The Ottoman Turkish alphabet (Ottoman Turkish: الفبا elifbâ) is a version of the Perso-Arabic alphabet used to write Ottoman Turkish until 1928, when it was replaced by the Latin-based modern Turkish alphabet.
Though Ottoman Turkish was primarily written in this script, non-Muslim Ottoman subjects sometimes wrote it in other scripts, including the Armenian, Greek, Latin and Hebrew alphabets.
The earliest known Turkic alphabet is the Orkhon script. The various Turkic languages have been written in a number of different alphabets, including Cyrillic, Arabic, Greek, Latin, and some other Asiatic writing systems.
The Ottoman Turkish alphabet is a Turkish form of the Perso-Arabic script. Well suited to writing Arabic and Persian borrowings, it was poorly suited to native Turkish words. When it came to consonants, Arabic has several consonants that do not exist in Turkish (or Persian), making several Arabic letters superfluous except for Arabic loanwords; conversely, a few letters had to be invented to write letters in Persian and Turkish that Arabic did not have (such as g or p).
In the case of vowels, Turkish contains eight different short vowels and no long ones, whereas Arabic (and Persian) have three short and three long vowels; further complicating matters was that in the Arabic script, only long vowels are usually expressed, making the Arabic script poorly suited for writing Turkish. The Arabic script had been designed to write Arabic, and while it was serviceable for Persian, it is quite inadequate at representingTurkish phonemes, especially the vowels. Still, Turkic languages such as Azerbaijani and Uzbek continue to be written using Arabic script in Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
The introduction of the telegraph and the printing press in the 19th century exposed further weaknesses in the Arabic script.
A calendar page for November 1, 1895 (October 20 OS) in cosmopolitan Thessaloniki. The first 3 lines in Ottoman Turkish Arabic script give the date in theRumi, 20 Teşrin-i Evvel 1311, andIslamic, 14 Jumādā al-Ūlā 1313, calendars; the Julian and Gregorian (in French) dates appear below.
Some Turkish reformers promoted the Latin script well before Atatürk's reforms. In 1862, during an earlier period of reform, the statesmanMünuf Pasha advocated a reform of the alphabet. At the start of the 20th century, similar proposals were made by several writers associated with the Young Turk movement, including Hüseyin Cahit, Abdullah Cevdet and Celâl Nuri.
The issue was raised again in 1923 during the İzmir Economic Congress of the new Turkish Republic, sparking a public debate that was to continue for several years. A move away from the Arabic script was strongly opposed by conservative and religious elements. It was argued that Romanization of the script would detach Turkey from the wider Islamic world, substituting a foreign (European) concept of national identity for the confessional community.
Others opposed Romanization on practical grounds, as was no suitable adaptation of the Latin script that could be used for Turkish phonemes. Some suggested that a better alternative might be to modify the Arabic script to introduce extra characters for better representing Turkish vowels.
In 1926, the Turkic republics of the Soviet Union adopted the Latin script, giving a major boost to reformers in Turkey.
Atatürk introducing the new Turkish alphabet to the people of Kayseri, September 20, 1928
Ottoman Turkish script was replaced by the Latin-based new Turkish alphabet. Its use became compulsory in all public communications in 1929. The change was formalized by the Law on the Adoption and Implementation of the Turkish Alphabet, passed on November 1, 1928, and effective on January 1, 1929.
As with Arabic and Persian, texts in the Ottoman Turkish alphabet are written right to left. The appearance of a letter changes depending on its position in a word:
• isolated (in a one-letter word);
• final (in which case it is joined on the right to the preceding letter);
• medial (joined on both sides); and
• initial (joined on the left to the following letter).
Some letters cannot be joined to the left and so do not possess separate medial and initial forms. In medial position, the final form is used. In initial position, the isolated form is used.
Isolated Final Medial Initial Name modern Turkish
A A - elif to, and - And, æ , e , -, ( ʔ )
The - hemze - ' - ' -, ( ʔ )
With With With With be b (p) b b ( p )
C. C. C. C. on p p p
T. T. T. T. too t t t
W W W W HE s s s
C C C C grass c c d͡ʒ
G. G. G. G. grass three three t͡ʃ
H H H H he has h h h
St. St. St. St. what h h h
the the - from d d d
Y Y - special from from from
T T - re r r ɾ
Of Of - that from from from
N N - the j j ʒ
Q Q Q Q without s s s
The The The The the evil s ş ʃ
P. P. P. P. USA s Sad s
Z Z Z Z dad d, z from z (d)
I I I I t t T t d
J J J J zu from Z from
AS AS AS AS the same '- ' -, ʔ
G G G G gayn g, ğ, v g ɡ , ɣ , v , ː
P P P P faith f f f
S S S S cuff to k to
Your Your Your Your kef k, g, ğ, n, y to k, g, n, (j), —
G G G G Found (1) g, ğ g ɡ -
ṉg ṉg ṉg ṉg nef, deaf kef (1) n ñ n
To To To To do l l l
M M M M me m m m
The The The The now n n n
And And - wow v, o, ö, u, u v, ū, aw, avv, ūv v , or , œ , or , and
E E E E he h, e, a h (2) h, æ, e, (t)
The The The The is y, i, i H, I, month, á, Iyer j, ɯ, i
1. In most texts, kef, gef, and sağır kef are written identically although one Ottoman variant of gef has a "mini-kaf" of ﻙ as well as the doubled upper stroke of گ.
2. The Library of Congress recommends for he (هـ) in a word in the construct state to be romanised t and when a word ending in he is used adverbially, it should be romanised tan.
The orthography of Ottoman Turkish is complex, as many Turkish sounds can be written with several different letters. For example, the phoneme /s/ can be written as ⟨ث⟩, ⟨س⟩, or ⟨ص⟩. Conversely, some letters have more than one value: ⟨ك⟩ k may be /k/, /g/, /n/, /j/, or /ː/ (lengthening the preceding vowel; modern ğ), and vowels are written ambiguously or not at all. For example, the text ⟨كورك⟩ kwrk can be read as /gevrek/ 'biscuit', /kyrk/ 'fur', /kyrek/ 'shovel', /kœryk/ 'bellows', /gœrek/ 'view', which in modern orthography are writtengevrek, kürk, kürek, körük, görek.
Arabic and Persian borrowings are written in their original orthography: saːbit 'firm' is written as ⟨ثابت⟩ s̱’bt, with ⟨ث⟩ s̱ representing /s/ (in Arabic /θ/), and ⟨ا⟩ ’ representing /aː/ as in Arabic but with no indication of the short /i/. The letters ث ح ذ ض ظ ع are found only in borrowings from Arabic; ژ is only in borrowings from Persian and French. Although theArabic vowel points (harakat) can be used ⟨ثَابِت⟩ s̱a’bit, they are generally found only in dictionaries and didactic works, as in Arabic and Persian, and they still do not identify vowel sounds unambiguously.
Consonant letters are classified in three series, based on vowel harmony: soft, hard, and neutral. The soft consonant letters, ت س ك گ ه, are found in front vowel contexts; the hard, ح خ ص ض ط ظ ع غ ق, in back vowel contexts; and the neutral, ب پ ث ج چ د ذ ر ز ژ ش ف ل م ن, in either. In Perso-Arabic borrowings, the vowel used in Turkish depends on the softness of the consonant. Thus, ⟨كلب⟩ klb 'dog' (Arabic /kalb/) is /kelb/, while ⟨قلب⟩ ḳlb 'heart' (Arabic /qalb/) is /kalb/. Conversely, in Turkish words, the choice of consonant reflects the native vowel.
Phoneme /t/ /d/ /s/ /from/ /k/, /g/ /h/
Soft (front) T Q K گ e
Hard (back) I I z s Z J G s H x
Neutral of the W Y g
(All other sounds are only written with neutral consonant letters.)
In Turkish words, vowels are sometimes written using the vowel letters as the second letter of a syllable: elif ⟨ا⟩ for /a/; ye ⟨ی⟩ for /i/, /ɯ/; vav ⟨و⟩ for /o/, /œ/, /u/, /y/; he ⟨ه⟩ for /a/, /e/. The corresponding harakat are there: ustun ⟨َ○⟩ (Arabic fatḥah) for /a/, /e/; esre ⟨ِ○⟩ (Arabic kasrah) for /ɯ/, /i/; ötre ⟨ُ○⟩ (Arabic ḍammah) for /o/, /œ/, /u/, /y/. The names of theharakat are also used for the corresponding vowels.
Name Arabic name Point Letter Front reading Back reading
○ ا eLif
ه h /is/ /a/
○ For ye /i/ / Ɯ /
to five ḍammah
○ و vav / Œ /, / and / / O /, / u /
Other scripts were sometimes used by non-Muslims to write Ottoman Turkish since the Arabic alphabet was identified with Islam.
The first novel to be written in the Ottoman Empire was Akabi (1851), which was written in the Armenian script by Vartan Pasha. Similarly, when the Armenian Duzian family managed the Ottoman mint during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid I (r. 1839–61), they kept records in Ottoman Turkish but used the Armenian script.
The Greek alphabet and the Rashi script of Hebrew were used by Greeks and Jews for Ottoman. Greek-speaking Muslims would write Greek using the Ottoman Turkish script.
Ottoman Turkish used Eastern Arabic numerals. The following is the list of basic cardinal numerals with the spelling in the modern Turkish alphabet:
Arabic form Number Ottoman Turkish 
0 0 Zero zero
1 one On one
2 2nd Iki two
3 3 Ouch three
4 4 Rotate four
5 5 Bash five
6 6 Alti six
7 7 Polish seven
8 8 SCZ eight
9 9 Tqvz nine
10 10 that on
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