Ottoman Turkish language

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Ottoman Turkish
لسان عثمانىlisân-ı Osmânî
Region Ottoman Empire
Era Reformed into Modern Turkish in 1928[citation needed]
Early forms
Old Anatolian Turkish
  • Ottoman Turkish
Ottoman Turkish alphabet
Official status
Official language in
Cretan State
Khedivate of Egypt
Ottoman Empire
Provisional National Government of the Southwestern Caucasus
Provisional Government of Western Thrace
Turkish Provisional Government
Language codes
ISO 639-2 ota
ISO 639-3 ota
Linguist list
Glottolog None

Ottoman Turkish /ˈɒtəmən/, or the Ottoman language (لسان عثمانىLisân-ı Osmânî) (also known as تركچهTürkçe or تركیTürkî, "Turkish"), is the variety of the Turkish language that was used in the Ottoman Empire. It borrows, in all aspects, extensively from Arabic and Persian, and was written in the Ottoman Turkish alphabet. During the peak of Ottoman power, Persian and Arabic vocabulary accounted for up to 88% of its vocabulary,[1] while words of Arabic origins heavily outnumbered native Turkish words.[2] Consequently, Ottoman Turkish was largely unintelligible to the less-educated lower-class and rural Turks, who continued to use kaba Türkçe ("raw Turkish"), which used far fewer foreign loanwords and which is the basis of the modern Turkish language.[3] The Tanzimât era saw the application of the term "Ottoman" when referring to the language (لسان عثمانیlisân-ı Osmânî or عثمانلوجهOsmanlıca) and the same distinction is made in Modern Turkish (Osmanlıca and Osmanlı Türkçesi).


A poem about Rumi in Ottoman Turkish.


  • Nominative case: كولgöl ("the lake", "a lake"), چوربهçorba ("Chorba"), كيجهgece ("night").[4]
  • Accusative case (indefinite): طاوشان كتورمشṭavşan getirmiş ("he brought a rabbit").
  • Genitive case: answers the question كمڭkimiñ ("whose?"), formed with the suffix ڭ–ıñ, –iñ, –uñ, –üñ. E.g. پاشانڭpaşanıñ ("the pasha's") from پاشاpaşa ("pasha").
  • Accusative case (definite): answers the question كمىkimi ("whom?") and نه يىneyi ("what?"), formed with the suffix ى–ı, -i. E.g. طاوشانى كتورمشṭavşanı getürmiş ("he brought the rabbit"). The variant suffix –u, –ü does not occur in Ottoman Turkish as it does in Modern Turkish due to the lack of labial vowel harmony. Thus, كولىgöli ("the lake".ACC) where Modern Turkish has gölü.
  • Locative case: answers the question نره دهnerede ("where?"), formed with the suffix ده–de, –da. E.g. مكتبدهmektebde ("at school"), قفصدهḳafeṣde ("in a cage"), باشدهbaşda ("at the start"), شهردهşehirde ("in town"). As with the indefinite accusative case, the variant suffix –te, –ta does not occur as it does in Modern Turkish.
  • Ablative case: answers the questions نره دنnereden ("from where?") and ندنneden ("why?").
  • Instrumental case: answers the question نه ايلهne ile ("with what?").


The conjugation for the aorist tense is as follows:

Person Singular Plural
1 -irim -iriz
2 -irsiŋ -irsiŋiz
3 -ir -irler


Ottoman Turkish was highly influenced by Persian and Arabic. At a point, Arabic and Persian words in the language amounted for up to 88% of its vocabulary, at a peak.[1] As in most other Turkic and other foreign 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.[5][6][7] 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. From the early ages of the Ottoman Empire, borrowings from Arabic and Persian were so abundant that original Turkish words were hard to find.[8] In Ottoman, one may find whole passages in Arabic and Persian incorporated into the text.[8] It was however not only extensive loaning of words, but along with them much of the grammatical systems of Persian and Arabic.[8]

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 the 16th century. It was almost identical with the Turkish used by Seljuks[clarification needed] and Anatolian beyliks, thus often regarded as part of Eski Anadolu Türkçesi (Old Anatolian Turkish).
  • Orta Osmanlı Türkçesi (Middle Ottoman Turkish) or Klasik Osmanlıca (Classical Ottoman Turkish): Language of poetry and administration from the 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 the 1850s to the 20th century under the influence of journalism and Western-oriented literature.

Language reform[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Turkish language.

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.

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. Rather the standard Turkish of today is essentially Türkiye Türkçesi (Turkish of Turkey) as written in the Latin alphabet and with an abundance of neologisms added, which means there are now many fewer loan words from other languages. However, Ottoman was not transformed into the Turkish of today instantly. At first, it was only the script that was changed (many households, however, continued to use the Arabic system), then the loan words were taken out and then new words to fit the growing amount of technology were introduced. Up until the 1960s, Ottoman Turkish was at least partially intelligible with the Turkish of that day. 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").

Writing system[edit]

Calendar in Thessaloniki 1896, a cosmopolitan city; the first 3 lines in Ottoman script

Ottoman Turkish was primarily written in the Ottoman Turkish alphabet (elifbâ الفبا), a variant of the Perso-Arabic script. The Armenian, Greek, and Rashi script of Hebrew were also used by Armenians, Greeks, and Jews.



اون بر
on bir
اون ایکی
on iki


The transliteration system of the İslâm Ansiklopedisi has become a de facto standard in Oriental studies for the transliteration of Ottoman Turkish texts.[10] Concerning transcription the New Redhouse, Karl Steuerwald and Ferit Develioğlu dictionaries have become standard.[11] Another transliteration system is that of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (DMG). This provides a transliteration system for any Turkic language written in Arabic script.[12] There are not many differences between the İA and the DMG transliteration systems.

ب پ ت ث ج چ ح خ د ذ ر ز ژ س ش ص ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق
گ ڭ ل م ن و ه ی
ʾ a b p t c ç d r z j s ş ż ʿ ġ f q k g ñ ğ g ñ l m n v h y

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bertold Spuler. Persian Historiography & Geography Pustaka Nasional Pte Ltd ISBN 9971774887 p 69
  2. ^ [1] Ottomans
  3. ^ Glenny, Misha. The Balkans - Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999, Penguin, New York 2001. p. 99.
  4. ^ Some words in Ottoman Turkish were spelled with the Arabic ك which is normally pronounced as /k/, but were pronounced as /ɡ/.
  5. ^ 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.”
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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".
  8. ^ a b c Korkut Bugday. An Introduction to Literary Ottoman Routledge, 5 dec. 2014 ISBN 978-1134006557 p XV.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Korkut Buğday Osmanisch, p. 2
  11. ^ Korkut Buğday Osmanisch, p. 13
  12. ^ Transkriptionskommission der DMG Die Transliteration der arabischen Schrift in ihrer Anwendung auf die Hauptliteratursprachen der islamischen Welt, p. 9
  13. ^ Korkut Buğday Osmanisch, p. 2f.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]