Grammatical Number


Variants: -ler, -lar

In Turkish, plurals are formed by suffixing nouns with -ler/-lar. As indicated previously appropriate variant is determined by the nature of the last vowel in the stem (see Vowel Harmony in Suffixes). That is, if the last vowel in the stem is a back vowel then the back vowel variant, -lar is suffixed to the stem to form plurals (and vice-versa for the front vowels):

(1) evler
house.PL
‘houses’

(2) çocuklar
child.PL
‘children’

Singular forms are used in conjunction with numbers:

(3) iki çocuk
two child.SG
‘two children’

(4) bir çok kelime
one many word
‘lots of words’

Plural markers are often attached to proper names to indicate a group of people. For example, Özgürler means Özgür and his family (or his friends based on context). Occasionally, plural forms are also used with numbers to indicate distinct or well known groups of people or things as in Üç Silahşörler ‘the Three Musketeers’ (Lewis, 2002)

Ready for the [qsm_link id=4]quiz[/qsm_link]?

Turkish Pronouns

There are six basic pronouns in Turkish.

Singular
ben ‘I’

sen ‘you’

o ‘he/she/it’

Plural
biz ‘we’

siz ‘you’

onlar ‘they’

As you can deduce from the table above, Turkish lacks gender pronouns (he/she), instead o is used to refer to all third person singular subject and objects.

Pronoun dropping (Pro-drop)

Pronouns are almost always dropped when the subject can be inferred from the context. The contextual clues can stem from discourse (1) or/and case markers (2).
(1) Ahmet dün geldi. Bir hafta kalacak.
Ahmet yesterday come-PT-3SG. One week stay-FUT.
‘Ahmet came yesterday. He will stay for a week.’

(2) dün geldim
yesterday come-PT-1SG
‘I came yesterday’

Pronoun suffixation

Turkish pronouns are subject to suffixation just like any other noun.
(3) sizde
2PL-LOC
‘you have (it) / on you’

(4) sizden
2PL-ABL
‘from you’

(5) size
2PL-DAT
‘to you’

(6) sizin
2PL-GEN
‘yours’

(7) sizi
2PL-ACC
‘you’ (obj)

Use of siz in formal dialog

In formal dialog, plural form of second person, siz is used the address the other party. In these cases, the verbs are also inflected with the second person plural suffixes.

Addressing the other party with siz expresses respect and/or politeness. However, it can be quite difficult to articulate the term formal in some contexts. Here are some rules of thumb on when to use siz :

  • in professional settings such as business, academia, military and government
  • first time meeting someone or people you don’t really know well, but see below
  • follow their lead; if someone is addressing with siz (or sen) you should reciprocate/li>

when is it OK to use sen ?:

  • speaking to kids and teenagers (assuming you are an adult)
  • dealing with local shop keepers, drivers, serviceman..etc. However, in these situation the older party (you or the other party) is usually addressed as abi ‘big brother’ or abla ‘big sister’ as a sign of respect

Exercise

Match Turkish pronouns with their English equivalents.

[h5p id=”4″]

Nominal Inflections

As we have mentioned in previous sections, suffixation is omnipresent in Turkish. Most syntactic functions are expressed with suffixes (and a few with clitics). Consider the English sentences below (a):

a. The man hit the ball.

You know that it was the player that hit the ball, because in English word order marks the subject and object. In this case, nominative, player comes before the accusative ball. If you reverse the order, it changes the meaning completely (b):

b. The ball hit the man.

Who did the hitting? Who was hit?
Who did the hitting? Who was hit?

Turkish, on the other hand, does not solely rely on the word order, but uses suffixes to accomplish the same task. In the sentence below it uses absolutive and accusative cases to mark the subject and definite direct object (c):

c. Adam topu at
man-NOM ball-ACC throw-PT
‘(The) man threw the ball’

Because the subject and object is clearly marked in these types of sentences, breaking the word order does not change the core meaning of the sentence. All of the sentences below express the same basic meaning, albeit with different emphasis on the different parts of the sentence (emphasized part shown in capital letters):

1. bugün tamirci geldi
‘the repairman came today’
2. geldi bugün tamirci
‘the repairman DID come today’
3. bugün geldi tamirci
‘the repairman came TODAY (not another day)’

Although the basic meaning expressed in the sentences above are identical, they nevertheless have slightly different meanings and/or contextual usage. As you will discover in upcoming lessons, word order matters with indefinite objects and at the phrase level. As a new learner you should stick with the natural word order of Turkish which is subject, object and verb (SOV).

Proper nouns

When proper nouns are suffixed an apostrophe is used to separate the noun from the suffix:

Ali’nin ‘Ali’s’
New York’da ‘Ali’s’

Intervocalic voicing in suffixation

As you might recall from previous lessons, notwithstanding few exceptions, most suffixes in Turkish have variants based on vowel harmony. That is, the vowel in the suffix will change to match the features of the last vowel in the stem. In addition to the vowel change, there is another process that affects the consonants in the suffix (or in some cases stem). This process can be called intervocalic voicing which is very common among the world languages. During this process, a voiceless sound such as k /k/ becomes (pronounced as) its voiced counterpart (g /g/) when it is surrounded by voiced sounds. In Turkish, this process is very productive with suffixes that start with the sounds ç, t and k. That is, when these suffixes are affixed to stems that end with a voiced sound, the first consonant in the suffix becomes intervocalic (in between two voiced sounds), and their voiced variants c, d and g are used.

çiçekçi ‘florist’
öğrenci ‘student’

We will visit this topic again as we cover these suffixes in detail in subsequent sections.

Vowel Harmony in Suffixes

In simple terms, suffixation refers to the process of attaching morphemes to stems. Most English speakers are familiar with this concept (or at least with the process). Some examples of suffixation in English include attaching -ing or -ed to verbs to express tense (e.g. baking and baked) and attaching -s/-es to nouns to form plurals (e.g. books). Except for a handful of inflectional ones, great majority of suffixes in English are derivational in their nature. In contrast, suffixation is quite ubiquitous in Turkish both in inflectional or derivational domains. Indeed, it is a very productive and a defining feature of the language. Almost all word classes in Turkish can take on one or more suffixes.

Notwithstanding few exceptions, majority of these suffixes will have two or four variants. That is, each suffix will have two or four different versions, each version made up of a different vowel. The correct variant (version) of the suffix is determined by the features of the last vowel in the stem (for a review see Vowel Harmony).

The nomenclature used here, variant, is somewhat arbitrary as there is no standard way naming these suffix groups. Lewis (2000) calls them twofold and fourfould, Göksel & Kerslake describes them as A-type and I-type, respectively. They can easily be called fronting and rounding suffixes as well.

Two Variant Suffixes

These suffixes only consist of the open unrounded vowels, A and E. The backness of the last vowel in the stem determines the appropriate variant. In other words, when using these suffixes, only the violations of fronting vowel harmony are taken into consideration. Here are some examples of this type:

dersler ‘lessons’ lesson.PL
okullar ‘schools’ school.PL

gitme ‘don’t go’ go.IMP.NEG
oturma ‘don’t sit’ sit.IMP.NEG

Four Variant Suffixes

These suffixes have variants that include all close (high) vowels in Turkish (İ, Ü, I and U). Hence, both the backness and rounding of the last vowel determines the appropriation variant. Here is an example of this type using the -ci suffix:

fırıncı ‘baker’
gözcü ‘observer’
yolcu ‘passenger’
nakliyeci ‘shipper or carrier’

Exceptions to Vowel Harmony Rules

Although most aspects of Turkish grammar are quite formulaic and fairly regular, as is the case with most languages, you will find exceptions to many of its rules. Just as with English irregular past tense or irregular plurals, motivations for the “irregular” forms are only available in historical context and no discernible rules or patterns can be extracted by the current speakers. In other words, these exception have become lexical entries in speakers’ minds and simply learned through rote memorization. Furthermore, as you will discover in ensuing lessons, the violations of vowel harmony rules in roots are irrelevant to the discussion on suffixation. As such we won’t spend much time on these here.

Exceptions to vowel harmony can be categorized into four groups (Lewis 2000).

Native words

Because of diachronic change, some of the native words break fronting vowel harmony rules. However, don’t be surprise to hear the harmonic versions in some dialects especially in the countryside. Here are some examples from this category of words:
elma ‘aple’ < alma
elâ ‘hazel color’ < ala
anne ‘mother’ < ana
In addition to the fronting vowel harmony violations, rounding harmony violations also occur with a few of the native words. However, these violations are generally predictable (labials cause the rounding of the following vowel, resulting in /u/):
savun ‘defend’
kabuk ‘shell’

Compounds

Compounds are formed by joining two or more words together (e.g. English word foot + ball). Here are some Turkish examples from this category of words:
bugün ‘today’ < bu ‘this’ + gün ‘day’
Atatürk ‘last name given to the founder of Turkish Republic’ < ata ‘forefather’ + Türk ‘Turk’

Suffix -ken ‘while’ comes from the word iken with same meaning. This could explain why this suffix has only one variant
Invariable Suffixes

Vowel harmony rules are not observed with single variant suffixes.
koşarken ‘while running’
gelirken ‘while coming’

Foreign loanwords

As mentioned in the intro lessons, Turkish language has borrowed extensively from other languages. When words were borrowed into Turkish, the original phonemic integrity of the sources were largely maintained except for the phonemes that Turkish lacked. This process can also be observed in recent borrowings such as email, eposta and loder.
kalemler ‘pens’ < kalem (Ar.) + -ler (PL)
kitaplar ‘books’ < kitap (Ar.) + -lar (PL)

If you are interested in Turkish etymology, take a look at my sources for Turkish etymology in the reference section.

Turkish Vowel Harmony

Vowel harmony refers to a special type of relationship between the vowels in a word. In this type of relationship, all the vowels in a word are alike each other (in harmony) based on some or all of their features. The rules that describe these relationships are called vowel harmony rules. These rules dictate how words are formed in that language. In Turkish, vowel harmony is realized using two different but overlapping sets of rules: backness and roundness harmonies (or büyük and küçük ses uyumu as they are called in Turkish).

As is the case with all languages, millions of Turkish speaking children master the rules of their language including the vowel harmony rules implicitly (at least up until elementary school) with apparent ease. This, unfortunately is not a feasible and most often not a preferred option for most traditional L2 learners. They often learn them explicitly. As we mentioned previously Turkish is an agglutinative language that relies heavily on suffixes to mark semantic and syntactic roles. Most of these suffixes have variants based on these harmonic rules, and one needs to be able to identify the correct ones based on their harmonic properties (or phonemic features).
In one of the opening sections of his book, Lewis (2000) describes Turkish vowel harmony as a “process of progressive assimilation”. That is, subsequent vowels in a word change to match the features of the first one. However, I am not sure that I necessarily agree with his statement. Progressive assimilation is a phonological process that results in different surface forms than the underlying ones (e.g. /ne/ -> [nẽ]). Calling it a progressive assimilation suggests that the underlying forms are different for most Turkish words. Although, I can see the his motivation for such an explanation, and I think that it might actually be fitting in a diachronic analysis, I don’t think that is what is taking place here, at least not synchronically.

Please don’t be discouraged with the ostensible complexity of the harmonic rules as you read through the next few sections. Once we move on to suffixes, you will discover that many of them have only two variants based on backness harmony, like the plural suffix -ler/-lar, and the four variant suffixes always use the same set of vowels, close (high) vowels. But, before you proceed any further, I think that you should become very comfortable with concepts of back, front, close (high) and open (low) vowels in order to get a good grasp of the vowel harmony rules.

Backness (or Frontness) Harmony

This is an easy one. According to this rule, if the first vowel of the word is a back vowel (A, I, U, O) then all the subsequent vowels must also be back vowels; or if the first vowel is a front vowel (İ, E, Ü, Ö) then all the subsequent ones must also be front vowels (Rule#1).

Back vowels:
ocak /od͡ʒak/ ‘January’ or ‘fireplace, stove’
kırmızılar /kɯrmɯzɯlar/ n. plr. ‘(they are) red’ or ‘reds’
Front vowels:
özgür /øzgyr/ ‘free’
eski /eski/ ‘old’

Rounding Harmony

This one is little more complex. Although, there are couple of ways of describing these processes, I find Lewis‘ (2000) rules to be most straightforward, so I will present those here.

Unrounded Vowels:
The rule for unrounded vowels is pretty straightforward. If the first vowel of the word is an unrounded vowel then so are all the subsequent ones (Rule#2a).
kızgın /kɯzgɯn/ ‘angry’ or ‘heated’
kelime /kelime/ ‘word’

Rounded Vowels:
If the first vowel is a rounded vowel (Ü, Ö, U, O) then the following vowels are either rounded and close (Ü, U) or unrounded and open (A, E) (Rule#2b).

uzun /uzun/ ‘long’ or ‘tall’
özgün /øzgyn/ ‘distinct’
orman /orman/ ‘forest’

Putting it all together

I know…that is a lot of information. But, lets think about these two harmonies in little more detail. Please refer to Table 1 below for the ensuing discussions.

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i ü ı u
Open e ö a o
Table 1

Backness harmony rule should be applied first. So based on backness harmony, if the first vowel in a word is A then following vowels must be back vowels as well (Rule#1). Hence, the subsequent vowels can be A, I, U, or O (Table 2).

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i ü ı u
Open e ö a o
Table 2

Now lets apply the roundness harmony rules, one of which states that unrounded vowels are always followed by unrounded ones (Rule#2a). Thus our new short list consists of A or I. We can finally state that if the first vowel is A then the subsequent vowels could be either A or I (Table 3).

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i ü ı u
Open e ö a o
Table 3

Lets do another one. If the first vowel in the word is a Ü, then based on the backness harmony the subsequent vowels should be either an İ, Ü, E, or Ö (Rule#1). Roundness harmony states that if if the first vowel is a round vowel then subsequent vowels should be either an Ü, U or A, E (Rule#2b). Since, U and A would break the backness harmony that leaves us with Ü and E. We can finally state that if the first vowel is a Ü then the subsequent vowels could be either Ü or E.

Lets see if you can work out the list for the rest of the vowels and when you are done click on the button below to reveal the answers.


Have you noticed something interesting looking at the list above? If you haven’t look at the list once again to see if any of the vowels never appear on the right side of the list. That is right! O and Ö can only appear in the first syllable (as the first vowel) of a word (Underhill 1985).

Quiz

Take the [qsm_link id=3]quiz[/qsm_link].

Turkish Numerals

sıfır 0
bir 1
iki 2 yirmi 20
üç 3 otuz 30
dört 4 kırk 40
beş 5 elli 50
altı 6 altmış 60
yedi 7 yetmiş 70
sekiz 8 seksen 80
dokuz 9 doksan 90
on 10 yüz 100
bin 1000
milyon million milyar billion
trilyon trillion katrilyon quadrillion

Numbers in words formed using simple conjunctions with spaces between them:

on bir ’11’

yirmi bir ’21’

yüz bir ‘101’

bin bir ‘1001’

yüz on dört bin sekiz yüz kırk iki ‘114,842’

Ordinals

Suffix -inci is attached to numerals to form ordinals. When the number ends with a vowel the initial i is dropped and -nci is used instead. Please note the four variants of the ordinal suffix below based on vowel harmony rules which will be covered in the next lesson.

 birinci ‘first’

ikinci ‘second’

üçüncü ‘third’

dördüncü ‘fourth’

beşinci ‘fifth’

altıncı ‘sixth’

yedinci ‘seventh’

sekizinci ‘eighth’

dokuzuncu ‘ninth’

onuncu ‘tenth’

In compound numerals only the right most (final) numeral takes on the ordinal suffix:

on beşinci ‘fifteenth’

yüzüncü ‘hundredth’

Telephone numbers are usually read in hundreds for the area code, hundreds for the first three digits and in tens for the last four digits:

yüz yirmi bir, beş yüz altmış iki, on dört, yirmi sekiz (121)562-1428

Use of comma and period signs with numbers

Traditionally, virgül ‘comma’ was used as decimal and nokta ‘period’ as thousands separators. This is still the official form of using these symbols (at least according to the 2001 version of TDK İmla Kılavuzu published by the Turkish Language Association). However, because of widespread internet use and intense international trade, it is possible to see the use of English system as well. So, you might see both forms: 1.000.234,55 or 1,000,234.55.

Period is also used to with numbers to indicate ordinality. So, 2. Sokak is read as

ikinci sokak ‘second street’

and not as

iki nokta sokak ‘two period street’

Turkish Consonants

Names of the consonants in Turkish are formed by suffixing an e /e/ sound at the end (e.g. be, ce, ke,…etc.).

The consonants are usually described using three criteria:

  • voiced or voiceless: describes weather the vocal cord is vibrated during articulation
  • place of articulation: the part of the vocal tract where the air flow restriction occurs
  • manner of articulation: describes the method of the air flow restriction

We will be using these criteria to describe Turkish consonants as well.

b Voiced bilabial stop /b/

Turkish B sound is very similar to the ones in English words such as bold and table.
bbaba ‘father’

c Voiced palato-alveolar affricate /d͡ʒ/

Although, this looks like the letter C in English (and it is), it is associated with a different phoneme in Turkish. This is the same sound you hear in English words such as gudge and gem.
ccüce ‘midget’

ç Voiceless palato-alveolar affricate /t͡ʃ/

This sound is produced just like the Turkish C sound, but without the voicing. It is the same sound you hear in English words such as match and chair.
çüç ‘three’

d Voiced dental stop /d̪/

Unlike the English D where the sound is articulated by touching the tip of the tongue to the alveolar ridge (gums), Turkish one is produced by touching the top of the teeth right at the gum line. As we’ll see this is also true for Turkish ‘t’ and ‘n’ as well.
ddede ‘grandfather’

f Voiceless labiodental fricative /f/

This sound is produced just like the F sound in English words such as if and food.
fefe ‘swashbuckler’ or a common male name

g Voiced velar stop /g/ or /ɟ/

This sound is generally pronounced like the G sound in English words such as gas and go. However, with front vowels (e,i,ü and ö) it is palatalized. A similar process occurs with Turkish Ks as well. To produce the palatal version, your tongue should raise towards the hard palate of your mouth. See if you can hear the difference between two in the sound clips below.
g
gar ‘train terminal’ (Fr. gare>)
güzel ‘beautiful or nice’

ğ Vowel lengthener /:/

This consonants lengthens the preceding vowel.
ğeğer ‘if’

You will find much said about the ‘soft g’ (as it is called in Turkish; yumuşak g) in academic literature. It is sometimes described as voiced velar fricative /ɣ/ or voiced velar approximant /ɰ/. These realizations certainly exists in regional dialects. They are probably the underlying forms for most native speakers as well (as it is for me). However, as a L2 learner, you need not concern yourself with these native underlying forms or realizations and think of it as a vowel lengthener; that is, Ğ lengthens the preceding vowel. Indeed, the experimental studies show that this is its sole function for most native speakers of modern Turkish today.
h Voiceless glottal fricative /h/

The H sound is similar to the H sound in English words such as hen and high.
hhayır ‘no’

j Voiced postalvelor fricative /ʒ/

This is similar to the French J sound, and also can be heard in English words such as vision and leisure (these English words come from French, as well).
jjilet ‘razor blade’ (eponym < Gillette)

You will find that almost all of the Turkish words containing this sound are borrowings (especially from French). Here are some examples (you should be able to guess their meanings easily): jet, montaj, plaj, jest, jaguar, jant, jeoloji,..etc.

k Voiceless velar stop /k/ or /c/

Just as with the Turkish G sound, K has two variations. With back-vowels it is pronounce like the K sound in English words such as code and look, and with front vowels, it is palatalized /c/.
kkim ‘who?’ • k ‘how many?’

l voiced alveolar lateral approximant /l/

Just as in English, there are two variations to Turkish /l/ sound. The clear /l/ is used with front vowels and dark /ɫ/ is used with back vowels. If you are a native English speaker, you shouldn’t worry too much about the difference between the two version, as your English pronunciations should automatically fall in line with he Turkish ones.
lliste ‘list’ • l ‘year’

m voiced bilabial nasal /m/

This sound is very similar to the /m/ sound you hear in English words such as team and meet.
mama ‘but’

n voiced alveolar nasal /n/

Same sound as the English /n/ as in not and fan. Please note that unlike English, there is no velar nasals /ŋ/ in Turkish (e.g. as in sing)
nne ‘what?’

p voiceless bilabial stop /p/

Turkish /p/ is very similar to the English /p/ you hear in words such as pot and pipe.
pip ‘rope’

Don’t forget that Turkish alphabet is highly phonemic. That is, the pronunciation of a letter is always the same. So when you see a word like kütüphane ‘library’, you should be careful not to pronounce the ph combination as a F sound (as in phase). The letters P and H must be pronounced individually.
r voiced alveolar trill /r/

The Turkish /r/ is pronounced by vibrating the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge just above the gum line. Although, it is listed as a trill, often heard as a fricative especially word finally (Lewis 2000).
rricâ ‘request’

To produce the other voiced alveolar fricative, /z/ the blade of the tongue is raised against the alveolar ridge whereas as in /r/ it is the tip of the tongue.
s voiceless alveolar fricative /s/

This is the same s sound you hear in English words such as season and fast.
sses ‘voice or noise’

ş Voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/

Turkish ş /ʃ/ sound is very similar to the sh clusters seen in English words such as she and push.
şşey ‘thing’

t voiceless alveolar-dental stop /t/ /t̪/

Turkish t’s are pronounced by touching the tip of the tongue against the top of the teeth.
tet ‘meat’

v voiced labial central approximant /ʋ/

You will find that the Turkish V lies somewhere between the English V and W depending on the roundness of the surrounding vowels.
vve ‘and’

y voiced palatal approximant /j/

This is the same Y /j/ sound you hear in English words such as yellow and say.
yyer ‘ground’ or ‘place’

z voiced alveolar fricative /z/

Turkish Zs are similar to the ones in English words such as zero and please.
zaz ‘little’

IPA Chart

Voiced phonemes are shown with a shaded background.

Bilabial Labio-dental Alveolar Postalvelor Velar Glottal
Stops p b   t d k g  
Nasals m n
Trill r
Fricative f s z ʃ ʒ h
Approximant ʋ
Lateral Approximant   l
Palato-alveolar affricates t͡ʃ d͡ʒ

Circumflex

In previous sections on vowels, we said that the circumflex “^” sign is used to indicate long vowels. Circumflex has a second use in Turkish that effects how G, K, and L consonants are pronounced. They are used to mark the palatalization (or fronting of these constants). However, confusingly enough, the circumflex sign is not placed on the palatalized consonants but on the following vowels. You will find that all of these words are borrowings from either Arabic or Farsi.

kâfir ‘infidel’ < Ar. tezgâh ‘counter’ < Fa.

Summary

Most Turkish consonants and their pronunciations are similar to English ones. Below are the exceptions.

Turkish consonants that do not exist in English are:
ç /tʃ/child
ş /ʃ/she
ğ ⇒ lengthens the preceding vowel yağmur > yaamur

Turkish consonants that are pronounced differently from the English ones are:
c /tʃ/judge
j /ʒ/vision

Three phonemes (or letters), k, g, and l have back and front variants: /c/, /ɟ/ and /l/ with front vowels, and /k/, /g/, and /ɫ/ with back vowels, respectively.

Exercise

[h5p id=”2″]

Quiz

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Turkish Vowels

Turkish vowels are said to be of pure quality because there are no diphthongs in Turkish (some even call it boring). That is, the position of the tongue during the articulation of the vowel is fixed from the beginning to the end (no glide motion). This sometimes becomes an issue for English speakers (especially American English) during rapid speech. These speakers inadvertently produce diphthongs because they are a common occurrence in their native tongue or a particular vowel only exists in their dialects as a part of diphthong (or both).

We will described the Turkish vowels based on three criteria (as it is generally done):

  • back or front: Refers to the part of the tongue that restricts the air flow,
  • open or close (high or low): The distance between the roof of the mouth and the highest point of
    the tongue during the articulation
  • rounded or unrounded: Describes the shape of the lips during the articulation
A open back unrounded /ɑ/

It is the same sound you hear in English words such as father, arm, and wasp.

a at adam ‘horse man’

E open mid unrounded /ɛ/

The closest examples from English are in words such as end and red. Other examples include the initial part of the /e/ sound you hear in (American) English words such as ate and flavor. Note that the actual sound in these words is the diphthong /eɪ/; try not produce the gliding sound at the end.

e el ele ‘hand to hand’

For comparison, click here and here for English pronunciations of the /e/ sound. Although, it is not the speakers’ intention in these sound clips, they nevertheless produce diphthongs (as the sound shifts or drops from /e/ to /ɪ/). Compare those to Turkish pronunciation above; you should not hear a shift in the sound (i.e., e->e).

İ close front unrounded /i/

This is very similar to the i sound in English words such as eat and feet. Please note that the letters of I (lower case ı) and İ (lower case i) represents two different sounds in Turkish.

i iş için ‘for work’

I close back unrounded /ɯ/

Unfortunately there are no English sounds that corresponds with this one. An easy way to produce this sound is to try to pronounce the u sound in kung fu, and slowly unround your lips (as if you were smiling).

ı hızını kıstı ‘reduced its speed’

Don’t forget that I and İ are two different sounds.

U close back rounded /u/

This sound is very similar to the English u sound in words such as cool and soup.

u bulutlu ufuk ‘cloudy horizon’

Ü close front rounded /ʏ/

This is another sound that does not exist in English. To produce this sound try producing the i sound in the English word beet while rounding your lips.

ü küçük üzüm ‘small grape’

O open-mid back rounded /ɔ/

Turkish O’s lie somewhere between the O in English boy and A in law.

o çok bol ‘ubiquitous’

Ö open-mid front rounded /œ/

This is the final vowel that does not exist in English. You can use the unrounded counter part, the e /ɛ/ sound to practice this one. So, try producing these /ɛ/ sound while rounding your lips.

ö göz ‘eye’

Vowel length

Vowels are lengthened under three circumstances in Turkish (Lewis, 2000). In written system, although these vowels should be written with a circumflex “^”, the practice is often not followed and falling out of use.

  • Borrowings:
    gâzi (Ar.) /gɑ:zi/
    mâlum (Ar.) /mɑ:lum/ ‘known’
    berâber (Fa.) /berɑ:ber/ ‘together’
    tesir (Ar.) /te:sir/ ‘effect’
  • Before the consonant ‘ğ’ :
    iğne /i:ne/ ‘needle’
    yağmur /jɑ:mur/ ‘rain’
    çığ /tʃɯ:/ ‘avalanche’
  • For emphasis:
    aslaa /ɑslɑ:ɑ/ ‘never’
    çook /tʃo:o:k/ ‘very much’

Charts

Two charts are included for your convenience. Study the one that is most intuitive to you. But, I suggest that you focus on the last one as it will be very useful during our upcoming lessons on vowel harmony.

IPA*
Vowel Quadrilateral

Front

Back

Close
Close-mid
Open-mid
Open

i
y
ɯ
u
ɛ
œ
ɔ
ɑ

* Based on Lewis (2000) and Kılıç (2003).

Based on Roundedness & Backness
Unrounded Rounded
Open Close Open Close
Back a ı o u
Font e i ö ü
Based on Openness & Backness
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
close i ü ı u
open e ö a o

You might find this last chart more intuitive if you pair Turkish vowels based on their place of articulation and roundedness. That is, o is the rounded version of a, ü is the rounded version of i, ö is the rounded version of e…etc.

Summary

Turkish vowels of A. E, O, İ, and U should not be too difficult to produce for most English speakers. For the rest, you can use the rounded or unrounded counter parts in English to practice them. I call them counter-parts because the place of articulation for these vowels are very similar to each other and the main difference between them is the rounding of the lips. So, here is one way to practice them:

While pronouncing the English e phoneme (eight) round your lips to produce Turkish Ö
While pronouncing the English i phoneme (beet) round your lips to produce Turkish Ü
While pronouncing the English u phoneme (fu) unround your lips to produce Turkish I

Exercise

Flip the cards to match the vowels.
[h5p id=”3″]

Quiz

Take the vowel quiz.

The sounds and alphabet of Turkish

Turkish uses a Latin based script that was implemented in 1928. Because of its relatively recent adaptation, the alphabet, hence written Turkish is highly phonemic. That is, the pronunciation of letters (their corresponding phonemes, sounds) are mostly consistent across different contexts. In other words, there is a one to one relationship between a letter and its phoneme. For example, the letter a, first letter of the alphabet always represents the phoneme (sound) /ɑ/ (as in English father). Compare that to English letter a; in each of the following English words the letter a represents a different phoneme: and, far, about . There are 8 vowels and 21 consonants in Turkish.