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The Turkish Language

Approximately 70 million people speak Turkish, the majority of them residing in Turkey and Cyprus.

Turkish is a member of the subgroup of Oghuz languages, a Southwestern subgroup of the Turkic languages. The Turkic language family has thirty languages ranging across Eastern Europe, Asia and Siberia, of which Turkish is the mostly common spoken.

Turkish has unique characteristics. It is an agglutinative language, which means that suffixes are added to the bases of words. Turkish employs vowel harmony, which means vowels share conformity. For example, a front vowel in the first syllable of a word requires a front vowel in the second syllable as well. Likewise, the same applies for back vowels.

Turkish does not have gender assignments. To show respect, second-person plural forms may be used. The basic word order is Subject-Object-Verb.

It is believed the Turkish language originated in Central Asia approximately 1,200 years ago.

There are four eras in the Turkish language: Old Turkish from the 13th through 16th century; Middle Turkish, from the 17th and 18th centuries, Newer Turkish, during the 19th century; and, Modern Turkish, from the 20th century to present. With the exception of Modern Turkish, the Ottoman Empire played a decisive role in the evolution of the Turkish language during these eras.

The oldest extant Turkish inscriptions are found on stone monuments located in Mongolia and dated between 732 and 735 AD. These were written in a runic language and are known as the Old Turkic language.

The rise of the Ottoman Empire from 1299 through 1453 AD would commence the migration of the Turkish language across vast tracts of the known world, where it became the dominating language. The Runic alphabet was discarded in favor of the Arabic alphabet. Ottoman Turkish was a mixture of Turkish, Persian and Arabic. It was the official language of the Ottoman Empire and of those who were wealthy and in power. It was, however, different from the Turkish spoken by ordinary people in their daily lives, which was reminiscent of Old Turkish.

The first Turkish grammar study was published in 1530. Turkish evolved as Persian and Arabic loanwords began to displace Turkish words. By the 1800's, the reorganization of the Ottoman Empire involved a partial reformation of the Turkish language. Turkish underwent simplification and some loanwords were discarded.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Turkish would undergo drastic changes. In the late 1920's, early on in the history of the Republic of Turkey, a phonetic version of the Latin alphabet replaced the Ottoman script. Within three years, the Turkish Language Association was instituted and began to replace Persian and Arabic words with native Turkic words, some of which had not been used for hundreds of years. New words were formed by compounding two words into one or with agglutination.

One of the measures adopted by the Turkish Language Association was to prohibit the use of Persian and Arabic words in the press. An immediate effect of these efforts in the next two decades would be a substantial increase in the literacy rate. The Turkish Language Association became independent of the government in 1951.

While dialects still exist, Istanbul Turkish is the official standard Modern Turkish language.