The Turkish language is a member of the Turkic language family, a group of languages spoken by various Turkic peoples across a vast area stretching from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China. The Turkic languages are part of a larger language family called the Altaic languages, which also includes the Mongolic and Tungusic language families.
Prehistoric and Ancient Periods
The origins of the Turkic languages, including Turkish, can be traced back to a proto-Turkic language spoken by people in a region of Northeast Asia, possibly near the borders of modern-day Mongolia and China, around 2000-500 BCE. These people were part of a larger group known as the Xiongnu, a confederation of nomadic tribes that lived in the eastern Asian steppe. Over time, the Xiongnu tribes migrated westwards, leading to the spread and diversification of Turkic languages.
By the middle ages, Turkic-speaking peoples had established several powerful empires and states in Central Asia and the Middle East, such as the Göktürk Khaganate, the Uyghur Khaganate, and the Seljuk Empire. These states played a crucial role in the spread and development of the Turkic languages.
The Turkish language, as we know it today, evolved from the Oghuz branch of Turkic languages, which was spoken by the Oghuz Turks in the region around the Caspian Sea. The Oghuz Turks migrated westwards into Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) in the 11th century, establishing the Seljuk Empire and later the Ottoman Empire.
The history of the Turkish language can be traced back to the Göktürk Kingdom, around 732 AD, marked by the Orhun inscriptions – the earliest known examples of written Turkish. This period saw the resurgence of the Göktürk Kingdom amidst threats from Islamic invasions. Key historical documents from this era include the “Divan-ı Türk,” a comprehensive Turkish-Arabic dictionary, and “Kutadgu Bilig,” a text showcasing the language’s cultural and linguistic aspects. Interestingly, simple verbs and body part-related words form the stable core of the Turkish vocabulary, remaining largely unchanged throughout history.
The Neolithic Revolution marked a significant cultural shift, leading to settled life, the construction of temples, and the emergence of complex symbols and religious institutions. Vocabulary associated with nature, animals, plants, and elements like the sun and rain, as well as cultural terms reflecting social and technological advancements, provide insights into the material and societal aspects of Turkish culture during different historical periods.
Shamanism and Persian Influence
The concept of “Tengri,” a divine entity, played a crucial role in legitimizing and blessing rulers in ancient Turkic culture. Tengri is the ancient sky god of the Turkic and Mongolian peoples and is central to Tengrism, their shamanistic and animistic religious tradition.
Rulers often claimed a special relationship or direct descent from Tengri to legitimize their power and authority. This relationship between rulers and Tengri was deeply embedded in the shamanistic practices of the Turkic peoples, where the shaman acted as an intermediary between the human world and the spirit world, entering into trances to communicate with spirits, heal the sick, or predict the future.
Shamanistic rituals often involved drumming, chanting, and dancing to induce altered states of consciousness. The ancient Turkic peoples had extensive contact with Iranian peoples, leading to significant cultural exchange that could have influenced Turkic political concepts and vocabulary, although the specifics of this influence are a matter of scholarly debate.
Language Evolution and Interaction
The emergence of a society based on large-scale animal husbandry, primarily horse domestication, was a pivotal technological advancement that enabled nomadic lifestyles and facilitated communication, travel, and the management of large herds. This development was attributed to cultures like the Andronovo culture in Central Asia around 3500-4000 years ago. The influence of Turkic and Mongolic languages on each other and the impact of Arabic and Persian words on early Turkish vocabulary were also noteworthy, highlighting the interactions and exchanges between languages in historical contexts.
Starting from the 8th century AD, the evolution of Turkish vocabulary was further influenced by contact with Arabic and Persian simultaneously, leading to the adoption of many words from both languages. The formation of an educated class to interpret and administer Islamic law, the expansion of trade, economic growth, and the emergence of a wealthy elite transformed the linguistic landscape. These interactions contributed to the creation of a sophisticated administrative and intellectual class, enabling more complex governance and cultural exchange.
During the Ottoman period (1299–1922), the Turkish language was heavily influenced by Persian and Arabic due to the Ottoman Empire‘s close political and cultural ties with the Islamic world. The Ottoman Turkish language, used as the administrative and literary language of the empire, was a mixture of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic vocabulary and used the Arabic script.
Multilingualism of The Ottomans
The Ottoman Empire was a vast and diverse entity that encompassed many different peoples and languages. While Ottoman Turkish was the language of the administration and the elite, many other languages were spoken throughout the empire, including Arabic, Persian, Greek, Armenian, and many others. This multilingualism influenced the development of the Turkish language during this period.
The Ottoman period was a rich time for Turkish literature. Poetry was particularly important, and many famous poets, such as Yunus Emre, Baki, and Fuzuli, wrote in Ottoman Turkish. Their works are considered classics of Turkish literature to this day.
The French Connection
The French influence on the Turkish language is most noticeable in the large number of French loanwords that have been incorporated into Turkish vocabulary. This influence began in the 19th century during the Tanzimat period, a time of reform and modernization in the Ottoman Empire.
During this period, the Ottoman Empire sought to modernize and reform its institutions, partly in response to increasing pressure from Western European powers. This involved sending students and officials to study in Europe, inviting foreign experts to the Ottoman Empire, and adopting Western-style laws and institutions. As a result of these interactions, many French words entered the Turkish language, particularly in the fields of law, politics, science, and culture.
Some examples of French loanwords in Turkish include:
Büro (Bureau): office
Rezervasyon (Réservation): reservation
Lokanta (Restaurant): restaurant
Telefon (Téléphone): telephone
Kafe (Café): cafe
Banka (Banque): bank
Hastane (Hôpital): hospital
Loanwords in Turkish
Turkish is quite flexible and has absorbed many loanwords from other languages, much like English. This ability to absorb and adapt to foreign words is a characteristic of many languages, but it is particularly pronounced in languages that have had extensive contact with other cultures and languages, as is the case with both Turkish and English.
In Turkish, this flexibility is facilitated by its agglutinative nature, which means that words are formed by adding affixes (prefixes and suffixes) to a root word. This makes it relatively easy to incorporate foreign words into the language and adapt them to Turkish grammar and pronunciation.
Besides the heavy influence of Arabic, Persian and French, many other languages like Italian, English, Greek and even German has loaned many words to Turkish. Throughout the centuries, Italian has contributed a number of loanwords to Turkish, especially in the areas of music, art, and architecture. Due to the long history of interaction between Greek and Turkish-speaking peoples, there are also a significant number of Greek loanwords in Turkish. In recent years, English has become a significant source of loanwords in Turkish, especially in the areas of technology, business, and popular culture.
The modern Turkish language, as spoken today, underwent significant reforms in the 20th century. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, initiated a series of language reforms in the 1920s and 1930s to modernize and turkify the language. These reforms included the adoption of the Latin alphabet, the removal of many Persian and Arabic loanwords, and the promotion of native Turkish words and neologisms.
Today, Turkish is the official language of Turkey and one of the official languages of Cyprus. It is spoken by over 100 million people worldwide and has a rich literary tradition, with famous works of poetry, prose, and music composed in the language.
The Turkish language has a rich and varied history, influenced by cultural interactions, technological advancements, and social changes. From its ancient roots to the influence of neighboring cultures and the emergence of new concepts, the evolution of the Turkish language provides a fascinating insight into the history and development of Turkish society. Understanding these intricacies helps appreciate the depth and complexity of this beautiful language and the culture it represents.