Sunday, March 13, 2011

We're number 5!

One hot day in the summer of 2008, I was sitting at a popular viewpoint overlooking central Athens, taking in the city's sprawl, when a man struck up a conversation by asking where I was from. "I'm from the United States, but I live in Istanbul," I said. He grimaced. "What are you doing there? Are you a student?" I told him I was, which was mostly the truth at the time. "Don't tell me you're studying Turkish," he said with evident disdain.

"Actually, I am," I replied. "I'm going to be living there for a while so I think it would be good to learn the language."

"But why??" he pressed. "People only speak Turkish in Turkey."

Politeness (and awareness of the not-so-friendly feelings between the two countries) kept me from uttering the obvious retort: "And they speak Greek where else, exactly?"

According a recent post by Mavi Boncuk, a treasure trove of Turkish and Ottoman trivia, that snarky response would have been justified. With 220 million speakers around the globe, Turkish ranks fifth in the world, after Chinese, English, Spanish, and Hindi -- and ahead of Arabic. Yep, I was surprised too. From the site:
Turkish is a member of the Turkish, or Western, subgroup of the Oghuz languages, which includes Gagauz and Azeri. The Oghuz languages form the Southwestern subgroup of the Turkic languages, a language family comprising some 30 living languages spoken across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Siberia.
In case you're curious, Portuguese and Bengali follow Arabic on the commonly-spoken list. Greek is nowhere to be seen.


Avram said...

That's a fallacy. All those languages that are spoken in Central Asia have very little in common with the language spoken in Turkey. As a native Turkish speaker, I have a hard time communicating even with Azeri's.

crackers and cheese said...

I saw another Turkish website state that it was the 5th most spoken language, so I did some googling of "most spoken languages" and "most common language in world," and after looking at about 20 different lists, the highest I ever saw Turkish ranked was at #15 with 69 million speakers. I don't know where this 220 million number comes from - maybe they're including other Turkic languages in the estimate?

But, there are only around 13 million Greek speakers, so Turkish is still beating Greek by a lot!

The Turkish Life said...

I do think the number includes other Turkic languages -- which many people have told me are quite close to Turkish, especially Azeri, although obviously experiences vary on this.