Friday, November 16, 2007

The Sound of Turkish

I’m back. Sorry for the long hiatus.

I’m back and finally in a Turkish language class. It’s really taken me too long to sign up for one - inertia can be a powerful force – but better late than never. The Turks are just the nicest people I’ve ever met (have I said that before?) and I really want to communicate with them beyond a smile and hand gestures.

And after some instruction, I have to say I really like the Turkish language, despite some unusual linguistic concepts I need to get my head around (i.e., there is no verb for “to be” or “to have”!!). It does have a logic and an order that appeals to my dominant left brain.

One of the biggest differences from French (which I have studied intensely and most recently) is that every single letter in a Turkish word is pronounced. In French you could easily drop four or five letters in a word, which sometimes happens in English as well, but in Turkish you can’t even forget a single letter (can you imagine if you had to pronounce every single letter in “through” - ta-ha-er-o-u-ga-ha?) This makes it much easier to hear an unknown word and be able to look it up. But of course, when speaking Turkish, you have to actually remember this rule.

For example…The windshield wiper on my car snapped and in desperate need of a new one, I went to the auto parts section of a local big box store. Since my Turkish is so limited, I brought the broken wiper with me and held it up with a smile. The salesclerk asked me the make of the car. Reflexively I pronounced Renault in my best french accent – rolled the r just so, the e like “ay”, pronounced the au like a long o, and dropped the lt. The nice gentleman looked at me blankly. I tried again. A furrowed brow. Don’t know why I was so slow…then I carefully pronounced each letter separately, inserting a y between the vowels – Re-na-yu-l-t. Instant comprehension, lovely smile, I had my windshield wiper.

Which brings me to another facet of Turkish – you can’t have two vowels next to each other, which is a boon to us poor foreigners. Every single vowel is always pronounced exactly the same, and you don’t have to remember how the sound changes if there is a second vowel like, a vs. au or o vs. ou , or ei or ie, etc. On the off chance a combination of suffixes produces two vowels, they just stick in the letter y. Just think about the double vowel sound possibilities in English with even this small example of ou:

Dough – long o
Furlough – long o

Through – sounds like ew
Ghoul – sounds like ew

Cough – short o
Ought – short o

Enough – short u
Rough – short u
Tough – short u

Bough – sounds like ow
Noun – sounds like ow

I’m not a linguistics professor, but do you see ANY rule here?

As for international relations…the political situation with the PKK has really brought out Turkish national pride. It reminds me of the US shortly after 9/11, that brief time when everyone was flying the American flag and proud to be an American. It’s like that every day here since the tension escalated on the border. There are Turkish flags hanging from windows, over doors, in taxi and bus windows, from car antennae, huge 75 ft. flags strung between apartment buildings. My children attend a Turkish school, and they have a lobby display - shrine, really - to Ataturk with balloons with the Turkish flag hanging from the ceiling. The nationalism here is rampant and oddly appealing. I guess the stark divisions in the US sadden me. I would give anything for a presidential candidate that could unite us, and yet I fear that no matter who wins, 50% of Americans will reject the winner on party affiliation alone. Can you blame anyone? Everyone has fanned the flames of partisanship in their own way.

And to close on an upbeat subject -

GO RED SOX! Red Sox Nation is alive and well in Ankara, Turkey.