Ottoman Turkish alphabet

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Ottoman Turkish alphabet
Languages Ottoman Turkish language
Time period
Parent systems
Direction Right-to-left
ISO 15924 Arab, 160
Unicode alias

The Ottoman Turkish alphabet (Ottoman Turkish: الفباelifbâ) is a version of the Perso-Arabic alphabet used to write Ottoman Turkish until 1928, when it was replaced by the Latin-based modern Turkish alphabet.

Though Ottoman Turkish was primarily written in this script, non-Muslim Ottoman subjects sometimes wrote it in other scripts, including the Armenian, Greek, Latin and Hebrew alphabets.



The earliest known Turkic alphabet is the Orkhon script. The various Turkic languages have been written in a number of different alphabets, including Cyrillic, Arabic, Greek, Latin, and some other Asiatic writing systems.

The Ottoman Turkish alphabet is a Turkish form of the Perso-Arabic script. Well suited to writing Arabic and Persian borrowings, it was poorly suited to Turkish words: Whereas Arabic is rich in consonants but poor in vowels, Turkish is exactly the opposite. The script was thus inadequate at representing Turkish phonemes. The introduction of the telegraph and printing press in the 19th century exposed further weaknesses in the Arabic script.[1]

A calendar page for November 1, 1895 (October 20 O.S.) in cosmopolitan Thessaloniki. The first 3 lines in Ottoman Turkish Arabic script give the date in the Rumi – 20 Teşrin-i Evvel 1311 – and Islamic – 14 Jumādā al-Ūlā 1313 – calendars; the Julian and Gregorian (in French) dates appear below.

Some Turkish reformers promoted the Latin script well before Atatürk's reforms. In 1862, during an earlier period of reform, the statesman Münuf Pasha advocated a reform of the alphabet. At the start of the 20th century, similar proposals were made by several writers associated with the Young Turk movement, including Hüseyin Cahit, Abdullah Cevdet and Celâl Nuri.[1]

The issue was raised again in 1923 during the first Economic Congress of the newly founded Turkish Republic, sparking a public debate that was to continue for several years. A move away from the Arabic script was strongly opposed by conservative and religious elements. It was argued that Romanization of the script would detach Turkey from the wider Islamic world, substituting a foreign (sc., European) concept of national identity for the confessional community. Others opposed Romanization on practical grounds; at that time there was no suitable adaptation of the Latin script that could be used for Turkish phonemes. Some suggested that a better alternative might be to modify the Arabic script to introduce extra characters to better represent Turkish vowels.[2]

In 1926, the Turkic republics of the Soviet Union adopted the Latin script, giving a major boost to reformers in Turkey.[1]


Atatürk introducing the new Turkish alphabet to the people of Kayseri, September 20, 1928

Ottoman Turkish script was replaced by the Latin-based new Turkish alphabet, whose use became compulsory in all public communications in 1929.[3][4] The change was formalized by the Law on the Adoption and Implementation of the Turkish Alphabet,[5] passed on November 1, 1928, and effective on January 1, 1929.[6]


As with Arabic and Persian, texts in the Ottoman Turkish alphabet are written right-to-left. The appearance of a letter changes depending on its position in a word:

  • isolated (in a one-letter word);
  • final (in which case it is joined on the right to the preceding letter);
  • medial (joined on both sides); and
  • initial (joined on the left to the following letter).

Some letters cannot be joined to the left and do therefore not possess separate medial and initial forms; in medial position the final form is used, and in initial position the isolated form is used.

Isolated Final Medial Initial Name Modern Turkish ALA-LC[7] IPA[8]
ا ـا elif a, e —, ā, ' æ, e, —, (ʔ)
ء hemze —, ' —, ' —, (ʔ)
ب ـب ـبـ بـ be b (p) b b (p)
پ ـپ ـپـ پـ pe p p p
ت ـت ـتـ تـ te t t t
ث ـث ـثـ ثـ se s s s
ج ـج ـجـ جـ cim c c d͡ʒ
چ ـچ ـچـ چـ çim ç ç t͡ʃ
ح ـح ـحـ حـ ha h h
خ ـخ ـخـ خـ h h
د ـد dal d d d
ذ ـذ zel z z z
ر ـر re r r ɾ
ز ـز ze z z z
ژ ـژ je j j ʒ
س ـس ـسـ سـ sin s s s
ش ـش ـشـ شـ şın ş ș ʃ
ص ـص ـصـ صـ sad s s
ض ـض ـضـ ضـ dad d, z ż z (d)
ط ـط ـطـ طـ t t d
ظ ـظ ـظـ ظـ z z
ع ـع ـعـ عـ ayn ', — —, ʔ
غ ـغ ـغـ غـ gayn g, ğ, v ġ ɡ, ɣ, v, ː
ف ـف ـفـ فـ fe f f f
ق ـق ـقـ قـ kaf k k
ك ـك ـكـ كـ kef k, g, ğ, n, y k k, g, n, (j), —
گ ـگ ـگـ گـ gef (1) g, ğ g ɡ, —
ڭ ـڭ ـڭـ ڭـ nef, sağır kef (1) n ñ ŋ
ل ـل ـلـ لـ lam l l l
م ـم ـمـ مـ mim m m m
ن ـن ـنـ نـ nun n n n
و ـو vav v, o, ö, u, ü v, ū, aw, avv, ūv v, o, œ, u, y
ه ـه ـهـ هـ he h, e, a h (2) h, æ, e, (t)
ی ـی ـیـ یـ ye y, ı, i y, ī, ay, á, īy j, ɯ, i

Sound-letter correspondence[edit]

The orthography of Ottoman Turkish is complex, as many Turkish sounds can be written with several different letters; for example, the phoneme /s/ can be written as <ث>, <س>, or <ص>. Conversely, some letters have more than one value: <ك> k may be /k/, /g/, /n/, /j/, or /ː/ (lengthening the preceding vowel; modern ğ), and vowels are either unwritten or ambiguously written. Thus, for example, the text <كورك> kwrk can be read as /gevrek/ 'biscuit', /kyrk/ 'fur', /kyrek/ 'shovel', /kœryk/ 'bellows', /gœrek/ 'view', which in modern orthography are written gevrek, kürk, kürek, körük, görek.[8][9]

Arabic and Persian borrowings are written in their original orthography, thus saːbit 'firm' is written as <ثابت> s̱’bt, with <ث> representing /s/ (in Arabic, /θ/), and <ا> representing /aː/ as in Arabic, but with no indication of the short /i/. The letters ث ح ذ ض ظ ع are only found in borrowings from Arabic; چ only in borrowings from Persian and French. Although the Arabic vowel points (harakat) can be used <ثَابِت> s̱a’bit, they are generally only found in dictionaries and didactic works, as in Arabic and Persian,[8] and still do not identify vowel sounds unambiguously.

Consonant letters are classified in three series, based on vowel harmony: soft, hard, and neutral. The soft consonant letters, ت س ك گ ه, are found in front vowel contexts; the hard, ح خ ص ض ط ظ ع غ ق, in back vowel contexts; and the neutral, ب پ ث ج چ د ذ ر ز ژ ش ف ل م ن, in either. In Perso-Arabic borrowings, the vowel used in Turkish depends on the softness of the consonant. Thus, <كلب> klb 'dog' (Arabic /kalb/) is /kelb/, while <قلب> ḳlb 'heart' (Arabic /qalb/) is /kalb/. Conversely, in Turkish words, the choice of consonant reflects the native vowel.[8]

Phoneme /t/ /d/ /s/ /z/ /k/, /g/ /h/
Soft (front) ت س ك گ ه
Hard (back) ط ط ض ص ض ظ غ ق ح خ
Neutral د ث ذ ز

(All other sounds are only written with neutral consonant letters.)

In Turkish words, vowels are sometimes written using the vowel letters as the second letter of a syllable: elif <ا> for /a/; ye <ی> for /i/, /ɯ/; vav <و> for /o/, /œ/, /u/, /y/; he <ه> for /a/, /e/. The corresponding harakat are: ustun <َ○> (Arabic fatḥah) for /a/, /e/; esre <ِ○> (Arabic kasrah) for /ɯ/, /i/; ötre <ُ○> (Arabic ḍammah) for /o/, /œ/, /u/, /y/. The names of the harakat are also used for the corresponding vowels.[8]

Name Arabic name Point Letter Front reading Back reading
ustun fatḥah َ○ ا elif
ه he
/e/ /a/
esre kasrah ِ○ ی ye /i/ /ɯ/
ötre ḍammah ُ○ و vav /œ/, /y/ /o/, /u/

Other scripts[edit]

Other scripts were sometimes used by non-Muslims to write Ottoman Turkish, since the Arabic alphabet was identified with Islam.

The first novel to be written in the Ottoman Empire was Akabi (1851), written in the Armenian script by Vartan Pasha. Similarly, when the Armenian Duzian family managed the Ottoman mint during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid I (r. 1839–61), they kept records in Ottoman Turkish, written in the Armenian script.[10]

The Greek alphabet and the Rashi script of Hebrew were used by Greeks and Jews for Ottoman. Conversely, Greek-speaking Muslims would write Greek using the Ottoman Turkish script.


  1. In most texts, kef, gef, and sağır kef are written identically,[8] although one Ottoman variant of gef has a "mini-kaf" of as well as the doubled upper stroke of گ.
  2. The Library of Congress recommends he (هـ‎) in a word in the construct state be romanized t and when a word ending in he is used adverbially, it should be romanized tan.


Ottoman Turkish used the Eastern Arabic numerals. The following is the list of basic cardinal numerals with their spelling in the modern Turkish alphabet.

Arabic form Number Ottoman Turkish[11] Modern Turkish
٠ 0
۱ 1
۲ 2
٣ 3
٤ 4
۵ 5
٦ 6
٧ 7
٨ 8
٩ 9
۱٠ 10


  1. ^ a b c Zürcher, Erik Jan. Turkey: a modern history, p. 188. I.B.Tauris, 2004. ISBN 978-1-85043-399-6
  2. ^ Gürçağlar, Şehnaz Tahir. The politics and poetics of translation in Turkey, 1923-1960, pp. 53-54. Rodopi, 2008. ISBN 978-90-420-2329-1
  3. ^ Dil Derneği, Yazım Kılavuzu, 2002 (the writing guide of the Turkish language)
  4. ^ Nationalist Notes, Time, July 23, 1928
  5. ^ "Tūrk Harflerinin Kabul ve Tatbiki Hakkında Kanun" [Acceptance and Application of Turkish Letters LAW] (in Turkish). Retrieved January 14, 2012. 
  6. ^ Erik Jan Zürcher (2004), Turkey: a Modern History, pages 188–9. ISBN 978-1-85043-399-6
  7. ^ Ottoman script PDF (166 KB), Library of Congress. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d e f V. H. Hagopian, Ottoman-Turkish Conversation-Grammar, London and Heidelberg, 1907, p. 1-25 full text
  9. ^ Diran Kélékian, Dictionnaire Turc-Français, Constantinople/استانبول, 1911
  10. ^ Mansel, Philip (2011). Constantinople. Hachette UK. ISBN 1848546475. 
  11. ^

External links[edit]