Which countries speak the Turkish language (other than Turkey)?

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Matthew Hillier

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Turkish is a language spoken by over 80 million people.

And if you're leaning Turkish, like I am, maybe you've wondered where else you can use this new language you are acquiring other than in Turkey.

Key takeaways

  • Turkish is spoken in Turkey and Northern Cyprus.
  • Turkish is spoken by some smaller Turkish communities in surrounding countries.
  • Someone who comes from Turkey, and speaks Turkish, should be able to understand and speak in Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh and Kyrgyz.

Countries that speak Turkish

Turkish is the official language of Turkey and Northern Cyprus. The majority of Turkish speakers, which are more than 75 million people, reside in Turkey.

Small groups of ethnic Turks also speak Turkish in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, and some other European regions.

There are also six countries in which the majority speaks a Turkic language, one of which is Turkey. They are:

  • Turkey
  • Azerbaijan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan

In addition to these countries there are several regions within other countries where people speak autonomous languages that belong to the Turkic language family.

The closest related languages that someone coming from Istanbul, Turkey could understand are languages from the Oghuz branch of the Turkic family such as Azerbaijani and Turkmen. And although belonging to different branches Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz languages are recognisable dialects for Turkey-based Turkish speakers.

An example of how similar these languages are can be seen in the words for numbers one to five:

Azerbaijani: bir, iki, üç, dörd, beş

Kyrgyz: bir, iki, üch, tort, besh

Turkish: bir, iki, üç, dört, beş

Turkmen: bir, iki, uch, dört, besh

Uzbek: bit, ikki, uch, tort, besh

Turkish and Turkic languages

To clarify, Turkish is a Turkic and Altaic language. When we describe something as a "Turkic language" it does not mean that someone who speaks Turkish in Turkey will be able to understand everything (or even anything) from these languages.

Each language is different so some might be very similar others very different.

There are similarities in grammar, structure and vocabularly. So if you do know one Turkic language you will probably find it easier learning another Turkic language.

Turkic languages

Turkic languages are spoken in multiple regions including Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, East Asia, and Siberia.

It is estimated that over 190 million people have a Turkic language as their native tongue.

There are 35 officially recognized Turkic languages. Some of the most notable modern Turkic ethnic groups include:

  • Altai people
  • Azerbaijanis
  • Chuvash people
  • Gagauz people
  • Kazakhs
  • Kyrgyz people
  • Turkish people
  • Turkmens
  • Tuvans
  • Uyghurs
  • Uzbeks
  • Yakuts

There are four main branches of the Turkic language. I mentioned earlier the Oghuz Turkic branch which Turkish belongs to, the four branches are:

  • Kipchak  Turkic (Kazakh, Nogay, Kyrgyz etc.)
  • Oghuz Turkic (Turkish, Azerbaijani, Gagauz etc.)
  • Karluk Turkic (Uzbek, Uygur)
  • Siberian Turkic (Yakut, Tuvan)

When did the Turkic language start?

The homeland of the Turkic peoples and their language is suggested to be somewhere in  Northeastern Asia. 

Although there is some debate among linguists, the most widely accepted theory is that the Turkish language developed in Mongolia and Southern Siberia around 3000 years ago.

Linguistic records dating back to the 8th century CE have been discovered near the Orhon River in Mongolia and the Yenisey River valley in south-central Russia. These records are written in Old Turkic inscriptions.

Which country other than Turkey has the most Turkic language speakers?

Uzbek is considered the second most spoken Turkic language. There are around 35 million speakers around the globe.

Uzbekistan has population of 35 million people. Around 80% speak Uzbek. Moreover, there are a good amount of Uzbek speakers living in neighbouring countries, with around 3-5 million Uzbek speakers in Afganistan alone.

Is Farsi a Turkic language?

Farsi is not a Turkic language. The grammar structures, vocabulary, and sounds of Persian and Turkish languages are distinct from each other.

Turkish is classified under the Altaic and Turkic language group, while Farsi (Persian) is classified under the Indo-European Language group.

Turkish and Farsi share some words because of cultural interactions. This number is very minimal with less than 1% of Turkish words originating from Farsi.

In conclusion, there are just a few countries that actually use Turkish (or a closely related version of it) as their main language other than Turkey.

If you're considering learning Turkish, or you already speak it, think about exploring some of the countries where a related form of the language is spoken. There is an great opportunity for a bit of fun and discovery!

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