Monday, May 15, 2006

What I learned in Turkish class, vol. 1

That the number one reason for studying Turkish at NYU is because your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife is Turkish.

My teacher is a middle-aged schoolmarm-ish lady who says things like, Remember that this word is this vowel, not that one, many people have forgotten it and it has caused many sad problems for them. Such sad stories. There's a woman in the class who learned Turkish from people who speak a different dialect. She kept asking about this word and that word, and totally horrifying our teacher. Ohhh that is a bad word! So rude! That is a slang word, that you should never, never say. I'm going to write it on the board, but save yourselves problems and never, never say this. And then, to our chagrin, she would not explain what the word meant!

This same student commented offhandedly that something wasn't too hard.

That's because I am giving you the easy ones today. I dispense my poison one drop at a time, slowly. The needle has barely brushed your skin. It will seem easy.

I am not making this up. And I am totally going to use that line tomorrow with the sixth graders.

Turkish has something called "vowel harmony" which is both fascinating and more than likely going to be the bane of my existence. Basically, there are four "low" and four "high" vowels. Instead of prepositions and plurals, you add a suffix to the end of the word, but there are two versions of the suffix, depending on whether it follows a syllable containing a low or high vowel. In practice, it seemed to me that the words just kind of "sounded right" when you used the right suffix, but I can see how keeping track of all of this, plus all the other grammatical rules that we haven't begun to learn yet, is going to get complicated.

I need to remember two plural rules (so far): 1. Never use the plural after a number! So, it's not "six forks" as we would say in English, it's just "six fork." 2. Never use the plural after the word that means "many," "much," "very."

When someone comes to visit, I say something that means, "It brings me joy and pleasure to have you here," and the person must respond with something else that means (roughly), "It brings me joy and pleasure to be here," and it is very rude to neglect the reply. I would share the words with you, but I don't know how to get the right letters to show up, with their little dots and squiggles.

Speaking of which, I have a very strong i-dotting reflex. This might become a problem in a language with both dotted and undotted i's - including dotted capital I's and undotted capital i's.

I know the words for "school" and "teacher."

I need to buy index cards. Possibly color-coded index cards.

This promises to be a wild ride.


Blogger jonathan said...

"Instead of prepositions and plurals, you add a suffix to the end of the word,"

You are a science teacher, so you must like particles? Turkish has particles (part of speech I'd never heard of). And they are not just suffixes - Turkish uses "infixes" as well. If you can handle negatives and interrogatives, the rest will come.

The vowel harmony will certainly come. Lot's of repetition helps with the spoken part. And then the rules will actually help if you need to spell stuff.

alt-129 is ü
alt 135 is ç
alt 148 is ö
alt 153 is Ö
alt 154 is Ü
you need work arounds for the others.

The dotless i I still routinely get wrong, the dotting reflex is too strong. The dotted capital I's are almost as bad. Istanbul has a dot!

She told you to treat the (circumflex-g) as silent? People form the east pronounce it.

It's your good fortune to be able to spend so long there.


7:22 AM  
Blogger Amerloc said...

You are indeed embarking on a wonderful journey.

9:40 AM  
Blogger wolfa said...

What low and high refer to in vowels is where your tongue is (in the up-down direction -- there is also a front-back direction).

I don't offhand know the vowels in Turkish (I think they have rounding), but for English (front-lax, front tense, back):

high vowels: bit/beet/boot
mid vowels: bet/bait/boat
low vowels: bat/-/awed

(more or less, dialect variant)

try, for instance, saying bit/bet/bat and feel how your tongue moves up and down, then compare how it moves back and forth in beet and boot. So in Turkish, the vowels have to be the same height, but not in the same front-back place.

11:21 AM  
Blogger wolfa said...

No -- I have that backwards. It has front/back harmony, and rounding harmony (when you make your lips into a round shape, which can be independent of where your tongue is (but in English is not independent, and in Turkish and, say, French or German, is).

Essentially the plural has a place where some vowel goes, then an m, and you are getting the vowel information from the vowels in the rest of the word. (All the vowels in each word will share this sort of informaiton about where the tongue goes and if the lips should be round.)

I have no idea what you're being taught -- some teachers do the linguistics, some don't -- but any search on Turkish vowel harmony will give you way more information than you would ever want.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Ms. M said...

I found that to be the number one reason that people were taking Arabic when I studied it at university. Also Arabic started out pretty easy and then quickly got complicated. How exciting to be studying a new language now. I wish I was getting ready for a trip!

6:48 PM  
Blogger Lothe said...

Blogger seems to be set to display whatever you put into the text field for a new post. (For example, my Blogger blog properly displays Japanese without me doing anything special. I think it may be Unicode.) So if you have Turkish on your computer (I think Windows IME will help you do this), you should be able to display it on Blogger.

10:03 PM  
Blogger inci said...

I really enjoyed readng your post. Language learning is meant to be fun... this reminded me of the time I told a friends new wife that turkish vowels were (now) hubby wasn't very impressed at the time but will now chuckle as he knows I'm right... try it...

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think turkish is to difficult for foreigners to learn. It helps if you can talk/write to native turks every other day. That way they are able to tell you what you are doing wrong and you are also able to learn quicker.

What most people find annoying is that the language is some what backwards to English.

For example:
Seni seviyorum = I love you
but Seni = you and seviyorum = I love
so it is really saying "you I love"

iyi şanslar :)

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:40 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


9:22 PM  

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