As a translation services professional I have come to admire the Turkish language more and more as I learn about it and study it – I am far from an expert (there are only so many languages you can be an expert in!) but I have a fair familiarity and I’ve found the Story of Turkish to be a fascinating one.
Turkish is part of a family of languages called the Altaic Languages, called so because they are believed to have originated in the area near the Altaic Mountains in east-central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan share borders. The Altaic Languages all share some basic features: Vowel harmonisation, vowel agglutination, a lack of definite articles, no word gender, no prepositions at all, and many others. They also enjoy different rules for verbs and nominals, resulting in the ability to say with one word what in a language like English requires a complex phrase. It is, in other words, quite an elegant language.
Runes and Early Turkic
As with Scandinavian languages to the north, the first evidence we have of a distinct Turkish language comes to us in the form of written documents using a primitive runic script dating back to about the 7th century. However, the Islamic conquest had begun in the Arabian peninsula and a few centuries later these runes were dispensed with as the Arabic script was adopted.
The people who have come to be known as Turkish were part of empires, most notably the Ottoman Empire which conquered the area now known as Turkey in the mid-15th century and ruled a vast empire for the next four centuries. As a result the Turkish language was exposed to and took features from a long list of other languages, most notably Persian and Arabic, which together moulded the language spoken in the empire into something known as Ottoman Turkish.
In the modern era, when the Ottoman Empire fell after World War I, Kemel Ataturk founded the Turkish Republic and instituted many language reforms, including a “romanising” of the alphabet and a srcubbing of Persian and Arabic influence in order to attain a “purified” version of Turkish. This was a surprisingly successful campaign that replaced words derived from other languages with new words created from existing Turkish vocabulary.
Today Turkish is spoken by about 63 million people in the world in various forms. It not only represents a thriving culture in today’s world, it also represents an ancient and wonderful history.