Turkmen language

Türkmençe, türkmen dili, Түркменче, түркмен дили, تورکمن تیلی ,تورکمنچه
Native to Turkmenistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Russia
Native speakers
8 million (19952009)[1]
Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic, (Turkmen alphabet)
Turkmen Braille
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 tk
ISO 639-2 tuk
ISO 639-3 tuk
Glottolog turk1304[2]
Linguasphere part of 44-AAB-a

Turkmen (Türkmençe, türkmen dili, түркменче, түркмен дили, تورکمهن تیلی ,تورکمهنچه), is a Turkic language spoken by 3½ million people in Turkmenistan, where it is the official state language, as well as by around 2 million people in northeastern Iran[3] and 1½ million people in northwestern Afghanistan.[1]


Turkmen is a member of the East Oghuz branch of the Turkic family of languages; its closest relatives being Turkish and Azerbaijani, with which it shares a relatively high degree of mutual intelligibility.

Turkmen has vowel harmony, is agglutinative, and has no grammatical gender. Word order is subject–object–verb.

Written Turkmen today is based on the Teke (Tekke) dialect. The other dialects are Nohurly, Ýomud, Änewli, Hasarly, Nerezim, Gökleň, Salyr, Saryk, Ärsary and Çowdur. The Russian dialect is Trukhmen. The Teke dialect is sometimes (especially in Afghanistan) referred to as "Chagatai", but like all Turkmen dialects it reflects only a limited influence from classical Chagatai.

Writing system

Main article: Turkmen alphabet

Officially, Turkmen is rendered in the “Täze Elipbiý”, or “New Alphabet”, which is based on the Latin alphabet. However, the old "Soviet" Cyrillic alphabet is still in wide use. Many political parties in opposition to the authoritarian rule of President Saparmurat Niyazov continued to use the Cyrillic alphabet on websites and publications, most likely to distance themselves from the alphabet that Niyazov created.

Before 1929, Turkmen was written in an Arabic alphabet. In 1929–1938 a Latin alphabet replaced it, and then the Cyrillic alphabet was used from 1938 to 1991. In 1991, the current Latin alphabet was introduced, although the transition to it has been rather slow. It used to use some unusual letters, such as the pound, dollar, yen, and cent signs, but these were replaced by more conventional letter symbols.


The following phonemes are present in the Turkmen language:


Turkmen contains both short and long vowels. Doubling the duration of sound for a short vowel is generally how its long vowel counterpart is pronounced. Turkmen employs vowel harmony, a principle that is common in fellow Turkic languages. Vowels and their sounds are as follows:

Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i/и [i] ü/ү [y]
üý/үй [yː]
y/ы [ɯ] u/у [u]
Mid e/е [e] ö/ө [ø] o/о [ɯ]
Open ä/ә [æː] a/а [a]1
  1. For purposes of vowel harmony (see below) the central vowel [a] is considered back.


Turkmen consonant phonemes (shown in Turkmen alphabet):

Bilabial Dental/
Nasal m/м[m] n/н[n] ň/ң[ŋ]
voiceless p/п[p] t/т[] ç/ч[t͡ʃ] k/к[k]/[q]
voiced b/б[b] d/д[] j/җ[d͡ʒ] g/г[ɡ]/[ʁ]
Fricative voiceless f/ф[ɸ] s/с[θ] ş/ш[ʃ] h/х[ɸ]/[h]
voiced w/в[β] z/з[ð] ž/ж[ʒ]
Approximant l/л[l] ý/й[j]
Trill r/р[r]

Note that с (s) and з (z) are actually used for [θ] and [ð], not [s] and [z] (cf. ceceo).

Vowel harmony

Like other Turkic languages, Turkmen is characterized by vowel harmony. In general, words of native origin consist either entirely of front vowels (inçe çekimli sesler) or entirely of back vowels (ýogyn çekimli sesler). Prefixes and suffixes reflect this harmony, taking different forms depending on the word to which they are attached.

The infinitive form of a verb determines whether it will follow a front vowel harmony or back vowel harmony. Words of foreign origin, mainly Russian, Persian, or Arabic, do not follow vowel harmony.



Verbs are conjugated for singular and plural number and first, second, and third persons. There are 11 verb tenses: present comprehensive (long and short form), present perfect (regular and negative), future certain, future indefinite, conditional, past definite, obligatory, imperative, and intentional.

There are two types of verbs in Turkmen, distinguished by their infinitive forms: those ending in the suffix "-mak" and those ending in "-mek". -Mak verbs follow back vowel harmony, whereas -mek verbs follow front vowel harmony.


Evidentiality is determined by four markers, roughly:

Some independent particles may be said to convey evidentiality: one such word is the particle eken.

1. Aman syrkawla-p-dyr.
Aman become sick-EV-COP
           (I heard that) Aman is sick.(information is "hearsay")
Compare 1 with 2.a and 2.b:
2.a. Aman syrkawla-dy.
Aman  become sick-3sPAST
2.b. Aman syrkaw.
Aman sick.
                Aman is sick. (speaker has spoken with Aman)
3. Maral Aşgabat-dan gel-ip-dir.
 Maral Ashgabat-ABL come-EV-COP
                (I heard that) Maral came from Ashgabat.
4. Ben sen-iň köke-ler-iň-i iý-di.
 Ben you-GEN  cookie-pl-2sPOSS-ACC eat-3spast
      Ben ate your cookies.
i. The speaker saw Ben eat the cookies (direct evidence).
ii. Ben told the speaker that he ate the cookies.
5. Ben sen-iň köke-ler-iň-i iý-ip-dir.
 Ben you-GEN cookie-pl-2sPOSS-ACC eat-EV-COP
       Ben ate your cookies.
i. The speaker heard from someone else that Ben ate the cookies (hearsay).
ii. Generally, the speaker learned through means other than 4.i and 4.ii that Ben ate the cookies.
6.a. Ben iý-ip-dir-mikä(n) sen-iň köke-ler-iň-i.
 Ben eat-EV-COP-EV you-GEN cookie-pl-2sPOSS-ACC
         Ben ate your cookies, or more loosely: I wonder if Ben ate your cookies.
i. The speaker saw evidence of the action, i.e. crumbs, and "made the connection." (informant's account)
ii. The speaker "doesn't concretely know [Ben] ate them." (informant's account)
iii. In the words of the informant: "I am questioning myself. But it's not a question."
iv. In other words: a deduction from indirect evidence, a suspicion
6.b. Men (...) iý-ip-dir-in-mikäm?
  I    (...)   eat-EV-1sPRES(?)-EV
           Did I eat something?
i. The speaker questions whether or not s/he has performed an action.
ii. Evidence of the particular action may be direct, however the nature of its complement (i.e. an item of food) may be in doubt.
7. Ben iý-en-miş sen-iň köke-ler-iň-i.
 Ben eat-PART be-RUM  you-GEN     cookie-PL-2sPOSS-ACC
       It is rumoured that Ben ate your cookies.
i. The action has been passed on via several speakers, or gossiped, similar to in the English gloss.


One way to express negation in Turkmen is with the negative verb ýok. This verb does not inflect for person or number.

Onuň maşyny ýok.
3sg car-GEN NEGV
'He does not have a car.'
Öýde Amandan başga adam ýok.
houseLOC AmanINST except person NEGV
'There is no one but Aman in the house.'

The phonetically similar suffix -ok is another option: it attaches to the verb which it negates. It comes after the stem and before the tense suffix. -Ok does not modify its form due to vowel harmony. In addition to -ok there is another suffix -me or -ma. It appears -mV is used when dealing with one event, -ok for more habitual or lasting states:

Men bilemok. 'I don't know.'
Men bilemokdym. 'I didn't know (for a long time).'
Men bilmedim. 'I didn't know (on one occasion).'

(these correspond to the positive forms 'Men bilyärin', 'Men bilyärdim', and 'Men bildim.'

Ol ajyganok.
3sg to hunger-GERUND-NEG
Literally *'He is not hungering'; in grammatical English, 'He is not hungry.' (compare to däl construction below)

Speakers of Eastern dialects of Turkmen, influenced by Uzbek, are less likely to utilize the -ok suffix.

Yet another way of expressing negation is by the negative particle däl.

Men şu kitaby okamaly däl.
1sg this book-ACC read-OBLIG NEG
I do not have to read this book. or, I should not read this book. (sentence was elicited for the latter meaning)
Ol aç däl.
3sg hungry NEG (note the lack of copula)
He is not hungry.
Kofe gyzgyn bolup biler.
The coffee might be hot.
Kofe gyzgyn däl bolup biler.
The coffee might not be hot.
Kofe gyzgyn dälmi?
Isn't the coffee hot?

There is not an equivalent in Turkmen to the English prefix 'un-'. That is, one can't simply attach an affix to a verb to indicate the opposite action, as in wrap the present → unwrap the present.

It appears that different tenses use different forms of negation, as in the following sentences:

Men ylgamok.
I am not running. (present)
Men ylgamadym.
I did not run. (past)
Men ylgajak däl.
I will not run. (definite future)

Turkmen case system

Turkmen has six cases: Accusative, Dative, Genitive, Instrumental, Locative, and Nominative.

Pronouns 1 sg 2 sg 3 sg 1 pl 2 pl 3 pl
Nominative men(-ø) sen ol biz siz olar
Genitive meniň seniň onuň biziň siziň olaryň
Dative maňa saňa oňa bize size olara
Accusative meni seni ony bizi sizi olary
Locative mende sende onda bizde sizde olarda
Instrumental menden senden ondan bizden sizden olardan

Back Vowels: The noun sygyr "cow" declined in the six Turkmen cases, with Jenneta's examples of how it would be used for each:

Turkmen case name English case name Noun + ending Example
Baş düşüm Nominative sygyr Sygyr yzyna geldi.
Eýelik düşüm Genitive sygyryň Men sygyryň guýrugyny çekdim.
Ýöneliş düşüm Dative sygyra Men sygyra iým berdim.
Ýeňiş düşüm Accusative sygyry Men sygyry sagdym.
Wagt-orun düşüm Locative sygyrda Sygyrda näme günä bar?
Çykys düşüm Instrumental sygyrdan Bu kesel sygyrdan geçdi. Men sygyrdan ýadadym.

Front Vowels: The proper noun Jeren (a woman's name) declined in the six Turkmen cases, with examples of how it would be used for each:

Turkmen case name English case name Noun + ending Example
Baş düşüm Nominative Jeren Jeren yzyna geldi.
Eýelik düşüm Genitive Jereniň Men Jereniň saçyny çekdim.
Ýöneliş düşüm Dative Jerene Men Jerene nahar berdim.
Ýeňiş düşüm Accusative Jereni Men Jereni gördüm.
Wagt-orun düşüm Locative Jerende Jerende näme günä bar?
Çykys düşüm Instrumental Jerenden Bu kesel Jerenden geçdi. Men Jerenden ýadadym.


Suffixes, or "goşulmalar", form a very important part of Turkmen. They can mark possession, or change a verb.

Suffixes reflect vowel harmony.


The leading Turkmen poet is Magtymguly Pyragy, who wrote in the eighteenth century. His language represents a transitional stage between Chagatai and spoken Turkmen.



0.nol 1.bir 2.iki 3.üç 4.dört 5.bäş 6.alty 7.ýedi 8.sekiz 9.dokuz 10.on. For 11-19, it is just like saying 'ten one, ten two, ten three' and so on. 20.ýigrimi 30.otuz 40.kyrk 50.elli 60.altmyş 70.ýetmiş 80.segsen 90.togsan 100.ýüz 1000.müň


black - gara | blue - gök | brown - goňur, mele | grey - çal | green - ýaşyl | orange - narynç, mämişi | pink - gülgün | purple - benewşe, melewşe | red - gyzyl | white - ak | yellow -sary

Basic expressions

yes - hawa | no - ýok | goodbye - sag boluň, hoş | good morning - ertiriňiz haýyrly bolsun | good evening - agşamyňyz haýyrly bolsun | good night - gijäňiz rahat bolsun | please - -aý/äý (verb suffix) e.g. Please give it to me: Maňa beräý! | thank you - sag boluň

Language difficulties

Do you speak English? - Siz iňlis dilinde gepleýärsiňizmi? | I don't speak Turkmen - Men türkmen dilinde geplemeýärin | What does it mean? - munuň manysy näme?

Further reading

External links

Turkmen edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Turkmen
Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Turkmen.


  1. 1 2 Turkmen at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Turkmen". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. The group known as "Iraqi Turkmen" are actually speakers of South Azeri and not all tribes that are called "Turkmen" in northeastern Iran are speakers of Turkmen; many are speakers of Khorasani Turkic.
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