The Turkmen Language belongs to the greater family of Turkic languages. The Turkic languages, together with the Mongolian and Manchu-Tungus languages, form the Altaic language group. Specifically, Turkmen is included in the sub-group of Southern Turkic languages, along with Turkish and Azeri. Among all the Turkic languages, there are similar grammatical structures, similar phonetics and some shared vocabulary.
In some ways Turkmen is an easy language to learn. Unlike Russian or Spanish, Turkmen has no genders. There are no irregular verbs. For the most parts, words are written exactly as they are pronounced. Finally, Turkmen's grammatical case system is remarkably simple once understood, and has almost no exceptions.
The greatest difficulty for beginning Turkmen speakers will probably be adapting to Turkmen's elaborate system of grammatical suffixes, or "tag words" and learning to re-order their speech so that the predicate (verb) is the last thing spoken. Also, many simple English grammatical structures (such as "to have", "to need", or "to be able to") are handled differently in Turkmen.
The Turkmen alphabet was first written in Arabic, until about 1930, when a Latin script was introduced. The Latin script was replaced in 1940 when all Turkic people in the Soviet Union were required to adopt the Cyrillic script. Finally, in 1995, the "Täze Elipbiýi" or New Alphabet was formally introduced by the President to re-align Turkmenistan with the non-Soviet world. (Similar new alphabets have been introduced in Uzbekistan and other republics.) The New Alphabet is currently used for street signs and political slogans, but there is a severe deficit of other reading materials. But at the beginning it took a time to adapt. Due to some usage problems some alphabets were changed a few times. Last update was on 2000
The new alphabet is much easier for native English speakers to read and understand than is the Cyrillic, and also seems better suited to the Turkmen language. For this reason we have used it in the grammar discussions of this text. Most all letters are pronounced more or less like their English counterparts. The unusual letters are as follows:
Alphabet English Equivalent
Aa always the long a, as in "father"
Ää always the short a, as in "cat"
Çç ch, as in "cheese"
Gg when starting a word, voiced like the English "g" in "go". Within words, voiced like the throaty "g" in "bag"
Ii ee, as in see
Oo always the long o, as in go
Öö oo, as in good but rounder
Rr r, pronounced with a slight trill
Uu always the long u, as in flute
Üü like u, but pronounced with rounded lips and higher in the throat
Ww w, as in "water" (in Russian words, v, as in "very")
Yy i, as in sit
Ýý y, as in yes
Ňň ng, as in song
Žž zh, as in pleasure (mostly found in Russian words)
Şş sh, as in wash
One very interesting feature of Turkmen is that all vowels can be divided into two groups, the front vowels (inçe çekimli sesler) and the back vowels (ýogyn çekimli sesler). Front vowels are pronounced higher in the throat and are more nasal, while back vowels are pronounced lower in the throat and are more guttural. The front vowels are ä, e, i, ö, and ü. The back vowels are a, y, o, and u. The "harmony" lies in the fact that all Turkmen words of Turkic origin are pronounced either entirely with front vowels, like kädi (pumpkin) or köwüş (shoes), or with back vowels, like doganlyk (brotherhood) or mugallym (teacher). Grammatical and verb suffixes also follow vowel harmony, being divided into two groups for front-vowel words and back-vowel words. For example, the front-vowel plural suffix -ler would be added to kädi to form the word for "pumpkins," whereas the back-vowel plural suffix -lar would be added to mugallym to produce "teachers." In short, front vowels go with front vowels and back vowels with back. Subsequent suffix appendices will more completely explain applications of this rule.
Turkmen has many Russian words, such as telewizor (television) and radio (radio), that have simply been incorporated into the language. These are spelled exactly according to the original Russian and often have both front and back vowels within one word. Such is true for the numerous Turkmen words of Persian and Arabic origin, such as kitap (book), dükan (shop), and serdar (leader). In these cases, consistent with the general rule for vowel harmony in Turkmen, the final vowel of the word determines the vowel harmony for suffixation. Verbs in Turkmen adhere consistently to vowel harmony. All verbs belong to one of two groups determined by their infinitive forms: those ending in -mak, and those ending in -mek. The suffixes for all -mak verbs have only back vowels, whereas only front vowels will be found in the suffixes of -mek verbs. Examples of this will follow in the explanations of verb tenses.
"Note: This Turkmen Grammar is Copyrighted © 1996 Jon Garrett, Meena Pallipamu, and Greg Lastowka. All rights are reserved. The full dictionary is available at www.chaihana.com."
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