Turkish vs Arabic Languages: Similarities and Differences

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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-AsiaticTurkic and Altaic
Similar toClosely 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 Speakers422 million speakers (native and non-native) in the Arab world. Source88 million Turkish natives speak Turkish (Istanbul Dialect). Source
World Rank according to the number of speakersThe 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.
Turkish vs Arabic

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.

6,6,5% of Turkish words are of Arabic origin, and 5% percent are of French origin. Yet 89% of the words are unique to Turkish. Source


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.

Poem about Rumi in Ottoman Turkish, From Mevlana Museum in Turkey

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

2.1 Origins

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

Dark blue areas are the countries with an official Turkic language. Light blue areas are autonomous regions with an official Turkic language. The red dots represent countries where a minority population (of at least 50 thousand) speaks a Turkic language. Only the native population is taken into account. Source

Arabic Language and Dialects Map

Dark areas are the regions with the majority of Arabic speakers. Light green areas are places where Arabic speakers are a minority. Source
Afro-Asiatic Languages Map. Arabic is an Afro-Asiatic Language. Source Wikipedia

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. 

2.4 Alphabet

Founding Father of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk introduces the Turkish Latin Alphabet. September 20, 1928

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. 

6 thoughts on “Turkish vs Arabic Languages: Similarities and Differences”

  1. Dear Genit,

    I am planning on a visit to your country in the fall. I’ll probably focus mostly on Istanbul because that’s the city I’ve read the most about. I’d appreciate any recommendations to might have on hotels, airlines, and places to visit. Do you have a website? Do you offer advice to foreign visitors. I’m American and worry a little that Americans are currently not liked very much in your country. Is this true?

    Dan Carter
    [email protected]

    • Turkish people know the difference between a country and its people.
      By the way, Turkey is a member of NATO and the Western Alliance.
      Even Nato Allies like French and Germany sometimes don’t like American policies. But like Turkish people, they have no problems with American citizens
      We host hundreds of thousands of American tourists each year. Turkish hospitality is legendary, you should not have any worries. You may wish to check this page https://visitlocalturkey.com/plan-your-turkish-trip/.

  2. Dear Khaled, thank you for your insights. You are right at some points.

    Yet, as you point out “The Arabic writing system is way more efficient than Latin by virtue of the fact that short vowels are not written and are understood from the context. Thus, it’s much faster to read and write in Arabic, uses much less material (ink, paper), and thus more green (environment) friendly.”.

    This is a good thing for Arabic because Arabic does not have the diversity of vowels as Turkish have.

    We have 29 Letters in the Turkish Alphabet and 8 of them are Vowels. Vowels are the backbone of the Turkish language, if you subtract vowels from Turkish texts, the Turkish texts would not be the same and be confusing.

    Also, the Turkish Grammar structure is totally different.

  3. Thanks for your efforts writing this article!
    As an Arabic native…

    I have to point out thoughts your biased opinions about the fact the Ottomans were trying to have their own influences on controlled Arabic territories by adopting their language and manipulate it, yet they turn around and tried their best to become more “European” after they were defeated in the war.

    Arabic has rich vowels, probably more than Turkish does, and it’s way harder than Turkish.

    Thanks again for the informative article…

    • There is a misconception about Turks being Arabs and the Turkish language is Arabic. The point of the article was to demonstrate even though Arabs and Turks lived under one kingdom for centuries, their language is different.


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