Disaster in the Philippines

I’m very late on this, but the devastation caused in the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan is enormous, with at least 10,000 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, most undoubtedly into refugee camps or worse. Please give what you can, if you are able. I gave to UNICEF this evening and also sent an SMS donation to the World Food Program, but there are many ways to contribute. See here, and here, for lists of organizations, and if you have any other suggestions please leave them in comments.

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To be resumed

Our next planned installment is a guide to pronunciation. If you’re wondering why it’s not already up, please read.

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.