Turkish Language Association President: Turkish is in fifth place among the languages of the world

Saturday, October 24, 2009


An article on this can be seen in Turkish here and corresponds well with what I often write here. The geographic and demographic extent of Turkish isn't obvious at first and is often very downplayed on sites like Wikipedia, where the total number of speakers attributed to Turkish is a laughable "about 70 million", or less than the population of Turkey. But then again many of those numbers are taken from Ethnologue where apparently even French was apparently listed as having a population of 65 million(!).

There is also a tendency to focus far too much on native speakers alone, which means that Turkish speakers in Germany, Bulgaria, Macedonia, etc. etc. etc. all get left out of the count. Usually when people look up the population numbers of a language though they are simply interested in how extensive the language is - how many people use it, not how many have grown up with it as a first language. Generally only linguists are interested in the second number.

There are also a few surprises in the list of languages spoken throughout the world - the language in 6th place in terms of population is actually Bengali, and Javanese and Wu are quite high up as well, which shows that numbers alone really don't mean a great deal - being used as an official language of a country, geographic extent, economic development and other factors are much more important. Bengali in 6th place is only spoken in Bengladesh and areas nearby, so only about twice this area:



and an economic clout less than that of Slovakia. Compare this to Turkish (and other Turkic languages) from the article:
The President of the Turkish Language Association Prof. Dr. Haluk Şükrü Akalın said that Turkish was spoken in a total area of 12 million square kilometres (note: that's the United States plus Argentina) and was in fifth place among languages of the world.

Bülent Kılınç, the governor of Düzce, also gave a speech at the conference saying that "Turkish is spoken in just about every part of the world. However, we are causing our language to be forgotten through a daily loss of (proper) reading habits."
The rest of the article is not interesting enough to translate as there are no extra numbers or new facts to report. However, for an overview on the position of Turkish in Central Asia and other parts of the world see a post here from last month. The biggest advantage that Turkish has is 1) being mostly mutually comprehensible with other Turkic languages, and 2) being the official language of a country that completely overshadows each and every other part of the world that uses a Turkic language. Romance languages on the other hand are generally less mutually comprehensible and also happen to be located in countries of relatively equal or similar influence and economic development, and as a result there is no clear "winner" that overshadows the rest. If Latin had remained the official languages of these countries it would have been the uncontested winner as a common tongue that could be used in almost all parts of the world, but looks like it wasn't meant to be.

7 comments:

Matt said...

I don't really see how Turkish is "fifth place among languages of the world." As for its geographic distribution, that's mainly due to it's usage in Kazakhstan and Russia, both instances in which it is a minority language, and both regions of which have extremely low population density. There are plenty of countries with more economic clout than Turkey, so using that argument against Bangladesh serves only the purpose of comparing Turkish to Bengali.

As far as native speakers/secondary learners, the number I trust tends to be the number of native speakers plus half the amount of secondary speakers, because we all know the degree to which people are proficient in non-native languages varies considerably. India might have more people who can speak English than the UK, but how many of these people could write a deep, meaningful poem in English?

Anyways, just a handful of languages I think would precede Turkey "among languages of the world" would include English, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Arabic, German, and Russian. Perhaps Portuguese and Japanese as well. Either way, there are certainly more than four.

Sorry if this sounds "anti-Turkish"; it's certainly not meant to be. Perhaps I just misunderstood what is meant by being "fifth place among languages of the world."

데이빛 / Mithridates said...

No, it doesn't sound anti-Turkish. The article doesn't provide a source for his contention about fifth place but the reason for Bengali is that it's about fifth or sixth place with somewhere around 200 million while the Turkic languages added together also make up about the same number.

Russian is actually a good example of a language similar to Turkish in geopolitical terms because it's also a language that isn't spoken by a huge number of people compared to something like Spanish but it happens to cover quite a huge area and is head and shoulders above the other Slavic languages in terms of influence. It's not quite the humongous imbalance one finds with the Turkic languages but kind of similar.

Larry West said...

I really don't see how people can treat the Ethnologue as being any way near accurate.
For example, the Ethnologue states that 400,000 people in the United States speaks Kabuverdianu (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=US), more than even on the Cape Verde Islands (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=CV), whereas the US Census listed the number as not enough to list separately (for example, http://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/briefs/phc-t37/tables/tab01a.pdf).
There are other large discrepencies as well between the Census and the Ethnologue. What is most disturbing is that there are several languages which the Ethnologue lists as "extinct" that the Census has speakers for. Granted, some of the Census data is probably in error (their Chumash speakers, for example, do not live anywhere near the area where the Chumash Indians lived), but since the Ethnologue does not detail where they get their numbers from, I would take their figures with a huge grain of salt.

zanabazar said...

A lot of these supposed "facts" read like typical Pan-Turkist boilerplate and are more laughable than Wikipedia's statistics.

>>>The President of the Turkish Language Association Prof. Dr. Haluk Şükrü Akalın said that Turkish was spoken in a total area of 12 million square kilometres (note: that's the United States plus Argentina) and was in fifth place among languages of the world.

Conveniently failing to make the distinction between Turkish and Turkic, reducing the latter to the status of dialects of the Mother Turkish language, out of purely political motivations.
If one took all the Slavic languages (which are not unlike the Turkic languages in terms of mutual intelligibility) and regarded them as dialects of Russian, one could easily come up with a figure of 300 million+ "Russian" speakers, but it would be just as false (and offensive to other Slavs).

>>The biggest advantage that Turkish has is 1) being mostly mutually comprehensible with other Turkic languages

If only it were true. Of all the Turkic languages only Azeri (and Turkmen and Crimean Tatar if one really stretches it) are mutually intelligible with Turkish.

Anonymous said...

How can Turkey expect to command any respect when it fails to recognize and pay reparations for the Armenian genocide.

Few people realize the extent of the ongoing persecution and discrimination of Christians in Turkey. For example, a muslim that converts to Christianity risks being thrown in jail for committing a crime against Turkishness.

Do you think Russia would welcome the expansion of Turkish influence in areas of the former Soviet Union. What has prevented Russia from taking a more aggressive stance against Turkish influence.


@zanabazar

Correct. Imagine telling a Pole that Polish is a Russian dialect. Ha!

zanabazar said...

A lot of these supposed "facts" read like typical Pan-Turkist boilerplate and are more laughable than Wikipedia's statistics.

>>>The President of the Turkish Language Association Prof. Dr. Haluk Şükrü Akalın said that Turkish was spoken in a total area of 12 million square kilometres (note: that's the United States plus Argentina) and was in fifth place among languages of the world.

Conveniently failing to make the distinction between Turkish and Turkic, reducing the latter to the status of dialects of the Mother Turkish language, out of purely political motivations.
If one took all the Slavic languages (which are not unlike the Turkic languages in terms of mutual intelligibility) and regarded them as dialects of Russian, one could easily come up with a figure of 300 million+ "Russian" speakers, but it would be just as false (and offensive to other Slavs).

>>The biggest advantage that Turkish has is 1) being mostly mutually comprehensible with other Turkic languages

If only it were true. Of all the Turkic languages only Azeri (and Turkmen and Crimean Tatar if one really stretches it) are mutually intelligible with Turkish.

Larry West said...

I really don't see how people can treat the Ethnologue as being any way near accurate.
For example, the Ethnologue states that 400,000 people in the United States speaks Kabuverdianu (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=US), more than even on the Cape Verde Islands (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=CV), whereas the US Census listed the number as not enough to list separately (for example, http://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/briefs/phc-t37/tables/tab01a.pdf).
There are other large discrepencies as well between the Census and the Ethnologue. What is most disturbing is that there are several languages which the Ethnologue lists as "extinct" that the Census has speakers for. Granted, some of the Census data is probably in error (their Chumash speakers, for example, do not live anywhere near the area where the Chumash Indians lived), but since the Ethnologue does not detail where they get their numbers from, I would take their figures with a huge grain of salt.

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