Istanbul is a superb city to visit at any time of year. For anyone wondering what language is spoken in Istanbul, the answer is Turkish. For non-native speakers, Turkish can sound incredibly complex and seem almost impossible to learn. However, armed with a few phrases of the Istanbul language, you can get the most out of your holiday and help you avoid any misunderstandings.
While the Turkish people are well-known for their friendliness, there are certain aspects of Western languages that don’t translate and can be misinterpreted, particularly if you happen to take a trip to the Old City. To make sure your experience is free from linguistic pitfalls, it’s worth picking up a little of the native Turkish language in Istanbul.
The History of the Turkish Language
The melting pot that is Istanbul has set the foundations for standard Turkish, which is also known as Istanbul Turkish. In addition to helping you navigate your way around the city, having some of the Turkish language and phrases up your sleeve can help you out in other Turkish-speaking countries, such as Cyprus, Bulgaria and even parts of Germany.
Under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey absorbed words from Persia and Arabia and the language in Istanbul became a diluted version of its original form. However, this dialect was considered to be a higher form and the authentic Turkish was deemed not fit for study.
In the early 20th Century, five years after Turkey became a Republic, a movement was launched to restore the language in Istanbul to its roots. Today, the Istanbul language is continuing to evolve, but remains a purer version of what was spoken under the rule of the Ottomans.
Where to Speak the Language in Istanbul
While English can be heard in the main tourist areas, if you’re planning to go off the beaten track or explore the minarets, markets and narrow streets of the Old City then you’ll need some of the more common Turkish phrases to fall back on. With street-sellers, stall-holders and food vendors lining the alleys, being able to haggle, ask directions and choose what you want to buy will set you apart from anyone who doesn’t know the lingo.
Those who live and work in the less touristy parts of the city tend to only speak Turkish, so to get the best experience from your adventures, a few simple phrases can be a huge help. In addition, being able to use the Istanbul language can be incredibly valuable in the event of any emergencies.
While the language in Istanbul is complex, it’s possible to learn enough to get by without investing too much time or effort. We’ve put together some of the most popular and useful phrases used by visitors and translated them. To help with pronunciation, we’ve added sound files; click on the ‘play’ icon and you’ll hear your selected phrase spoken in Turkish, just as it should sound. All you need to do is devote a little time to listening and repeating and you’ll soon have a selection of sentences, greetings and phrases committed to memory.
While it might seem unnecessary to learn a few Turkish basics before you travel, the locals will appreciate your effort and you might even make a few new friends during your time abroad.