On the Number of Phonemes in Turkish

Süer Eker

On the Number of Phonemes in Turkish

47th Meeting of the PIAC, Cambridge 2004

Basically a phoneme can be defined as speech sound. There is not always a one-to-one correspondence between the speech sounds that distinguish meanings and the letters with respect to quality and quantity. In many languages, there is a clear-cut distinction between the numbers of sounds and phonemes in a morpheme. The number of sounds does not always equal the number of the phonemes. The number of sounds may be too many at times while the number of phonemes are just a few. Also, the sounds that are not phonemes may sometimes be included in the alphabet. Although script and speech are independent of each other, when the alphabet is taken as the reference, in standard Turkish spoken in Turkey, it is said that there are eight vowels and twenty-one consonants. This may mean that there are roughly twenty-nine phonemes in standard Turkish spoken in Turkey. Nevertheless, this can never be taken as a true and valid judgement.

Until now, there have been many studies conducted on the phonology of the standard Turkish spoken in Turkey. However, there have been few studies on the number of phonemes and the situations where the speech sounds can be considered phonemes in Turkish. For example, while determining the phonemes in Turkish, which one(s) of the characteristics such as the phonetic conditions, the articulation points, the duration of the vowels, palatalization-glotalization, the etimological conditions and the semantic conditions should be taken into consideration has not been established yet. Similarly, whether there is a sound that corresponds to the letter ğ in Turkish alphabet, in other words, whether it is pronounced or not, and, if it is, which sound it contrasts with; whether the letter j, which exists in words borrowed from other languages, can be considered a phoneme, and so on — these are some of the areas that have not been clarified yet.

In this paper, within the framework mentioned above, by means of the original and borrowed words in Turkish language spoken in Turkey, the contrast sounds and the conditions that enable this contrast and, naturally, the phoneme inventory of Turkish will be explored.