Turkish (Türkçe) is an official language in Turkey and Northern Cyprus. There are also numerous speakers in Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Iraq, Greece, Germany, Bulgaria and Albania. There are approximately 77 million speakers in total worldwide. The standard dialect of Turkish is that spoken in the Turkish capital, Istanbul. There are a number of other dialects, generally divided into two main groups: Western and Eastern.
Ottoman Turkish, the language of the Ottoman Empire (1299 – 1922), was essentially a mix of Turkish, Persian and Arabic. In 1928, following the founding of the Republic of Turkey, a law was passed to replace the Ottoman script (based on Arabic) with a modified version of the Latin alphabet. This reform was essentially a personal initiative by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic. A Language Commission was set up to prepare the new alphabet and the government went to great lengths to publicise and educate the population on the language. This led to a marked increase in the country’s literacy levels, from around 20% to over 90% of the population. The new Turkish alphabet contains 29 letters, including eight vowels. Of the original Latin alphabet, the letters Q, W and X are not used in Turkish.
The Turkish language is regulated by the Turkish Language Association (TDK), founded in 1932. The association initiated a language reform not long after the alphabet reform, removing Arabic and Persian loanwords. These were banned in the press and Turkic-derived replacements were found to replace them. This change is still evident in the differing vocabularies of the different generations. French, Italian, English and Greek have also contributed to Turkish vocabulary. The two reforms (script and vocabulary) were instrumental in establishing Turkey’s new, more Western-oriented identity and breaking away from its Ottoman and Islamic past.
The folklore tradition in the Turkish language is very rich. One of the most prevalent characters is that of Nasreddin, a witty philosopher who may appear stupid to others but is actually wise, who crops up in numerous jokes and tales playing tricks on his neighbours.
The extensive use of affixes in Turkish can give rise to long words. It is jokingly said that the longest Turkish word is Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız, meaning “You are said to be one of those that we couldn’t manage to convert to a Czechoslovakian”.
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