Ottoman Turkish kurus

Ottoman Turkish language

Ottoman Turkish (Osmanlıca or Osmanlı Türkçesi, Ottoman Turkish: lisân-ı Osmânî) is the variety of the Turkish language that was used as the administrative and literary language of the Ottoman Empire. It contains extensive borrowings from Arabic and Persian languages and was written in a variant of the Arabic script. As a result of this process, Ottoman Turkish was largely unintelligible to the less-educated members of society . Ultimately, however, present spoken Turkish would come to be greatly influenced by Ottoman Turkish.


As in most other Turkic languages of Islamic communities, the Arabic borrowings were not the result of direct exposure of Ottoman Turkish to Arabic, a fact that is evidenced by the typically Persian phonological mutation of the words of Arabic origin. The conservation of archaic phonological features of the Arabic borrowings furthermore suggests that Arabic-enriched Persian was absorbed into pre-Ottoman Turkic at an early stage, when the speakers were still located to the northeast of Persia, prior to the westward migration of the Islamic Turkic tribes. An additional argument for this is that Ottoman Turkish shares the Persianate character of its Arabic borrowings with other Turkic languages that had even less interaction with Arabic, such as Tatar and Uygur.

In a social and pragmatic sense, there were (at least) three variants of Ottoman Turkish:

  • Fasih Türkçe (Eloquent Turkish): the language of poetry and administration;
  • Orta Türkçe (Middle Turkish): the language of higher classes and trade;
  • Kaba Türkçe (Vulgar Turkish): the language of lower classes.

A person would use each of the varieties above for different purposes. For example, a scribe would use the Arabic asel (عسل) to refer to honey when writing a document, but would use the native Turkish word bal when buying it.


Historically, Ottoman Turkish was transformed in three eras:

  • Eski Osmanlı Türkçesi (Old Ottoman Turkish): The version of Ottoman Turkish used until 16th century. It was almost identical with the Turkish used by Seljuks and Anatolian Turkish Beyliks, thus often regarded as part of Eski Anadolu Türkçesi (Ancient Anatolian Turkish).
  • Orta Osmanlı Türkçesi (Middle Ottoman Turkish) or Klasik Osmanlıca (Classical Ottoman Turkish): Language of poetry and administration from 16th century until Tanzimat. This is the version of Ottoman Turkish that comes to most people's minds.
  • Yeni Osmanlı Türkçesi (New Ottoman Turkish): Shaped from 1850s to 20th century under influence of journalism and Western-oriented literature.

Language reform

In 1928, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the establishment of Republic of Turkey, widespread language reforms (a part in the greater framework of Atatürk's Reforms) instituted by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk saw the replacement of many Persian and Arabic origin loanwords in the language with their Turkish equivalents. It also saw the replacement of the Perso-Arabic script with the extended Latin alphabet. The changes were meant to encourage the growth of a new variety of written Turkish that more closely reflected the spoken vernacular, as well as to foster a new variety of spoken Turkish that more explicitly reflected Turkey's new national identity as being a post-Ottoman state.

Please see the list of replaced loanwords in Turkish for more examples on Ottoman Turkish words and their modern Turkish counterparts. Two examples of Arabic and two of Persian loanwords are found below.

English Ottoman Modern Turkish
obligatory واجب vâcib zorunlu
hardship مشکل müşkül güçlük, zorluk
city شهر şehir kent/şehir
war جنگ cenk savaş


Historically speaking, Ottoman Turkish is not the predecessor of modern Turkish, but rather the standard Turkish of today is essentially Yeni Osmanlı Türkçesi as written in the Latin alphabet and with an abundance of neologisms added. One major difference between modern Turkish and Ottoman Turkish is the former's abandonment of compound word formation according to Arabic and Persian grammar rules. The usage of such phrases still exists in modern Turkish, but only to a very limited extent and usually in specialist contexts; for example, the Arabic genitive construction takdîr-i ilâhî (which reads literally as "the preordaining of the divine", and translates as "divine dispensation" or "destiny") is used, as opposed to the normative modern Turkish construction, ilâhî takdîr (literally, "divine preordaining").


Ottoman Turkish was primarily written in the Ottoman Turkish script (الفبا elifbâ), a variant of the Perso-Arabic script. It was not, however, unknown for Ottoman Turkish to also be written using the Armenian script: for instance, the first novel to be written in the Ottoman Empire was 1851's Akabi, written in the Armenian script by Vartan Pasha. Similarly, when the Armenian Düzoğlu family managed the Ottoman mint during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid, they kept records in Ottoman Turkish, but used the Armenian script. Other scripts, too—such as the Greek alphabet and the Rashi script of Hebrew—were used by non-Muslim groups to write the language, since the Arabic alphabet was identified with Islam. On the other hand, for example, Greek-speaking Muslims would write Greek using the Ottoman Turkish script.

Isolated Final Middle Initial Name ALA-LC Transliteration Modern Turkish
elif a, â a, e
hemze ˀ ', a, e, i, u, ü
be b, p b
pe p p
te t t
se s s
cim c, ç c
çim ç ç
ha h
dal d d
zel z z
re r r
ze z z
je j j
sin s s
şın ş ş
sad s
ﺿ dad ż, ḍ d, z
ayın ʿ ', h
gayın ġ g, ğ
fe f f
kaf k
kef k, g, ñ k, g, ğ, n
gef¹ g g, ğ
nef, sağır (deaf) kef ñ n
lam l l
mim m m
nun n n
vav v, o, ô, ö, u, û, ü v, o, ö, u, ü
he h, e, a h, e, a
lamelif la
ye y, ı, i, î y, ı, i

1A correct Ottoman variant of gef will have the "mini-kaf" of ﻙ and the doubled upper stroke of گ. This feature is surely rare in current fonts.

Educational opportunities for Ottoman Turkish (Osmanli Turki) are too many to list. This is just an attempt to provide the list of major known sources and institutes with substantive courses and resources in this language.

Educational opportunities in Ottoman Turkish language

Currently thousands of courses in Ottoman Turkish Literature are offered around the world. In Turkey alone it is estimated that more than thirty thousand students learning Ottoman Turkish, as a classical language with great historical significance.

See also


Further reading

External links

Tertiary-level studies in Ottoman Turkish language (outside Turkey)

Courses in Turkish universities

Online courses

Online Ottoman Turkish resources

Ottoman dictionaries and tools

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