Turkish (or Türkçe) is the official language of Turkey and spoken by 60 million people, or about 90% of the country’s total population—with Kurdish being spoken by the remaining percentage. It is also one of the official languages of Cyprus and recognized as an idiom spoken in some areas of the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo and, in small measure, the Western Thrace region of Greece. Turkish-speaking minorities can be also found in countries that, either in whole or in part, were once under Ottoman rule. A significant number of Turkish-speaking communities are found in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It must be noted, however, that younger generations of Turks in these host countries are becoming culturally assimilated and, thus, increasingly losing fluency in their parents’ native language.
Turkish is considered an idiom of the Western subgroup of the Oghuz languages, which, in turn, are a branch of the Turkic family. Some linguists assert that Turkic languages are part of the larger Altaic language family, which clusters idioms native to a geographical area stretching from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus and northeast Asia. Detractors of this hypothesis do not believe that these idiomatic groups constitute a linguistic family.
Istanbul Turkish is the official standard language of Turkey. A variety of dialects are spoken in many corners of the Republic. There are so many dialects that the Turkish Language Association is currently compiling data to publish a comprehensive dialect atlas of the Turkish language.
Since 1928, the Turkish language has adopted a modified version of the Latin alphabet en lieu of the old Ottoman Turkish alphabet.
The first traces of Turkic writing are found in the Orkhon inscriptions, in modern-day Mongolia, dating back to the 8th century A.D. During the following six centuries of Ottoman rule, the official language of the Empire was called Ottoman Turkish and contained substantial lexical borrowings from Arabic and Persian. After the creation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and under the patronage of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the country’s founder and first President, a language reform was initiated. Much effort was placed in eliminating hundreds of foreign words, especially Arabic and Persian, from the Turkish official vocabulary. To this day, however, generations born before the linguistic reform continue to use the older Ottoman Turkish lexicon, while younger generations have taken to the newer idiom. The standards of the Turkish language are monitored, regulated and upheld by the Turkish Language Association.
Turkish literature comprises both written texts and oral traditions. The former is constituted by poetry and prose, the latter by oral folk literature, mainly of nomadic traditions. Modern-day Turkish written literary production artfully blends more nationalistic elements, which celebrates themes celebrating the Turkish nation, with themes borrowed from traditional Western models. Author Orhan Pamuk received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006.
“Having two ears and one tongue, we should listen twice as much as we speak.”