Languages of Turkey

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Languages of Turkey
Official languages Turkish
Minority languages Kurmanji, Arabic, Zazaki, Pomak Bulgarian, Balkan Gagauz Turkish,[a] Laz
Main immigrant languages Adyghe, Albanian, Bosnian, Crimean Tatar,[a] Georgian, Kabardian[1] (in alphabetical order)
Main foreign languages English (17%)
German (4%)
French (3%)[2]
Sign languages Turkish Sign Language
Mardin Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
Turkish (Q-keyboard)
Turkish (F-keyboard)
KB Turkey.svg
KB Turkey f yeni.svg
a^ may be subsumed under the Turkish language.

The languages of Turkey, apart from the only official language Turkish, include the widespread Kurmanji, the moderately prevalent minority languages Arabic and Zazaki and a number of less common minority languages, some of which are guaranteed by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

Constitutional rights[edit]

Official language[edit]

Article 3 of the Constitution of Turkey defines Turkish as the only official language of Turkey.[3]

Minority language rights[edit]

Article 42 of the Constitution explicitly prohibits educational institutions to teach any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens.[4]

No language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institutions of training or education. Foreign languages to be taught in institutions of training and education and the rules to be followed by schools conducting training and education in a foreign language shall be determined by law. The provisions of international treaties are reserved.

Due to Article 42 and its longtime restrictive interpretation, ethnic minorities have been facing severe restrictions in the use of their mother languages.

Concerning the incompatibility of this provision with the International Bill of Human Rights, Turkey signed the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights only with reservations constraining minority rights and the right to education. Furthermore, Turkey hasn't signed either of the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, or the anti-discrimination Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights.[5]

This particular constitutional provision has been contested both internationally and within Turkey. The provision has been criticized by minority groups, notably the Kurdish community. In October 2004, the Turkish State's Human Rights Advisory Board called for a constitutional review in order to bring Turkey's policy on minorities in line with international standards, but was effectively muted.[6] It was also criticized by EU member states, the OSCE, and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch who observe that "the Turkish government accepts the language rights of the Jewish, Greek and Armenian minorities as being guaranteed by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. But the government claims that these are Turkey's only minorities, and that any talk of minority rights beyond this is just separatism".[7]

Supplementary language education[edit]

In 2012, the Ministry of Education included Kurdish (based on both Kurmanji and Zazaki dialects)[8] to the academic programme of the basic schools as optional classes from the fifth year on.[8]

Later, the Ministry of Education also included Abkhaz, Adyghe, Standard Georgian, and Laz languages in 2013, and Albanian as well as Bosnian languages in February 2017.[9]

Turkey’s Ministry of National Education announced that as of the 2016-17 academic year, Arabic courses will be offered to students in elementary school starting in second grade. It will be offered as an elective language course like German, French and English. According to a prepared curriculum, second and third graders will learn Arabic comprehension and speaking, fourth graders will learn introduction to Arabic scripture, and after fifth grade the emphasis will be on developing basic language skills.[10][11]

Lists of languages[edit]

The following table lists the mother tongues of people in Turkey by percentage of their speakers.

Mother tongues in Turkey[12]
Mother tongue Percentage
Turkish 84.54
Kurmanji 11.97
Arabic 1.38
Zazaki 1.01
Other Turkic languages 0.28
Balkan languages 0.23
Laz 0.12
Circassian languages 0.11
Armenian 0.07
Other Caucasian languages 0.07
Greek 0.06
West European languages 0.03
Jewish languages 0.01
Coptic 0.01
Other 0.12

Ethnologue lists many minority and immigrant languages in Turkey some of which are spoken by large numbers of people.

Languages by number of speakers in Turkey (with Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale)[13][14]
Language Dialect or variety Speakers Status (EGIDS)[a] Notes
Turkish 66,850,000 (2006) 1 (National)
Kurdish Northern Kurdish 8,130,000 Decrease (2014) 3 (Wider communication) 3,000,000 monolinguals
Zazaki Southern Zazaki 1,500,000 Decrease (1998) 5 (Developing)
Northern Zazaki 184,000 (2014) 4 (Educational)
Arabic North Levantine Arabic 1,130,000 (2014) 3 (Wider communication)
Modern Standard Arabic 686,000 (2015) 4 (Educational) Non-indigenous
North Mesopotamian Arabic 520,000 (2014) 6a (Vigorous) Do not read Arabic
Other Mesopotamian Arabic 101,000 (2014) Non-indigenous
Kabardian 1,000,000 (2005) 5 (Developing) Non-indigenous
Azerbaijani 540,000 (2014) 5 (Dispersed)
Romani Balkan Romani 500,000 (1985) 6a (Vigorous) Non-indigenous
Domari 8b (Nearly extinct)
Turkish Sign Language 400,000 (1998) 6a (Vigorous)
Bulgarian Pomak Bulgarian 351,000 (2014) 5 (Dispersed)
Balkan Gagauz Turkish 327,000 (1993) 7 (Shifting)
Adyghe 316,000 (2014) 5 (Dispersed)
Greek Pontic Greek 300,000 (2009) 6a (Vigorous) Non-indigenous
Standard Modern Greek 3,600 (2014) 5 (Dispersed)
Georgian 151,000 (2014) 6b (Threatened) Non-indigenous
Crimean Tatar 100,000 (2014) 5 (Developing) Non-indigenous
Albanian Tosk Albanian 66,000 (2014) 6b (Threatened) Non-indigenous
Gheg Albanian 5 (Dispersed)
Armenian 61,000 (2014) 6b (Threatened)
Abkhaz 44,000 (2014) 6b (Threatened) Non-indigenous
Ossetian Digor Ossetian 37,000 (2014) 5 (Developing) Non-indigenous
Tatar 5 (Dispersed) Non-indigenous
Lazuri 20,000 (2007) 6b (Threatened)
Aramaic Turoyo 15,000 (2014) 6b (Threatened)
Hértevin 1,000 (1999) 6a (Vigorous)
Other Syriac varieties 9 (Dormant)
Ladino 13,000 (2007) 7 (Shifting) Non-indigenous
Turkmen 5 (Dispersed) Non-indigenous
Bosnian 4,500 (2013) 6b (Threatened) Non-indigenous
Uzbek Southern Uzbek 3,800 (2014) 5 (Dispersed) Non-indigenous
Kyrgyz 5 (Dispersed) Non-indigenous
Uyghur 5 (Dispersed) Non-indigenous

a^ Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS) of Ethnologue:
0 (International): "The language is widely used between nations in trade, knowledge exchange, and international policy."
1 (National): "The language is used in education, work, mass media, and government at the national level."
2 (Provincial): "The language is used in education, work, mass media, and government within major administrative subdivisions of a nation."
3 (Wider Communication): "The language is used in work and mass media without official status to transcend language differences across a region."
4 (Educational): "The language is in vigorous use, with standardization and literature being sustained through a widespread system of institutionally supported education."
5 (Developing): "The language is in vigorous use, with literature in a standardized form being used by some though this is not yet widespread or sustainable."
6a (Vigorous): "The language is used for face-to-face communication by all generations and the situation is sustainable."
6b (Threatened): "The language is used for face-to-face communication within all generations, but it is losing users."
7 (Shifting): "The child-bearing generation can use the language among themselves, but it is not being transmitted to children."
8a (Moribund): "The only remaining active users of the language are members of the grandparent generation and older."
8b (Nearly Extinct): "The only remaining users of the language are members of the grandparent generation or older who have little opportunity to use the language."
9 (Dormant): "The language serves as a reminder of heritage identity for an ethnic community, but no one has more than symbolic proficiency."
10 (Extinct): "The language is no longer used and no one retains a sense of ethnic identity associated with the language."


Turkey has historically been the home to many now extinct languages. These include Hittite, the earliest Indo-European language for which written evidence exists (circa 1600 BCE to 1100 BCE when the Hittite Empire existed). The other Anatolian languages included Luwian and later Lycian, Lydian and Milyan. All these languages are believed to have become extinct at the latest around the 1st century BCE due to the Hellenization of Anatolia which led to Greek in a variety of dialects becoming the common language.

Urartian belonging to the Hurro-Urartian language family existed in eastern Anatolia around Lake Van. It existed as the language of the kingdom of Urartu from about the 9th century BCE until the 6th century. Hattian is attested in Hittite ritual texts but is not related to the Hittite language or to any other known language; it dates from the 2nd millennium BCE.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Europeans and Their Languages
  3. ^ "Constitution of the Republic of Turkey". Republic of Turkey. Article 3. 
  4. ^ "Constitution of the Republic of Turkey". Republic of Turkey. Article 42. 
  5. ^ European Commission 2005, pp. 35 f..
  6. ^ European Commission 2005, p. 35.
  7. ^ Questions and Answers: Freedom of Expression and Language Rights in Turkey. New York: Human Rights Watch. April 2002. 
  8. ^ a b "Kürtçe İlk Kez Müfredata Girdi" [Kurdish Is on the Academic Programme for the First Time]. Hürriyet Eğitim. (in Turkish). Milliyet. 12 September 2012. 
  9. ^ "Boşnakça ve Arnavutça Müfredata Girdi" [Bosnian and Albanian Languages Are on the Academic Programme]. Hürriyet Eğitim. (in Turkish). Hürriyet. 23 February 2017. 
  10. ^ Al-Monitor: Turks divided over plans to introduce Arabic-language teaching, 2 November 2015, retrieved 3 May 2017
  11. ^ Hürriyet Daily News: Arabic to be offered as second language in Turkish elementary schools, 23 October 2015, retrieved 3 May 2017
  12. ^ "Etnik Kimlikler: Anadil [Ethnic Identitites: Mother Tongue]". Toplumsal Yapı Araştırması 2006 [Social Structure Research 2006] (PDF) (Report). KONDA. September 2006. p. 19. 
  13. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). "Ethnologue report for Turkey (Europe)". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  14. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). "Ethnologue report for Turkey (Asia)". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 2009-09-08. 

Bibliography and further reading[edit]