I'm Speechless

Pintail ducks take flight from the swamp

Lesson 25 | -ememek Can't

We've been learning how to combine and use Turkish verbs in new ways, and in addition to offering some great new vocabulary, this lesson covers one of the more unique and useful verb tenses.

İlhan İrem is a singer-songwriter from Bursa, who in addition to recording a number of albums since the 1970s, is one of the founding members of the Greens Party of Turkey (Yeşiller Partisi), a green liberal political party.

This song entitled "Konuşamıyorum (I Can't Speak)" first recorded in 1978 is among his most remembered works. It describes in poetic language the feeling of being too overcome with emotion to speak. The fact that he is struck by a momentary aphasia as result of his love makes this song the ideal means of illustrating how different kinds of inability are reflected in Turkish verbs.

We've already encountered quite a bit the negative equivalent of the -ebilmek verbs from the previous lesson. In Lesson 5, we had a repetition of the line "unutamam seni (I can't forget you)". "Unutamam" comes from the verb "unutmak". Whereas "unutmam" would mean "I wouldn't forget" in the sense of the negative aorist tense (see Lesson 15), the "-a-" particle in "unutamam" changes the meaning from "wouldn't" to "can't".

In that same song, we also had the sentence "sevemedim kimseleri (I couldn't love anyone)". Here, we see how the "-e-" particle precedes the negative  past tense "-medi" ending to give the meaning of "could not". The -ememek verb form, as we will see in this song, can be used with any verb tense, and tense can be extremely important for communicating subtle meanings.

The title of this song "Konuşamıyorum" contains a version of the -ememek verb combined with the present progressive -iyor ending (see Lesson 1). It means "I can't speak" but there is a nuanced different in the meaning between "I can't speak" here and a sentence like "I can't speak Japanese". Whereas the latter refers to a general state and would employ the verb "konuşamam", the line "konuşamıyorum" in this song refers to a temporary state caused by emotion. In other words, İlhan İrem normally talks fine, just not right now.

To further illustrate this contrast, let's look at the line "sensiz ben yolumu bulamam" or "I cannot find my way without you". Here, the inability is general and is predicated about a lack of someone's presence in his life. This is different than "bulamıyorum", which would have the connotation of "(right now) I can't (i.e. I'm having trouble) find my way". For more on this, review Lesson 14.


sazlık - swamp, marsh
ördek - duck
ürkek - timid
şaşkın - bewildered, confused
kararsız - hesitant
rengarek - colorful
ıslak - wet
yorgun - tired
tutkulu - passionate

haykırmak - to scream
havalanmak - to take flight
boğmak - to drown, to choke

bulamam - I can't find
konuşamıyorum - I can't speak (at this moment)
söyleyemediklerim - the things that I have been unable to say

İlhan İrem - Konuşamıyorum

Sazlıklardan havalanan / bir ördek gibi sesin
Your voice is like a duck flying out of the marshes
Ürkek, şaşkın, kararsız duyuyorum
I hear it, timid, bewildered, and hesitant
Ve sen bir gökkuşağı kadar güzelsin
And you are as beautiful as a rainbow
Rengarenk ve az sonra gidecek / görüyorum
Colorful and fleeting (literally "going to go shortly after") / I see (you)
Ve ben yağmurlar altında / bir yolcu ıslak, yorgun, tutkulu / yürüyorum
And I walk under the rain, a wet, tired, and passionate traveler

Sensiz ben yolumu bulamam
Without you, I cannot find my way
Haykırmak istiyorum
I want to scream

Konuşamıyorum, konuşamıyorum, konuşamıyorum
I can't speak, I can't speak, I can't speak
Konuşursam gözyaşları beni boğacak
If I speak, my tears will drown me
Biliyorum, duyuyorum, görüyorum
I know, I hear, I see
I cannot speak

Bu ayrılık akşamında / sen sustuğuma bakma
On the evening of separation / don't mind my being silent
Konuşmaya gücüm yok beni anla...
I don't have the strength to talk, understand me
Söyleyemediklerimi / bak gözlerimden anla
The things that I have been unable to say / Look, understand them from my eyes
Her zaman yanımda kal hiç bırakma
Always stay by my side, never leave

For more on combining -ememek and the -iyor ending, try:

I Can't Get Drunk

Before going to the final lesson of this unit, Lesson 26: So Apparently..., practice the words from this lesson, especially öğrenemedikleriniz -- the things that you were unable to learn.

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