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I’ve recently returned from a stay in Istanbul. There’s one aspect of the Turkish language that I find particularly interesting and can’t help but wonder what the result would be if the Québécois applied this same aspect to the French of Québec.

Turkish uses a large number of words borrowed from French — regular words, not technical ones.

For example (Turkish words in italics):

sinema = cinéma (cinema)
jeton = jeton (token)
klavye = clavier (keyboard)
pil = pile (battery)
randevu = rendez-vous (appointment)
tren = train (train)
park = parc (park)
pantolon = pantalon (trouser)
avukat = avocat (lawyer)
asansör = ascenseur (lift, elevator)
kuaför = coiffeur (hairdresser)
okul = école (school)
spor = sport (sport)
sabun = savon (soap)
büro = bureau (office)
bisküvi = biscuit (biscuit)
kalite = qualité (quality)
lamba = lampe (lamp)
garaj = garage (garage)
makine = machine (machine)

Turkish has also borrowed a large number of words from Arabic and Persian.

Look at the words on the sign in the image — lots of loanwords in there. How many do you understand without even knowing Turkish?

Borrowed words in Turkish haven’t been without their controversy. There have been attempts to render Turkish more “pure” by replacing foreign words with Turkish ones. There are now cases where two words exist to describe the same thing, for example, one Turkish in origin and the other Arabic.

Of the French words that are in use in modern Turkish, there are a few points we can take away from them:

1. Québécois French is not unique in its borrowings from another language (in this case, English).

2. The French loanwords used in Turkish are “everyday” in nature (not technical jargon) and are standard usages. This is different to English loanwords used in the French of Québec: most sit at the informal level and don’t become standard.

3. Turkish has integrated French loanwords by applying Turkish spelling to them.

It’s especially this third point that I find interesting.

There are those in Québec who wish to see English loanwords eliminated and replaced by French ones. Others have less of a problem with English loanwords.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if those in the second camp began applying French spelling to English loanwords…

fonne (fun)
raque (rack)
tôsteur (toaster)
bumpeur (bumper)
djôque (joke)
stoule (stool)
tchipe (cheap)
bouqué (booked)
toffe (tough)
mofleur (muffler)
dache (dashboard)
tchomme (chum, boyfriend)

Does applying French spelling help to integrate loanwords? Does it help to “claim” them by taking away their foreignness?

Are loanwords using French spelling more likely to be perceived as belonging to the French of Québec rather than intruders from English?

Or do loanwords using French spelling just look ridiculous, even to those who use these words in conversation and have no problem with their presence in French?

If loanwords using French spelling do appear ridiculous, why then don’t the loanwords integrated into the Turkish spelling system appear ridiculous to the Turkish?

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When I lived in Istanbul in 2003, I did everything wrong to learn Turkish.

Everything.

  • I took Turkish classes instead of speaking in Turkish with Turkish people.
  • I spoke in English or French with the Turkish friends that I had made, instead of speaking in Turkish.
  • I studied Turkish from a textbook used in my class, instead of reading stuff that Turkish people read.
  • I listened to recordings accompanying the textbook, instead of listening to real conversations and stuff that Turkish people listen to.

I don’t speak Turkish very well today despite all of my hard work. I can have simple conversations, but it’s far from what I’d actually call knowing how to speak Turkish.

If I could do it all over again, here’s what I’d do:

  • Never attend a single Turkish class ever again in my life.
  • Consult a textbook only very occasionally, mostly to resolve a doubt.
  • Speak in Turkish with the Turkish friends that I had made. (Duh!)
  • Perhaps use recordings made for learners, but keep it to a minimum.
  • Listen to insane amounts of real conversations in Turkish and authentic materials (TV, radio).
  • Cultivate my sense of adventure and throw caution to the wind.

In fact, that’s exactly how I learned Spanish.

With Turkish, I took a much more “traditional” approach. By that, I mean that I studied it like a subject. How stupid of me! I was much smarter when the time came for me to learn Spanish.

The truth is that I really didn’t care about learning Spanish at the time. This indifference towards Spanish allowed me to get rid of all my inhibitions.

I spoke when I wanted to, said it any old way I knew how, and just didn’t give a damn what people thought. I listened to anything in Spanish just for the hell of it. I didn’t care if I understood it or not.

I speak fluent Spanish today.

Turkish, on the other hand…

I cared very much about learning Turkish. I might even say too much. I tried to “manage” my learning. I tried to do everything in graded doses so that I wouldn’t scare myself too much by coming up against what I couldn’t understand.

What I should have done was just say to hell with it like I later did with Spanish.

I’m not saying you should stop caring about learning French. That would be silly.

What I’m saying is:

  • Stop worrying about learning French.

What I’m also saying is:

  • Expose yourself to lots of French that you don’t understand. If what you don’t understand exhausts and frustrates you, you’re worrying about learning French. See the bulleted point immediately above.
  • Ditch your inhibitions. They are not your friends. They will only hold you back.
  • Stop trying to manage your learning like at school. You’ll never feel at home in French unless you stop doing that.
  • To hell with what you don’t understand right now. You’ll understand it someday without having to force it.
  • Drop your guard and make mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not even trying.

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