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See also: Turkish


1. Grammar and Spelling
2. Punctuation
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
4. Hyphenation
5. Miscellaneous Peculiarities
6. Geographic Distribution
7. Character Set

Section One - Grammar and Spelling

1. Gender: Turkish nouns do not have genders. However, a few nouns of Arabic or Persian origin have genders: e.g. memur (m) - memure (f), müdür (m) - müdüre (f).

2. Cases: Prepositions such as "to", "in", "at", "from", etc are expressed as postpositions. There are five cases:

- the nominative case: e.g. kalem (pencil), masal (story), gün (day), uyum (compliance)
- the accusative case: obtained by adding i, i, u, or ü to the end of the nominative case, e.g. kalemi, masali, günü, uyumu (note that the last letter changes in line with the preceding vowel)
- the dative case: obtained by adding -a, -e to the end of the nominative case; reflects the preposition 'to' in English, e.g. kaleme, masala, güne, uyuma
- the locative case: obtained by adding -de, -da to the end of the nominative case; reflects the prepositions 'in/at' in English, e.g. kalemde, masalda, günde, uyumda
- the ablative case: Obtained by adding -den, -dan to the end of the nominative case; reflects the preposition 'from' in English, e.g. kalemden, masaldan, günden, uyumdan

3. Postpositions: Since Turkish is an agglutinative language, noun cases, tenses, possessives, genitives etc. are expressed with postpositions:


- 1st person singular: -(i)m, -(i)m, -(u)m, -(ü)m
e.g: kalemim (my pencil), günüm (my day)

- 2nd person singular:-(i)n, (i)n, -(u)n, -(ü)n
e.g: kalemin (your pencil), günün (your day)

- 3rd person singular: -i, -i, -u, -ü
e.g.: kalemi (his/her/its pencil), günü (his/her/its day)

- 1st person plural: -(i)miz, -(i)miz, -(u)muz, -(ü)müz
e.g: kalemimiz (our pencil), günümüz (our day)

- 2nd person plural:-(i)niz, (i)niz, -(u)nuz, -(ü)nüz
e.g: kaleminiz (your pencil), gününüz (your day)

- 3rd person plural: i, -i, -u, -ü (same as 3rd pr. Sing.)
e.g: kalemi (their pencil), günü (their day)

4. Articles: There are no articles in Turkish. Definite and indefinite articles are distinguished with the accusative case, e.g:

Bir agaç gördüm (I saw a tree)
Agaci gördüm (I saw the tree)
5. One-letter words: There is only one one-letter word in Turkish: "O",
which means he/she/it.

6. Accents: The usual alphabetical accents (as in "i" or "ü") also appear in the upper case characters. There are no other accents.

The tone accent " ^ " was used to indicate a difference in pronunciation, where the vowels would be read 'softer'. It appears in some Turkish words (words borrowed from Arabic or Persian), however the Turkish Language Association decided to withdraw the usage of this accent in recent years, although it is still used by some people. When used, it also appears in upper case characters.

7. Plurals: The plural form can be recognised by the plural suffixes : - ler and - lar. They are used in vowel harmony: e.g. kalemler, masallar.

Section Two - Punctuation

Turkish punctuation is almost identical to that of English.

1. Full stops: Full stops are not used at the end of headings, titles, subtitles or addresses.

Full stops are used:

- to terminate a sentence
- at the end of abbreviations
- to form ordinal numbers: e.g. 1. for 1s t, 2. for 2nd, 3. for 3rd
- in dates: 19.05.2004
- in time: 19.15
- as a thousands separator: 145.757.512

2. Speech marks: Both the M dash '—' and quotation marks are used for speech. The M dash is only used at the beginning of a paragraph. The following English sentences are written as below in Turkish: 'Give me more work!', shouted Chloe. - Chloe 'Bana daha çok is verin!' diye bagirdi.

'Would anyone like some tea?' asked George. - George 'Biraz daha çay almak isteyen var mi?' diye sordu.

'I"m bored - can I go home now?', Michala said. - Michala 'Sikildim. Artik eve gidebilir miyim?' dedi.

The M dash would be used if the text followed as a conversation:

- Bana daha çok is verin!
- Biraz daha çay almak isteyen var mi?

3. Apostrophes: Apostrophes are used after proper names, numbers and acronyms to separate the suffixes: e.g. Atatürk'ün (Atatürk's), Izmir'de (in Izmir), 1990'da (in 1990), TBMM'nin (of the TBMM)

4. Colons and ellipsis: Colons, semi-colons and the ellipsis (...) are used in the same way as in English.

5. Brackets: Brackets are used:

- to separate explanations not directly related to the structure of the sentence
- to explain the gesture of the actor/actress in theatre plays
- an exclamation mark is written in brackets if it represents sarcasm, allusion or contempt
- a question mark is written in brackets if information is suspicious or not proven.

If a whole sentence, complete with a full stop, is put in brackets, it starts with a capital. There are no other special punctuation rules for brackets.

6. Capitalisation: Usage of capitalisation:

- sentences begin with a capital letter
- every verse of a poem begins with a capital letter
- proper names start with a capital letter
- day and month names start with a capital letter if they represent a specific date
- sentences following a colon start with a capital letter.

However, if examples not forming a sentence are following a colon they are not capitalized.

Section Three - Measurements and Abbreviations

1. Measurements: The metric system is generally used but some specific products, especially in the computer industry, use imperial measurements. The units are always singular, even if the quantity is plural:
e.g: 40 meters - 40 metre, 12 grams - 12 gram.

Expressions of measurement specific to Turkish:

- Old ottoman measurements can be found in old documents: okka, endaze, arsin, etc
- Dönüm (1000 square meters) is widely used in area measurements

Numbers should be written as below for Turkish:

4,5 cm / 4000 / 50.000 (thousands separator '.' is not used for four-digit numbers)

The times and dates below are written as follows in Turkish:

10.30 am / noon / 4.30 pm / midnight - sabah 10.30 / öglen / ögleden sonra 4.30 or 16.30 / gece yarisi

20 February 2004 20 Subat 2004
20th February 2004 20 Subat 2004
20/02/2004 20.02.2004 or 20/02/2004 or 20-02-2004
February 20 Subat 2004

There should always be a space between a figure and a measurement abbreviation with the exception of the % and °C symbols. The % symbol appears before the figure and without a space e.g. %100. Temperatures should be written with no space e.g. 30°C.

Turkish currency (Lira) can be written as follows:

45 TL / 45 lira or 45 Türk Lirasi

The currency symbol, name or abbreviation is written after the figure: 45 $ / 45 ABD dolari / 45 USD.

2. Abbreviations:

The equivalent Turkish abbreviations for the following are:

N/a = No abbreviation. Usually it is written as 'yok' or 'mevcut degil'
No. (nos.) = No.
e.g. = örn.
WxLxHxD =ExBxYxÇ
1st / 2nd / 3rd / 4th = 1./2./3./4. or 1'inci/2'nci/3'üncü/4'üncü
Mr. / Mrs. = Bay/Bn.
Messrs. = Bay
Miss = Bn.
Dear Sir / Madam = Sayin Bay/Bayan
m (for metre) = m
cm (for centimetre) = cm
lb (for pound weight) = lb
g (for gram) = g or gr
km (for kilometre) = km
yr (for year) = y or yl
k (for 1000) = bin (same as normal 'thousand')

EMEA (Europe, Middle-East & Asia) = No abbreviation.

Days of the week: Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun = Pzt, Sa, Çrs, Prs, Cum, Cmt, Paz.

Months: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec = Not abbreviated in Turkish.

Section Four - Hyphenation

Hyphens can be used at the end of a line when words are split over two lines and are broken down by syllabic structure.

They are rarely used to join words together. No prefixes or suffixes exist which are joined to words using hyphens.

Both short "N" dashes ( - ) and the longer "M" dashes (—) are used with the former being more common.

Section Five - Miscellaneous Peculiarities

Surnames are given after the first name and can appear upper case.

Bold and italic usages are very similar to English.

Units of measurement are always in singular form even if the quantity is more than one.

Section Six - Geographic Distribution

Turkish is the national language of Turkey, and is also spoken by minority groups in Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, and other countries. It is the most important member of the Turkic group of languages which form a branch of the Altaic family. There are about 61 million speakers. Turkish was originally written in the Arabic script which, though poorly suited to the language, had been in use since the conversion of the Turks to Islam. In 1928 President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decreed the introduction of a slightly modified version of the Roman alphabet, consisting of twenty-one consonants and eight vowels. In Turkish the letters q, w, and x are absent.

Turkish is spoken/used in the following countries:
Bulgaria, Cyprus (Republic of), Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey, Uzbekistan.

Dialects of Turkish include:


Language Family
Family: Altaic
Subgroup: Turkic
Branch: Southwestern (Oghuz)

Sources: KATZNER, K. The Languages of the World. Routledge. Available from: http://www.worldlanguage.com (accessed 28 May 2004).

Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Available from: http://www.ethnologue.com/web.asp (accessed 28 May 2004).

Section Seven - Character Set

[ ] = Alt key codes

a A
b B
c ç [0231] C Ç [0199]
d D
e E
f F
g g [0240] G G [0208]
h H
i i [0253] I I [0221]
j J
k K
l L
m M
n N
o ö [0246] O Ö [0214]
p P
r R
s s [0254] S S [0222]
t T
u ü [0252] U Ü [0220]
v V
y Y
z Z




By McElroy Translation Company,
Austin, Texas 78701 USA

quotes [at] mcelroytranslation . com

What are some pitfalls specific to Turkish to avoid, that a client should be aware of when translating into this language?

Turkish grammar is monstrously complicated. In comparison, English grammar is a piece of cake. Native Turkish speakers may be verbally gifted, but not every native speaker can or should be a translator. It is imperative to find a qualified translator who is trained in language and writing skills.

Turkish uses the Latin alphabet but contains some unusual diacritical marks such as ş, ç, ğ, ı, İ, ü, and ö. Yes, Turkish has both an I with a dot and without one and these retain their status whether in upper or lower case. On the other hand, ş is an sh sound whereas ç is the ch sound. If Turkish translations do not contain the proper diacritical marks, the resulting incorrect spelling of some innocent words may produce some very vulgar and offensive words! It is important to make sure that printed documents or websites support the proper spellings. Especially for clients designing new corporate websites, getting these letters to reproduce correctly should be a priority.

Hyphenation is another issue. Because of agglutination, Turkish words may physically be larger, consisting of many syllables. Thus, hyphenation may be necessary in a page layout. Turkish has specific rules about hyphenation and syllable structure, so it is important to make sure that a translator proofreads the final layout.

What are characteristics of Turkish that are unique or different from English and/or other languages?

Among the myriad differences between English and Turkish, three stand out. First, Turkish is an agglutinative language with an intimidatingly complex grammar. Root words take on many, many suffixes to indicate case, tense, and many other elements. So, when I say "Gidiyorum" in Turkish, that means "I am going." This one word identifies the present progressive tense, the first person singular, and the verb in comparison to the three words needed in English.

Second, Turkish has "vowel harmony" which governs the agglutination of suffixes. When you combine Turkish words, the vowels in the suffixes must "harmonize" with the vowels in the root word. As a general rule, the Turkish vowels e, i, ö, ü harmonize together, whereas vowels a, ı, o, u harmonize among themselves. Let's take the root words "beden" (body) and "ruh" (spirit). We can add the same type of suffix to these to make new words: bedensel (physical) and ruhsal (spiritual). Even though the suffixes contain the same consonants (s, l), the vowels in between are different because of the preceding vowels.

Third, Turkish syntax is almost diametrically opposed to that of English syntax. Turkish verbs go to the end of the sentence. Here is an example: "Bugün sinemaya gittim," the literal back translation of which is: "Today to the movie I went." Of course, the back translation does not even do justice to the Turkish since the word "gittim" is the verb to go (as in our first example), but includes past tense and first person singular all rolled into one word!

How do these characteristics make it important to use properly qualified, professional translators?

Agglutination is a challenge in many ways. If translators do not get the suffixes right, the resulting Turkish sentences will be awkward at best or a garbled, incoherent mess at worst. In short, it is easy to mess up Turkish! It is not enough to have a qualified translator. It is also imperative that the translator be conscientious enough to proofread his/her work to make sure that sentences are grammatical, suffixes are accurate, and the meaning is clear.

Do you know examples where translation or localization mistakes have occurred with Turkish, such as problems with text expansion, date/time formats, counting errors, character encoding, etc., or mistakes with the translation itself? Perhaps you've been asked to review a translation that did not seem to be not the work of a properly qualified, professional translator.

Unfortunately, in 25 years as a professional translator I have come across more examples of poor and sloppy translating than I could count. However, one example will always stay with me. Many years ago I was given the Turkish package insert for a chemotherapy drug. This had been translated into Turkish, and I was under the impression that the drug might have already been introduced into the Turkish market. However, the U.S. pharmaceutical company wanted a back translation into English. This is standard procedure with most pharmaceutical companies now, but then it was a new step in quality assurance efforts.

When I was halfway through the project, I realized something was horribly wrong. I called the translation agency to report my finding, but the busy agency told me to keep on translating. My finding was devastating. The insert for this chemotherapy drug, which is still used widely and whose side effects included death, contained the following statement: Ürünün pediyatrik kullanımda güvenliği saptanmıştır ("The product's safety in pediatric use has been proven.") After the delivery of the translation, I received a frantic phone call from the agency to confirm that this was indeed what was on the insert. What needed to be on that document was actually: Ürünün pediyatrik kullanımda güvenliği saptanmamıştır. That is, "The product's safety in pediatric use has notbeen proven." In Turkish that was one tiny suffix in one big word (-ma), and the translator had simply missed it!

Relate an example or two of times you found a website page or form difficult to use because it was poorly localized. How might a business lose money, prestige, or incur legal risk due to this bad translation?

Many U.S. companies prepare training manuals, ethics and business behavior codes, etc., which illustrate different situations and the proper courses of action. Naturally these contain many examples. I am always amazed at how many U.S. companies doing business globally use examples which are absolutely U.S.-centric. There are always scenes of socializing at golf or baseball events (in Europe it would be soccer, folks).

On the other hand, many medical quality of life assessments ask about levels of physical activity, and their favorite example is mowing the grass (most people in Turkey live in urban condos and the small patch of grass is mowed by the janitor).

Then, there are marketing brochures which are full of baseball and football expressions and terms. There are also appliance or device manuals which contain all English measurements (sorry, most of the world uses metric) and medical devices that specify operations in degrees Fahrenheit (most of the world uses Celsius). This sort of thinking even cost NASA a Mars mission. Instead of going into orbit around Mars, the spacecraft crashed into the planet because one team of scientists was working in metric and another in English measurements.

What is amazing to me is that when I point out such cultural issues, many clients are not interested in taking the time to rework the text to remove sports and lifestyle references. What they don't understand is that texts that are not culturally relevant or meaningful risk being shrugged off by their intended target audience. With measurements at least, I have better luck. Many clients simply leave it to me to convert their numbers, without bothering to double-check. My question is this: why would you bother translating documents with no effort in this regard?

If possible, provide one example of a particular phrase or concept that only a properly qualified, professional translator would be able to correctly communicate.

Because the Turkish and U.S. legal systems are vastly different, legal translations must be performed only by translators specializing in this area. Even though Turkish-English law dictionaries exist and provide synonyms, many of these do not reflect the full implications of a given term. The Turkish "müteselsil kefil" is an excellent example. Dictionaries translate this as "joint guarantor/cosignee." Simple, right? Not in the Turkish legal system.

In Turkish law, there are two kinds of cosignees: "adi kefil" which is the "common guarantor/cosignee" and the "müteselsil kefil." The word "müteselsil" means "joint" or "continuous as in a chain." So what is going on here? A lot, if you are the creditor or the "müteselsil kefil."

With an "adi kefil" (common guarantor), a creditor must first exhaust legal remedies againts the debtor before seeking relief from the "common cosignee." But with a "müteselsil kefil," the creditor has no such obligation. He/she can sue the "müteselsil kefil" first without bothering to collect from the principal debtor.

This underlines the importance of finding a seasoned legal translator, but it also emphasizes the importance of constant vigilance on the part of that translator. The translator needs to question words, rather than simply typing synonyms out of a dictionary. This also means that sometimes agencies may need to allow those pesky translators' notes or other references to communicate the true implication of a term.

Published - March 2009

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