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

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Quiz

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