Ottoman language

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Ottoman Turkish
تركچه Türkçe
لسان عثمانى lisân-ı Osmânî

Spoken in

Ottoman Empire
Official status
Official language in Ottoman Empire and Turkey until the writing reform in 1928, with which the transition to modern Turkish began
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Inscription (hitabe) on the former Meçite mosque in Gjirokastra , Albania

The Ottoman Turkish (also Turkey-Turkish , Turkish Ottoman Türkçesi , proper nameتركچه Türkçe andتركی Türkî , from the Tanzimat with the rise of Ottomanism لسان عثمانى lisân-i Osmânî orعثمانلیجه Osmanlıca ) was the form of the Turkish language that was used for administrative and literary purposes in the Ottoman Empire . Ottoman is based on Anatolian Turkish ( Oghuz ) and took on Arabic and Persian elements to an increasing extent towards the end of the 15th century. Ottoman Turkish was the official and literary language of the Ottoman Empire, which developed in Anatolia after this region was settled by Turks ( Oghusen ) from the 11th century , and is a variety of Western Oghuz .

The use of the dynastic and political term "Ottoman" for the official language of the Ottoman state was one of the innovations during the reform period ( Tanzimat ) from the middle of the 19th century, when the state as the basis of a modernized Ottoman state in the population felt a tried to promote common Ottoman identity.



  • Nominative and indefinite accusative: endless (كول göl , German “the lake” , “a lake”;چوربه çorba , German for soup ;كيجه gėce , German for night );طاوشان كتورمش ṭavşa n getürmiş , German 'He brought a rabbit'
  • Genitive : answer to the questionكمڭ kimiñ , German 'whose?' ; the genitive ending isڭ -iñ , -ıñ , -uñ , -üñ , the connective consonant -n- is added after the vowel; E.g.:پاشا paşa , German 'the pasha' ,پاشانڭ paşanıñ , German 'des Paschas '
  • Dative : answer to the questionنره يه nereye , German 'where to?' / kime 'whom?' ; the dative ending is or. ه -e , -a , e.g .:كوز göz , German 'the eye' ,كوزه göze , German '(to) the eye' ; the connective consonant occurs after the vowelى added, e.g .: خواجه ḫoca , German 'der Hodscha' ,خواجه يه ḫocaya , German '(to) the Hodscha'
  • specific accusative : answer to the questionsكمى kimi , German 'who?' andنه يى neyi , German 'what?' ; the accusative ending isى -i , ; the additional accusative endings -u and as in modern Turkish do not exist in Ottoman Turkish due to the lack of labial harmony in this case (see section vowel harmony ), e.g .:كولى göli , German for 'the lake' , not gölü as in modern Turkish;طاوشانى كتورمش ṭavşan ı getürmiş , German 'He brought the rabbit'
  • Locative : answer to the questionنره ده nerede , German 'where?' ; the locative ending isده -de and -da , the additional variants of the modern Turkish -te and -ta do not exist, e.g.مكتبده mektebde , German 'in school' ,قفصده ḳafeṣde , German 'in the cage' ,باشده başda , German 'at the head' , 'at the beginning',شهرده şehirde , German 'in the city'
  • Ablative : answer to the questionsنره دن nereden , German 'from where?' , ,where from?' andندن neden , German 'why?' ; the ending isدن -den , -dan . The variants -ten and -tan are also missing here . E.g.:اكمكدن ekmekden , German 'from bread' ,صباحدن ṣabāḥdan , German 'since morning'
  • Instrumentalis : answer to the questionنه ايله ne ile , German 'what with?' ; the ending isايله ile ; after the consonant the -i- sound is usually omitted, the ending is then -le or -la, depending on the vowel harmony له; E.g.:خلق ايله halk ileخلقله halkla , German 'with the people' ,اشم ايله eşim ileاشمله eşimle , German 'with my partner' ; When writing together after a vowel, only the Elif is omitted, the -y- is retained:اميدى ايله ümidi ileاميديله ümidiyle , German 'with hope' ,عربه ايله araba ileعربه يله arabayla , German 'with the car' ; is an older instrumental ending that can still be found todayلن -len / -lan ; other older forms areبرله birle ,بيله bile ,برلن birling and an archaic form -in / -ın, which occurs very rarely in older texts and today ين/ن; z. B.يازن yazın , German 'in the summer' / 'with the summer',كلمكسزن gelmeksizin , German 'without coming' ,خواجه اولمغن hoca olmağın , German 'because he was Hodscha ' / 'with being Hodscha'

Vowel harmony

As in almost all Turkic languages , the palatal vowel harmony applies in Ottoman and modern Turkish . The Palatalharmonie states that after a light vowel (e, i, ö, ü) only a light vowel can follow, after a dark vowel (a, ı, o, u) only a dark one.

The labial vowel harmony (labial harmony), raised to the rule in modern Turkish, was often not used in Ottoman Turkish. The labial harmony states that after a light round vowel (ö, ü) only a closed round light vowel (ü) can follow. A dark round vowel (o, u) is followed by the closed dark round vowel (u). After a light broad vowel (e, i) follows a closed light broad vowel (i), after a dark broad vowel (a, ı) follows a closed dark broad one (ı). Examples:ايو eyü , today iyi 'good' ;قاپو ḳapu , today kapı 'door' ;كوپرى köpri , today köprü 'bridge' ;آيو ayu , today ayı 'bear' ;كلُر gelür , today gelir 'he is coming' ;كرو gerü , today geri 'back' ;ييدُڭ yėdüñ , today yedin 'you ate' ;اناطولى Anaṭolı , today Anadolu 'Anatolia' .

For the practice of the spoken language, however, it should be noted that Ottoman Turkish had a historical orthography, which means that the actual pronunciation could differ from the script. Indeed, during the Ottoman period, the cultivated Istanbul pronunciation resulted in strict adherence to the palatal and labial harmony, which became the orthographic rule with the introduction of Latin script. This difference between Ottoman and modern Turkish should not be misunderstood to mean that the pronunciation would have changed with the transition from Ottoman to modern Turkish.

Consonant harmony

As in modern Turkish, clasics become voiceless at the end :ت t ,ك k ,ق ( final hardening ). When they are followed by a vowel, they are converted into their voiced counterparts. Outت t willد d , offك k willكwith pronunciation ğ , fromق willغ ġ . Examples: from the t in the infinitiveكتمك gitmek , German ' to go' becomes d in a bent form with the following vowelكيدر gider , German 'he goes' ; the k inبويك büyük , German , tall ' is to ð with bent form at the following vowelبويكم büyüğüm , German 'I am tall' .

Language levels

In practical terms, there were (at least) three variants of the Ottoman language:

  • Fasih Türkçe 'Eloquentes Turkish' : language of administration and poetry ,
  • Orta Türkçe 'Middle Turkish' : language of commerce and the upper class,
  • Kaba Türkçe 'Vulgar Turkish' : Language of the lower classes .

The respective variants were selected depending on the social context: For example, one writer used the Arabic asel  /عسل / 'Honey'; but at the market he asked with the Turkishبال soon after.


Inscription on the historic Melek Pasha fountain in Chios , Greece


The Ottoman language can be divided into three stages of development:

  • Eski Osmanlıca 'Old Ottoman' : Spoken until the 16th century. It was almost identical to theTurkish usedby the Seljuks and is considered part of the Eski Anadolu Türkçesi 'Old Anatolian Turkish' .
  • Orta Osmanlıca 'Middle Ottoman' or Klasik Osmanlıca 'Classical Ottoman' : Language of poetry and administration from the 16th century to the Tanzimat reforms.
  • Yeni Osmanlıca 'New Ottoman' : A variant developed from the 1850s to the 20th century, which emerged under the influence of the growing print media and western literature.

Language reform

The replacement of Ottoman Turkish with modern Turkish for official purposes was a result of the Ottoman defeat in World War I that resulted in the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. As part of his far-reaching political reforms, President Ataturk initiated a writing reform in 1928 that replaced the previously used Arabic alphabet with a Latin writing system . In the 1930s the Türk Dil Kurumu was founded, whose task, among other things, was to remove numerous Arabic and Persian loan words from Turkish and to promote popular Turkish. However, some Arabic and Persian loanwords are still in use alongside their synonyms with Turkish roots:

German Ottoman Modern Turkish
Arabic Turkish Persian
necessary واجب vâcib واجب vajib zorunlu
laborious, difficult مشکل muscular مشکل muškil güç, zor
city شهر şehir kent شهر šahr

The last example shows, by the way, that the language reform could also produce paradoxical results. For example, kent is a word that was already used in Old Turkish and is therefore "Original Turkish", but it is also a loan word in Old Turkish from the Sogdian language , where it was used in city names such as Marakanda (= Samarkand ) is occupied. There is also a separate word for 'city' in Old Turkish, namely balïq , but this is a homonym to the very common Turkish word balık 'fish' and would therefore not have been clear.

Ottoman and modern Turkish

An exact dividing line between Ottoman and modern Turkish cannot be drawn. Ottoman is based on Anatolian Turkish ( Oghuz ) and incorporated Arabic and Persian elements towards the end of the 15th century. This includes vocabulary, formants and grammatical structures of Arabic and Persian. Almost without exception, these formants are applied to adopted Arabic and Persian words; only Arabic and Persian vocabulary is used in the Persian and Arabic grammatical structures. It also happens that Arabic and Persian sentences appear embedded in the Ottoman-Turkish sentence structure. Basically, formants and constructs from Arabic are used exclusively with Arabic vocabulary, those from Persian with vocabulary of Arabic and Persian origin. There are no vocabulary restrictions on the use of genuine Turkish formants and constructs. Exceptions are the 'famous mistakes' (غلط مشهور ġalaṭ-ı meşhūr ).

A category of such 'famous mistakes' is formed by the fact that Turkish words are involved in an Izafet connection. The izafet, adopted from Persian, is used in Ottoman to connect genitive and adjective attributes with a noun, whereby the vocabulary involved in the connection consists exclusively of adopted Arabic and Persian words. An example of such a 'famous mistake' is that with the Turkish wordدونانمه donanma formed constructدونانمه همايون donanma-yı hümāyūn , German 'grand glorious fleet' , the official name of the Ottoman Navy .

The script reform of 1928 replaced the Arabic script with the Latin one. The establishment of the Türk Dil Kurumu in the 1930s, whose duties included removing Arabic and Persian elements from Turkish, brought about only a slow change in the Turkish language. Up until the beginning of this century, the language of law in Turkey was dominated by an Ottoman style with plenty of Arabic vocabulary. It looks similar in religious texts. Arabic words and phrases are still widely used in Turkish religious speeches today. In everyday language, however, the language has changed to such an extent that today's generations hardly understand Ottoman texts from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century in Latin script. This also applies to texts from the 1930s to the 1960s after the font reform.

One consequence of the language reform was that with the removal of Arabic and Persian loanwords, the izafet construction also became obsolete. As an example, fate was used in Ottoman by means of the izafetتقديرِ إله takdîr-i ilâhî expressed (literally: 'the predestination of the divine', i.e. 'divine providence'). Modern Turkish, on the other hand, exclusively uses the construction with the adjective ilahî takdir, which is also present in Ottoman .

Few words formerly formed with İzafet have now become naturalized as independent vocabulary. These are aynı ('equal'), bazı ('some'), gayri ('un-'). These words are forms of Arabic vocabulary merged with the İzafet endingعين ʿAyn , German 'self, original' ,بعض baʿḍ , German 'part' andغير ġayr , German 'the other, not, un-' . Examples of former education in Turkish using İzafet:عين كونده ʿAyn-ı would be , today aynı would be 'on the same day' ,بعض يرلرده baʿż-ı yerlerde , today bazı yerlerde 'in some places' ,غير شكلده ġayr-ı şekilde , today gayrı şekilde 'in another form' , 'in shape '.


Ottoman was written in Arabic script (الفبا elifbâ ). There is also evidence that Ottoman was written in the Armenian alphabet : Akabi, for example, was published in Armenian by Vartan Paşa in 1851 . Even when the Armenian Düzoğlu family had the treasury of the empire under them during the rule of Sultan Abdülmecid I , the files were kept in Ottoman but in Armenian script. Other scripts, such as the Greek alphabet or the Hebrew script , were used by non-Muslim groups in the empire; a significant example of this are the writings of the Karamanlı , an ethnic group that spoke a dialect of Turkish, was Christian and wrote in Greek. Greek Muslims, on the other hand, wrote the Greek language in the Ottoman script.


In addition to the Arabic letters, the four letters introduced by the Persians were added pe , çim , German 'Tsche' , gef , German 'Gāf' and je , German 'Že' used. The letter ñef in Ottoman was introduced by the Ottomans themselves. gef and ñef rarely appear in manuscripts and rarely in printed texts, since in the first case the diacritical bar and in the other case the diacritical points are simply left out. The ever occurs only in non-Arabic foreign words, e.g. B.اژدر ejder , German 'dragon' ,ژورنال jurnal , German 'magazine' .

isolated End position Middle position Starting position Surname DMG translation EI2 translation İA translation Modern Turkish Numerical value
ا ـا ـا ا elif ʾ / ā ʾ / ā ʾ / ā e, a 1
ب ـب ـبـ بـ be b b b b, p 2
پ ـپ ـپـ پـ pe p p p p -
ت ـت ـتـ تـ te t t t t 400
ث ـث ـثـ ثـ s̲e ṯ, s th s s 500
ج ـج ـجـ جـ cīm ǧ dj c c, ç 3
چ ـچ ـچـ چـ çīm č č ç ç -
ح ـح ـحـ حـ Ha H H H H 8th
خ ـخ ـخـ خـ Hi H kh H H 600
د ـد ـد د dāl d d d d, t 4th
ذ ـذ ـذ ذ ẕāl ḏ, ẕ ie z 700
ر ـر ـر ر re r r r r 200
ز ـز ـز ز ze z z z z 7th
ژ ـژ ـژ ژ ever ž zh j j -
س ـس ـسـ سـ sīn s s s s 60
ش ـش ـشـ شـ şīn š sh ş ş 300
ص ـص ـصـ صـ ṣād ṣ, s s 90
ض ـض ـضـ ضـ żād ḍ, ż ż d, z 800
ط ـط ـطـ طـ ṭāʾ ṭ, t, d t, d 9
ظ ـظ ـظـ ظـ ẓāʾ z 900
ع ـع ـعـ عـ ʿAyn ʿ ʿ ʿ - 70
غ ـغ ـغـ غـ ġayn G gh G g, ğ 1000
ف ـف ـفـ فـ fe f f f f 80
ق ـق ـقـ قـ ḳāf q k 100
ك ـك ـكـ كـ kef k, g, ŋ, j k, g, ñ k, g, ñ, ğ k, g, n, ğ 20th
گ ـگ ـگـ گـ gef, kāf-ı fārsī G G G g, ğ -
ڭ ـڭ ـڭـ ڭـ ñef, kāf-ı nūnī, sağır kef ŋ ñ ñ n -
ل ـل ـلـ لـ lām l l l l 30th
م ـم ـمـ مـ mīm m m m m 40
ن ـن ـنـ نـ now n n n n 50
و ـو ـو و vāv w w v v 6th
ه ـه ـهـ هـ hey H H H H 5
ی ـی ـیـ یـ ye y y y y 10


The German Oriental Society (DMG) presented transliterations of Arabic script for Arabic, Persian and Turkish-language texts at the 19th International Orientalist Congress in Leipzig in 1935 . Transliteration for Arabic-language texts became the DIN 31635 standard in 1936 .

In the case of Turkish there is no standard, but there is a quasi-standard for transliteration (İA) and one for transcription (New Redhouse). For the transliteration of Turkish texts, the transliteration of İslâm Ansiklopedisi (İA) from 1940 has prevailed instead of the DMG transliteration , which is used almost everywhere today. In addition to the İA and DMG transliterations, there is also the transliteration of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (EI2). This transliteration is only valid in English-speaking countries and only for Persian and Arabic texts.

The New Redhouse , Karl Steuerwald and Ferit Devellioğlu are the standard for transcription (pronunciation-based transcription) . Knowledge of the pronunciation in Turkish is essential for pronunciation-based transcription. The problem is with the words of Arabic and Persian origin, because they are written in Ottoman Turkish as in the original, with a few exceptions, but pronounced according to the Turkish phonetic relationships, so that there can be differences between the transliteration and the transcription. On the example ofضعيف The transliteration żaʿīf is 'weak' , while the transcription (pronunciation) is zayıf . The above table lists the standard translation of the İA and the current spelling according to New Redhouse, which can be helpful for a transcription of whole words.

Vowels and special characters

Also, the vowel ( hareke , pl. Harekat ) and additional characters of the Arabic alphabet were used (eg. B. Hamza / hemze , fatha / üstün , kasra / Kesre etc.) The handwriting was done by ligatures , d. H. Letters were not necessarily on a writing line, but on top of each other, and that too lam-elif belongs to the ligatures. Borrowed words were written as they were in the original with no adaptation to the Turkish pronunciation. Turkish words, on the other hand, were written in two ways: one mimicked the Arabic writing tradition and used vowel characters (harekat) where possible. The other went back to the Uighur writing tradition and did not use any Arabic vowel characters. Vowels were made using the letters only, and and their combination. Other scribes used mixed forms, so in Ottoman sources there are also words to be found that express their vowels through both harekat and the consonant combinations mentioned.

Vowel and additional characters are not part of the alphabet. The following table illustrates them:

character Surname Transliteration Modern Turkish
hemze Vowel sound Vowel sound
َ üstün i / a i / a
ِ kesre / esre i / ı i / ı
ُ ötre / ötüre ü / u / ö / o ü / u / ö / o
ّ teşdīd / şedde doubling doubling
ْ sükūn Vowellessness Vowellessness
آ medde shown
here with a carrying elif
- a
ـٌ tenvīn (nom.) -un / -un -un / -un
ـٍ tenvīn (Gen.) -in -in
ـً tenvīn (acc.) -en / -an -en / -an

There is also the connection sign Vaṣle , which occurs in Ottoman texts only for words or groups of words originating from Arabic.

The vowel signs üstün , kesre and ötre represent short vowels, while, , to represent long vowels.

Whether the short vowels are pronounced light / palatal (e, i, ö, ü) or dark / velar (a, ı, o, u) depends on the consonants surrounding them. The consonants, , , , , , , , transform the vowel into a dark one, the other consonants are with a light vowel.


Numbers were written with Arabic numerals. In contrast to characters, numerals are written from left to right. Unlike the script, the numeric characters are not connected to one another and are attached to one another in the system of ten. The following table shows all digits, as an example of the composition of the number 10 and their names in Turkish and modern Turkish:

Digit Ottoman Modern Turkish German
۰ صفر ṣıfır sıfır zero
۱ بر bir bir one
۲ ايكى iki iki two
۳ اوچ üç üç three
٤ دورت dör dör four
٥ بش beş beş five
Digit Ottoman Modern Turkish German
٦ آلتى altı altı six
٧ يدى yedi yedi seven
٨ سكز sekiz sekiz eight
٩ طقوز ṭoḳuz docuz nine
۱۰ اون on on ten

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Lars Johanson, Éva Csató: The Turkic languages. P. 82 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  2. ^ Klaus Kreiser, Christoph Neumann: Small history of Turkey. 2009, p. 21. Quotation: "[...] the language group of Southwest Turkish (including Turkmen, Azerbaijani, Ottoman = >> Turkey-Turkish <<) [...]".
  3. Edith G. Ambros, PA Andrews, Çiğdem Balim, L. Bazin, J. Cler, Peter B. Golden, Altan Gökalp, Barbara Flemming, G. Haza, AT Karamustafa, Sigrid Kleinmichel, P. Zieme, Erik Jan Zürcher: Articles Turks. In: Encyclopaedia of Islam . Brill, digital edition, Section II.i Languages ​​- Introduction . Quote: “ […] The use of the term Turkic for the entire language family, while reserving the term Turkish for the idiom spoken in the area occupied by the Ottoman Empire […] and Turkey, is a contemporary development […] ”.
  4. ^ Margarete I. Ersen-Rasch: Turkish grammar. For beginners and advanced. P. 1 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  5. Celia Kerslake: Ottoman Turkish. In: Lars Johanson, Éva Csató (Ed.): The Turkic languages. P. 180.
  6. Korkut Buğday: Ottoman. P. Xvii.
  7. Celia Kerslake: Ottoman Turkish. In: Lars Johanson, Éva Csató (Ed.): The Turkic languages. P. 179.
  8. Celia Kerslake: Ottoman Turkish. In: Lars Johanson, Éva Csató (Ed.): The Turkic languages. P. 180.
  9. Korkut Buğday: Ottoman. P. 34.
  10. Korkut Buğday: Ottoman. P. 19.
  11. Türk Dil Kurumu: Osmanlıcadan Türkçeye Cep Kılavuzu. Türk Dil Kurumu Yayınları, Ankara 2017, ISBN 978-975-16-3356-9 , p. 237
  12. Annemarie von Gabain : Old Turkish grammar. 1950, Glossary, p. 313.
  13. See word lists in Annemarie von Gabain: Chapter 17: Irano-Turkish Relations in the Late Sasanian Period. P. 617 ff. Passim, there P. 623, in: Ehsan Yarshater (Ed.): The Cambridge History of Iran. Vol. 3: Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods. Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  14. Korkut Buğday: Ottoman. P. xvii, P. xviii, P. 69.
  15. Transcription Commission of the DMG (Ed.): The transliteration of the Arabic script in its application to the main literary languages ​​of the Islamic world . Leipzig 1935, p. 9 ( [PDF; 1.3 MB ]).
  16. Korkut Buğday: Ottoman. P. 2.
  17. Korkut Buğday: Ottoman. P. 13.
  18. Korkut Buğday: Ottoman. P. 12.


  • Geoffrey Lewis: The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success . (English, Caution: The Turkish parts of the text in this text often contain misspellings and confused letters).
  • Carl Brockelmann, August Fischer, W. Heffening, Franz Taeschner, Ph. S. van Ronkel (contributions), Otto Spies (contributions): The transliteration of Arabic script in its application to the main literary languages ​​of the Islamic world. Memorandum presented to the 19th International Congress of Orientalists in Rome by the Transcription Commission of the DMG (German Oriental Society) . DMG on commission from FA Brockhaus, Leipzig 1935 ( [PDF; 1,3 MB ]).
  • Korkut Buğday: Ottoman. Introduction to the basics of literary language . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1999, ISBN 3-447-04154-4 .

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