How does Turkish differ from other languages?


Turkish has been the state language of Turkey since 1923 and is spoken by around 80 million people, around 5 million of them as a second language. The high-level language is based on the Istanbul dialect. Turkish is also spoken in Balkan countries, with over a million speakers in Bulgaria alone. The largest language island is located in Germany with a good 2 million speakers. There are signs that a separate variety of Turkish is developing here in the long term. Turkish is one of the Turkic languages. The Turkic peoples were originally at home between the Khangai and Altai mountains in Asia. Migration began after the 8th century. Turkish was already present in Anatolia for a long time and became the dominant language of the Ottoman Empire since the 15th century. From this time onwards, Turkish was strongly influenced by Arabic and Persian vocabulary and was written in Arabic. European languages ​​(especially French) had an impact in the 19th century. In 1928, as part of Ataturk's reforms, the Latin script was introduced. The orthography (created in just three months) is comparatively true to the sound. From around 1932 onwards, there were purist efforts aimed at eradicating Persian and Arabic elements. Turkish is now a modern language with a developed educational and scientific vocabulary. There are still differences between standard Turkish and Turkish in rural regions, which can make the children's educational path more difficult. Ottoman and Turkish are characterized by a high literary culture that was also influenced by the West from around the 18th century. In the 20th century the following should be mentioned in particular: Nȃzım Hikmet, Yaşar Kemal (Peace Prize of the German Book Trade), Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Prize 2006). In addition to Turkish, there are numerous minority languages ​​in Turkey such as

a) Kurmanji (north-west Kurdish language, especially in the east and in bordering Iran and north Iraq, where the second main dialect Sorani dominates). Kurdish is an Indo-European language;
b) Arabic (especially in the Syrian-Turkish border area);
c) Armenian (Indo-European language);
d) Assyrian (Semitic language);
e) Lasish (Caucasian language);
f) Zaza (northwest Iranian language, Eastern Anatolia).

Until the end of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the language of the elite was Ottoman, which was written in Arabic. Modern Turkey followed in 1923, which brought with it numerous reforms (headgear, secularization, etc.) and which until then made rather rural Turkish the state language - not without a reform of the script (alphabet) and a cleansing of the lexical language (abolition of Arabic and Persian Words, new formations with the new prefixes, etc. The pressure on the minority languages ​​became strong. This applies particularly to the Kurdish language and culture, which had a long history of conflict. Many Kurds migrated from east to west or were resettled. Kurdish was severely suppressed (Written texts, media) The rural population should give up religious traditions and traditional cultural practices. From the rural areas of Anatolia and from the Kurdish areas, many people emigrated to Western Europe. The Stigm atization of the rural as well as the so-called Black Sea Turkish (= Lasisch) remained a problem and was also included in the migration; the children often fail to succeed in school (Briziç 2oo7). With the Erdoǧan government, Islam regained a greater role. Several democratic principles have been at stake since the military coup, particularly freedom of the press.

Some peculiarities of Turkish grammar

A. Characteristics of the sound system:

• The distinction between long (or strained) and short (or unstrained) vowels is not (as in German) meaningful.
Reduction vowels such as the German Schwa (preferably in the final: cat katsǝ) are absent in Turkish, as are diphthongs. Long vowels are primarily found in non-native words or as a result of not pronouncing, elongation with the following y or double consonance.

Turkish vowels: classification

• Turkish has a vowel harmony: ending vowels adapt to the stem vowels. As a result, a Turkish word usually only has front, light or only rear, dark vowels. Finnish and Hungarian also have a vowel harmony.


Small vowel harmony (characters in angle brackets)
in the plural, dative, locative, ablative suffix
Stem vowel Ending vowel (suffix vowel)
ɛ, i, œ, Y
ɑ, ɯ, o, u
<a,ı ,o,u>


Large vowel harmony (characters in angle brackets):
In the genitive, accusative, possessive / personal, question suffix
Stem vowel Ending vowel (suffix vowel)
ɛ, i
œ, Y
ɑ, ɯ
<ı >

• The Turkish consonants are divided into voiced and unvoiced. Double consonance is rare (anne 'Mother'), it leads to double articulation.

• In Turkish, there are assimilation phenomena at the end of a word (stl. Consonants become voiced if a vowel suffix follows. If a final suffix with sth. Consonants follows a voiceless ponsonant, it becomes voiceless. In the end, voiceless consonants trigger voicelessness of a first suffix consonant.


• The syllable structure shows a proximity to the universal consonant-vowel structure: Turkic languages ​​usually show neither at the beginning nor at the end of the syllable consonant groups (only 2 in the final syllable (coda)). There are only limited exceptions to this.

• The word accent tends towards the final syllable (exceptions are some names, relatives such as anne, abla, teyze, Foreign words, or an adverb like şimdi).

• The Turkish Orthography is not difficult, you can find an overview in 10 rules here, another one here (pdf).

B. Morphology: the agglutinating principle

• The word forms in the Turkic languages ​​contain relatively long series of clearly defined endings (suffixes). Each lexical derivation and each grammatical category has its own unique ending. The endings are "agglutinated" in a clearly defined order - hence the name of the type: "agglutinating language".

• There are hardly any prefixes in Turkic languages. Only recently, under the influence of European languages, have words been formed such as ön-görmek ‘Provide, foresee’ (= prefix formation). But they are very rare.

• Instead of prepositions, there are more case endings (see also Finnish): ev-e ('home', dative), Berlin'de ('in Berlin', locative '), Berlin'Dan ('from Berlin, ablative). Furthermore, Turkish has post positions that govern a case: arkadaş-im-la'with my friend' and corresponding nominal constructions: ev-in ön-un-de 'of the house (genitive) on its (poss.) front (locative)', 'in front of the house'.

• Turkish has no gender and no anaphor (German: he she it). Congruence relationships are not pronounced: We find no gender, no number, no case congruence.

• Turkish - unlike German - has a rich verbal system of aspects. For example, there is a form that German only has colloquially: Sezer hanım ütü yap-makta 'Mrs Sezer is ironing / ironing.' The miş-form can, among other things, identify information as merely hearsay or developed: gelmişsin it is said / is to be assumed that you have come '.

C. Syntax: subject before rhema, verb at the end

• At the beginning of a sentence there can be a thematizing, contrasting or framing (time, place) expression, which is often followed by a caesura (pause / comma).

• The topic (known, given, present) is realized early and often has the subject role. Then comes the new, relevant, important.

• The sentence usually ends with the expression of the predication (usually verb). Since the objects - as related parts of the sentence - follow the subject, the basic sequence results

The area in front of the verb is emphasized (and accentuated), e.g. a weighted adverb can also be used there:

Mesut ablama kitabı thin getirdi. 'Mesut brought my sister yesterday the book.'

Thin ablama kitabı Mesut getirdi. Yesterday brought my sister Mesut the book.'

The basic sequence partly corresponds to the German subordinate clauses sequence.

Languages ​​with the basic sequence S (subject) - O (bjekt) - V (erb) have further typological characteristics:
- they use postpositions instead of prepositions (see above);
- The attributes are placed in front of the reference noun, complements / objects in front of the verb.

• As in Semitic languages ​​(Arabic, Hebrew), there are nominal clauses (without a copula verb such as is): Çocuk-lar çalışkan 'The children (are) hardworking.'

The subordinate clauses are realized as nominal, attributive or adverbial parts of sentences or as converges; they appear as verb forms (participle, gerund, etc.), without subjunctors. Subordinate clauses are stored in the main clauses; only in a few constructions (e.g. with ki) follow.

• There is no specific article. The determination is through case endings (certain accusative, possessive constructions such as tren-in hareket-i 'the train's departure' or early realization of the thematically determined is indicated.

• Emphasis takes place by placing before the finite (+ intonation), furthermore by expressions such as gelince (‘As far as X is concerned’) or contrast particles and the negation copula değilwhich follows the reference constituent (in the case of contrast also in the left outer field);

• Causative, passive, reflexive, modality, negation, aspect do not appear as expressions of their own (in German: negation particles, own verb systems (auxiliary verb, modal verb), but as suffixes that modify the verb stem;

• Turkish is considered a "pro-drop language": a personal deixis like ben It is not compulsory to realize 'I', as the person suffix on the verb is sufficient (this is also the case in Latin and Italian). Turkish has no anaphor (German he she it), only index words (Deixeis).


Menu with scion vowel, Istanbul
Photo: Prof. Dr. Yüksel Ekinci

Some problems in acquiring German as a second language with Turkish as first language

In German, every noun is identified by its gender. Adjectives and articles are based on this (the beautiful day, the beautiful
) and anaphor (personal pron. 3rd Ps.) (A man and a woman: he loves them). Turkish has neither gender nor anaphor (instead of anaphors it has index words / deixeis; the expression of the person in the verb is usually sufficient). The gender of German nouns can therefore be a learning problem. Another is the gender, number and case congruence (a rich prince), which does not exist in Turkish.

Lit .:
E. Özdil (2011) Gender and case in German: a didactic approach with linguistic comparative aspects to Turkish. In: L. Hoffmann / Y. Ekinci-Kocks (ed.) Language didactics in multilingual learning groups. Baltmansweiler: Schneider, 29-39

Instead of prepositions, Turkish uses case endings for relationalization, and there are also a few postpositions (trailing relationalists) that govern a case: arkadaş-im-la 'with my friend' and corresponding nominal constructions: ev-in ön-un-de 'of the house (genitive) on its (poss.) front (locative)', 'in front of the house'.

In German we have a large number of prepositions with certain case demands (because of the weather, with the wind, against the HSV), some require different cases depending on the meaning ("alternating prepositions"): at school, at school, on the wall, on the wall. Some are tied to specific verbs: wonder about, trust, believe in, drive after and rule prepositional objects (went to Cologne, went to Paula). There is a considerable learning task here, incidentally increasingly also for children with German as their first language.

Lit .:
W. Grießhaber (1998), The Relating Procedure. On the grammar and pragmatics of local prepositions and their use by Turkish learners of German. Münster / New York: Waxmann
L. Selmani (2011) Prepositions in German and Turkish. In: L. Hoffmann / Y. Ekinci-Kocks (ed.) Language didactics in multilingual learning groups. Baltmansweiler: Schneider, 53-65

Definite article
The definite article (that, that, that) is absent in Turkish (as in Russian) - in German it expresses that it is clear to the speaker that the listener has access to the subject matter, already knows it, can identify it within the framework of what has been said, etc. In Turkish, definiteness comes through Initial position (as in most Slavic languages), through a possessive or genitive-possessive construction (tren-in hareket-i 'of the train's departure') or the accusative ending.

Lit .:
L. Hoffmann (1997) Determinative. In: Handbook of German parts of speech. Berlin / New York 2007: de Gruyter, 293-357
L. Selmani (2011) Determination in a Language Comparison: German-Turkish-Albanian. In: L. Hoffmann / Y. Ekinci-Kocks (ed.) Language didactics in multilingual learning groups. Baltmansweiler: Schneider, 40-52

Word order
Turkish German learners usually have no special problems here, even if the Turkish word sequence is organized differently (see above):
The sentence usually ends with the expression of the predication. What is close to the verb is weighted.

The German word order is precisely with the three possible positions of the verb (first position: Tell me...), Second position (She said something), Final position in the subordinate clause (that she said something) very noticeable and easy to learn. Thematicity and weighting are important principles here:



Like Russian and Arabic, Turkish should be a regular subject in German schools
For that you need good teacher training. The only university that trains Turkish teachers is Duisburg / Essen; So far, the University of Hamburg also had an offer, but it was supposed to expire (2014). In Hamburg, 30 schools have Turkish as a subject, six as a second foreign language from the 7th grade. In Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Bremen and Schleswig-Holstein there is also Turkish as a school subject at selected schools.

P.A. Andrews (Ed.) (1989, 2002) Ethnic Groups in the Republic of Turkey. 2 vol. Wiesbanden: Reichert
K. Briziç (2007) The Secret Life of Languages. Münster: Waxmann
M.I. Ersen-Rasch (2012) Turkish grammar. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz
L. Hoffmann (2011) Multilingualism in functional language teaching. In: L. Hoffmann / Y. Ekinci-Kocks (ed.) Language didactics in multilingual learning groups. Baltmansweiler: Schneider, 10-28
A. Göksel / C. Kerslake (2011) Turkish: An Essential Grammar. London: Routledge
L. Hoffmann (2016³) German grammar. Basics for teacher training, school, German as a second language and German as a foreign language. Berlin: Erich Schmidt
C. Schroeder / Y. Şimşek (2014) Turkish. In: M. Krifka et al. (Ed.) (2014) The multilingual classroom. About the mother tongues of our students. Heidelberg: Springer VS, 115-133
L. Selmani (2011) Prepositions in German and Turkish. In: L. Hoffmann / Y. Ekinci-Kocks (ed.) Language didactics in multilingual learning groups. Baltmansweiler: Schneider, 53-65
L. Selmani (2011) Determination in a Language Comparison: German-Turkish-Albanian. In: L. Hoffmann / Y. Ekinci-Kocks (ed.) Language didactics in multilingual learning groups. Baltmansweiler: Schneider, 40-52

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