Turkish is written using a Latin alphabet introduced in 1928 by Atatürk to replace the Arabic-based Ottoman Turkish alphabet. The Ottoman alphabet marked only three different vowels—long ā, ū and ī—and included several redundant consonants, such as variants of z (which were distinguished in Arabic but not in Turkish). The omission of short vowels in the Arabic script was claimed to make it particularly unsuitable for Turkish, which has eight vowels.

The reform of the script was an important step in the cultural reforms of the period. The task of preparing the new alphabet and selecting the necessary modifications for sounds specific to Turkish was entrusted to a Language Commission composed of prominent linguists, academics, and writers. The introduction of the new Turkish alphabet was supported by public education centers opened throughout the country, cooperation with publishing companies, and encouragement by Atatürk himself, who toured the country teaching the new letters to the public. As a result, there was a dramatic increase in literacy from its original Third World levels.

The Latin alphabet was applied to the Turkish language for educational purposes even before the 20th-century reform. Instances include a 1635 Latin-Albanian dictionary by Frang Bardhi, who also incorporated several sayings in the Turkish language, as an appendix to his work (e.g. alma agatsdan irak duschamas – ‘An apple does not fall far from its tree’).

Turkish now has an alphabet suited to the sounds of the language: the spelling is largely phonetic, with one letter corresponding to each phoneme. Most of the letters are used approximately as in English, the main exceptions being ⟨c⟩, which denotes [dʒ] (⟨j⟩ being used for the [ʒ] found in Persian and European loans); and the undotted ⟨ı⟩, representing [ɯ]. As in German, ⟨ö⟩ and ⟨ü⟩ represent [ø] and [y]. The letter ⟨ğ⟩, in principle, denotes [ɣ] but has the property of lengthening the preceding vowel and assimilating any subsequent vowel. The letters ⟨ş⟩ and ⟨ç⟩ represent [ʃ] and [tʃ], respectively. A circumflex is written over back vowels following ⟨k⟩, ⟨g⟩, or ⟨l⟩ when these consonants represent [c], [ɟ], and [l]—almost exclusively in Arabic and Persian loans, An apostrophe is used to separate proper nouns from any suffixes: e.g. İstanbul’da ‘in Istanbul’.


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