Richness of Turkish vocabulary

I know Turkish vocabulary is rich because I have been trying to learn some with little success. I know there are words there that come from the Arabic, and I suppose Persian/Farsi too. But am I to believe the famous Zaman Daily Newspaper?

‘Turkish Vocabulary Rich Compared to English’

It says that Turkish has over 600,000 ‘vocabulary words’ (as opposed to non-vocabulary words?) and English has 430,000 vocabulary words.

Well, it certainly seems like that when I look at the next chapter of my book for the Volkshochschule (evening classes institute). I think all the language book publishers have been forced by the German VHSs to create a textbook and a workbook and a CD. The vocabulary in the textbook is never listed alphabetically together with the translation, because we aren’t supposed to think about the German word. There is an alphabetical list of Turkish words in the back, directing you to a chapter and section, where you will find the German. The grammar only becomes vaguely clear if you look at the workbook. So you finish up with fingers in about five places in the books. I have long since torn the vocabulary pages out of the back of the textbook. (I should say that the way the grammar is gradually introduced is quite good, or would be good if it were more accessible).

For a sensible approach, I recommend Colloquial Turkish, which is published by Routledge, by those mysteriously un-British and un-Turkish-sounding authors Jeroen Aarssen and Ad Backus.

But back to the article.

bq. Turkish Language Institution (TDK) President Prof., Sukru Haluk Akalin, said yesterday: “This work will show our magnificent richness. When this work is completed, we will organize meetings with writers, poets and media institutions in order to spread the use of Turkish.”

Well, it may be too late for me.

8 thoughts on “Richness of Turkish vocabulary

  1. Congrats on battling with Turkish that my local greengrocers have tried teaching me over the months – not years as local red-tape, compulsory business courses and taxes send their worthy businesses crashing into nothingness.

    Your experiences mirror closely my attempts at another Altaic family group lang. that has been strongly influenced by the Turkish lang., its coffee and steam-baths traditions: Hungarian. Coincidentally, I also found Routledge a useful primer.

    Not even with the tapes did the mysteries of the spoken lang. unfold. Just how DO Hungarian and Turkish children ‘instinctively’ learn the spoken versions? Unpicking the written postpositions (not prepositions)back-to-front takes enough time as it is. However, another try at local night school after Hungarian’s EU accession in May may/ maybe Mayday/ pay dividends.

  2. I think the books used at VHS are of a different nature than those that a reasonable linguist at university would recommend. The approach is just different, and for those who aren’t too much into a linguistics-oriented approach, these books work just fine.

    I took up Norwegian for a trimester at a VHS and was absolutely lost. I screwed up the lessons with linguistic questions and confused all others.

    Likewise, my uni teacher for Italian chose books that I would have recommended for VHS usage, but never for use at university. Needless to say how many failed the final exam.

  3. Vous avez raison – you’re dead right, madamoiselle, about the VHS (obscurely called Polycolleges in Vienna for show-off Eng. effect). I’m sure a Turkish, Serb or Croat tag wouldn’t be as off-putting to most of the locals.

    The lang.-teaching materials are necessarily different, even when Italian, Norwegian & Hungarian Uni. lecturers do cross the night-school divide, both in London and in Vienna (Germany?).

  4. @AMM: You have more Hungarians nearer. At least there isn’t a stratum of Arabic words there, but then there will be other problems.
    I imagine the patterns are easy to pick up. This is the one good thing about the textbook: it introduces patterns gradually. But this is the only time I can remember having such difficulty with a language. It’s very interesting, which is the only thing that keeps me going.
    @mademoiselle a.: It isn’t the content of the book, but the direct learning method. I never really believed in direct method, but I associate it with the 1970s. I did a bit of Dutch at the VHS a couple of years ago – only went for the pronunciation – and the books were the same: Arbeitsbuch, Lehrbuch, CD or audiocassette, and you weren’t supposed to see the German words, so they were hidden. The Routledge gives the translation right next to the Turkish dialogue, and if I have forgotten something I have a quick look, but I don’t have to leaf through four or five places to find something. OK, the book has a little too much conversational stuff, but that’s general knowledge. But the book is designed to be used in class with a teacher, and of course once a week for two hours is not enough, so it would be better if it were easier to use at home in between.

    I don’t know about university materials. I have a couple of grammars of Turkish, but you can’t learn from them. There is a university course in Erlangen, but I haven’t seen greatly different courses in the shops.

    @AMM: I don’t know if lecturers cross the divide. There is only one teaching Turkish language in Erlangen, and I don’t think the teacher I’ve got here would be suitable for that. A problem here is that all Turkish evening classes in Fürth and Nuremberg stick to the same speed – same number of chapters a term, and I think that means we sometimes go too slow. The class is small but quite good. But I’m not going to continue for ever!

  5. G.B. Shaw/Oscar Wilde quote: ‘The only thing worth learning, I’ve taught myself’. Well I tried that with Hungarian without a background in a related Finno-Ugric/Altaic lang. and it didn’t go too well. Hence the switch to 2 years’ night school in London. However, homework proved an ordeal. Typically, our class dwindled from 25 to 5 after one year – I was the only (token) man left in the group.

  6. this is the only time I can remember having such difficulty with a language

    I’m also finding Turkish rough going, but it’s quite charming in it’s own way.

  7. There are many words. Here’s a list:

    starting with A:

    admiral – ami:r-al-bahr ‘ruler of the seas’ (and other similar expressions) – amara command
    adobe – al-toba ‘the brick’
    albacore – al-bukr ‘the young camel’
    alchemy – al-ki:mi:a: – from Greek
    alcohol – al-koh”l ‘the kohl’
    alcove – al-qobbah ‘vault’ – qubba vault
    alembic – al-ambi:q ‘the still’ – from Greek
    alfalfa – alfas,fas,ah ‘fodder’
    algebra – al-jebr ‘reintegration’ – jabara reunite
    Algol – al-ghu:l ‘the ghoul’
    algorithm – al-Khowarazmi ‘the (man) of Khiva’
    alkali – al-qaliy ‘calx’ – qalay fry, roast
    Allah – `allah, from contraction of al-ilah ‘the god’
    Almagest – al-majisti – from Greek
    almanac – (Andalucian Arabic) al-mana:kh, of uncertain origin
    amber – `anbar ‘ambergris’
    antimony – al-íthmid ‘antimony trisulphide’ – perhaps from Greek
    apricot – al-burquq – from Greek
    Arab – `arab
    arsenal – dar as,s,ina`ah ‘house of making’, i.e. ‘factory’ – s,ana`a make
    artichoke – al-kharshu:f
    assagai – az-zaghayah – from Berber
    assassin – h’ashsha:shi:n ‘hashish eaters’, from the Isma`ili sectarians
    attar – `itr ‘aroma’
    ayatollah – ‘ayatu-llah ‘miraculous sign of God’
    azimuth – as-sumut ‘the paths’; see also zenith
    azure – al-lazward ‘lapis lazuli’ – from Persian

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