present tense, called the aorist, denoting habitual action or willingness to perform the action. The -Im ending in the above example denotes the first-person singular voice.

Derived vocabulary:

başlayıcı = “beginner” (the -CI suffix can be added to both nouns and verb roots to create a new noun denoting someone who does the original noun or verb or someone who is a lover of the original noun or verb; when attached to verb roots, it takes an additional -(y)I- insert between the root and the -CI ending)

başlangıç = “beginning”

Notes on Turkish pronunciation

The spectacular thing about Turkish, if you come to it after you’ve studied Arabic and Persian, is that Modern Turkish is written in Latin script, which is just a nice change of pace even once you’re very comfortable with Arabic script. It’s not until you move into Ottoman Turkish that you’re back into Arabic script, and at least for right now I’m probably going to stick to Modern Turkish (although I might throw in the Ottoman rendering of our words of the day without dwelling on them). We can forgo any lengthy discussion of transliterating and just look at the Turkish alphabet, with emphasis on characters and pronunciations that don’t appear in English. The table is after the break. Continue reading

Some introductory notes about Turkish and about Turkish Word a Day

Hello! Hoşgeldiniz (“welcome”). This blog is for anybody interested in understanding a little bit, or little bit more, about the Turkish language. I am no linguist, I’m not a native speaker, I’m just someone who’s studied the language and would like to build up his vocabulary, and if anybody else finds that useful then that makes me happy.

I am going to try to maintain this blog alongside two related ones, Arabic Word a Day and Persian Word a Day. They are “related” in the sense that all three are languages of the Islamic World, and I happen to have studied all three, which is why I’m not doing an “Urdu Word a Day” blog or “Indonesian Word a Day” blog or “Tamazight Word a Day” blog, etc (this is also why I’m not doing a “Hebrew Word a Day” blog despite the obvious Middle East connections). They are also related in that all three share a stockpile of common words that have been loaned from one to the other, and sometimes from one to the other and back to the first in a different form (the Persian gawhar or “gem” goes into Arabic as jawhar for “gem,” comes also to mean “essence” and is then loaned back into Persian as jawhar for “essence”). I am going to try to relate the three blog entries as much as possible, so our word of the day here may be something derived from the Arabic or Persian words of the day or the Turkish vocabulary for the same concept.

As languages go, Turkish is hard to categorize. Where there are some linguistic families that are pretty well attested, like Indo-European and Semitic, the old theory that Turkish was part of an “Altaic” family along with Mongolian, Siberian languages, and others is now pretty well debunked. So you won’t find the same embedded similarities between Turkish and any other language that you find between, say, Arabic and Hebrew, or German and Persian. You will as noted find a lot of vocabulary overlap with languages that had steady contact with Turkish, like Persian and Arabic.

Some of Turkish’s main structural features include the concept of agglutination, which means that many meanings, moods, and other features are represented by affixing additional sounds/letters onto a central root, and the concept of vowel harmony, meaning that certain vowel sounds go together and there may be some variability in spelling to account for this. For example, if I want to talk about a house the word is ev, and if I want to talk about something that is “in the house” I affix -de to the word and wind up with evde, where as if I want to talk about taking something “from the house” I affix -den to the word and have evden. Change the example to “room” and the word becomes oda, and because “e” and “a” are not considered harmonious and are in fact an opposing vowel pair (the others being i and ı, ö and o, and ü and u), “in the room” becomes odada and “from the room” becomes odadan. The vowels e-i-ö-ü are in harmony with each other, and conversely the vowels a-ı-o-u are in harmony with each other. Pronunciation notes are forthcoming.

One thing modern Turkish has going for it from the perspective of a native English speaker is that it’s written in Latin script, though if I feel particularly up to it on a given day the Ottoman (i.e., Arabic script) version of the word may pop up. I will talk grammar sometimes but hopefully not much, because it’s hard for me to talk with clarity about grammar in this kind of setting. I think because of the nature of Turkish it will be harder to avoid talking grammar, since many concepts for which English would use another word, say a preposition or a possessive pronoun, as I mentioned above Turkish elects to affix grammatical constructs onto the root word. Because my training is in history and not language, I may from time to time digress into historical digression or talk about where particular words came from or went to as they meandered from one language to another. I apologize in advance.

Finally a warning about the “a day” part of this, in that it’s more a hope than a rule. I can’t promise a daily word, particularly given trying to do three of these as a non-paying lark, but I will do my best.