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Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Languages of the Near & Middle East at SOAS: Turkish

Turkish is a member of the Turkic branch of the Altaic family of languages, and therefore completely unrelated to the two languages it was mostly influenced by, Persian and Arabic. Given that the basic structures of the Turkic languages are not radically different, knowledge of Turkish would go a long way anywhere in the Turkic world, from Istanbul to Urumchi. There is no verb ‘to be’ in Turkish, and no verb ‘to have’. Turkish is free of the ‘grammatical disease’ of gender. It is an agglutinative language: a root noun in a routine sentence will often have a string of six, seven, or even eight suffixes connected to it. It can produce single word-sentences, if not some of the longest words possible: Amerika+lı+laş-tır-a-ma-dık+lar+ımız+dan+mış+sınız (“You appear to be one of those whom we have been unable to Americanize”). Translating from Turkish to English has its own charms. In the words of Maureen Freely: “Turkish darts between the active and the passive voice with grace and ease. It loves clauses beginning with verbal nouns (the doing of, the having been done unto of, the having being seen to have something done to someone else …). In an elegant sentence, there will often be a cascade of such clauses dividing the subject from the verb, with the verb appearing so close to the end of the sentence that it often serves as a punch line, reversing the expected meaning of all that has come before it. To be overly clear is to be crude. To write well is not the say the obvious, but to suggest what lies beyond it. So Turkish is not just another language: it is another way of looking at the world.“

If you would like to learn Turkish, contact Dr Yorgos Dedes (gd5@soas.ac.uk) in the Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East.

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