Languages of Turkey

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Languages of Turkey
Official languages Turkish
Minority languages Kurmanji, Zazaki, Arabic, Laz, Georgian[1]
Main immigrant languages Albanian, Bosnian, Pomak/Bulgarian
Main foreign languages English (17%)
German (4%)
French (3%)[2]
Sign languages Turkish Sign Language
Mardin Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
Turkish (Q-keyboard) and
Turkish (F-keyboard)
KB Turkey.svg

The Languages of Turkey, apart from the only official language Turkish, include the widespread Kurdish language, the moderately prevalent minority languages Arabic and Zazaki and a number of less common minority languages, some of which are guaranteed by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

Constitutional rights

Official language

Article 3 of the Constitution of Turkey defines Turkish as the only official language of Turkey.[3]

Minority language rights

Article 42 of the Constitution explicitly prohibits educational institutions to teach any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens.[4]

No language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institutions of training or education. Foreign languages to be taught in institutions of training and education and the rules to be followed by schools conducting training and education in a foreign language shall be determined by law. The provisions of international treaties are reserved.

Due to Article 42 and its longtime restrictive interpretation, ethnic minorities have been facing severe restrictions in the use of their mother languages.

Concerning the incompatibility of this provision with the International Bill of Human Rights, Turkey signed the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights only with reservations constraining minority rights and the right to education. Furthermore, Turkey hasn't signed either of the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, or the anti-discrimination Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights.[5]

This particular constitutional provision has been contested both internationally and within Turkey. The provision has been criticized by minority groups, notably the Kurdish community. In October 2004, the Turkish State's Human Rights Advisory Board called for a constitutional review in order to bring Turkey's policy on minorities in line with international standards, but was effectively muted.[6] It was also criticized by EU member states, the OSCE, and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch who observe that "the Turkish government accepts the language rights of the Jewish, Greek and Armenian minorities as being guaranteed by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. But the government claims that these are Turkey's only minorities, and that any talk of minority rights beyond this is just separatism".[7]

Supplementary language education

In 2013, the Ministry of Education included Kurdish, Abkhaz, Adyghe and Laz languages to the academic programme of the basic schools as optional classes from the fifth year on.[8]

Lists of languages

Ethnologue lists many minority languages in Turkey some of which are spoken by large numbers of people.

Mother Tongue in Turkey[9]
Mother Tongue Percentage
Turkish 84.54
Kurmanji 11.97
Arabic 1.38
Zazaki 1.01
Other Turkic languages 0.28
Balkan languages 0.23
Laz 0.12
Circassian 0.11
Armenian 0.07
Caucasian languages 0.07
Greek 0.06
Nordic Languages 0.04
West European languages 0.02
Jewish languages 0.01
Other 0.09
Languages of Turkey[10][11]
Language Numbers Classification Comment
Turkish 63,000,000 (2007) Turkic (Oghuz)
Kurmanji 8,735,108 Indo-European (Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Western) also known as Northern Kurdish
Zazaki 1,000,000 (1998/1999) Indo-European (Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Western) also known as Dimli
Kabardian 1,000,000 (2005) North Caucasian languages (aka Caucasic)
South Azerbaijani 530,000 Turkic (Oghuz)
North Mesopotamian Arabic 400,000 (1992) Semitic languages (Arabic)
Balkan Gagauz Turkish 327,000 (1993) Turkic (Oghuz)
Bulgarian 300,000 (2001) Indo-European (Slavic)
Adyghe 278,000 (2000) North Caucasian languages
Kirmanjki 140,000 Indo-European (Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Western) another name of the Zaza language
Armenian 40,000 (1980) Indo-European (Armenian languages)
Georgian 40,000 (1980) South Caucasian languages
Laz 30,000 (1980) South Caucasian languages
Domari 28,500 (2000) Indo-European (Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan)
Balkan Romani 25,000 Indo-European (Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan)
Serbian 20,000 (1980) Indo-European (Slavic)
Tosk Albanian 15,000 (1980) Indo-European (Albanian)
Abaza 10,000 (1995) North Caucasian languages
Ladino 8,000 (1976) Indo-European (Romance) spoken by the descendants of Jewish refugees from Spain
Pontic 4,540 (1965) Indo-European (Greek) spoken on the shores of the Black Sea, most speakers were moved to Greece in the 1920s
Greek 4,000 (1993) Indo-European (Greek) most speakers were moved to Greece in the 1920s
Abkhaz 4,000 (1980) North Caucasian languages
Turoyo 3,000 (1994) Semitic languages (Aramaic)
Nordic Languages 3,000 (2000) Nordic languages (Swedish, Danish and Norwegian)
Crimean Tatar 2,000 Turkic (Oghuz) actual number is unknown
Southern Uzbek 1,980 (1982) Turkic (Uyghuric)
Kyrgyz 1,140 (1982) Turkic (Western) (aka Kirghiz)
Hértevin less than 1,000 (1999) Semitic languages (Aramaic)
Turkmen 920 (1982) Turkic (Oghuz)
Kazakh 600 (1982) Turkic (Western)
Uyghur 500 (1981) Turkic (Kayseri)
Kumyk few villages Turkic (Western)
Kazan Tatar handful Turkic (Western)
Osetin ?? Indo-European (Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Eastern)
Turkish Sign Language ? Sign languages Numbers are unknown though likely to number in the thousands
Syriac extinct Aramaic liturgical language
Ubykh extinct North Caucasian became extinct in the 1990s


Turkey has historically been the home to many now extinct languages. These include Hittite, the earliest Indo-European language for which written evidence exists (circa 1600 BCE to 1100 BCE when the Hittite Empire existed). The other Anatolian languages included Luwian and later Lycian, Lydian and Milyan. All these languages are believed to have become extinct at the latest around the 1st century BCE due to the Hellenization of Anatolia which led to Greek in a variety of dialects becoming the common language.

Urartian belonging to the Hurro-Urartian language family existed in eastern Anatolia around Lake Van. It existed as the language of the kingdom of Urartu from about the 9th century BCE until the 6th century. Hattian is attested in Hittite ritual texts but is not related to the Hittite language or to any other known language; it dates from the 2nd millennium BCE.

See also



  2. Europeans and Their Languages
  3. "Constitution of the Republic of Turkey". Republic of Turkey. Article 3. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Constitution of the Republic of Turkey". Republic of Turkey. Article 42. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. European Commission 2005, pp. 35 f..
  6. European Commission 2005, p. 35.
  7. Questions and Answers: Freedom of Expression and Language Rights in Turkey. New York: Human Rights Watch. April 2002.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. KONDA 2007
  10. Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). "Ethnologue report for Turkey (Europe)". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 2009-09-08. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). "Ethnologue report for Turkey (Asia)". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 2009-09-08. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>