Some surprising things about Turkish and English

I thought I’d note down a couple of things which have arisen in the course of my learning Turkish, which strangely reflect certain aspects of English. Some people might regard as completely coincidental such items appearing between languages from completely different groups — my question is how many such coincidences can there be before it becomes more than a coincidence?

1) adjectival suffix -LI

In Turkish, an adjective derived from a noun can be formed by adding -li or one of the equivalents of -li in vowel harmony. Example – ev (house) gives evli (having a house – ie married, compare the Spanish “casado”), tedbir is caution – having caution, ie “prudent” is “tedbirli”. Resim is picture, and resimli means illustrated. Interesting how this reflects the -ly of “shapely” in English.

2) Past tense in d or t. The suffix -di or -ti in Turkish closely reflects the way in which English forms past tense from most of its verbs

3) In English, the “geographicals” such as “where?”, “Here”, “there” all have a -re suffix. Same in Turkish, although you have to bear in mind that because of vowel harmony the suffix often appears as “ra”. “Where” is “nere” plus “de” making “nerede” if you mean “where at”, “nere” plus “ye” making “nereye” meaning “where to”, while nereden is wherefrom, “burada” means “here”, “orada” means “there”, etc.

This is in addition to the numerous similarities which can be explained by the fact that they appear in many languages because that’s what languages do, and also the later borrowings.

Turkish also gives us insights into the Russian language and into Ukrainian. The Russian expressions “my s toboy” or “soviet da lyubov” can be traced into Turkic, along with a sizeable amount of that vocabulary which Russian does not share with, for instance, Polish.

And of course for the Westerner Turkish offers an ease in to languages such as Arabic and Persian, given that in learning Turkish you will learn a certain quantity of loan words which you will recognise again coming to those languages.

If all this was not enough, and the logical, quite delightful structure of Turkish and the pleasantness of its sound were not enough, and the way it opens a route to a large country to explore for business or pleasure with about 80 million people, Turkish is also the best-known language and in a sense the mother ship for learning other Turkic languages, 4 out of the 5 Central Asia countries and also Azerbaydzhan as well as peoples found in many other countries, the Qirimtatarca and Tatars of Russia, the Uyghurs of China, among others. Turkish is a silk route into a very interesting, cross-continental linguistic adventure.

7 thoughts on “Some surprising things about Turkish and English

  1. You write:
    > The Russian expressions “my s toboy” or “soviet da lyubov” can be traced into Turkic, along with a sizeable amount of that vocabulary which Russian does not share with, for instance, Polish.
    I am sorry, but although Russian udnoubtedly has a great amount of Turkic vocabulary, certainly greater than Polish, BTW also much greater than Ukrainian, because Moscovian Russian language (and customs) were deeply and highly influenced by Tartars and othe Turco-Mongolian tribes, unfortunately you are wrong about the examples used. The expression “my s toboy” has a perfect counterpart in daily Polish “jesteśmy z tobą” to express friendship and freindly concern (the same form of Instrumental case – Predlozhnyy padezh). The expression “sovet da lyubov'” – although not so often used in Polish (not having become a phraseologism, like an obligatory toast common to marriage etc.) it is clearly acceptable in Polish as “miłość i zgoda” or (more often in Genitive case) “zgody i miłości!”, and you can encounter in this function it in the final act of the comedy “Zemsta” (Revenge) by Aleksander Fredro “Miłość zgoda!, a Bóg wtedy rękę poda”, as well as in the last book of the epos “Pan Tadeusz” (Sir Thaddeus) by Adam Mickiewicz.
    Yhe only issue could be the word “da”, here meaning “and”, but in other contexts meaning “yes”, used here istead of the otherwise commmon “i”, which is a common feature with Ukrainian (“ta”, meaing both “yes” and “and”, in this last fuction along with “i” and “y”) and uncommon with Polish (Polish “i” rather than “tak”, the last word never being used in the function of “and”, only of “yes”).

    1. I’m sorry too, Maciej, but you clearly are not quite familiar with how “my s toboy” is generally used in Russian, if you think it has a perfect counterpart in Polish. In Polish it means friendly concern. In Russian it is used to mean “You and I” You don’t say “Ty i ja idjom w magazin” you say “my s toboy idyom w magazin”. In other words analogous to Turkish, and not to Polish.

      The thing about learning Russian for Polish people, or Czech for that matter, and vice versa of course, is that you need to check your preconceptions at the door. These languages are all less similar to one another than it appears at first glance, which is why they are often learned only at a rudimentary level by speakers of the other languages, and misunderstandings frequently occur even though one is persuaded that one understood the other Slavonic language fully.

      The problem with understanding generally, of course, is that one generally understands what one understands, and doesn’t realise that there is something else there which one has not understood. This is the story of the human race’s life, and linguists do battle with this on a daily basis.

      Predlozhnyi padezh by the way is not the instrumental case either.

      My point about using either “da” or “ta” as “and” as it is in Russian and Ukrainian is that this is indeed a reflexion of a Turkish way of saying “and”. It’s not a Slavic-origin word.

      Modern Turkish uses “ve” a lot in turn, but this is a later borrowing from Arabic. The latest trends in Turkish are moving back away from overuse of the “ve” word.

  2. Hi Viktor,
    I can see, from your answer, that you were THINKING about the inclusive 1st person plural – but were not clear enough to TELL those who read you what you are talking about. I was thinking another usage of “my s toboy!” which you clearly see in the following websites: and – which reflect what I was writing about (what I have guessed from your very vague description) it’s certainly of common usage in Russian and it has a direct counterpart in Polish, as I have mentioned. So I am not wrong in what I understood from your enigmatic reflection.
    (Yes, I was wrong calling the form “s toboy” the predlozhnyi padezh instead of tvoritelnyi – it’s been a long, long time since I have used the names of the cases in Russian – thank you for having corrected me).

    The inclusive 1st person plural is common in Caucasian language, Ainu, Munda and Dravidic, Austronesian etc. (see: but I have never met any mention about it in Turkish (but I am not a specialist in the area of Altaic languages), unfortunately you don’t mention the Turkish form(s) to support your claim.

    In fact, the Russian usage is not a strict inclusive form but only a periphrastic description, in the same way possible as an exclusive one – against neutral “my” (we, us) – as much possible in Russian as in any other Indoeuropean language – compare Quebec French / Italian / Spanish: nous / noi / nos vs. nous autres / noialtri / nosotros …

    Is the Russian form a borrowing from (or: influence of) Turkish – or rather independent invention? A good point for the historians of the language.

    Unfortunately, surface similarity does not prove anything.

    With the second issue you are absolutely wrong.You are again very laconic, so how can one gues what is your intention in metioning “sovet da lyubov”? Neither do you quote any examples, nor do you explain the point of your ‘discovery’.

    Unfortunately (for you) “da” (Ukr. “ta”) is an old Slavic word, met in many Slavic languages – also those never influenced by Turkish (like Slovene), and no borrowing from Turkish. And the usage is also very ancient, common with the Old-Church-Slavonic, common with the one of the Classical, Biblical and Byzantine (i.e. pre-Turkish) Greek. Every etymological dictionary of Russian language will confirm this. (see, eg. : Vassmer:, Chernykh: The usage of “yes, it is so”, or “it” instead of “and” and vice versa is very common in Indoeuropean languages. Compare Latin “sic” French “si”/”oui”, Roumanian “s,i” etc.

    In Polish it (“ta”/”da”) was used until the 17th century, in dialects it is still used nowadays (e.g. “Ta coś ty zrobił” – vs. common Polish “A coś ty zrobił”; or “Idź ta nie rób hecy” vs. common Polish “Idź i nie rób hecy”)

    In Czech it is preserved until today the other way round “ano” (used as “yes”) has the original meaning “and it” (a ono).

    Of course language etymology and modern language usage are two different things. For someone who is an English speaking person the etymological reflections may be of little (if any) value while learning Russian / Polish / Czech. But those facts cannot be ignored or neglected and your ‘discoveries’ accepted blindly by a person who is speaking a Slavic language as a mother tongue and who is speaking it with a lingustic reflection (interested in the history of the language etc.)

    Similarily of little (if any) value are your reflections about allegeded similarity of usage in Russian and Turkish to someone who is learning only Russian (and has no knowledge of Turkish) or vice versa. But to those who intend to learn to use the two languages practically (without deep theoretical reflection) these presumed ‘lingustic facts’ might happen to be of some help. Pragmatically: Se non e vero, e ben trovato. (sorry that I am not putting the correct Italian accents).

    All the best,

    1. PS. In Polish we also don’t say “You and I”” We don’t say “Ty i ja idziemy do sklepu”, we simply say “Idziemy do sklepu”, or we say “Idziesz z nami do sklepu” if we want tu underline the inclusiveness.

      1. OK, but you don’t say “my z toba idziemy do sklepu”, which is the precise construction that Russian shares with Turkish. I wouldn’t expect Polish to map onto English word by word in too many cases. In fact Polish has many wonderful ways of constructing things, but they don’t show the Turkic link as clearly as East Slavic languages do.

    2. OK, Maciej, nicely argued. Your commenst grace this blog and are welcome, even critical ones, that’s OK.

      Sometimes I feel that your arguments are a little bit at cross purposes as I am talking about a particular localised calque and not about the idea of first person pronominal clusivity as a linguistic phenomenon.

      In any event, if you would like to have an example of the Turkish use that is analogous to “My s Toboy” then here goes:

      Sizinle biz – you and us
      Annemle babam – my mother and father

      The use of -ile constructions instead of “ve” goes far further than Russian, which indicates that Russians probably took their “s” for the sense of “and” from contacts with Turkic rather than vice-versa.

      Turkic languages have, of course, taken a great deal from Russian too. My visit ober the last few days to Tashkent persuaded me of that – particularly memorable is the word for office supplies “kanstovarlar” A Russian word respelt so that Uzbeks can pronounce it more easily (not that they seem to have trouble with any Russian words), and with a Turkic plural suffix added on the end for good measure. However, the Russian (and Polish for that matter) word tovar/towar is considered by Fasmer et al to have come from Turkic “tauar”. The word “tavar” means livestock in Uyghur to this day, and they had little if any contact with Russian.

      1. > Sometimes I feel that your arguments are a little bit at cross purposes as I am talking > about a particular localised calque and not about the idea of first person pronominal > clusivity as a linguistic phenomenon.

        Dear Viktor, I had understood that you had been talking about particular calques but I had been surprised that you had quoted Polish as an example of a contrary phenomenon – in situations where Polish usage (afaik) is quite similar. Had you not mentioned Polish I wouldn’t have commented.

        The last comment. Of course in Polish we do not say “my z tobą” as frequently as Russians of Englishmen – because on the first hand we quite rarely use the personal pronouns at all, the conjugation replaces them. Nevertheless Google has brought me up immediately a very common expression “My z tobą sam na sam” (“You and I alone and face to face” – the title and the refrain of a song popular in the early 1960-ies), and I have found a few more examples of such usage in the Korpus Języka Polskiego.
        1) My się z tobą nie rozumiemy = My się nie rozumiemy (We don’t understand each other”)
        2) Pójdziemy z tobą do kina = Pójdziemy razem do kina (We shall go together to the cinema).
        3) Z tobą będziemy spali w jednym łożu za pan brat. = Będziemy spali w jednym łożu (We will sleep together in one bed, I will sleep with you in one bed). – this is similar in meaning to “my z tobą sam na sam”)
        4) a na wypadek, gdyby tobie lub mnie się coś przytrafiło, musimy mieć z tobą kontakt; = (more natural) musimy mieć ze sobą kontrakt = ja musze mieć z tobą kontakt, my (ty i ja) musimy mieć kontakt (we need to keep in touch with one another)

        I know, these examples are very specific, except maybe for the first one, and they stress reciprocity. And they are certainly much less common than those in Russian.

        Of course it proves, you are right, such forms are practically inexistent in Polish.

        You have not answered about “da”, so may I assume we are “pair”?

        All the best to you and those who read our “duel”.

Your thoughts welcome, by all mean reply also to other community members!