Hanging out on Clubhouse from the beginning made me realize how lacking my Turkish was. I got on the app when Germany came online and I think Turkey launched shortly after that and only then did it kick off in the Netherlands.
That particular sequencing gave me an interesting perspective on how different cultures adopted the service. Germans went into panel hell. Most of the sessions were dominated by journalists and politicos and therefore were extremely boring. Turkey got online in no time and was dominated by influencers who launched all kinds of funky repeating formats and casual chatrooms where people were going until deep into the night (I would listen until 1-2 at night which in Turkey would be 2 hours later still). The Netherlands went into a marketing fervor with a strong showing of douchebags.
Clubhouse had its moment and fizzled, but tuning into the app again recently, I can say that it’s still there and with all the klout and hype chasers gone, things are again weird. Weird is good.
In the Turkish rooms I would hear words that I didn’t know every other sentence, sometimes entire concepts like kadının beyanı esastır. Finally, I had a situation where I was exposed to a high level of Turkish and I had the motivation to improve this.
I started noting these words down in Anki, which I had bought previously to study the HSK. Adding a word to my deck here and there was slow: switch to dictionary (now I use the official one), switch to Anki and write the card, switch back.
For some extra speed, I dug up a master word list I had made more than a decade ago. Back then I had read most of Orhan Pamuk’s then bibliography (Yeni Hayat, Sessiz Ev, Kara Kitap, Kar, Benim Adım Kırmızı) and then too found lots of words I didn’t know. I passed over them and wrote them down on a piece of paper. I transcribed these papers into a list and looked up some of the meanings. But this being before Anki, I had no real way to systematically learn these words and get better at Turkish. If I had, I would have improved steadily with each book I read and everything would have been great.
I went through this old word list letter by letter and over the course of a month made cards for all of the words in that list. The result of that effort is the 1000-word deck I have made available online now.
And now, after months of revising daily (life during the pandemic has been very exciting, why do you ask?) and also continuing to add words as I go—the recent events in Afghanistan made me add the half-Arab half-Farsi ridiculous Turkish word for charge d’affaires—I finally am out of “New” words. From now on it will just be polishing the lexicography of the deck, adding a word here and there and continuing to revise.
This also means I have capacity again to go back to studying HSK3. Or I might switch back to learning Japanese after all. Watching some anime recently and seeing Japanese speaking gaijin on Tiktok have revived this itch.
A feeling for Turkish (and Arabic)
So now what? I am a lot more confident when it comes to my Turkish after having learned a bunch of the words commonly in use in the higher echelons of society. I can now look for and find complicated words much more easily. My usage will likely be incorrect often, but I should be able to get by with my sizeable intuition for what remains the first language I learned (and learnd to read in). I can also consume complex material far more easily than I used to.
I now realize how many loan words from Arabic Turkey has. The exact numbers are obscure, but almost every uncommon word either is of Arabic origin or has an Arabic equivalent. This also explains why after being in Syria for a while I understood what people were saying without knowing Arabic.
I’ve also been amazed by how overloaded the language is for certain concepts like disaster (afet, badire, facia, buhran), sorrow (ıstırap, üzüntü, matem, yas, kahır, hicran, gam, tasa, keder, nedamet, teessür) and many others. Also all of those words are Arabic in origin except if I had to guess by word shape: üzüntü (I guessed right!).
Delving into this part of the language and the people who use it, I came across the concept of White Turks. The division between white and black Turks underlies a lot of the dynamics of the Turkey of the past decades.
The people who I was listening to and whose language I am now emulating are usually white Turks. Me and my family originally are black Turks.
I’m sure I’ll never pass as white, though I’m now in a socio-economically better position than most white Turks in Turkey and most black Turks in Europe. Language is a key aspect of this division and when people clash it is usually the first weapon that they resort to. Now that I have levelled up, I don’t have to be exclusively on the receiving end of that weapon anymore.