Turkish and Arabic Languages: 10 Things to Know


My international friends usually think the Turkish language is somehow related to Arabic. 

Some of them also believe Turkish or Arabic languages are different dialects of the same language. As a Turkish, I want to clarify this misconception because the reality is very different.

Is Turkish an Arabic language? The Turkish language is not related to Arabic. Turkish and Arabic are distinctly different languages. 

Turkish belongs to the Altaic and Turkic language group, and Arabic belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language group. Both languages have very different grammar structures, vocabulary, and sounds.

As a Turkish local, I will explain 13 commonly asked questions that will shed light on most of your questions about Turkish and Arabic Languages.

Arabic vs. Turkish Language

ArabicTurkish
Language Family Semitic and Afro-AsiaticTurkic and Altaic
Similar toClosely related to Hebrew, Maltese, and Ethiopian (Amharic)
More broadly similar to
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
If you include all Turkic language dialects, there are over 200 million speakers.
World Rank according to number of speakersThe fifth most spoken language globally, and Arabic is one of six official languages of the United Nations.Turkish (Istanbul Dialect) ranks as the 20th most spoken language in the world.

1. Is Turkish and Arabic the same? 

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.

Turkish and Arabic languages have some loanwords from each other, but there is no similarity between their grammar and pronunciation. 

Mutual intelligibility between Turkish and Arab speakers is limited to some very common words and religious terms. 

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.

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), Inshallah (“If God wills it”) are understandable by speakers of both languages.

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.

2. Why is Turkish different from Arabic? 

You may think Turkey and the Arab world are neighbors, and for this reason, Turkish and Arabic should be similar. Yet, Turkish and Arabic languages have very different paths of evolution.

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. 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

To learn more about Turkish Language origins check my “Is Turkish a Language? Origins of the Turkish Language” article.

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

3. How is Turkish different from 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. Even European languages are more similar to the Arabic language than the Turkish language.

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 a consonant letter. 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”)
Afro-Asiatic Languages Map. Arabic is an Afro-Asiatic Language. Source Wikipedia

4. How much of the Turkish Language is Arabic?

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

SUGGESTED READING: What Languages Do Turkish People Speak? Turkish is not the only language spoken in Turkey.

5. What is the difference between Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, and Modern Turkish?

In the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922), Turkish scholars and the government were using a different language than the regular Turkish people. The Ottoman Empire’s official language was called Ottoman Turkish. 

A century ago, Ottoman Turkish was written in the Arabic alphabet, and the official language (Ottoman Turkish) consisted of 80% loanwords from Arabic and Persian. For these reasons, westerners believed the Turkish language was a dialect of Arabic.

Yet, the ordinary folk spoke original Turkish which was different from the palace’s language and official language.

Persian is another distinct language from the Turkish Language. Check my article How Related Turkish and Persian to learn more.

Ottoman Turkish was used mostly by elites, and it was different from the language spoken by ordinary Turkish folks. The difference between the official language 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 Istanbul dialect of the Turkish language was accepted as the official language of Turkey. Also, the Latin alphabet was adopted.

Today, modern Turkish is far easier to learn. The Latin alphabet was adopted with Latin pronunciations. For these reasons, Turkish letters have similar sounds used by Spanish, Italian languages. It is easier to read Turkish for Latin language speakers.

Check out my posts: Difference between Turkish and Greek Languages

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

6. Can Arabic People Understand Turkish?

Old Ottoman Turkish had 80% Arabic and Persian loanwords, and it was written in the Arabic Alphabet. Yet, it was not understandable and readable to native Arabic speakers.

Modern-day Turkish is more foreign to Arabic people than Ottoman Turkish. Arabic and Turkish languages have near-zero mutual intelligibility.

Arabic speakers may pick some similar words in Turkish. Still, most of the shared words have different pronunciations, and most of the time, shared words are not understandable to Arabic speakers.

7. Can Turkish People Understand Arabic?

As a Turkish native 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. I can only pick some similar words in the Arabic speeches, yet even the common words are tough to understand because we use different sounds even for the same word. 

8. Do Turkish People Speak Arabic? How Many Turkish People Know Arabic?

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, 3 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey. Source

It is estimated that nearly 5 million Turkish residents speak Arabic. Yet, the remaining 85 million Turkish residents can not understand and speak Arabic.

Suggested Reading: What Languages are Spoken in Istanbul?

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

9. Turkish vs Arabic Alphabet

Turkish and Turkic languages used Uyghur, Arabic, Cyrillic, and Latin systems. Turkey has been using the Latin alphabet since 1928.

Lately, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan have also adopted the Latin alphabet, moving away from Cyrillic. 

Turkic languages seem more suitable for the Latin alphabet. The Arabic alphabet is not adequate for Turkic Languages. The most important difference is sounds.

Arabic has rich consonants but poor in vowels. On the other hand, Turkish is very rich in vowels, and the Arabic alphabet doesn’t have most of the Turkish sounds.

10. 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. 

Turkish is easy to read. The Turkish language uses the Latin alphabet, and it uses 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, writing and reading in the Arabic alphabet is an art on its own.

Turkish and Arabic grammar structures of both languages are equally distant from European languages, but Arabic is more similar to European languages because of its articles, gender, and sentence structure. 

The Turkish grammar structure is also very different from Latin languages, yet Turkish has fewer irregularities. Turkish grammar has straightforward rules. 

The Turkish Language is in the Altaic Language family, and Turkic languages are grammatically similar to Hungarian, Finnish, Mongol, Korean, and Japanese Languages. If you are familiar with languages, you will grasp Turkish more easily.

To learn more check my articles on Languages Similar to Turkish and What are Turkic Languages?

Arabic is similar to Hebrew, Maltese, and Ethiopian (Amharic)  languages. Also, Arabic dialects can be very different, so learning a common dialect does not mean you can communicate with all speakers of the Arabic language very easily.

Turkish is easier to learn than Arabic because Turkish is easier to read and write. Turkish grammar may be strange yet has fewer irregularities than Arabic. Also, learning Arabic may not be enough on its own because Arabic has many dialects.

Still, Turkish only has one main dialect (Istanbul dialect), which is understandable by all Turkish speakers. You do not need to learn local dialects to use Turkish. 

Efe Genit

I am a father, a passionate traveler, and a Turkish lawyer. You can enjoy my guides and tips about Turkey that only Turkish locals would know.

6 thoughts on “Turkish and Arabic Languages: 10 Things to Know

  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
    Dhcarter5@aol.com

    1. 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…

    1. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Posts