WORD ORDER AND VOWELS

BASICS OF TURKISH GRAMMAR

 

Word order, Turkish characters, vowel classes & variable vowels, HTML rendering


 

Sentences are generally:

  • Subject object(s) verb.
So something like:
  • Köpek suyu içiyor
    (The) dog (the) water is drinking.
  • Güç bunda kuvvetli
    (The) Force in this one strong (is).

The word immediately before the verb is (usually) the most important word in the sentence, it conveys the main point. The subject is often left out if it is a personal pronoun, as it can be derived from the verb conjugation.


 

Turkish uses some characters that aren't supported in basic HTML. Hopefully your browser can understand the following, some of which are rendered with Unicode!

Turkish Characters Used on This Page
Char Example Explanation HTML LATEX
ç Ç çarşı c with cedilla ç Ç \c{c} \c{C}
ğ Ğ dağı g with an "upside-down hat" ğ Ğ \^{g} \^{G}
İ İstanbul Dotted capital I İ \.{I}
ı çarşı undotted i ı {\i}
ö Ö görmek o with an umlaut ö Ö \"{o} \"{O}
ş Ş dolmuş s with cedilla ş Ş \c{s} \c{S}
ü Ü gülmek u with an umlaut ü Ü \"{u} \"{U}
Other Turkish Characters
Char Example Explanation HTML LATEX
â lâle (tulip) a with circumflex
Pronounced like ya in gâ, kâ, lâ
Lengthened otherwise
â \^{a}
î millî (national) i with circumflex
Lengthened, appears in many
adjectives borrowed from Arabic
î \^{\i}
û sükût (silence) u with circumflex
Lengthened
û \^{u}

 

Turkish vowels are said to be of two classes, front and back. But there is also the distinction of open versus close(d), and round versus unround. They can be arranged into a cube:

          a------o      back
         /|     /|     -----
  open  e------ö |    front
 -----  | |    | |
 close  | ı----|-u 
        |/     |/
        i------ü
           /
  unround / round

Variable Vowels and Vowel Harmony

Turkish has vowel harmony, meaning that a word usually has all vowels of a single class, front vs back, including those in suffixes added to reflect the part of speech.

Elementary Turkish uses the notation V2 to indicate "the variable vowel e/a" which takes one value depending on vowel harmony, and the notation V4 to indicate "the four-variable vowel shown in the following table". More reasonably, Teach Yourself Turkish calls the first "e-type" and the second "i-type". Note the locations of V2/e-type and V4/i-type in the vowel cube:

          a------o      back
         /|     /|     -----
  open  e------ö |    front
 -----  | |    | |
 close  | ı----|-u 
        |/     |/
        i------ü
   unround / round

There are three rules of vowel harmony:

  1. Back vowels are followed by back vowels, front vowels are followed by front vowels. Do not cross the back/front boundary.
  2. Unrounded vowels are followed by unrounded vowels.
  3. A rounded vowel may be followed by a mix of rounded closed and unrounded open vowels.

So:

  • a or ı may be followed by a or ı
  • o or u may be followed by u or a
  • e or i may be followed by e or i
  • ö or ü may be followed by ü or e
a<------o         e<------ö
^   \   |         ^   \   |
|    \  |         |    \  |
v     \ v _       v     \ v _
ı      -u/ \      i      -ü/ \
         \_/               \_/

Applying Variable Vowels

A word may not necessarily be internally consistent regarding vowel harmony -- it may mix front and back vowels. For example, that word you learn early while riding Turkish buses and wondering what is advertised by so many signs along the highway: sigorta, or insurance. Or kitap, or book. However, each suffix added to the word, forming so much of Turkish grammar, usually follows vowel harmony with the preceding vowel (there are a few exceptions, suffixes of fixed form not following vowel harmony).

For example, the sign found in sleeper compartments of overnight trains, announcing a bed linen charge:
   Sayın yolcularımız: Ekspreslerimizde her gece için alınacak ...
   Dear passengers: in our express trains every night there will be purchased ...

yol road   ekspres express train
yolcu road-dealer, or really passenger
yolcular passengers   ekspresler express trains
yolcularımız our passengers   ekspreslerimiz our express trains
ekspreslerimizde in our express trains

Variable Consonants

Some consonants vary depending on whether a voiced or unvoiced consonant is needed. Voiced consonants follow other voiced consonants or vowels, unvoiced consonants follow unvoiced consonants (ç, f, h, k, p, s, ş, t). The pairs are t/d, p/b, and ç/c.

Also, a final k "softens" to ğ when a vowel is suffixed -- köpek (dog) becomes köpeği when it is the direct object.

Optional Letters

Some letters are optional, vowel or consonant buffers between the existing stem so far and the next suffix.

 

 


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