A (Very Brief) Guide to Turkish Pronunciation

Seal of Bezmialem Valide Sultana, Ottoman Turkish Arabic calligraphy
Seal of Bezmialem Valide Sultana, Ottoman Turkish Arabic calligraphy

A great deal of the action in Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin takes place in the sixteenth century in Ottoman-controlled Hungary and explores Yasamin’s Turkish culture. Of course that means Turkish names such as Hadice, Nesrin, Celibe, Ayla, and Murad as well as concepts such as the hamam, the haremlık, and the Kazıklı Bey. I have to admit that I was not completely consistent in the spellings I used because I felt some Turkish words were familiar to enough English speakers that it would be better to use their English forms. For example, Istanbul should be spelled with the letter called dotless i (see below), the capital form of which ironically has a dot: İstanbul. Likewise, in the words pasha and dervish, I used sh instead of ş (also see below).

Modern Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, June 27, 1941
Modern Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, June 27, 1941

Turkish is, fittingly enough, a member of the Turkic family of languages, which includes several languages in the Middle East and Central Asia and as far east as northern Siberia. In Yasamin’s time, it would have been written with the Arabic alphabet. Ottoman Turkish also included many loan words from Arabic and Persian that aren’t used in Modern Turkish. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, one of the reforms introduced by Atatürk was the switch to the Latin alphabet.

The letters are pronounced pretty much the same as in English with the exception of the following:

  • c as in the j in joke
  • ç as in the ch in chair
  • ğ silent but makes the previous vowel long
  • ı as in the e in open
  • j as in the z in azure
  • ö as in the e in set but with the lips rounded
  • ş as in the sh in ship
  • ü as in the e in new

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