Sunday, December 5, 2010

I ate my head

It's time for a Turkish language post. Let's do 2 good 2 bad.


It's incredibly regular. I love it. All the grammar works how it should, there are these fantastic all purpose suffixes that are consistent and work a treat, they're usually simple to boot (we have 'in' 'on' and 'at', they only have one equivalent for instance). There is no grammatical gender which is a godsend in terms of vocabulary - how anyone remembers all that shit for French and what have you is beyond me. Actually they don't have *actual* gender either - one word does service for both he and she. Which I think might be a step too far, but on the other hand makes playing the pronoun game a damn sight easier. ;-)


It is an agglutanising bitch. Which means that instead of using more words to describe a grammatical situation, you just bung endings on to one word instead. "One of the ones that apparently might not have been able to have been explained" would be "Açıklayamayabildiklerinden biriymiş". (I think.) The first word, the only bit that actually has any independent meaning is the first four letters, "açık" which means 'open' - all the rest of it is just endings on endings to get you to your intended meaning.

That example is a little contrived to be fair - but honestly not by much. To give you a live example as it were, I'm currently reading a children's book aimed at 10 year-olds, which has in its first sentence '...geleceğimizi şekillendirecek olan tüm kültürel birikimlerimizin temel taşı sayılması gerektiğini söylemekle işe başlayayım dilerseniz.' Again generally it's only the first and second syllables of any of those words that actually carry the meaning, all the rest is glued on.

Anyway, this is Bad because it means you have to have a pretty good idea of what you want to say before you start saying it, you can't ah and erm and hum your way through a sentence word by word like in English. This is my single biggest difficulty (that and not actually making much of an effort to practice my speaking...) and basically means that in speech I am still pretty much stuck at tarzan turkish - I went there, it was nice, I was happy.

However, this is also


because it means that actually, once you've got the hang of how the endings work and learnt a few of the starting words, it means you can read reasonably well just by guesswork. Whereas English has got a word for pretty much every situation - and often several, from French, German, Greek you name it routes - Turkish pretty much just builds things up from a very simple word you probably already know. So, for instance, 'can' means life, soul, heart. From this you get

canım - dear, love (literally, my life)
canlı - alive (with life)
canan - beloved (one who is loved)
candan - sincere (from soul)
canciğer - intimate (soul-lung/liver. Erm...)
cankurtaran - ambulance (life saving one)
canlanmak - to come to life (to be made live)
canlandırmak - to personify, play the part (to make something be made live)
canlandırıcı - animator (a person who makes something be made live)

Those are just the ones listed in my concise dictionary, there's bound to be more. Anyway, point being, all those endings are easily recognisable and so given context and a bit of logic, you can work out a hell of a lot of meanings without going for the dictionary, whereas a turk reading the english equivalent wouldn't have a hope.


The sheer volume of day to day speech that is figures of speech and non-literal. This applies to English too, although I don't think I'd ever noticed before trying to translate it. This means that you're not just having to learn how to translate your english concepts into a foreign language, you're having to remember how they put it too. It really does feel like I'm learning a language from scratch sometimes, not just how to translate.

So for example, I might want to say:

'I had a crap day yesterday. I stayed up late to watch a film, but it wasn't any good. Because of it I didn't get to sleep until late, so this morning I was late too and I had to run for the ferry. Then when I got there my akbil had run out, so I missed the ferry! Christ, I nearly had a fit. Oh well, never mind.'

If you translate this literally word for word into turkish, they will not have a clue what you are talking about and you will get some very funny looks. However, if you say

'My day yesterday was from shit. I stayed up late to watch a film, but it didn't go to my pleasure. From its face I didn't lie down until late, so this morning I stayed late too and my need to run for the ferry remained. Then when I got there my money didn't stay on my akbil, so I made the ferry escape. My Allah my god, I ate my head. Anyway, give nothingness.'

it will make perfect sense. :-)