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Languages Similar to Turkish – Is Turkish Mutually Intelligible?

Many of my foreign friends have wrong assumptions about Turkish.

Most people think that Turkish is similar to the languages of Turkey’s neighboring countries or that Turkish is a unique language on its own.

Yet, Turkish is a vast language with mutual intelligibility with many languages of Central Asia.

Turkish is a Turkic Language and is highly similar to other Turkic Languages.

There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between Turkic Languages and Turkish. The main Turkic Languages are Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz languages.

Moreover, grammar and language structure is nearly the same. For these reasons, some also claim Turkish is not a language but a dialect of Turkic Languages.

Also, many linguists believe that Uralic and Altaic languages have an ancestral connection with Turkic Languages.

Turkish is known to have grammatical similarities between Uralic and Altaic languages but no mutual intelligibility or similar words.

The major languages that Turkish is known to have grammatical similarities are Hungarian, Finnish, Mongolian, Korean, and Japanese.

After Turkic Languages, French, Persian, Greek, and Arabic are the languages that Turkish shares the most words.

Most loanwords are a result of cultural relations, and there is no structural and grammatical similarity between these languages and the Turkish Language.

1. Quick Facts Turkish Language

OriginCentral Asia (Middle Asia)
Language FamilyTurkic Language Family
Turkic Languages (High or Some Degree of Mutual Intelligibility)Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic languages.
Altaic Language Family – Structural and Grammatical Similarity (Source)Turkic Languages, Mongolian, Korean, and Japanese.
Ural-Altaic Language Family Structural and Grammatical Similarity  (Source)Turkic Languages, Altaic Languages, Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian 
LoanwordsTurkish Vocabulary has 6% Arabic, 5% French, 1% Persian, and less than 1% English and Greek Loanwords.
Official LanguagesThe Turkish language is the official language in Turkey, North Cyprus. Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Iraq Kirkuk region accept Turkish as the official regional language.
Minority LanguageTurkish is the minority language of native populations in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Bosnia.
Turkish is also widely spoken in Germany, Austria, Holland, and other European countries by the Turkish diaspora.
Number of Turkish Speakers88 million Turkish natives speak Turkish (Turkey Turkish or Istanbul Dialect). Source If you include all mutually intelligible Turkic language dialects, there are over 200 million speakers.
World Rank according to the number of speakersThe Turkish Language ranks as the 20th most spoken language in the world. (not including Turkic Languages)
Quick Facts Turkish Language
Turkic Countries and Regions

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. Turkic Languages

Turkish is a Turkic Language and is highly similar to other Turkic Languages.

Oghuz Turks, ancestors of Turkish people in Turkey, migrated from Central Asia to Turkey about 1000 years ago.

Yet, there is still a high degree of mutual intelligibility between Turkish and Central Asian Turkic Languages.

Moreover, Turkic Languages and Turkish share the same grammar and language structure with minor differences.

It is also a popular idea to claim Turkish is not a language but a dialect of Turkic Languages.

Azerbaijani is the closest language to Turkish.

For example, Azerbaijani spoken in Azerbaijan has slight differences from Azerbaijani spoken in Iran. Yet, they are regarded as dialects of each other.

Turkish, spoken in Turkey, also has slight differences from Azerbaijani dialects, but Turkish is regarded as a separate language.

As a native Turkish speaker, when I am speaking with an Azeri, I do not feel like they are speaking a different language, but it is more like a dialect of Turkish.

I can speak a moderate level of Italian and Spanish.

From my own language learning experience, I can say that the differences between Turkish and Turkic languages are similar to the differences between Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese languages. 

Yet, some Turkic languages like Azerbaijani and Turkish are even more similar to be categorized as the same language.

Suggested Reading: What Do Turkish People Look Like? With Pictures and History

Mutual Intelligibility and Words Similarity of Turkic Languages Source
LanguageNumber of SpeakersCountries with Majority of SpeakersAlphabet
Turkish83 MillionTurkey, North CyprusLatin
Azerbaijani33 MillionAzerbaijan, IranLatin, Perso-Arabic (in Iran)
Uzbek27 MillionUzbekistanLatin
Kazakh14 MillionKazakhstanLatin
Uyghur11 MillionChina (semi-autonomous Uyghur region)Perso-Arabic
Turkmen7 MillionTurkmenistanLatin
Tatar5,5 MillionRussia (Tatarstan Federal Republic)Cyrillic
Kyrgyz5 MillionKyrgyzstanCyrillic
Most Spoken Turkic Languages Source
Evolution of Altaic Languages

You may want to check out my Is Turkish a Language? and Turkic Languages articles to learn more.

Map of the Altaic, Turkic, and Uralic languages Source

3. Altaic Languages –  (also called Transeurasian Languages)

According to Transeurasian Language theory, the Turkish Language and all Turkic Languages are related to Japonic, Koreanic, Tungusic, and Mongolic Languages.

These languages definitely have common grammatical, logical, and structural features.

Yet, it is debatable whether these languages share a common ancestry or whether the similarities are the results of cultural exchanges between these languages. source source2

Japanese linguists widely reject Japanese Altaic roots and the Japanese language’s relation to the Korean language. Yet, Japanese has some similar features with Turkish and other Altaic languages.

Japanese has agglutination (adding prefixes to verbs), sentence structure (Subject-Object-Verb), and other grammar similarities.

The Korean language can be more similar to Turkish than Japanese, yet similarities lie primarily in the grammar structures of these languages.

Korean and Turkish also share similar grammatical structures like agglutination, sentence structure, the syntax of adjectives and nouns, and vowel harmony.

4. Uralic Languages and Hungarian Language

Estonian, Hungarian, Finnish, and other Uralic languages have similar grammatical concepts.

For these reasons, some linguists theorize that Turkish and Uralic languages are similar and have a common ancestry.

This theory is widely criticized. Hungary, on the other hand, is a different story.

Hungarians are descendants of the Huns, who were a Turkic Tribe. For these reasons, Hungary is attending the Council of Turkic countries, and Hungary accepts Hungarian to be a Turkic Language.

Yet, Hungarian is the less similar language to Turkish among Turkic Languages and has no mutual intelligibility.

Turkish culture has always been a major contributor to European culture. To learn more, please read Why is Turkey considered European? Explained With Unknown Facts

Loanwords in Turkish Source

5. Loanwords in Turkish

In the Ottoman Empire Era, the official language was Ottoman Turkish which had many Persian and Arabic words.

The administration language was different from the Turkish that ordinary people speak. This created many socio-political issues.

After the reforms in the 1920s, most loanwords in Ottoman Turkish were abandoned, and the Istanbul street language was adopted as the official language of Turkey.

Today, the Turkish Language still has many loanwords from French, Arabic, Persian, and Greek languages.

Yet, similarities between these languages end here. 86% of the Turkish Language consists of original Turkish words.

Being a Turkic language, Turkish Language origin and grammar are different from Indo-European Languages (French, Persian, and Greek ) and Semitic Languages (Arabic).

Turkish Vocabulary has 6% Arabic, 5% French, 1% Persian, and less than 1% English and Greek Loanwords.

Check my guides to Turkish vs. Arabic, Turkish vs. Greek, and Turkish vs. Persian to learn more.

6. How Many Languages Are Spoken in Turkey?

Turkish is the official language and the most spoken language in Turkey.

99% of Turkish people speak some degree of Turkish Language. %93 of Turkish people speak Turkish as their mother tongue, and 6% are non-native speakers and speak Turkish as a second language. 

Minority languages spoken in Turkey are Kurdish (6%), and Arabic (1,2%). Other rarely spoken languages are Greek, Circassian, Armenian, Ladino (Medieval Spanish), and other Balkan languages.

Additionally, 18% of Turkish people speak English, and %4 of Turkish people speak German as their second language. The numbers I mentioned above are compiled from EU stats and BBC.

Check my guides What Language is Spoken in Turkey and in Istanbul to learn more.

Check out our Turkish Culture page for more articles like this.


Monday 27th of June 2022

I think perhaps it would be worth showing graphs of what is said to be related languages to Turkish Japanese Mongolian Korean etc… And show how much of there languages is structured and possibly related to Turkish

Efe Genit

Sunday 9th of October 2022

I added another map.