Why I've Decided To Learn Turkish

avatarMille Larsen
6 mins read

Before I get into the details of how I'll be learning Turkish this year, I want to first take some time to explain why I made this choice. People often have no idea why they should learn a language or which one they should learn. Maybe after seeing my reasons for this choice, perhaps some of you will begin to make your own choices differently.

Useful language

Turkish is, obviously, a Turkic language. In fact, as you can probably guess, it's the most well-known of the Turkic languages, in spite of the fact that it's not, as you might have guessed, the first.

Other languages in the Turkic language family include Turkmen, Kazakh, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz, among others, stretching the influence of Turkic language from lower Europe, across Central Asia, all the way into northern China, where perhaps as many as 11 million people speak Uyghur.

In many ways, I became very fascinated by Central Asia after my brief visit to Uzbekistan last spring, and speaking Turkish will, no doubt, facilitate many future visits to that part of the world.

There are also estimated to be more than 2 million Turkish speaking people in Germany, and while that figure is perhaps higher than other countries, Turkish speaking people can be found throughout the world. I already know a few right here in the Chicago area, so I have no doubt that this will be a language I will use.

Characteristics of Turkish

The first feature one notices about a language is its alphabet, and the Turkish alphabet is a Latin alphabet with 29 letters, mostly the same as English, and borrowing a few vowels from German. Apparently this is a relatively recent development, though, as Turkish languages used an alphabet like that of Arabic-script, but changed to the Latin alphabet only about a century ago. It's not at all hard to learn as long as you remember that c is pronounced like a hard j, and that ı is different from i.

Grammatically, it's completely fascinating to me. Word endings denote not only verb conjugation and noun declension, but also possession, and even the forms of "to be". Yeah, that's right, there's no verb "to be"... it is expressed by adjusting the ending of the word that is the object of "being". Wow.

That's a lot to swallow already, and there's plenty of other interesting twists, so it's really nice to learn that there is no noun gender to worry about. There is, however, a concept that is brand new to me: vowel harmony. With vowel harmony, the vowel used in a particular ending is chosen based on the vowel(s) preceding it in the word. It sounds pretty difficult at first, but I imagine that it would quickly become second-nature, since the whole point is to make things sound nice, and it's easy to know when something doesn't sound nice!

The next detail that stands out to me is that Turkish word order is Subject-Object-Verb, which I am surprised to learn is the preferred word order of 75% of the world's languages. Apparently, the remaining 25% must be the Latin languages, Germanic languages, and Slavic languages, because prior to my exposure to Turkish I had never heard of such a thing.

To add to the interesting new word order, Turkish puts prepositions after the words to which they refer. That means they're not really prepositions at all, but post-positions. If that's unclear, think of saying "in the house" as "the house in"... only it would actually be "house in", because Turkic languages do not use articles.

So putting it all together (and I hope I get this right!), instead of saying "he is inside of my house", the construction in Turkish would be something more like "he house-my inside-is." Of course that does nothing to reflect the noun declension through six cases, or the fact that the negative particle can actually be inserted into the middle of the word it negates!

Brand new to me

As I have already said, I am extremely excited to document a new language-learning strategy this year. But in order for the results to be truly useful to anyone, it was necessary to choose a language which didn't provide me with any built-in advantages.

I already speak two Romance languages and one Slavic language fluently, in addition to having one Germanic language as my native language and experience with another. Unfortunately, that ruled out a large number the languages on my short list for this year — four other languages that I was considering all fit into one of those families with which I have experience.

The fact that Turkic languages are brand new to me is not only necessary in making a fair assessment of this year's strategy... it's also just fun. As a language-lover, there's something fascinating and beautiful about learning a brand new way to do things.

New advantages

Learning Turkish will make it easier to learn other things later on. Turkish has some language features that will be new to me, but which are also present in other languages such as Hungarian or Arabic. In fact, a lot of old Turkish literature was written in Arabic script, so learning Turkish could even be seen as a stepping stone toward one day working on Arabic.

Speaking another language gives you insights into the cultures where that language is spoken, and I have no doubt that while learning about Turkish I will also learn about Turkey and its neighbors, and about Muslim culture.

I have also found that with every new language that I learn, I also gain other interesting insights. Learning a brand new way to do something you've always done trains your mind to become more creative and more flexible. Who knows what innovative problem-solving methods I may one day use as a programmer after I've learned another new way to think?

As you can see, there are a lot of great reasons to learn Turkish, and I am excited to get started.