What are the Languages Spoken in Turkey?

The majority language there is Turkish, which is designated as the country’s official language by its Constitution. 85-90% of the Turkish population speaks it as their mother tongue, and it is used by the government, in schools, by the media, and by most citizens in their everyday lives.

While Turkish is one of the hardest languages to learn and the official language of Turkey, the country also has more than 30 minority, immigrant and foreign languages. After Turkish, Kurdish, Zazaki, and Arabic are the most spoken languages. Below we examine each of these, along with Turkey’s other languages.

In Turkey, language can be a controversial subject. According to the Turkish Constitution, Turkish is not only the country’s only official language, but its 42nd Article also expressly prohibits any education or training institution from teaching to Turkish citizens any language that is not Turkish.

Students may, however, elect minorities language courses. Even so, there are many minority, foreign, and immigrant languages in Turkey. Minority languages such as these are recognized in law, while others (with greater numbers of speakers) remain unrecognized in official terms, largely due to Article 42 of the Constitution.

As a result, many ethnic minorities in Turkey are unable to use their native languages as freely as they would like. Think for a moment about the three million Kurdish speakers in Turkey who speak only Kurdish, and the issue quickly becomes apparent.

What is the population of Turkish speakers? There are over 66 million in total. Kurdish is Turkey’s second most spoken language, followed by Arabic and Zazaki. Turkey’s minorities and other language groups are broken down by the population’s proficiency in each language as follows:

1 – Kurmanji

Eight million people in Turkey speak Kurmanji, also known as Northern Kurdish. It is the northern dialect of Kurdish dialect that dates back at least to the 16th century. About three million Turkish residents are monolingual Kurmanji speakers, which means that they do not speak Turkish as their mother tongue. Due to the country’s requirement that no education or training be given in languages other than Turkish, this can create problems.

2 – Zazaki

The Zazas of Eastern Turkey speak Zazaki, also called Kirmanjki, Kirdki, Dimli and Zaza. It is an Indo-European language heavily influenced by Kurdish over the centuries, so much so that many linguists classify it as a Kurdish dialect. More than 1.7 million Zazaki speakers live in Turkey, divided between Southern Zazaki (1,5 million speakers) and Northern Zazaki (184,000 speakers).
Several Turkish universities have been allowed to open Zaza language and literature departments since 2012. Zazaki’s overall speaker numbers in Turkey have suffered from decades of linguistic repression.

3 – Ladino

Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, Judesmo, and Sephardi, is spoken by about 13,000 people in Turkey. There are laws protecting it (along with Greek and Armenian) thanks to the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923. Thus, the linguistic rights of the Jewish, Greek, and Armenian minorities are usually accorded greater recognition in Turkey than the rights of other minorities.
Ladino (and Greek and Armenian) have much lower speaker numbers than languages such as Kurmanji and Arabic.

The Ladino language originated in Spain from an archaic form of Castilian Spanish. The Jews of Spain were expelled from the country after 1492, taking with them Ladino. Hebrew and Aramaic, Arabic, Turkish, Greek and more have been absorbed over the years.

4 – Greek

Furthermore, Greek speakers in Turkey enjoy legal protection of their communication, as the Treaty of Lausanne recognizes Greek as an official language of the country. There are fewer than 10,000 Greek speakers in modern-day Turkey. Pontic Greek (5,000 speakers) and Standard Modern Greek (3600 speakers) are the main dialects spoken there.

5 – Armenian

A second Turkic language for which legal protection has been granted is Armenian. 61,000 Armenian speakers live in Turkey, but the numbers are dwindling. In Turkey, Armenian is primarily an Istanbul language. The vast majority of its speakers – around 50,000 – live in and around Istanbul (which is Turkey’s largest city and home to 15 million people).

The Armenian language and identity were largely hidden within what is now the Republic of Turkey for many years. As a result of the ethnic cleansing of World War I, 1.5 million Armenians were killed or displaced. For many years, the Armenian language in Turkey remained a hidden tongue.

The different languages are also spoken in Turkey after the above five languages. Some of them are Arabic, Balkan languages, Circassian languages, Caucasian languages, West European languages, Jewish languages and Coptic

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