Ottoman Turkish language

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The Ottoman Turkish language or Osmanlı Türkçesi, Ottoman Turkish: lisân-ı Osmânî) is the variety of the Turkish language that was used as the administrative and literary language of the Ottoman Empire. It borrows extensively from Arabic and Persian and was written in a variant of the Arabic script. Consequently, Ottoman Turkish was largely unintelligible to the less-educated lower-class and rural Turks, who continued to use kaba Türkçe or "vulgar Turkish", which used far fewer foreign loanwords and which is the basis of the modern Turkish language.[1]



As in most other Turkic languages of Islamic communities, initially the Arabic borrowings were not the result of a direct exposure of Ottoman Turkish to Arabic, a fact that is evidenced by the typically Persian phonological mutation of the words of Arabic origin.[2][3][4] The conservation of archaic phonological features of the Arabic borrowings furthermore suggests that Arabic-incorporated Persian was absorbed into pre-Ottoman Turkic at an early stage, when the speakers were still located to the northeast of Persia, prior to the westward migration of the Islamic Turkic tribes. An additional argument for this is that Ottoman Turkish shares the Persian character of its Arabic borrowings with other Turkic languages that had even less interaction with Arabic, such as Tatar and Uygur.

In a social and pragmatic sense, there were (at least) three variants of Ottoman Turkish:

  • Fasih Türkçe (Eloquent Turkish): the language of poetry and administration, Ottoman Turkish in its strict sense;
  • Orta Türkçe (Middle Turkish): the language of higher classes and trade;
  • Kaba Türkçe (Rough Turkish): the language of lower classes.

A person would use each of the varieties above for different purposes. For example, a scribe would use the Arabic asel (عسل) to refer to honey when writing a document, but would use the native Turkish word bal when buying it.


Historically, Ottoman Turkish was transformed in three eras:

  • Eski Osmanlı Türkçesi (Old Ottoman Turkish): The version of Ottoman Turkish used until 16th century. It was almost identical with the Turkish used by Seljuks and Anatolian beyliks, thus often regarded as part of Eski Anadolu Türkçesi (Ancient Anatolian Turkish).
  • Orta Osmanlı Türkçesi (Middle Ottoman Turkish) or Klasik Osmanlıca (Classical Ottoman Turkish): Language of poetry and administration from 16th century until Tanzimat. This is the version of Ottoman Turkish that comes to most people's minds.
  • Yeni Osmanlı Türkçesi (New Ottoman Turkish): Shaped from 1850s to 20th century under influence of journalism and Western-oriented literature.

Language reform


In 1928, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the establishment of Republic of Turkey, widespread language reforms (a part in the greater framework of Atatürk's Reforms) instituted by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk saw the replacement of many Persian and Arabic origin loanwords in the language with their Turkish equivalents. It also saw the replacement of the Perso-Arabic script with the extended Latin alphabet. The changes were meant to encourage the growth of a new variety of written Turkish that more closely reflected the spoken vernacular, as well as to foster a new variety of spoken Turkish that more explicitly reflected Turkey's new national identity as being a post-Ottoman state.

Please see the list of replaced loanwords in Turkish for more examples on Ottoman Turkish words and their modern Turkish counterparts. Two examples of Arabic and two of Persian loanwords are found below.

English Ottoman Modern Turkish
obligatory واجب vâcib zorunlu
hardship مشكل müşkül güçlük, zorluk
city شهر şehir kent/şehir
war جنك cenk savaş


Historically speaking, Ottoman Turkish is not the predecessor of modern Turkish, but rather the standard Turkish of today is essentially Yeni Osmanlı Türkçesi as written in the Latin alphabet and with an abundance of neologisms added. One major difference between modern Turkish and Ottoman Turkish is the former's abandonment of compound word formation according to Arabic and Persian grammar rules. The usage of such phrases still exists in modern Turkish, but only to a very limited extent and usually in specialist contexts; for example, the Persian genitive construction takdîr-i ilâhî (which reads literally as "the preordaining of the divine", and translates as "divine dispensation" or "destiny") is used, as opposed to the normative modern Turkish construction, ilâhî takdîr (literally, "divine preordaining").


Ottoman Turkish was primarily written in the Ottoman Turkish script (الفبا elifbâ), a variant of the Perso-Arabic script. It was not, however, unknown for Ottoman Turkish to also be written using the Armenian script: for instance, the first novel to be written in the Ottoman Empire was 1851's Akabi, written in the Armenian script by Vartan Pasha. Similarly, when the Armenian Düzoğlu family managed the Ottoman mint during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid, they kept records in Ottoman Turkish, but used the Armenian script. Other scripts, too—such as the Greek alphabet and the Rashi script of Hebrew—were used by non-Muslim groups to write the language, since the Arabic alphabet was identified with Islam. On the other hand, for example, Greek-speaking Muslims would write Greek using the Ottoman Turkish script.

Isolated Final Middle Initial Name ALA-LC Transliteration Modern Turkish
elif a, â a, e
hemze ʼ ', a, e, i, u, ü
be b, p b
pe p p
te t t
se s s
cim c, ç c
çim ç ç
ha Template:Unicode h
Template:Unicode h
dal d d
zel z z
re r r
ze z z
je j j
sin s s
şın ş ş
sad Template:Unicode s
ﺿ dad ż, Template:Unicode d, z
Template:Unicode t
Template:Unicode z
ayın Template:Unicode ', h
gayın ġ g, ğ
fe f f
kaf Template:Unicode k
kef k, g, ñ k, g, ğ, n
gef¹ g g, ğ
nef, sağır (deaf) kef ñ n
lam l l
mim m m
nun n n
vav v, o, ô, ö, u, û, ü v, o, ö, u, ü
he h, e, a h, e, a
lamelif la
ye y, ı, i, î y, ı, i

1A correct Ottoman variant of gef will have the "mini-kaf" of ﻙ and the doubled upper stroke of گ. This feature is surely rare in current fonts.


بر - 1 ایکی - 2 اوچ - 3 درت - 4 بش - 5 التی - 6 یدی - 7 سکز - 8 طقوز - 9 اون - 10

See also

Further reading


  1. Glenny, Misha. The Balkans - Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999, Penguin, New York 2001. p. 99.
  2. Percy Ellen Frederick William Smythe Strangford, Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe Strangford, Emily Anne Beaufort Smythe Strangford, “Original Letters and Papers”, Published by Trübner, 1878. pg 46: “The Arabic words in Turkish have all decidedly come through a Persian channel. I can hardly think of an exception, except in quite late days, when Arabic words have been used in Turkish in a different sense from that borne by them in Persian.”
  3. M. Sukru Hanioglu, “A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire”, Published by Princeton University Press, 2008. pg 34: “It employed a predominant Turkish syntax, but was heavily influenced by Persian and (initially through Persian) Arabic.
  4. Pierre A. MacKay, "The Fountain at Hadji Mustapha," Hesperia, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1967), pp. 193-195. excerpt: "The immense Arabic contribution to the lexicon of Ottoman Turkish came rather through Persian than directly, and the sound of Arabic words in Persian syntax would be far more familiar to a Turkish ear than correct Arabic".

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