In this article, I will explain the similarities and differences between Arabic and Turkish and provide insights only a Turkish local would know.
My international friends usually think the Turkish language is somehow related to Arabic.
This assumption lies in the fact that Turkish people used the Arabic alphabet in their history and have religious and historical ties with the Arab world.
Some of them also believe Turkish or Arabic languages are just different dialects of the same language. As a Turkish, I want to clarify this misconception because the reality is very different.
The Turkish language is not related to Arabic, and both are distinctly different languages. Turkish and Arabic have totally different grammar structures, vocabulary, and sounds.
Besides some loanwords, Arabic and Turkish have no mutual intelligibility.
Turkish and Arabic are so different because Turkish and Arabic have evolved in parts of the world.
Turkish belongs to the Altaic and Turkic language groups, which originated in Central Asia, Mongolia, and the Turkestan region of China.
On the other hand, Arabic belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language group, which has its origins in the Middle East and North Africa.
Arabic vs. Turkish Languages in a Nutshell
|Language Family||Semitic and Afro-Asiatic||Turkic and Altaic|
|Similar to||Closely related to Hebrew, Maltese, and Ethiopian (Amharic)|
More broadly similar to the Northern African languages of Chad and Somalian languages.
|Closely related to Turkmen, Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz languages. |
More broadly similar to Mongolian, Korean, and Japanese. (Altaic Family Source)
|Number of Speakers||422 million speakers (native and non-native) in the Arab world. Source||88 million Turkish natives speak Turkish (Istanbul Dialect). Source|
|World Rank according to the number of speakers||The fifth most spoken language globally. Arabic is one of six official languages of the United Nations.||Turkish ranks as the 20th most-spoken language in the world.|
If you are interested in learning the Turkish language, this is the book that most of my friends use. You can check the book on Amazon.
1. Similarities between Turkish and Arabic
The similarity between Turkish and Arabic is limited to loanwords, which are mostly transferred due to religious and cultural ties. Yet, the similarity ends here.
Today, 6% percent of modern Turkish words are with Arabic roots. Yet, this does not mean modern Turkish is similar to Arabic.
Also, 5% percent of Turkish words are of French origin, and Turkish is not similar to French, either.
Native speakers of these languages can understand some of these loanwords and some religious terms, yet the similarity and mutual intelligibility are near zero between Turkish and Arabic.
Mutual intelligibility between Turkish and Arab speakers is limited to some very common words and religious terms.
Even with the shared words, the understandability is very low because words are pronounced differently by the speakers of these languages.
Only very basic Turkish and Arabic words like Merhaba (Hello), and Inshallah (“If God wills it”) are understandable by speakers of both languages.
Even European languages are more similar to the Arabic language than the Turkish language because European languages have a longer history than the Arabic language and its ancestor languages.
1.1 Arabic has more similarities with Ottoman Turkish
Old Ottoman Turkish had 80% Arabic and Persian loanwords, and it was written in the Arabic Alphabet. Yet, Ottoman was not understandable and readable to native Arabic speakers.
In fact, Ottoman Turkish was very hard to understand for ordinary Turkish people living in that era.
Yet, Ottoman Turkish was only used by Ottoman scholars and the government.
Ottoman Turkish was also called the palace language and was drastically different from the Turkish language spoken by regular Turkish people.
During the Ottoman Era, westerners believed the Turkish language was a dialect of Arabic because Turks were Muslim and used the Arabic language in their official businesses.
The difference between Ottoman Turkish and the real Turkish language spoken by the people also created many socio-economic issues in the Ottoman Empire.
Turkish people did not understand the administrative language of the Ottoman Empire because it was full of loanwords from Arabic and Persian.
Also, the Arabic alphabet was hard to learn and was not adequate for Turkish sounds.
For these reasons, it is believed that more than %90 of the Turkish population in the Ottoman Empire was illiterate.
After the Turkish Republic was founded, the Turkish language spoken by the ordinary people was accepted as Turkey’s official language. Also, the Latin alphabet was adopted.
2. Differences between Arabic and Turkish
Turkish and Arabic languages have very different paths of evolution.
Turkish and Arabic originated in different parts of the world, and they are not the same language or dialects of each other.
Turkish is a Turkic language belonging to the Altaic language family, whereas Arabic is a Semitic language belonging to the Afro-Asiatic language family.
Arabic languages and dialects are spoken in the Middle East and North Africa. On the other hand, Turkish languages and dialects are spoken in West and Central Asia.
Maybe the maps below will help you understand the difference between the geographies of native speakers of Arabic and Turkish speakers.
Turkic Languages Map
Arabic Language and Dialects Map
2.2 Grammar and Language Structures
Turkish and Arabic use different sounds, sentence structures, and grammar rules.
Some of the major differences between Arabic and Turkish are
- The sounds used in speaking. Arabic has wider consonants, and the Turkish language emphasizes vowels. While Arabic has 3 vowels, Turkish has 8 vowels.
- Arabic words mostly start with consonant letters. Turkish words can start with any letter.
- Grammar rules and sentence structures are totally different. Also, Arabic has many irregularities to learn, but Turkish grammar rules have regular rules with few exceptions.
- Turkish does not have gender differences between words or articles. (For example, the Turkish language uses a single word, “o” for “he, she, or it.” Turkish also does not have the word “the”)
2.3 Mutual Intelligibility
As a native Turkish speaker, I can understand if people are speaking Arabic, but that’s it.
I am familiar with the sound of the Arabic language, but I can also differentiate if people are speaking Italian, German, or Spanish.
Yet, I will have no idea of written or spoken Arabic.
If I am lucky, I can only pick some similar words in Arabic speeches, yet even the common words are tough to understand because we use different sounds even for the same word.
Turkish and Turkic languages used Uyghur, Arabic, Cyrillic, and Latin systems. Since 1928, Turkey has been using the Latin alphabet.
Lately, Turkic language-speaking countries like Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan have also adopted the Latin alphabet, moving away from Cyrillic.
I believe The Arabic alphabet is not adequate for Turkic Languages. Turkic languages seem more suitable for the Latin alphabet. The most important difference is sounds.
Arabic has rich consonants but poor vowels. On the other hand, Turkish is very rich in vowels, and the Arabic alphabet doesn’t have most of the Turkish sounds.
3. Arabic Speakers in Turkey
Turkey’s only official language is Turkish. Ordinary Turkish people can not read, understand, or speak Arabic.
Yet, there are also 2 million Turkish citizens who have Arabic roots.
Turkish Arabs may speak Arabic, but new generations are more fluent in Turkish. Also, it is estimated that 8 million refugees and legal immigrants coming from Arabic countries live in Turkey. Source
It is estimated that nearly 10 million Turkish residents speak Arabic. Yet, the remaining 85 million Turkish residents can not understand and speak Arabic.
4. How difficult are Turkish and Arabic in comparison?
Turkish and Arabic can be the ones of the hardest languages to learn. Each language has its own challenges.
4.1 Latin Alphabet makes Turkish easier to read
Turkish is easy to read. The Turkish language uses the Latin alphabet and nearly the same sounds as the original Latin language.
Anyone who knows how to read Latin, Spanish, or Italian can easily read Turkish with a few hours of practice.
Unlike English, Turkish is always read as it’s written. Even English is harder to read because words are not always pronounced as they are written.
On the other hand, I believe writing and reading in the Arabic alphabet is an art on its own.
4.2 Arabic has more similar grammar to European Languages
Turkish and Arabic grammar structures of both languages are equally distant from European languages, but Arabic is more similar to European languages.
Arabic uses articles, gender, and similar sentence structure to European languages. Turkish is a gender-neutral language with fewer uses of articles.
4.3 Irregularities and Dialects
The Turkish grammar structure may be very different from Latin languages, yet Turkish has fewer grammatical irregularities than Arabic.
Turkish grammar has straightforward rules and rare irregularities.
Additionally, learning Arabic may not be enough on its own because Arabic has many dialects. Learning a common dialect does not mean you can easily communicate with all speakers of the Arabic language.
Turkish has one main dialect, the Istanbul dialect, which is understandable by all and spoken by the majority. You do not need to learn the local dialects to use Turkish.
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