Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Ece: Merhabalar! Ben Ece!
Gina: Hello everyone, and I’m Gina. Welcome back to TurkishClass101.com. This is Pronunciation, Lesson 2 - the Pronunciation of Vowels in Turkish.

Lesson focus

Ece: It shouldn’t be too hard, because Turkish has a symmetric vowel system. So Gina, can you tell the listeners how many vowels there are in the Turkish Alphabet?
Gina: There are 8 in total, and they can be divided into 3 subgroups according to the frontness of the tongue, the roundedness of the lips, and the height of the tongue.
Ece: The main classification is “Kalın” – back or dark vowels, and “İnce” – front or bright vowels, which is done according to the position of the tongue.
Gina: Which letters are in each category?
Ece: The back vowels are (A, I, O, and U). And the front vowels are (E, İ, Ö, and Ü). While saying the back vowels, the tongue is pulled back, and for the front ones, it is placed forward.
Gina: The second subgroup depends on the shape of the lips.
Ece: “Yuvarlak” are rounded vowels, and “Düz” are unrounded vowels.
Gina: And which vowels are in which category this time?
Ece: The unrounded vowels are (A, E, I, İ) and the rounded vowels are (O, Ö, U, Ü). While saying the rounded vowels, the lips make a round shape, and for unrounded ones, the lips are quite straight.
Gina: And the last categorization is by tongue height.
Ece: “Açık” are open or low vowels, and “Kapalı” are closed or high vowels. Open vowels are (A, E, O, Ö), and closed vowels are (I, İ, U, Ü). While saying the open vowels, the tongue is low, while for the close ones, the tongue is high in the mouth.
Gina: Remember these groups, listeners – they are good to know when you are learning Turkish. That’s because the famous vowel harmony works based on these categories.
Ece: And each vowel is unique when it’s time to do the categorization according to the 3 of them at the same time.
Gina: You can find a table explaining this in the lesson notes. So now let’s go over each one to remember their sounds. First we have…
Ece: (A). (AAAAAA). (A) is the back, unrounded and low vowel. It’s written like the A in “Atlantis” and the sound corresponds to the As in that same word. An example using this letter is “Alâka”, which means “Relation”.
Gina: Second we have…
Ece: (E). (EEEEEE). (E) is the front, unrounded and low vowel. It’s written and sounds like the vowels in “Expect”. An example is “Ebegümeci” which is known as “Common mallow” or “hibiscus” in Europe.
Gina: Ok, and third we have…
Ece: (I). (IIIIII). (I) is the back, unrounded and high vowel. It’s written like the uppercase first letter of of “Island”, and the sound corresponds to the “A” in that same word. An example is “Işıltı” which means “Sparkle”.
Gina: Fourth we have…
Ece: (İ). (İİİİİİ). (İ) is the front, unrounded and high vowel. It’s written as the lowercase initial of “Indeed” and the sound corresponds to the I and Es of the same word. An example is “İyilik”, which means ”Favor”.
Gina: Fifth we have…
Ece: (O). (OOOOOO). (O) is the back, rounded and low vowel. It’s written and sounds like the Os in “Orlando”. An example is “Oyun”, which means “Play” or “game”.
Gina: Sixth we have…
Ece: (Ö). (ÖÖÖÖÖÖ). (Ö) is the front, rounded and low vowel. It’s written like an O with two dots on top of it, and the sound corresponds to the E at the start of “Early”. An example is “Öncelik”, which means “Priority”.
Gina: Seventh we have…
Ece: (U). (UUUUUU). (U) is the back, rounded and high vowel. It’s written and sounds like the “U”s in the word “Quantum”. An example is “Uzunluk”, which means “Length”.
Gina: Eighth and last we have…
Ece: (Ü). (ÜÜÜÜÜÜ). (Ü) is the front, rounded and high vowel. It’s written as a U with two dots on top of it and the sound is similar to the vowel of “u” in “Due”. An example is “Üstünlük”, which means “Superiority”.
Gina: Great! Now let’s talk a little about long vowels in Turkish, which you’ll only find in loanwords.
Ece: Well, sometimes the vowels (A, E, U) and (İ) can be pronounced three times longer than usual.
Gina: How will we know whether they are long vowels or the usual vowels?
Ece: If you see a correction mark on them like an upside down v, called circumflex, it’s definitely the special case. However, the circumflex is never used for (E), and even with the other three vowels, the circumflex may not necessarily be there…
Gina: So you may not be able to tell right away. On the other hand, this mark can also indicate that you should pronounce the consonant before the circumflexed vowel with your tongue near your palate, a process called palatalizing.
Ece: But this only applies to (A) and (U), not (İ).
Gina: So the best way to know if a vowel is the long or palatalizing version is to listen more and more in Turkish.
Ece: Also we should note that no other vowel is elongated. If any of the vowels (I, O, Ö, Ü) are elongated, make sure that it’s a mispronunciation, or you are missing the (Ğ) in between.
Gina: Elongated or palatalizing vowels are only found in words with Persian or Arabic roots. Since this all sounds a bit complicated, let’s have some examples to clarify what we mean.
Ece: For â, (A with the circumflex), our example is “Ahkâm” which means “Judgment”. The second vowel here is palatalizing the (K) before it. Now I’ll say the word first with the wrong pronunciation, and then the correct one. Ahkam. And ahkâm. Did you notice the difference, listeners?
Gina: And now let’s have a word with the long (A).
Ece: “ mâde” which means “Ready to serve”. Once more, mâde. Did you notice listeners, the (A) sounds in this word are quite a bit longer than the regular (A). If I didn’t pronounce them properly, it’d be “amade”, which is wrong.
Gina: And the next letter with this same characteristic is:
Ece: For palatalizing (U), we can give the word “Mahkûm” which means “Sentenced”. Mahkûm. With the ordinary (U), it’d sound like “mahkum” and this is not the correct pronunciation.
Gina: And for the longer case:
Ece: For the longer (U), we have “Beyhûde” which means “Futile”. Beyhûde. With the wrong pronunciation, it’d be “beyhude”.
Gina: And lastly, we have a letter which only has the longer case.
Ece: Yes, and that’s the longer (İ). For example “Kastî” which means “Purposely”. Or “Hâyâlî” which means “Imaginary”. There is no palatalizing function for (İ).
Gina: We said that sometimes (E) can be a long one too, but not a palatalizing one, but the circumflex is never put on top of it. So can you give an example with a long (E)?
Ece: Yes, “Tesir” which means “Effect, influence”. “Tesir” (quickly said) is the wrong pronunciation. Tesir is the right pronunciation. Or “Temin” which means “Acquisition”. It shouldn’t be quickly pronounced as “temin” (quickly said). It should be Temin.
Gina: There are some rare cases when we see the repetition of a vowel one after another, right? So do you read those as a long united vowel?
Ece: In those cases, you should pronounce them one by one, and the first vowel belongs to the syllable before it. This pattern is specific to loanwords as well..
Gina: For example?
Ece: “Fiil”, which means “Verb”. It should be read as “fi-il”.
Gina: And another example with a different vowel would be...
Ece: “Matbaa” which means “Printery”. It is read as “mat-ba-a”.
Gina: To make things easier, can we say that the longer and palatalizing vowels are only found only in Ottoman Turkish for literature and terminology purposes?
Ece: Unfortunately, we can’t restrict it that way. You will find them in daily language too. But if you are interested in classical Turkish music or Divan Poetry, you’ll see them much more often.
Gina: Ok, but I think we can put the listeners at ease by saying that you don’t need to fuss too much over the long or palatalizing (A, U) and (İ) as beginners. That’s because those extra pronunciations of these vowels just sound clearer. Even if you don’t elongate them and pronounce the preceding consonants roughly, the meaning won’t change, and native speakers will understand you.
Ece: That’s true for most cases, but not all, unfortunately. As we’ve said, the circumflex may not always be written, but there is one situation where it should definitely be there.
Gina: What’s that?
Ece: When you want to avoid confusing a word with differing pronunciation because it has both a long and palatalizing (A, U) or (İ). In those cases, the same word with and without the circumflex will have two different meanings.
Gina: Can we hear an example?
Ece: Let’s look at the word “Ala”. By itself, without elongating the (A) sounds, it means “Bicolor”. If it’s read as “ lâ” then it means “Well” or “superb”. lâ is a loan word from Arabic, and if you’re writing it, the circumflex should definitely be there on both (A) sounds, otherwise it can be confused with the first meaning.
Gina: To be honest, from the context it would be easy to understand even if you had no idea about the pronunciation, right?
Ece: Yes, that’s right. So you could say that one last function of this mark on the vowels of (A, U) and (İ) is to differentiate between a Turkish word, and a loan word.


Gina: Okay, that’s all for this rather long lesson, listeners! Be sure to check the lesson notes to reinforce what you’ve learned, and leave us a comment if you’ve got any questions. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time!
Ece: Hoşça kalın!