A BRIEF HISTORY OF TURKISH LANGUAGES

The Turkic languages are spoken over a large geographical area in Europe and Asia. It is spoken in the Azeri, the Türkmen, the Tartar, the Uzbek, the Baskurti, the Nogay, the Kyrgyz, the Kazakh, the Yakuti, the Cuvas and other dialects. Turkish belongs to the Altaic branch of the Ural-Altaic family of languages, and thus is closely related to Mongolian, Manchu-Tungus, Korean, and perhaps Japanese. Some scholars have maintained that these resemblances are not fundamental, but rather the result of borrowings, however comparative Altaistic studies in recent years demonstrate that the languages we have listed all go back to a common Ur-Altaic. The Turkish Language up to the 16th Century With the spread of Islam among the Turks from the 10th century onward, the Turkish language came under heavy influence of Arabic and Persian cultures.

The “Divanü-Lügati’t-Türk” (1072), the dictionary edited by Kasgarli Mahmut to assist Arabs to learn Turkish, was written in Arabic. In the following century, Edip Ahmet Mahmut Yükneri wrote his book “Atabetü’l-Hakayik”, in Eastern Turkish, but the title was in Arabic. All these are indications of the strong influence of the new religion and culture on the Turks and the Turkish language. In spite of the heavy influence of Islam, in texts written in Anatolian Turkish the number of words of foreign origin is minimal. The most important reason for this is that during the period mentioned, effective measures were taken to minimize the influence of other cultures. For example, during the Karahanlilar period there was significant resistance of Turkish against the Arabic and Persian languages. The first masterpiece of the Muslim Turks, “Kutadgu Bilig” by Yusuf Has Hacib, was written in Turkish in 1069. Ali Nevai of the Çagatay Turks defended the superiority of Turkish from various points of view vis-à-vis Persian in his book “Muhakemetül-Lugatein”, written in 1498.

THE REPUBLİCAN ERA AND LANGUAGE REFORM

With the proclamation of the Republic in 1923 and after the process of national integration in the 1923-1928 period, the subject of adopting a new alphabet became an issue of utmost importance. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had the Latin alphabet adapted to the Turkish vowel system, believing that to reach the level of contemporary civilization, it was essential to benefit from western culture. The creation of the Turkish Language Society in 1932 was another milestone in the effort to reform the language. The studies of the society, later renamed the Turkish Linguistic Association, concentrated on making use again of authentic Turkish words discovered in linguistic surveys and research and bore fruitful results.

At present, in conformity with the relevant provision of the 1982 Constitution, the Turkish Language Association continues to function within the organizational framework of the Atatürk High Institution of Culture, Language and History. The essential outcome of the developments of the last 50-60 years is that whereas before 1932 the use of authentic Turkish words in written texts was 35-40 percent, this figure has risen to 75-80 percent in recent years. This is concrete proof that Atatürk’s language revolution gained the full support of public.

Reference: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/The Republic of Turkey