Why Turkish?

July 5, 2007 at 2:50 pm (Languages, Personal)

S. Weasel asks:

Turkish seems an odd sort of language to learn. It’s difficult (I count any language with a specialized alphabet especially difficult) and essentially only applicable to Turkey, yes? Do you have a specific reason for choosing Turkish, or are you simply a language junkie?

Although Turkish (“Türkçe”) is used mainly in Turkey and by its people (who have a significant diaspora in Europe), Turkish is one of a number of Turkic languages – which include Tajik, Turkmen, Uzbek, among others – which exists in a large swath from the Bosphorus in the west to China and Mongolia in the east. Although each Turkic language is different (that is, different and separate languages rather than dialects of one language), each shares a lot in common with the others; some are such that the user of one Turkic language might be able to understand another Turkic language. So, Turkish takes its place in the large area of Turkic languages.

Turkic languages are also related to Mongol languages (two examples of which are Mongol and Uighur). Indeed, both types belong to the same family: Altaic languages (named after the Altai mountains, which are the birthplace of Turkic and Mongol peoples), which has two main branches: namely, Turkic languages and Mongol languages.

So, in actuality, Turkish is not so isolated.

But it cannot be denied that Turkish is still a language of little consequence. Turkey may have a large rôle to play – larger than that of any other Altaic state, Mongolia included – yet certainly not one that is readily perceptible. There are no dreams of reestablishing the Ottoman Empire, nor of creating a Türkistan. So I cannot be interested in Turkish for strategic reasons. (Languages to learn for strategic reasons would be Mandarin, Russian, Arabic, Pashto, or Spanish.)

To be honest, I want to become familiar with Turkish because, as you said, I’m a language junkie: and Turkish is entirely different from any other language I have come across (although certain elements remind me of German). I think it is a fascinating language. And certainly it is easier to get material on and in Turkish than in, say, Mongolian.

Did you know that the first Moghul emperors of South Asia spoke Turkish (specifically, Chaghatai Turkish)? Later, as they become more immersed in that region and began assimilating, losing their Turkic elements, they began using Persian as the imperial tongue. Emperor Babar, who essentially established the South Asian Moghul dynasty, claimed descent from Timur-Lenk on one side and Genghis Khan (Jingez Khan) on the other. “Moghul” is actually a corruption of “Mongol” (and exists as “Moğol” in Turkish, which is used to refer to both Moghuls and Mongols), revealing the Moghul dynasty’s Altaic (actually, Turkic) origins.

Also, “ordu”, from which the language Urdu gets its name, means “army” in Turkish. The same word means “army camp” in Persian. The Persians probably borrowed the word from the Turks and used it with a modified meaning, and is an excellent choice for the name of the language that arose from the army camps, being a mish-mash of languages.

So, em, did that sort of answer your question?

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1 Comment

  1. S. Weasel said,

    Yes, that answered my question nicely.

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