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Accent on Turkish
How to really sound like a Turk
(Well, it's worth a try… innit?)
An amateur's guide to accenting, phrasing,
and stressing the language like a Turk

In Turkey - Türkiye'de

Tüm sinema ve TV fırsatları için tıklayın !

Turkish movies, Türk filmleri
Musical Turkish

It is simply not accurate to say that proper Turkish is or should be spoken in an un-accented mono-tone. Anyone who has listened to two Turkish guys discuss last night's football match (or to two Turkish gals re-hashing the latest floridly-dubbed episode of Days of Our Lives) -- knows this to be nonsense.

And yet some of our Turkish friends scold us when we ask them about the "melodies" we hear in the spoken language -- claiming that the best spoken-Turkish is rendered (yes, that's right) in an un-accented mono-tone.

Other Turkish "friends" simply tell us...
that the subject is too advanced for our limited skills.
Oh well.
<sigh>

We dedicate this article to those good souls…


Shall we start at the beginning (that seems a good place) -- with single-word accenting, and build step-by-step to the point we wish to make…that Turkish is a very musical language…?
Why not? Let's do it!

Single Word Accenting

When they are spoken individually (as you might speak them from a dictionary) Turkish words have certain generally accepted standard accents that are usually dictated by the number of syllables in the word -- but there are numerous exceptions.


And when those same words are spoken in whole sentences…we-ll, that can be an altogether different story (but, we'll get to that point later)...

Single syllable words

In single syllable words there is no accent per se -- but the vowel is the dominent sound you hear when the word is spoken, as with...

baş; head, el; hand, son; end

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Multi-syllable words --
First syllable accenting

Intensified adjectives

Typical adjectives like beyaz (white), dik (straight, upright), kocaman (huge) may be intensified by adding a prefix (yes, Turkish does have prefixes -- in this instance).

When these intensifying-prefixes are one syllable in length --
they take the main accent directly onto themselves.

bembeyaz (pure white), dimdik (straight as a rod, bolt upright), koskocaman (bigger than huge, gigantic)

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Exclamations

Turkish exclamations, no matter how many syllables,
take the accent on the first syllable…

tanrım! (My god!), haydi! (come on!), aferin! (well done!)

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Place names

Two syllable place names usually take the accent on the first syllable

Bursa, İzmir, Trabzon

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Multi-syllable words --
Middle syllable accenting

Intensified adjectives

When an intensifying-prefix of an intensified adjective is two syllables in length, the accent falls on the second syllable of the prefix:

çırılçıplak (stark naked), sapasağlam (very strong, in excellent condition), yapayalnız (all alone)

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Place names

Three (and even four) syllable place names take the accent on the second syllable

Antalya, Diyarbakır, İstanbul

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Borrowed Foreign words

Pure Turkish words having a middle syllable accent are apparently very rare (so rare, we couldn't find one). But Foreign borrowed-words with middle syllable accents are ubiquituous.

bezelye (bean), lokanta (restaurant), universite (university)

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Verbal suffixes and conjugations

When verb suffixes are attached to nouns, the accent will be found on a middle syllable

çalışkansınız (you are industrious), yorgunuz (we're tired),
zenginiz (we are rich)

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In verb conjugations, the accent may sometimes fall on a middle syllable

geliyorum (I am coming), gidermisiniz (will you go)?,
gitmişti (he has gone)

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Multi-syllable words --

Last syllable accenting

Infinitives

In an institution of formal education, the teacher will vocalise simple verb infinitives with the accent on the last syllable...

almak (take, buy), satmak (sell), vermek (give)

So, this is the officially accepted way to pronounce
the simple verbs…

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But, if you stop someone in the street and ask her to pronounce these simple verbs,
you are just as likely to hear an accent on the first syllable!

[Please don't ask us why this is so, because we never get a good answer when we ask.]

Non-specific nouns

Usually, nouns that are general in nature -- take the accent on the last syllable.

arkad (friend), giysi (clothing), öğrenci (student)

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But there are quite a few exceptions to this rule, like...

koca (husband), kundura (shoe), papatya (daisy)
-- that take the accent on the first or second syllable.

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First Names

The names of people (and pets) often receive a last syllable accent.

Ahmet, Hande, Minnoş

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Colors

All words that indicate color take their accent on the last syllable.

kırmı (red), mavi (blue), yeşil (green)

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Compound Nouns

Turkish Compound nouns (single words made from two Turkish nouns) usually receive the accent on the first syllable, such as with…

başbakan (prime minister), yılbaşı (the new year),
binbaşı (an army major)

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But if the first word in the compound noun has two syllables, then the accent falls on the second syllable -- such as with...

hanımeli (honeysuckle), and ortaokul (junior high school), yeşilbaş (mallard duck)

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Nouns with suffixes

Generally speaking, if a noun (in its dictionary entry form) is accented on its last syllable, then the last suffix you choose to add to that noun will "steal" the accent away:

okul (school), okula (to the school),
okulumuzdan (from our school)

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But for nouns in which the first syllable is normally accented, then the accent stays in place -- no matter how may suffixes you add:

anne (mother), anneler (mothers), annemize (to our mother)

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Multi-Word Accenting

Multi-word groups can be all-noun phrases -- such as our basketball player, book cover, two story building. But they can also include phrases with chained adjectives, like, red hot chili pepper

In speech (and in writing) these multi-word groups are treated as single entities. And, in Turkish, when you meet one, the main accent you'll hear is on the last syllable of the first word in the group. The accents of other words in the grouping (which would normally be heard if they were read from a dictionary) are subordinated to that main accent -- subordinated to the point that they may sound rather subdued to the English-speaker's ear…

çiftçinin kızı (the farmer's daughter),
satış temsilcisi (the travelling salesman),
ahır kapı kilidi (the barn door lock)

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Can vocal accenting effect word meaning in Turkish?

You betcha!

And if you have a keen ear, vocal accenting can provide invaluable (dare we say, essential) clues -- when you're trying to pick up the meaning of even the shortest of Turkish sentences…

Kazmayıver; Don't dig so quickly!
[this sentence is a single word, where kazma is used
as part of a negative command]

Kazmayı ver; Give me the pickax.
[this is a two-word sentence where kazma is used
to specify a type of tool]


Listen for the accent, so you can tell the difference in meaning between the two sentences…

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Now let's turn to longer Turkish sentences, and to what we observe as the rhythms found in vocal delivery of such longer, more complex sentences.

Turkish Sentence Rhythms

We find that Turks speak their sentences in rhythms that depend on the situation. And we find at least three different rhythmic situations --

  1. when the sentence is simple and self contained
  2. when the sentence is in multi-parts -- in which it contains one idea leading to another or in which more than one independent thought is expressed
  3. when the sentence is an interrogative

And, in most cases, this rhythm subdues the normal accents
of the individual words in the sentence
.


Self Contained Sentences

Such sentences are relatively short and contain a single idea.

Yunusbalığı açık denizde yüzdü;
The dolphin swam in the open sea.

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According to the length of the sentence -- and also according to which word(s) the speaker wishes to emphasize -- the rhythm-highpoint(s) can "travel" to different places in the sentence…

Seni çok seviyorum; I love you very much

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Büyük yatta el sallayan adam hiç de yakışıklı değil;
The man waving from the large yacht is not handsome at all.
[Well, maybe he's not that bad…Isn't that right, SP ?]

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Multi-part (carry-on) Sentences

When a sentence contains a lead-in clause -- it is spoken in a different rhythm than a self-contained sentence. And such sentences are characterised by a verbal pause after the lead in (and prior to the continuation) of the sentence.

Ben zengin olduğum zaman, sana çok güzel bir ev satın alacağım;
When I am rich…I'll buy you a beautiful house…

In this sentence the main thought relates to most everyone's dream -- to buy a house for their loved one. But there's a nettlesome requirement that must be satisfied before the dream can become reality…"When I am rich…"

And in Turkish, this sentence is rendered with a slight pause and a lilt in the voice at mid-sentence -- indicating that the sentence will continue after the break.

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Here are some other examples:

Atatürk dedi ki: Ne mutlu Türküm diyene;
Ataturk said, "How nice it is to say, I am a Turk."

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Bir gün Temel, bir Fransız, ve bir İngiliz ile
bir tren yolculuğuna cıkmış;
One day Temel, a Frenchman, and an Englishman
set out on a train journey.

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Interrogative Sentences

These fall into two categories

1) where the accent/stress falls near the end of the sentence

Düğünümde dans edecek misin?;
Will you dance at my wedding?

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2) where the accent falls directly on the question-provoking word (for example, what, where, how, why, who….)

Burada ne işin var, dostum?;
What are you doing here, buddy?
[Spoken with a little irritation in the voice..]

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Bunları bana niçin daha önce söylemedin?;
Why didn't you tell me these things before?

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Kim benimle IRS'e gelmek istiyor?;
Who wants to come with me to the IRS?
[What? No volunteers?]

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So there you are.
Some tyro tips that can help you sound slightly more Turkish -- if you try!
Still, these are only basic guidelines --
and are certainly not the final word on the subject...

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