Which Languages are Spoken in Turkey?

Which Languages are Spoken in Turkey?


You might think that this is a rather senseless question. Surely the answer is Turkish, right? Our Turkish translators know better. Even though Turkish is the only official language in Turkey, many more languages and dialects are spoken. As one of the few countries in the world that is part of two continents, Turkish culture, and by extent the Turkish language, have been influenced by both Europe and Asia.


For 90% of the nearly 85 million people living in Turkey Turkish is their first language. Modern Turkish originated after the fall of the Ottoman empire and the birth of the Turkish republic. The founding father of Turkey as we know it today, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, wanted to get rid of all foreign linguistic influences and establish a ‘pure’ Turkish language, known as Öztürçe. Although this process of linguistic purification was set into motion, it was never finished. To this day, modern Turkish still contains many words from other languages, such as Greek, Aramaic, Kurdish and French.


Also called Northern Kurdish, Kurmanji is spoken by approximately 15 million people in Turkey. It is the main Kurdish dialect. There is some debate amongst linguists whether ‘Kurdish’ is a language or rather an accumulation of dialects from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The status of Kurdish people in Turkey remains a controversial and politically sensitive issue. Speaking Kurmanji was even punishable by law till the early nineties. To this day Kurdish and its dialects are not acknowledged as official languages by the Turkish government.


Zazaki is also a Kurdish dialect, originally from Iran. Even though Zazaki, a.k.a. Zaza or Kirmanckî, as a Kurdish dialect is not accepted as an official language and was prohibited for a long time, it is spoken by 2 million people, mostly in the northeastern part of Turkey. But also in Germany, where a lot of Zazaki emigrated to, there are over 500.000 speakers of Zazaki. Although you won’t be arrested when you speak Zazaki in Turkey, there are increasingly fewer young people who want to learn it and therefore it is facing extinction.

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Although there is a relatively small number of people in Turkey who speak Arabic daily, around 2 million people, there are many Turks of Arabic descent who understand the language. Turkish contains many words that are derived from Arabic. The number of Arabic speakers in Turkey has increased in the last decade. The reason for this is the millions of Syrian refugees who had to flee from their home country.


There are about one million speakers of Kabardian in Turkey. The language originated in the Caucasus and arrived in Turkey because of the Kabardian genocide by the former Russian empire. It is mostly spoken in Anatolia and has very complicated grammar rules.


Other names for Ladino are Judeo-Spanish and Sephardi. This language was introduced in Turkey in the 15th century, when the king of Spain banished all jews. Many of them found a new home in the Ottoman empire. Apart from Turkey, Ladino is also spoken in Israel, the Balkans, Northern Africa and Greece. Oddly enough, Ladino, which has only 20.000 native speakers in Turkey, is protected by Turkish law, while Kurmanji, which is spoken by millions of people, is not.


Currently there are more than 60.000 people in Turkey who speak Armenian, the majority of which live in Istanbul. Armenian was also a forbidden language for many years. This is because of the Armenian genocide that took place during the first world war. In this genocide 1.5 million Armenians were killed or displaced. Afterwards the Armenian culture and language went underground for a long time. Today it can be spoken freely. In fact, in 2019 the Turkish president Erdogan even sent a tweet in Armenian to win votes for the mayoral elections in Istanbul to the astonishment of the Armenian community.


So? Which language do they speak in Turkey? Predominantly Turkish, but also a few minority languages, of which the Kurdish dialects are most widely spoken. Do you need an English Turkish translation? Or the other way around? Or are you looking for a Turkish translation agency or a translator for one of the languages we mentioned in this blog post? You can contact us at any time. We’re here to help you!

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