The Reach of the Turkish Language

The Turkish language is spoken by more than 70 million people throughout the world. This ranks the Turkish language as the most commonly spoken language of Turkic origin. Turkish speakers reside primarily in Turkey, though significant populations of speakers now reside in Germany with smaller communities existing in Cyprus, Bulgaria, and other parts of Eastern Europe. Kurdish is spoken by approximately seven to ten percent of Turkey's population. Even minorities in Turkey however are usually bilingual, speaking Turkish in varying levels of proficiency.

In more recent years several million Turkish speakers have immigrated to Western Europe, primarily to Germany. Turkish also holds an official status in the Prizren District of Kosovo and several municipalities of the Republic of Macedonia depending on the levels of Turkish-speaking local population. The Turkish language is a member of the Turkish subgroup of the Oghuz language family which includes Gagauz and Azeri.

The Oghuz languages form the Southwestern subgroup of the Turkic languages. This language family comprisesof 30 or so living languages spoken across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Siberia. Mutual intelligibility between Turkish Azeri does exist.

The literary and official language during the Ottoman Empire was in fact a mixture of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic that differed considerably from the period's everyday spoken Turkish, and is termed Ottoman Turkish. The Turkish language has its roots in Central Asia. The first written records are dated to 1,200 years. The rise of the Ottoman Empire extended the geographical reach of Turkish. Turkic occurred during the Middle Ages from the 6th through the 11th centuries, with people speaking Turkic languages spread across Central Asia, covering a vast geographical region stretching from Siberia to Europe and the Mediterranean.

The aftermath of World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire brought about a number of political and nationalistic reforms. In 1928 the Turkish leader Atatürk initiated a number of reforms including the modification of the Turkish alphabet by including the adoption of a phonetic variant using the Latin alphabet. The Turkish Language Association was established during this time and attempted to reform the Turkish language by removing Persian and Arabic loanwords in favor of adopting native variations from Turkish roots.

These linguistic changes, including the implementation of the revised Turkish alphabet, shaped the Turkish language as we know it today. The influence of the Turkish Language Association continued though in 1951 in became an independent body. Today Istanbul Turkish is the official standard for Turkish.

Jacob Lumbroso is a world traveler and an enthusiast for foreign languages, history, and foreign cultures. He writes articles on history and languages for and has used Pimsleur courses to learn various languages.

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