Unit 2 Introduction

Endless Endings

What makes one language more similar to or more different from another? Language learners might feel that at first glance, a shared alphabet or sound system makes languages more similar. In this regard, English (leaving aside its idiosyncratic spelling) and Turkish are very close. But English and Turkish are very distant in other ways. Genealogically speaking, they come from different language families, meaning that English is closer to most European language or even Persian and Hindi than it is to Turkish. Meanwhile, Turkic languages have been placed in their own family or likened to other languages of Central and East Asia such as Korean and Japanese. There is scarce shared vocabulary between Turkish and Japanese, two languages with very different geographical, historical, and cultural trajectories, but the argument for their inclusion in one hypothesized language family called the Altaic languages rests on fundamental structural similarities. One of the most important commonalities is agglutination, a featured shared within the proposed language family and presence in many other unrelated languages.

In short, agglutination means that words are formed and derived by attaching various affixes to an unchanging word stem. English is not an agglutinative language, but to give an example of what an affix is, it can be the prefixes in words like rejuvinate, unpopular, and dehumanizing or the suffixes in words like nationalism, blaoted, and dogs. Almost all of the affixes in the Turkish language are suffixes or "endings" in the sense that they are added to the end of the word stem. We have already seem many examples of this in the conjugation of Turkish verbs. The bilmek, which is comprised of the stem "bil" and the verbal noun ending "mek" is conjugated by attaching endings to the stem "bil". "Biliyorum" becomes "I know", "bilmedin" becomes you did not know and so forth.

However, agglutination as a linguistic feature in Turkish extends well beyond the common conjugation of verbs. Endings lump various layers of meanings onto words in a seemingly infinite fashion. That's how "söyle" or "say" becomes "söyleyemediklerimiz" or "the things we were unable to say" and how "gel" or "come" becomes "gelmelisin" or "you must come". This unit centers on some of these endings that do not have easy equivalents in English and sets you on the path to building Turkish words.

Unit Summary

As in Unit 1, I have chosen for Unit 2 songs that exemplify a wide range of styles, themes, and periods, all with fairly clear pronunciation and easily to follow lyrics. Some of the concepts and sentences may be a bit more challenging the songs we detailed in Unit 1, but as long as you can follow the main points of the lesson, you'll be on the right track. 

Unit 2 begins with arguably the most important and complex verb tense in the Turkish language. Lesson 14 covers the aorist -ir verbal ending and explores the layers of memory embedded in the lived landscape of Istanbul. Lesson 15 employs the aorist form, this time in its negative conjugation, in order to illustrate one of the many uses of the conditional -se ending.

These are followed by a number of lessons exhibiting ways of creating adverbs and other types of words out of verbs. Lesson 16 shows the use of the -e ending to make adverbs about of verbs. Lesson 17 exhibits the -ince ending that conveys the meaning of "while" through a detailed exploration of the finer points of baking. Lesson 18 covers the -meden ending, which is used to convey the meaning of doing something without or before doing another action.

For Lessons 19 and 20 introduce another verbal similar to the -elim ending covered in Lesson 13. Lesson 19 features -eyim, an ending that conveys the meaning of "let me". Lesson 20 showcases the -sin ending, which conveys the same type of meaning for the 3rd person, as in "may he/she/it".

Lesson 21 and 22 offer some examples of how to make relative clauses, nouns, and adjectives from verbs in Turkish using the -dik ending. Lesson 21 uses this ending to make long relative clauses that give a sense of how the Turkish sentence is constructed. In Lesson 22, the same ending is used to create nouns that stand alone in the sentence.

The final four lessons of Unit 2 introduce more endings that will prove once and for all that your puny English verbs are no match for Turkish verbs in terms of their range of expression. Lesson 23 introduces the -meli ending, which gives a verb the meaning of "must". Lesson 24 and 25 focus on -ebil and its negation, which convey the meanings of "could" and "can" or "couldn't" and "cannot" respectively. The last lesson of Unit 2, Lesson 26, showcases one of the most linguistically-fascinating affixes in Turkish, the -miş ending, an "evidential" past tense used to connote "apparently", "I guess", and various forms of realization, skepticism or second-hand relations to statements.

By the end of Unit 2, you will have been exposed to almost all of the grammatical features and verbal ending available to the Turkish language. Unit 3 will focus on nuances of grammar and learning how to combine those endings for different purposes, as our exploration of Turkish music and language continues.

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