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, 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 these 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 languages are the languages that the Turkish language has the most shared words. Most loanwords are a result of cultural relations, and there is no structural and grammatical similarity between these languages and the Turkish Language.

Quick Facts Turkish Language

OriginCentral Asia (Middle Asia)
Language FamilyTurkic Language Family
Turkic Languages (High 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. Some regions in Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Iraq Kirkuk 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 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 number of speakersThe Turkish Language ranks as the 20th most spoken language in the world. (not including Turkic Languages)
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.

Turkic Languages

Turkish is a Turkic Language and is highly similar to other Turkic Languages. Even though Oghuz Turks, ancestors of Turkish people in Turkey, migrated from Central Asia to Turkey about 1000 years ago, there is still a high degree of mutual intelligibility between Turkish and 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.

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

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

Yet, 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. With my own language learning experience, I can say that the differences between Turkish and Turkic languages are similar to 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.

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.

Altaic Languages –  (also called Transeurasian Languages)

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

These languages definitely have common grammatical, logical, and structural features. Yet, it is debatable whether these languages share a common ancestry or the similarities are the results of contacts of these languages. source source2

Japanese linguists widely reject Japanese Altaic roots and the Japanese language’s relation to the Korean language. Yet, Japanese have 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, vowel harmony.

Uralic Languages and Hungarian Language

Estonian, Hungarian, Finnish, and other Uralic languages have similar grammatical concepts. For these reasons, some linguists theorize 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 Huns who were Turkic Tribe. For these reasons, Hungary is attending the Council of Turkic countries and accepts Hungarian to be a Turkic Language.

Yet, Hungarian is the less similar language to Turkish among Turkic Languages and has no mutual intelligibility. Yet, Hungarian is definitely closer to Turkish than other Altaic and Uralic languages.

Loanwords in Turkish Source

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. Yet, 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.

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%), 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.

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.

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