Turkish vs Greek Language: 7 Things to Know


Turkey is geographically very close to Turkey. In fact, some Greek Islands are a stone’s throw away from Western Turkey.

I believe Turkey and Greece have very similar cultures, but their languages are another story.

I am a Turkish native speaker, I do not speak Greek, but my grandparents were native speakers of Cretan Greek, and I have a basic understanding of the Greek language. 

In this post, I will try to answer the most common questions about Turkish and Greek 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.

Greek vs. Turkish Language

GreekTurkish
Language FamilyIndo-European LanguageTurkic and Altaic
Similar toMost Similar to Armenian
More broadly similar to
Indo-European Languages.
Closely related to Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz languages.
More broadly similar to Mongolian, Korean, and Japanese. (Altaic Family Source)
Number of Speakers
13.5 million native speakers. Source
88 million native speakers Source

What Language is Turkish most similar to?

The language most similar to Turkish is the Azeri language (the language of Azerbaijan). Azeri and Turkish are mutually intelligible, and they can be identified as different dialects of the same language. Azeri and Turkish belong to Turkic Languages, which have different dialects spoken by 108 million people.

The Istanbul Dialect of Turkish Language is the official language of Turkey. Please read my post about the Turkish Language and its origins. You also check these posts to learn more about Turkic Languages and similar languages to Turkish.

Just a fun fact about the Turkish Language, the Turkish language is grammatically closer to Hungarian, Finnish, Mongol, Korean, and Japanese Languages.

Here is a map of Turkic Languages.

Turkic Countries and Regions Source Wiki

What Language is Greek most similar to? 

Greek is most similar to Armenian and Indo-Iranian languages. Greek is theorized to be related to Armenian and Indo-Iranian languages because these languages share some vocabulary and some grammatical features.

Yet, Greek is a distinct language among Indo-European Languages. As a Hellenic Language, Greek is not mutually intelligible with Armenian and Indo-Iranian languages or any other language. 

Indo European Language Family Source Wiki
Regions speaking Indo-European Language Family Languages. Greek (Yellow) is one of the Indo-European Languages.

Similarities of Turkish and Greek Languages

Linguistically Turkish is closer to Azerbaijani (Azeri Language) and other Turkic languages. The Turkish language is not close to the Greek language because their roots are different.

On the other hand, I believe Turkish and Greek people are culturally aligned, despite speaking different languages. Turkish locals living in the West part of Turkey (like me) feel closer to Greece. Even though Greek and Turkish languages are not similar, culturally Turkish and Greek people have a lot in common.

There are many academic studies on Turkish and Greek languages. The most popular of these studies was conducted by Maria Damasi and Ahmet Nizam, lecturers at Thessaloniki University, Faculty of Balkan Languages.

These two lecturers wondered to what extent there is a similarity in the languages ​​of the two countries. They published their book “To Kino Leksilogio tis Ellinikis ke tis Tourkikis” or in other words “Common expressions in Greek and Turkish.

According to the results of these researches, there are 1200 words of Greek origin in the Turkish language and 800 words of Turkish origin in the Greek language. Academics state that after the educational reforms in the two countries in the 19th century, common words decreased below %10. Source

You can also check my articles on the Turkish language’s relation with Arabic and Persian (Iranian Languages).

Loanwords between Turkish and Greek

Let’s now look at some similar examples of Turkish and Greek words. (Greek words are written in bold, Turkish words are written in italics.)

TURKISH  GREEKENGLISH MEANING
zambak ζαμπάκι [zambaki] lily
yolcuγιολτζής [yoltzis] passenger
yıldız taşı(safir)γιαλδίζ-δασί [gialdiz-dasi] sapphire
yakut γιακούτι [yakuti] ruby
arabaαραμπάς [arambas] car
esnafεσνάφι [esna] small business owner
davacıδαβατζής [davtzis] plaintiff
elçiελτσής [eltsiz] ambassador
eğlenmekεγλενδίζω [eglendizo] To have fun
yatakγιατάκι [yataki] bed
alışverişαλισβερίσι [alisverisi] shopping
yedekγεδέκι [yedeki] Spare part
dürbünδουρμπίνι [durmbini] binoculars
kahveκαφές [kafes] coffee
madenμαδένι [madeni] mine
sincap σεντζάπι [sentzap] squirrel
mangalμαγκάλι [mangali]barbecue
Loanwords between Turkish and Greek

Greek writer Babiniotis’s dictionary “Leksiko tis Ellinikis Glossas’ published in 2012, states that the Greek language has 444 English, 519 French, 867 Italian, and 630 Turkish words. Source

Other sources claim a lot bigger numbers and the number of loanwords between Turkish and Greek is disputable. Yet, one thing to note is that Turkish is one of the major languages that affected Greek Languages.

The 9th-century Turkic book of Irk Bitig or “Book of Divination” Source

Is Turkish easier than Greek?

Turkish or Greek languages are both quite distinct languages. The difficulty of learning these languages will depend on your native language and your native language’s grammatical similarity with Greek or Turkish.

If you are a native speaker of (an Indo-European Languages) English, French or Persian, the Greek language is easier to learn than Turkish. If you are a native speaker of Turkic Languages, Finnish, Estonian, Mongolian, Korean, or Japanese languages, Turkish will be more similar than the Greek language.

One thing to note is reading the Turkish Alphabet is a lot easier than Greek. The Greek Alphabet is unique, and you need to get used to it before learning the language. On the other hand, the Turkish Alphabet is very easy to read and has no irregularities when reading like English.

Most Turkish letters are read the same way as Latin, Spanish and Italian alphabets. You can learn to read Turkish easily in an hour by learning some small rules.

Both languages have unique accents, idioms, and cultural richness. For these reasons, both languages will take effort to learn.

Check my guides Languages Spoken in Turkey and Istanbul to learn more about languages spoken in Turkey.

Is Greek spoken in Turkey?

Since Greece used to be a part of the Ottoman Empire, people may wonder if Greek people live in current-day Turkey or how many people speak Greek. 

Today, it is estimated that there are around 4.000 native Greek speakers in Turkey. Generally, these people live in Istanbul or the islands of Gokceada and Bozcaada.

This number includes Greek native speakers born in Turkey.

There are also Turkish native Greek speakers who migrated from the Greek-ruled Northern Thrace to Turkey.

Additionally,  Romeyka (an ancient Greek Dialect) is spoken in Northeast Turkey among the indigenous Turkish population.

The number of Greek speakers in Turkey is very low, mostly because of the population exchange.

After the Turkish Independence War, Greece and Turkey agreed on population exchange. Greeks living in Turkey and Turks living in Greece were displaced as a result of population exchange. My grandparents came to Turkey from the island of Crete at that time.

In 1923, Turkey’s population was 12.4 million, and Greece had a population of 5 million. Each country nearly sent %10 of their population to the other country.1.2 million Greeks left Turkey and resettled in Greece, and half a million Turks migrated to Turkey from Greece.

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.

3 thoughts on “Turkish vs Greek Language: 7 Things to Know

  1. “I believe Greece and Turkey have similar cultures”

    with all respect, you wrongly believe.

    Greek cuture is mostly a Southern European culture, closely associated with italian and Iberian, and to a lesser extend Balkan cultures. Turkish culture is West Asian, with a lot of Central Asian, Levantine, Persian and Caucasian influences, but technically nothing European

    The two cultures are faaaar from being similar

  2. “Turkish locals living in the West part of Turkey (like me) feel closer to Greece.”

    So, to add something to the previous, is the clock of Izmir, with all the Oriental Archs in its architecture, or the grand bazaar of Istanbul, anything similar to what you can find in Greece?

    1. Let me clarify.
      My ancestors are from the island of Crete and Bulgaria. Many Turks have origins in the Balkans and migrated to Western Turkey after the wars.
      This is why many Turks culturally fell closer to the Balkans, but Turkish in the essence.

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