Unit 1 Introduction

Verbs Come First

Verbs are the molten core of human language. The ability to manipulate and harness them generates the power necessary to learn on your own. Nouns and adjectives are relatively static items that usually have equivalents in our native language. They can be memorized and stored like images in our heads. However, verbs need linguistic muscle. They teach us to master the syntax and rules of the language and bend them to our will. A verb is like a ritual. It requires practice and repetition. It requires proper movements, special symbols, and use in very specific contexts. For this reason, the first two units of this musical guide will be focused on helping students recognize, interpret, and ultimately use verbs and other morphologically productive aspects of Turkish language that appear in a wide variety of songs.

The word order of Turkish language makes this verb-centered approach more feasible. In a normal Turkish sentence, which adheres to the Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) word order, the verb is at the very end. So even if you're lost in the sentence, you know where to find its syntactic heart. In songs, this word order is often disrupted for rhyme or poetic effect. In part for this reason, music provides a perfect training ground for mastery of Turkish verb tenses and unlocking the syntax of Turkish language.

In Turkish, verbs are more morphologically expressive than in English. During these first two units, you will encounter many verb tenses and types that do not have direct equivalents in English. You will also find that verb-dense sentences translated into English will be much longer than their Turkish equivalents. Through repetition, it will become easier to parse the meaning of verbal sentences without such laborious translation. Thus, while I provide full and very literal translation in all the lessons, the hope is that by listening to the songs, you will be able to memorize and thereby internalize these verbal structures. 

Unit Summary

The songs in Unit 1 are selected from diverse sources primarily on the basis of their linguistic utility for our purposes. Most of them are short, slow, and the singer articulates the words clearly. This is because I hope that you will listen along, hear the sentences, and not just read them on the page. Developing these listening skills will become critical in later chapters where we will deal with more complex and fast-paced compositions. That being said, do not worry if you do not understand the grammar of many of the sentences. Focus on the points that are highlighted in each lesson, and save the others in the depths of your memory for later.

Lesson 1 starts off our unit with a brief presentation of the present progressive or -iyor tense. This is not, in fact, the most common verb tense in Turkish songs, but it is a very essential tense for speaking in general. Our song, an early work of Yaşar Kurt, is slow and well-articulated, and you should be able to follow along with the lyrics. Lesson 2 introduces the -mek form verbal noun, which performs the functions of infinitives like "to do (etmek)" and "to make (yapmak)" in English. The entire song, performed by the eclectic Istanbul ensemble BaBa ZuLa, centers on what the group deems the most essential verbs of life.

Lessons 3 and 4 introduce the simple past tense -idi ending, which will be one of the most important verbal tenses going forward. Lesson 3 features a slow and pleasant song revolving around the most essential verb for understanding the past tense: to pass (geçmek). Lesson 4 goes deep into the past of Turkish music with arguably the first ever Turkish tango, also introducing the -dir verbal ending, which is used in the meaning of "is" in the third person. Lesson 5 offers an example of how this ending is used to express temporal distance and meanings such as "since."

Lessons 6 and 10 deal with var and yok, two special words that mean "exists" and "does not exist" respectively. These words have many important uses, including conveying the meaning of "to have" as in kalbim var (I have a heart), and thus, will play a critical role in our lessons going forward. The song in Lesson 6 is performed by none other than Zeki Müren, one of the most central figures in the history of Turkish music.

Lesson 7 takes a break from verbs to introduce words such as kadar, sanki, and gibi, which are essential for understanding the description and imagery of song. They will allow you to make more sense of the lyrics and the meanings they intend to convey. The subject is a classic one, love, and the performer Sezen Aksu is perhaps the foremost singer/songwriter in the emergence of Turkish pop music.

Lesson 8 is devoted to the simple future -ecek verbal ending. Of course, not all of our songs can be devoted to love, and in this lesson, the soulful improvisations of the late Seyfettin Sucu, a native of the Urfa region of southern Turkey, offer a brief and rather dark glimpse of the Turkish future. Lesson 9 also highlights this tense and introduces the -en/an suffix, which has the power to turn verbs into nouns and adjectives.

Lessons 11 and 12 deal with the imperative form, which takes verbs like gitmek (to go), gelmek (to come), and söylemek (to say) and turns them into git (go), gelme (don't come), and söyleme (don't say). The feature songs from two pioneers of the Turkey's arabesk musical genre: Orhan Gencebay and Ferdi Tayfur.

Lesson 13 concludes Unit 1 by introducing the close cousin of the imperative form, the -elim ending, which can be used to for verbs carrying the connotations of "let's."

By the end of Unit 1, you should be familiar with a form of the past, present, and future tenses in Turkish, as well as commands, infinitives, and the special particles -dir, var, and yok. Along the way, you will gain some exposure to some other types of verbs that are a bit more complex but no less fundamental to understanding Turkish grammar and Turkish music in particular. These will comprise the bulk of Unit 2, which continues a verb-based approach to learning Turkish.

With each lesson, makes sure to use the Quizlet sets provided to learn the critical vocabulary. This is especially important because these lessons build on each other, both in terms of grammar and especially in terms of vocabulary. If a word was in the list for a previous lesson, I probably will not define it again explicitly, so try to keep up with this material and go back for review.

In Turkish, a common thing to say to someone who is about to undertake a task is "kolay gelsin" or "may it be easy." So kolay gelsin size and let's get started on Lesson 1.

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