Ottoman Turkish alphabet
The Ottoman Turkish alphabet (Ottoman Turkish: الفبا elifbâ) is a version of the Perso-Arabic alphabet used to write Ottoman Turkish until 1928, when it was replaced by the Latin-based modern Turkish alphabet.
|Ottoman Turkish alphabet|
|Languages||Ottoman Turkish language|
The earliest known Turkic alphabet is the Orkhon script. The various Turkic languages have been written in a number of different alphabets, including Cyrillic, Arabic, Greek, Latin, and some other Asiatic writing systems.
The Ottoman Turkish alphabet is a Turkish form of the Perso-Arabic script. Well suited to writing Arabic and Persian borrowings, it was poorly suited to native Turkish words. When it came to consonants, Arabic has several consonants that do not exist in Turkish, making several Arabic letters superfluous except for Arabic loanwords; conversely, a few letters had to be invented to write letters in Persian and Turkish that Arabic did not have (such as g or p). In the case of vowels, Turkish contains eight different short vowels and no long ones, whereas Arabic (and Persian) have three short and three long vowels; further complicating matters was that in the Arabic script, only long vowels are usually expressed. Still, Turkic languages such as Azerbaijani and Uzbek continue to be written using Arabic script in Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
The introduction of the telegraph and the printing press in the 19th century exposed further weaknesses in the Arabic script.
Some Turkish reformers promoted the Latin script well before Atatürk's reforms. In 1862, during an earlier period of reform, the statesman Münuf Pasha advocated a reform of the alphabet. At the start of the 20th century, similar proposals were made by several writers associated with the Young Turk movement, including Hüseyin Cahit, Abdullah Cevdet and Celâl Nuri.
The issue was raised again in 1923 during the İzmir Economic Congress of the new Turkish Republic, sparking a public debate that was to continue for several years. A move away from the Arabic script was strongly opposed by conservative and religious elements. It was argued that Romanization of the script would detach Turkey from the wider Islamic world, substituting a foreign (European) concept of national identity for the confessional community.
Others opposed Romanization on practical grounds, as was no suitable adaptation of the Latin script that could be used for Turkish phonemes. Some suggested that a better alternative might be to modify the Arabic script to introduce extra characters for better representing Turkish vowels.
Ottoman Turkish script was replaced by the Latin-based new Turkish alphabet. Its use became compulsory in all public communications in 1929. The change was formalized by the Law on the Adoption and Implementation of the Turkish Alphabet, passed on November 1, 1928, and effective on January 1, 1929.
As with Arabic and Persian, texts in the Ottoman Turkish alphabet are written right to left. The appearance of a letter changes depending on its position in a word:
- isolated (in a one-letter word);
- final (in which case it is joined on the right to the preceding letter);
- medial (joined on both sides); and
- initial (joined on the left to the following letter).
Some letters cannot be joined to the left and so do not possess separate medial and initial forms. In medial position, the final form is used. In initial position, the isolated form is used.
|ا||ـا||—||elif||a, e||—, ā, '||æ, e, —, (ʔ)|
|ء||—||hemze||—, '||—, '||—, [ʔ]|
|ب||ـب||ـبـ||بـ||be||b (p)||b||b (p)|
|ض||ـض||ـضـ||ضـ||dad||d, z||ż||z (d)|
|ع||ـع||ـعـ||عـ||ayn||', —||‘||—, ʔ|
|غ||ـغ||ـغـ||غـ||gayn||g, ğ, (v)||ġ||[ɣ → g], ◌ː, (v),|
|گ||ـگ||ـگـ||گـ||gef (1), kāf-ı fārsī||g, ğ, (v)||g||[g → ɟ], j, (v)|
|ڭ||ـڭ||ـڭـ||ڭـ||nef, ñef, sağır kef (1), kāf-ı nūnī||n||ñ||n, [ŋ]|
|و||ـو||—||vav||v, o, ö, u, ü||v, ū, aw, avv, ūv||v, o, œ, u, y|
|ه||ـه||ـهـ||هـ||he (3)||h, e, a||h (2)||h, æ, e, (t)|
|ی||ـی||ـیـ||یـ||ye||y, ı, i||y, ī, ay, á, īy||j, ɯ, i|
- In most texts, kef, gef, and sağır kef are written identically although one Ottoman variant of gef has a "mini-kaf" of ﻙ as well as the doubled upper stroke of گ. In general, /g/ and /ŋ/ sounds are represented by kef ك. 
- The Library of Congress recommends for he (هـ) in a word in the construct state to be romanised t and when a word ending in he is used adverbially, it should be romanised tan.
- While in the original Arabic order, the final three letters are he, vāv, ye, in the Persian (and Ottoman) reordering, they are vāv, he, ye.
- One further sign, which is not considered an actual letter, is the so-called te merbūṭa ('connected t'), which can indicate the Arabic feminine singular ending and which is often also written in Ottoman texts. Te merbūṭa is always at the end of a word and takes the form of ه (he) with two dots above, thus: ة or ـة (although in Ottoman texts the dots are often omitted).
- Ghayn and gef were known to make a /v/ sound in words with considerable Azeri and Turkmen influence.
The orthography of Ottoman Turkish is complex, as many Turkish sounds can be written with several different letters. For example, the phoneme /s/ can be written as ⟨ث⟩, ⟨س⟩, or ⟨ص⟩. Conversely, some letters have more than one value: ⟨ك⟩ k may be /k/, /ɡ/, /n/, /j/, or /ː/ (lengthening the preceding vowel; modern ğ), and vowels are written ambiguously or not at all. For example, the text ⟨كورك⟩ kwrk can be read as /ɡevrek/ 'biscuit', /kyrk/ 'fur', /kyrek/ 'shovel', /kœryk/ 'bellows', /ɡœrek/ 'view', which in modern orthography are written gevrek, kürk, kürek, körük, görek.
Arabic and Persian borrowings are written in their original orthography: sabit 'firm' is written as ⟨ثابت⟩ s̱’bt, with ⟨ث⟩ s̱ representing /s/ (in Arabic /θ/), and ⟨ا⟩ ’ representing /aː/ as in Arabic but with no indication of the short /i/. The letters ث ح ذ ض ظ ع are found only in borrowings from Arabic; ژ is only in borrowings from Persian and French. Although the Arabic vowel points (harakat) can be used ⟨ثَابِت⟩ s̱a’bit, they are generally found only in dictionaries and didactic works, as in Arabic and Persian, and they still do not identify vowel sounds unambiguously.
Consonant letters are classified in three series, based on vowel harmony: soft, hard, and neutral. The soft consonant letters, ت س ك گ ه, are found in front vowel contexts; the hard, ح خ ص ض ط ظ ع غ ق, in back vowel contexts; and the neutral, ب پ ث ج چ د ذ ر ز ژ ش ف ل م ن, in either. In Perso-Arabic borrowings, the vowel used in Turkish depends on the softness of the consonant. Thus, ⟨كلب⟩ klb 'dog' (Arabic /kalb/) is /kelb/, while ⟨قلب⟩ ḳlb 'heart' (Arabic /qalb/) is /kalb/. Conversely, in Turkish words, the choice of consonant reflects the native vowel.
|Hard (back)||ط||ط ض||ص||ض ظ||ق||غ||ع||ح خ|
(All other sounds are only written with neutral consonant letters.)
In Turkish words, vowels are sometimes written using the vowel letters as the second letter of a syllable: elif ⟨ا⟩ for /a/; ye ⟨ی⟩ for /i/, /ɯ/; vav ⟨و⟩ for /o/, /œ/, /u/, /y/; he ⟨ه⟩ for /a/, /e/. The corresponding harakat are there: ustun ⟨َ○⟩ (Arabic fatḥah) for /a/, /e/; esre ⟨ِ○⟩ (Arabic kasrah) for /ɯ/, /i/; ötre ⟨ُ○⟩ (Arabic ḍammah) for /o/, /œ/, /u/, /y/. The names of the harakat are also used for the corresponding vowels.
|Name||Arabic name||Point||Letter||Front reading||Back reading|
|ötre||ḍammah||ُ○||و vav||/œ/, /y/||/o/, /u/|
Other scripts were sometimes used by non-Muslims to write Ottoman Turkish since the Arabic alphabet was identified with Islam.
The first novel to be written in the Ottoman Empire was Akabi (1851), which was written in the Armenian script by Vartan Pasha. Similarly, when the Armenian Duzian family managed the Ottoman mint during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid I (r. 1839–61), they kept records in Ottoman Turkish but used the Armenian script.
|Arabic form||Number||Ottoman Turkish||Modern Turkish|
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