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The Rich Tapestry of Languages Spoken in Turkey

All About Turkey and Languages

Let’s discover all the languages that are spoken in Turkey. Turkey, a land where East meets West, is not only celebrated for its vibrant culture and stunning landscapes but also for its linguistic diversity. With a rich historical heritage and a strategic geographical location, Turkey has become a melting pot of languages. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the fascinating world of languages spoken in Turkey, from Turkish as the dominant tongue to the lesser-known regional dialects and immigrant languages. 

As of 2023, Turkey’s population is over 85 million people, according to the World Bank. Turkey’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated to be over $906 billion in 2023, making it one of the largest economies in the Middle East and Europe, according to the World Bank. According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey, the country welcomed about 60 million tourists in 2023, showcasing the significance of Turkey as a tourist destination. In addition, UNESCO recognizes Turkish coffee culture and tradition as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Turkey.

Turkey is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia, with a smaller portion on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe. It is bordered by eight countries and has a coastline along four seas, including the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.

In total, it’s estimated that over 30 languages are spoken in Turkey. Some of the most prominent languages, in addition to Turkish, include Kurdish, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Laz, Georgian, Circassian, Syriac, Albanian, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Zazaki, and more. We will explore all the languages spoken in Turkey in this article. 

The Most Prominent Languages in Turkey

  1. Turkish: Approximately 99% of the population.
  2. Kurdish: Approximately 20% of the population.
  3. Arabic: About 1.4% of the population.
  4. Armenian: Around 0.1% of the population.
  5. Greek: Approximately 0.1% of the population.
  6. Laz: Roughly 0.03% of the population.
  7. Georgian: About 0.02% of the population.
  8. Circassian (Adyghe): Approximately 0.03% of the population.
  9. Syriac: Around 0.01% of the population.
  10. Albanian: About 0.01% of the population.
  11. Serbo-Croatian: Approximately 0.02% of the population.
  12. Bulgarian: Around 0.02% of the population.
  13. Zazaki: Roughly 0.01% of the population.
  14. Arabic Sign Language (used by the Deaf community): Estimated 200,000 individuals.
  15. Immigrant Languages (various, including English, Russian, French, etc.): Varied percentages depending on the immigrant communities.

Turkish: The Dominant Language

Turkish is the official language of Turkey, spoken by the majority of the population. Approximately 99% of the Turkish population speaks Turkish as their native language.

Some of the Most Prominent Regional Differences in Turkish Include:

There are significant differences in the Turkish language spoken in various regions of Turkey. While Turkish is the official language and remains consistent in its grammar and structure throughout the country, there are notable regional variations in accent, vocabulary, and pronunciation. These regional differences are often referred to as “Turkish dialects” or “Turkish accents.”

  1. Istanbul Turkish: The standard Turkish spoken in Istanbul is often considered the “neutral” accent and is closest to the official language used in media and education.
  2. Anatolian Turkish: In central Anatolia, including cities like Ankara and Konya, you’ll find accents and vocabulary that differ somewhat from Istanbul Turkish.
  3. Aegean Turkish: Along the Aegean coast, including cities like Izmir and Aydın, you may encounter distinct regional accents and variations in vocabulary.
  4. Southeastern Turkish: In the southeastern regions, such as Diyarbakır and Gaziantep, Kurdish and Arabic influences have led to unique regional accents and vocabulary.
  5. Black Sea Turkish: In the northern Black Sea region, including cities like Trabzon and Rize, you’ll find another distinct regional accent and vocabulary.
  6. Eastern Anatolian Turkish: In the eastern parts of Turkey, accents and vocabulary can vary significantly, with influences from Kurdish, Armenian, and other languages.

While these regional differences exist, speakers of Turkish from different regions can generally understand each other without much difficulty. However, the variations may be more pronounced in rural areas or among older generations. In urban and educated circles, the Istanbul Turkish dialect often serves as a common and standardized form of the language.

Kurdish: A Significant Minority Language

Kurdish is the second most widely spoken language in Turkey. It is estimated that around 20% of the population, primarily in southeastern Turkey, speaks Kurdish.

Arabic: The Influence of Islam

Arabic plays a significant role in Turkish society, especially among religious communities. About 1.4% of the population speaks Arabic, primarily as a second language for religious purposes.

Armenian: A Historical Heritage

Armenian is spoken by a small but vibrant Armenian community in Turkey. Approximately 0.1% of the population speaks Armenian.

Greek: A Link to the Past

Greek, or Rumca, is spoken in parts of Turkey, especially in Istanbul and along the Aegean coast. About 0.1% of the population speaks Greek.

Laz: A Unique Regional Language

Laz is a South Caucasian language spoken in the northeastern part of Turkey. It is estimated that around 0.03% of the population speaks Laz.

Georgian: A Language of the Black Sea

Georgian is spoken in Turkey, particularly in the northeastern region along the Black Sea. Approximately 0.02% of the population speaks Georgian.

Circassian: Preserving Ancestral Roots

Circassian, or Adyghe, is spoken by the Circassian diaspora in Turkey. An estimated 0.03% of the population speaks Circassian.

Syriac: A Minority Language with Ancient Roots

Syriac is spoken by the Syriac Christian community in southeastern Turkey. Approximately 0.01% of the population speaks Syriac.

Albanian: A Linguistic Connection

Albanian is spoken by a small community in Turkey, particularly in the Marmara region. Around 0.01% of the population speaks Albanian.

Serbo-Croatian: The Legacy of Immigrants

Serbo-Croatian is spoken by the Yugoslav diaspora in Turkey. An estimated 0.02% of the population speaks Serbo-Croatian.

Bulgarian: A Connection to the Past

Bulgarian is spoken by the Bulgarian diaspora in Turkey, especially in the Edirne region. Approximately 0.02% of the population speaks Bulgarian.

Zazaki: A Lesser-Known Language

Zazaki is a Northwestern Iranian language spoken by the Zaza people in eastern Turkey. Around 0.01% of the population speaks Zazaki.

Arabic Sign Language: A Unique Form of Communication

Arabic Sign Language is used by the Deaf community in Turkey. The Deaf community in Turkey is estimated to be around 200,000 people.

Other Immigrant Languages

Turkey’s strategic location has attracted immigrants from various countries, resulting in a diverse linguistic landscape that includes languages like Russian, French, and English. The immigrant population in Turkey speaks a multitude of languages, with English, Russian, and French being among the most widely spoken.

Turkish: The Heartbeat of Turkey

Turkish, often described as a member of the Turkic language family, serves not only as the official language but also as a cultural symbol and unifying force in Turkey. Its roots trace back to Central Asia, and it has undergone significant transformations throughout history, particularly due to Arabic and Persian influences.

The Turkish language underwent a comprehensive language reform under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of modern Turkey. This reform, known as the “language revolution,” aimed to simplify and modernize the language, replacing the Arabic script with the Latin alphabet in 1928.

Multilingual Istanbul: The City of Many Tongues

Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, is a true linguistic crossroads. While Turkish is the dominant language, the city is also home to significant communities of Kurdish, Arabic, Greek, and Armenian speakers. The linguistic diversity in Istanbul reflects its historical role as the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

Istanbul is one of the few cities in the world that spans two continents: Europe and Asia. This unique geographical position has contributed to its cosmopolitan character and linguistic variety.

Language Preservation Efforts: Safeguarding Heritage

Various minority languages, such as Syriac and Laz, face challenges in preserving their heritage. However, grassroots efforts and cultural organizations are actively working to document and revitalize these languages, ensuring they endure for future generations.

The Surayt (Syriac) Language and Culture Promotion Association, based in Mardin, Turkey, plays a vital role in preserving and promoting the Syriac language and culture through educational initiatives and events.

Education in Turkey

Turkey recognizes the importance of multilingualism and offers education in languages other than Turkish, especially in regions with significant minority populations. Kurdish language institutes and bilingual schools provide students with the opportunity to learn and maintain their native languages.

In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on bilingual education in Kurdish and Turkish, fostering greater cultural understanding and linguistic diversity.

What is a Business Language in Turkey?

The primary business language in Turkey is Turkish. Turkish is the official language of the country and is used for most business communication, including meetings, negotiations, contracts, and official documents.

However, it’s worth noting that in major urban centers like Istanbul and Ankara, where international business activities are more common, English is also widely used in the business world. Many business professionals in Turkey, especially those working in multinational companies or industries with international connections, have a good command of English.

In addition to Turkish and English, other languages may be useful in specific business contexts. For example, Arabic may be valuable when dealing with Middle Eastern partners, and knowledge of other European languages such as German or French can be beneficial for trade and partnerships with European countries.

The Future of Turkish Linguistics

As Turkey continues to evolve, so too will its linguistic landscape. While Turkish remains the dominant language, the coexistence of multiple languages enriches the cultural tapestry. This linguistic diversity not only shapes the nation’s identity but also fosters cultural exchange and international connections.

Turkish has made its mark in popular culture worldwide, with Turkish TV series, films, and music gaining popularity across borders. The global reach of Turkish pop culture has sparked interest in learning the language and exploring Turkey’s cultural heritage.

Popular Turkish Movies

  1. “Eşkıya” (The Bandit): Directed by Yavuz Turgul, this classic Turkish film tells the story of a retired gangster who returns to Istanbul after 35 years in prison.
  2. “Kelebeğin Rüyası” (The Butterfly’s Dream): A historical drama directed by Yılmaz Erdoğan, inspired by the lives of Turkish poets Rüştü Onur and Muzaffer Tayyip Uslaner.

  3. “G.O.R.A.”: A sci-fi comedy directed by Ömer Faruk Sorak, featuring popular comedian Cem Yılmaz. It’s known for its humor and references to popular culture.

  4. “Neredesin Firuze?” (Where Are You, Firuze?): A comedy film directed by Ezel Akay, starring Şener Şen and Ugur Yücel. It’s known for its humorous portrayal of everyday life in Istanbul.

  5. “Mustang”: Although a French film, “Mustang” is set in a Turkish village and deals with the struggles of five orphaned sisters trying to break free from traditional constraints.

Popular Turkish Dishes

  1. Kebabs: Turkey is famous for its various types of kebabs, such as Adana kebab, Iskender kebab, and doner kebab. These dishes typically consist of seasoned and grilled meat, often served with bread, rice, and vegetables.

  2. Baklava: A sweet and rich pastry made from layers of filo dough, filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. Baklava is a popular dessert in Turkey and the Middle East.

  3. Manti: Turkish dumplings filled with various ingredients, typically served with yoghurt and garlic sauce and topped with red pepper flakes and melted butter.

  4. Pide: A type of Turkish pizza or flatbread typically topped with a variety of ingredients, including minced meat, cheese, and vegetables.

  5. Lahmacun: A thin, round piece of dough topped with minced meat, vegetables, and spices, often referred to as “Turkish pizza.”

  6. Meze: An assortment of small, flavorful dishes that can include items like hummus, eggplant salad, stuffed grape leaves, and a variety of other appetizers.

  7. Kumpir: A baked potato dish that is mashed and mixed with various toppings, such as cheese, butter, and vegetables.

  8. Köfte: Turkish meatballs made from ground meat, typically served with pita bread and a variety of sauces and condiments.

  9. Pilaf (Pilav): A staple side dish made from rice or bulgur, often cooked with various ingredients like vegetables, spices, and even fruits.

  10. Turkish Tea and Coffee: Turkish tea (çay) and Turkish coffee (Türk kahvesi) are popular beverages in Turkey. Turkish tea is a black tea served in small glasses, while Turkish coffee is a strong, thick coffee often served with a touch of sugar.

Littera24: Your Turkish Translation Partner

For businesses engaging in international trade or collaborations, having access to professional translation services is essential. This is where Littera24, a reputable translation service provider, plays a crucial role in facilitating effective communication. Littera24 offers a wide range of language solutions, including Turkish to English translation services, to bridge linguistic gaps and ensure that business documents, contracts, marketing materials, and communications are accurately translated and culturally adapted.

The team of skilled Turkish linguists and subject matter experts not only ensures linguistic precision but also takes cultural nuances into account, making Littera24 a valuable asset for businesses looking to navigate the Turkish market and beyond with confidence. Use a free translation quote to get a price offer for your business needs and build cooperation bridges with Turkey. 


By Vladislava Brucka

Since 2010, Vladislava Brucka has led Littera as its CEO, pioneering innovative localization strategies that empower global business growth. Her expertise in language technology and translation continues to make a significant impact on the industry.


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