Languages (other than Turkish and English)

After covering how to say “I don’t speak Turkish” and “Do you speak English?” it occurred to me that some people might prefer it if they could encounter someone who spoke something other than English. Yes, I am slow on the uptake, thank you. So here’s a list of languages and their Turkish translations. All language names in Turkish are constructed by taking the name of the nationality and adding the adverbial ending -CE (which could variously take “ç” or “c” depending on whether the letter before it is vocalized or not—think the difference between a “b” and a “p” sound—and “a” or “e” depending on the vowels that precede it—remember, a/ı/o/u take “a” and e/i/ö/ü take “e,” though some voweling choices may not fit this pattern because the words were formed/voweled in Ottoman Turkish, written in Arabic script, and those choices were carried into Modern Turkish).

  • French = Fransızca
  • German = Almanca
  • Spanish = İspanyolca
  • Portuguese = Portekizce
  • Italian = İtalyanca
  • Russian = Rusça
  • Chinese (Mandarin) = Çince
  • Japanese = Japonca
  • Hindi = Hintçe
  • Urdu = Urduca
  • Hebrew = İbranice
  • Arabic = Arapça
  • Persian = Farsça

See the same list in Arabic here and Persian here. I can throw more languages up in comments if anybody needs them.


Speak to me

For people who go traveling and aren’t fluent in the local tongue, it’s obviously helpful to at least be able to use the verb “to speak,” as in “I don’t speak [your language].” or “Does anybody here speak English?” I’m here to help you out, in Turkish, in Persian here, and in Arabic here.

The verb “to speak” is going to be konuşmak. There are other verbs that have similar meanings (to talk, to converse, etc.), but for the physical act of speaking this is what we’re going with.

The two key sentences are “I don’t speak Turkish” and “Do you speak English?” so that’s what we’ll look at. There are a couple of ways to say these. In the first sentence you’ll see the first person, singular, negative form of the present tense verb, and in the second you’ll see the second person, plural (formal) form of the verb in a yes/no question.

(Ben) Türkçe konuşmuyorum means “I do not speak Turkish.” Unlike Arabic and Persian, where you would probably not say “I do not know” in place of “I do not speak,” in Turkish you might very well say (Ben) Türkçe bilmiyorum or “I do not know Turkish” (bilmek = “to know). The particle -mI- inserted between the verb stem and the progressive marker (-yor) negates the verb. Ben is just the first person, singular pronoun. You may elect to leave it out, since the verb also conveys the first person, singular nature of the subject.

“Do you speak English?” is İngilizce konuşuyor musunuz? When asking a yes/no question in Turkish, you split the person/number marker away from the verb and stick it onto this mI (depending on voweling, it could be mi, , mu, or ) marker, which is not translated but simply announces that this is a yes/no question. This question takes the second person plural –sunuz, because this is more formal (presumably, if you’re asking someone if they speak English, you’re not on familiar terms with them). “Do you know English?” is İngilizce biliyor musunuz?

There is another way to say this, which introduces the potential marker into the verb to convey the idea “can you?” To do this, you take bilmek and reduce it to its stem (bil), insert that (with a vowel in front, a- or e-, if needed) after the stem of the verb you’re using, then tack on the aorist (we’ll see this later, but for now think of it as simple present tense as opposed to progressive present, “is” rather than “is doing”) ending, which is –Ir. This is introducing a lot of new grammar, so don’t think too hard about that and just focus on “Can you speak English?” which is İngilizce konuşabilir misiniz?

Cevher, or “Dzhokhar”

Much more about today’s word at my Persian and Arabic blogs. Suffice to say that “Dzhokhar” has its roots in the Arabic word jawhar, which derives from an earlier Persian word, gawhar. Both have the double meaning of “essence” and “jewel,” though Persian later imported jawhar from Arabic to mean “essence.” Since I was doing the word at the other two blogs, I would be remiss not to note that it also exists in Turkish, as cevher (“jev-her”), where its primary meaning is “substance” or “essence,” but where it also has the meaning of “jewel” (though more often used would be mücevher, a Turkish transliteration of another Arabic form of jawhar) and, interestingly, “ore,” which may reflect an archaic meaning because, as far as I know, neither jawhar nor gawhar means “ore” in modern Arabic or Persian.

What does Kim Jong Un have to do with Turkish?

Well, nothing, really, but I think that headline qualifies as a “grabber,” amirite? OK, maybe not.

Way back in my first post on this here blog, I mentioned how Turkish is often considered part of the “Altaic” language family (named for the Altai Mountains in east-central Asia), in the same sense that Arabic is a Semitic language, with languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, and Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia and actually the second most prevalent Semitic language in the world after Arabic), and Persian is an Indo-European language, like French, German, and English. The difference between the Altaic family and these other two is that the composition of the Altaic family is much more open to debate in linguistic academia.

Wikipedia covers the development of the Altaic concept in fair detail. Linguists exposed to Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic (Siberian) languages, primarily via the Russian Empire, which came to include speakers of all three, postulated similarities between the three language groups (the -“ic” suffix denotes that we’re talking about language groups and not specific languages, thus “Turkic” includes modern Turkish alongside close relatives like Uzbek, Azeri, and Chaghatai) that went beyond what one might expect from simple borrowing between them. Some also suggested that the “Uralic” languages (like Finnic and Hungarian) but the theory of a relationship between the Altaics and the Uralics has all but been tossed aside by scholars.

As the theorized language family became increasingly discussed among linguists, scholars studying Korean and Japonic began to suggest that those language groups were also part of the Altaic family. However, the inclusion of Korean and Japonic has never been a settled issue, and many scholars still dispute this, for Japonic in particular. In the case of Korean, there does seem to be a high enough level of cognates with other supposed Altaic languages that there may be something to Korean’s inclusion. The controversy has led to two scholarly camps, the “Macro-Altaics,” who want to include at least Korean and maybe still Japonic, and the “Micro-Altaics,” who limit the Altaic family to the original core of Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic. To make matters more complicated, there are still many scholars who reject the Altaic theory altogether, notably (for me) the German Turkologist Gerhard Doerfer, whose Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen taxed my meager German in my bygone student years. They contend that even the similarities noted between the three language groups in the Micro-Altaic theory can be explained by the copious interactions between speakers of those languages throughout history, and that there need not have been a single original “proto-Altaic” language that once united them.

So there’s a small, highly theoretical link between Kim Jong Un and modern Turkish. Assuming North Korea doesn’t start World War III anytime soon, maybe somebody out there will find a use for this factoid.

The Seasons

These are pretty straightforward. “Season” could be sezon, but the I think the better choice is mevsim.

  • winter = kış (we already mentioned this)
  • spring = ilkbahar (bahar comes from the Persian for “spring,” and ilk is the Turkish for “first,” the addition of which will be clear in a moment)
  • summer = yaz
  • autumn = sonbahar (son is Turkish for “last,” so if we were being literal, in Turkish you have “first spring” and “last spring” instead of “spring” and “autumn”)

Months of the Year

The Republic of Turkey (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti) keeps official time according to the Gregorian calendar, which it adopted in 1926. However, as a majority-Muslim country, Turkey’s people also naturally use the Islamic or Hijri calendar for religious purposes. In fact, Turkey has a bit of a hybridization of public holidays, celebrating six national holidays that are affixed to the Gregorian solar calendar but also observing the important Islamic festivals that take place at the conclusion of Ramadan and during the time of the annual Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), which are dated according to the Hijri lunar calendar and whose dates thus fluctuate with respect to the Gregorian calendar.

While the Turks use the same Gregorian calendar used in the West, the names of the months are unique and reflect the variety of external influences on Turkish over the centuries. Several of the names are Turkish in origin (noted by a T below). Several others are taken from Levantine Arabic, which itself took them probably from Aramaic (these are marked with an A). The remainder ultimately derive from Latin, seemingly via French (marked with F) except for one case that does seem directly taken from Latin (marked with an L). Here are the month names with their English equivalents:

  • January = Ocak (T)
  • February = Şubat (A)
  • March = Mart (F)
  • April = Nisan (A)
  • May = Mayıs (F)
  • June = Haziran (A)
  • July = Temmuz (A)
  • August = Ağustos (L)
  • September = Eylül (A)
  • October = Ekim (T)
  • November = Kasım (T)
  • December = Aralık (T)

I’ve tried to describe the Hijri calendar over on my Arabic blog, so I won’t repeat that discussion here, but worth noting here is the way the Hijri month names are spelled in Modern Turkish with its modified Latin alphabet (compare these to my transliterations on the Arabic blog):

  • Muharrem
  • Sefer
  • Rabiyülevvel
  • Rabiyülahir
  • Cemaziyülevvel
  • Cemaziyülahir
  • Recep
  • Şaban
  • Ramazan
  • Şevval
  • Zilkaade
  • Zilhicce