Tuesday, 16 March 2010

It's all Greek to me #1 - The Alphabet

One of the greatest things about the Turkish language (despite being able to insult a person's entire heritage in only a few syllables), is the fact it's completely phonetic. So, once you've learned the separate sounds of the alphabet, (theoretically) you can read and write without any problem (though you may not know what you're reading or writing).

To get you started, here's the Turkish alphabet in full:


So once you've learned that, you can begin to funk it up a little:


You'll notice some of the letters are missing from the English alphabet. But don't worry, Turks make up for them with clever combinations of other letters. For example, why have an 'x' when you can put 'ks' together. So 'taxi' becomes 'taksi'. Makes sense no?

And vice versa, they simplify some of our 'clever' combinations and create a whole new letter. So 'sh' becomes 'ş' and 'ch' becomes 'ç'. Brilliant.

The Turkish alphabet also loses some of the Anglo-Alphabet stupidity. The 'ph' absurdity is, quite rightly, simplified to an 'f' - so 'photograph' becomes the far more sensible 'fotoğraf' (though they daft it up again by using the soft 'g').

This carefully crafted alphabet is still very young. The 29 Latin characters replaced the old Ottoman script on 1 November 1928. In one day, Ataturk implemented his reform on the language of a nation. Fuck that for a game of soldiers. Change is never easy. Ever seen the confused, desperate look on peoples' faces when they move the eggs to a different aisle in the supermarket? Now imagine trying to get the nation write Chinese.

Like the French, The Turks have a government body dedicated to protecting the language. Though not quite as fiercely as the French, who do love to change incoming words to make them their own (do you know the French word for 'walky-talky'? It's 'talky-walky'. Genius).

So what happens to a fast food chain like Wimpy when it comes to Turkey?

You see there are some sounds that the Turks just can't pronounce.

'Th' for example, is hardened to a 'd' or 't'.

'V' and 'w's are, pretty much, exchanged.

So you get something like "I tink dis vedder is lowely".

Conversely, there are many Turkish sounds that Westerners can't handle. Basically any of their letters with two dots or a hat is going to cause us trouble. 'ö' and 'ü' are bad news. The 'ğ' is also going to need practice. This is the soft or 'yumuşak g' that the guys in the second song got so excited about. Basically, it's job is to lengthen the vowel before it.

Anyway, why am I harping on about all this when I still can't speak the lingo myself? Well it started when I was out driving the other day and I saw a sign. As I said before, Turkish is phonetic. It is also very new and has borrowed armfuls of vocabulary from other languages. This combination allows for some moments of genius that, to be honest, tickle me.

OK, time for a little quiz. I'm going to give you some Turkish words and you have to guess the English:

Yes, it's a, phonetically perfect, Music-hall.

Of course, it's the canteen.

Come on, the clue's in the picture. It's a ferry boat.

Did you know there was a Turkish Wikipedia?

And there you have it, the Turkish ABC. Not as bonkers as the Welsh: