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The differences between English and Turkish

Introduction: Turkish is a member of the Turkic language group and belongs to the larger Altaic family. It is spoken mainly in Turkey and the surrounding regions and has about 70 million native-speakers world-wide. It has borrowed heavily from Persian, Arabic and French.

A most significant change in the language happened in 1928. It was in this year that the Ottoman script, a version of the Arabic alphabet, was replaced by the Latin alphabet that is used by English and most of the western languages. At the same time the Turkish Language Association was set up, one of whose tasks was to replace words of Arabic and Persian origin with Turkish equivalents.

Turkish is an agglutinative language. This means that endings are added one by one to the root of a word to produce the desired meaning. So an English verb phrase such as You should not have to go would be expressed in Turkish as a single word with go as the root.

Alphabet: The Turkish alphabet consists of 29 letters. It lacks the Q, W and X of English, but includes letters with a diacritic, such as Ç. There are 8 vowels and 21 consonants. The English alphabet and writing system cause Turkish students no particular problems.

Phonology: A feature of Turkish is vowel harmony. This means that all the vowels in a word have to be of the same general type (vowels produced at the front of the mouth or vowels produced at the back of the mouth). English does not have this feature, and the randomness of vowel sounds in polysyllabic words can be a problem for Turkish speakers. Common specific difficulties include: the inclusion of an extra vowel in words like sport ( > siport) or the omission in words like support ( > sport) and confusion of minimal pairs such as law/low, man / men or kip / keep.

As far as consonants are concerned, Turkish students, like most others, have problems with the (/θ/ /ð/) sounds in the words such as then, think and clothes. They struggle also with words or syllables beginning with the /w/ and /v/ sounds, pronouncing vine as wine, or vice versa. Consonant clusters (3 or more consonants together) are rare in Turkish, so learners often stumble over words such as strength or split.

The nature of oral English, in which fully-stressed single syllables are given the same duration as two or more unstressed syllables is difficult for Turkish learners. Turkish words are generally stressed on the final or penultimate syllable. They need practice, therefore, in producing the expected intonation patterns of everyday spoken English.

Grammar - Verb/Tense: Most aspects of the English verb system have their counterparts in Turkish, so there will be nothing fundamentally unfamiliar to Turkish learners. However, there are differences that may result in interference mistakes. The absence of a separate verb to be leads to mistakes such as My sister doctor. Learners often misuse the continuous tense when in English the simple form is required: I am believing him or I am playing tennis every day.

Grammar - Other: In contrast to English, written Turkish follows a Subject-Object-Verb pattern. There are some other word order differences such as 'prepositions' following the noun in Turkish, modal verbs following main verbs, relative clauses preceding the noun they modify. These variations often result in students having difficulty with the placement of elements in longer, more complex English sentences.

Turkish has no definite article, and use of the indefinite article does not always coincide with its use in English. So interference mistakes are predictable in this area. Similarly, personal pronouns in Turkish are used much less frequently than in English. Sentences such as John has sold car may be heard.

Vocabulary: There are few English-Turkish cognates, and those are mainly words that share French roots.

Miscellaneous: Modern Turkish is, and was designed to be, phonetic. This means that a word's spelling can almost certainly be predicted from its pronunciation. And its pronunciation can be predicted from its spelling. It is not surprising, therefore, if Turkish students find English frustratingly difficult in these aspects.

Turkish punctuation marks are the same as those used in English. Turkish students make make errors of interference, however, when they include commas where English does not usually have them, or vice versa. For example: My sister, is in grade 7. or When the cat's away the mice will play. Turkish punctuation patterns may result in students writing run-on or fragment sentences in English.

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