All About Turkish Devrik (Inverted) Sentences
Updated: Jul 15
Ağlasam sesimi duyar mısınız, Mısralarımda; Dokunabilir misiniz, Gözyaşlarıma, ellerinizle? Bilmezdim şarkıların bu kadar güzel, Kelimelerinse kifayetsiz olduğunu Bu derde düşmeden önce. Bir yer var, biliyorum; Her şeyi söylemek mümkün; Epeyce yaklaşmışım, duyuyorum; Anlatamıyorum. — Orhan Veli Kanık
Uyan yârim, uyan, söndü yıldızlar,
Gün, karşı tepeden doğmak üzredir.
Her sabah güneşi seyreden kızlar,
Mahmur gözlerini oğmak üzredir.
Uyan yârim, sesler geldi derinden,
Karanlık oynadı, koptu yerinden;
İlk ışık, kapının eşiklerinden,
Şimdi bir gölgeyi koğmak üzredir.
Sevgilim, kapımı çaldı aydınlık,
Baygın gözlerimi aldı aydınlık,
İçimde tıkandı, kaldı aydınlık,
Bu aydınlık beni boğmak üzredir.
— Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, Aydınlık
5.1.1. Pronominal Grammatical (and Logical) Subject Presupposability
5.1.2. Presupposability of Multiple Elements
5.1.3. Non-Pronominal Grammatical (or Logical) Subject & Object Recovery
5.1.4. Presupposability of Pronominal and Non-Pronominal Objects (and Adverbials)
5.1.5. Exclamatory Tags (Pseudo-Vocatives)
5.2.1. Predicate Stressing
5.2.2. Predicate Stressing: Grammatical Structures
5.3.1. Backgrounding: Low Pitch
5.3.2. Multi-Step Backgrounding
5.3.3. Backgrounded Topic & Topic-Marking Comma
5.3.4. Cognitive Repair Strategy: Use of the Elaborative Hani
5.3.5. Cognitive Shortcuts: Conjunctive Adverbs and Discourse Connectives, as Tail Constructions
5.4.1. Postponing of Adverbial Postpositional Phrases and Clauses
5.4.2. Clause Postponing: Sentence Fragmentation
5.4.3. Postponed Appositive Structure: Elaborative or Specifying Afterthoughts
5.4.4. Classic Appositive Structure (Açıklamalı Özne, Nesne, Dolaylı Tümleç…)
5.4.5. Appositive List
5.4.6. Pragmatic & Rhetoric Postponement in Turkish Literary Works
The Information Packaging Principle
Human languages are organized in ways that reflect the content and purpose of utterances. This organization is called information flow or information structure (packaging).
We find it easier to communicate by breaking our massages into individual pieces of information, each of them defined as an intonation unit containing a stress. A single clause must have at least one intonation unit, with longer clauses having more than one intonation unit.
In Turkish, for example, grammatical or logical subjects tend to be pronounced as separate intonation units:
[Zavallı], [gözlerine iki gözlük üst üste takar].
The poor fellow puts on two pairs of glasses, one over the other.
“[Oh doydum].” [diyen], [kendini sırtüstü çimenlere attı].
One of the kids would say, “Oh, I've had enough,” and would throw himself on the back on the grass.
Vasif Öngören Masalın Aslı Evrensel Basın Yayın
Information packaging helps explain why people say things in the ways they do. Speakers constantly make decisions about how to phrase their utterances. They mostly choose between the information that is old or given (previously mentioned or assumed to be shared) and the information that is new or the most important.
Old, New, and Backgrounded Information
Information packaging asserts that the organization of a message into information units often reflects a division between the topic (the old or given information) and the focus (new information):
CANONICAL SENTENCE (S–O–[A]–V):
[Ben] [bu kitabı] [LISEDE] [okudum].
T F (A)
I read this book at high school.
Each piece of information we want to communicate, we tend to start with some old or given information and end with new or the most important information.
Grammar allows us to present—or package—the information in a variety of ways. Of these ways, the syntactically most basic way is what linguists call the canonical (unmarked, default, neutral, constituent) word order.
Cross-linguistically, word order variations—e.g., as a declarative, interrogative, imperative, or exclamative clause as well as the so-called inverted sentence (or devrik cümle)—is one of the main syntactic devices used to convey specific information messages.
In the case of the Turkish language, it is generally assumed that:
Topic links a sentence to the previous context
Focus is the new or the most important information
Background is the presupposed or given information or afterthought material
Here are just a few possible word orders:
[Bu kitabı], [ben] [LISEDE] [okudum].
[Ben] [LISEDE] [okudum bu kitabı].
T F B
[OKUDUM], [ben bu kitabı lisede].
T / F B
Note, that while the presupposed or given information is assumed to be shared by the listener, the afterthought material has a supplementary role and may even provide a new piece of information, which the speaker wants to de-emphasize for some pragmatic reason.
Furthermore, in reality, the backgrounded space is much more prolific in its use.
In Turkish speech, overall, it can accommodate:
The information that has been mentioned earlier (old information) and needs to be reminded of or recovered.
The information that is implicit in the discourse (given information) but may have been ambiguous and needs to be restated or repaired.
The information that is supplementary (afterthought) because it elaborates or specifies what has been said in the topic or focus positions.
The information that is new to the discourse (de-focused new information) but whose importance needs to be downplayed or de-emphasized for a pragmatic reason (e.g., hedging, politeness, or another sociolinguistic reason).
In Turkish writing and, specifically, creative writing, backgrounding is the principal sentence stressing strategy and rhyming technique, and therefore an indispensable device for creating beautiful, melodic poetry and coherent, effective narratives.
Topic: Sentence-Initial (Mild Stress)
👉 Topic occurs in the beginning of a sentence, or it is indicated by movement to the sentence-initial position:
The topics of most canonical (regular) sentences and clauses are their psychological (logical) subjects.
As in English, a canonical Turkish sentence starts with the subject, which is also its topic (in 🇨🇦🇵🇸):
ALI, beni birbirimizi görmeye ikna etti.
Ali persuaded me to see each other.
subject = topic
If the subject is a pronoun, it is not always overtly expressed within the sentence and is instead inferred from the predicate’s person and number suffix markings. Below, the topic shifts to the word beni (in 🇨🇦🇵🇸) if the previous subject is changed to a pronoun:
BENI, birbirimizi görmeye ikna etti.
He persuaded me to see each other.
subject = hidden
Sentences can have both topics and subjects. For example, in the second clause of the second sentence below, the object camın ne olduğunu is topicalized by having been moved in front of the sentence's subject ben to provide the link to the previous sentence:
Eskiden camın ne olduğunu bilmiyordum. Ama başımı vura vura, kanatlarımı çarpa çarpa, camın ne olduğunu, ben de öğrendim.
Before, I didn't know what glass was. However, by banging my head and flapping my wings, I have learned what glass is.
A. Nesin, Anıtı Dikilen Sinek
Focus: Sentence-Preverbial (Strong Stress)
👉 The preverbal position (immediately before the verb) is marked as the most informative and is defined as the focus (unlike the English focus, which falls on the last word in the sentence).
In the sentence above, the subject ben is positioned preverbally, thus receiving the strongest focus-stress:
Eskiden camın ne olduğunu bilmiyordum. Ama başımı vura vura, kanatlarımı çarpa çarpa, camın ne olduğunu, BEN de öğrendim.
Before, I didn't know what glass was. But by banging my head and flapping my wings, I, too, have learned what glass is.
Sentence-Postverbial Backgrounding (De-Stressing) vs. Postponing (Afterthought)
👉 In Turkish speech and writing, the principal way to produce meaning is to move words around.
👉 In a Turkish sentence, the meaning is produced by a specific word order, which, in turn, determines the positions of the sentence-initial milder topic-stress, the preverbal stronger focus-stress, and the post-verbal de-stressed background.
When we speak, we want to be understood fully. We also want to be understood quickly. So, we internally negotiate the strategies available to us (mainly, what to say first and what to save for later, or topicalization and focusing strategies) to get to the point quickly while remaining legible. The result of this negotiation is backgrounding.
👉 Here, we have to distinguish two different processes of such movement to the post-verbal position: backgrounding vs. postponing as supplementation.
Semantically, post-verbal words, phrases, and even clauses can express:
The previously mentioned information (old information)
The presupposed or implied information (given information)
The additional, supplemental information (afterthought)
What’s important about Turkish backgrounding is that it can be used for recovering or repairing topics.
Syntactically, post-verbal words, phrases, and clauses can be formed as:
A dislocated copy of a grammatically related constituent (right dislocation)
An elaborative or specifying appositive structure (apposition)
Backgrounding’s Triple Functions: Disambiguating, Conversation-Optimizing, and Stressing Strategies
1. Turkish sentences are allowed to be ambiguous because pronominal subjects and objects, which are also often the sentence 🇹🇴🇵🇮🇨🇸, can be omitted or dropped thanks to being encoded into the predicate’s structure and because of their relative uselessness as identifiers (e.g., the same pronoun o is used as the personal pronouns she, he, it, as well as the demonstrative pronouns that and those).
2. To remove ambiguity, post-verbal backgrounding is employed to recover such omitted 🇹🇴🇵🇮🇨🇸, and once recovered, these 🇹🇴🇵🇮🇨🇸 can, in turn, be used as 🇹🇴🇵🇮🇨🇸 for the subsequent sentences, further allowing the omission of the subsequent pronominal subjects and objects, that is, the subsequent 🇹🇴🇵🇮🇨🇸. In other words, Turkish 🇹🇴🇵🇮🇨🇸 can work across clause boundaries.
Much of Turkish sentence syntax can be understood as a looping strategy.
3. Post-verbal backgrounding causes sentence fragmentation by accommodating longer phrases and even clauses, which, being placed after the verb, can be interpreted as separate sentences/ sentence fragments. Sentence fragments are indeed very common in Turkish and more tolerated than in English.
4. Sentence fragmentation causes meaning to spread across sentences, intra- as well as inter-sententially, further facilitating 🇹🇴🇵🇮🇨-omission and thus causing ambiguity.
Backgrounding as a Disambiguating Strategy
👉 While in languages such as English, personal pronouns are often used to refer to the previously established topics, Turkish personal pronouns are used mainly in contrasting or focusing functions. In other words, if a personal pronoun appears in a Turkish sentence, it’s most probably contrastively stressed (as a reaction or response to the previous discourse). Otherwise, pronominal topics in Turkish are almost always dropped.
👉 Dropping of pronominal subjects (grammatical or logical) and objects (🇨🇴🇷🇪 elements) must have made dropping of non-pronominal subjects and objects acceptable.
👉 Backgrounding provides a way to recover dropped subjects and objects, and to Turks, backgrounding comes naturally.
Pronominal subjects, although grammatically removable, are often backgrounded or copied from the predicate’s grammatical form and moved to the right (right dislocation), after the sentence’s 🇨🇴🇷🇪 element (verb).
Turkish speakers are intiutively aware of the inherent ambiguity of pronoun-dropping, and they employ backgrounding as a way to correct (repair) any potential misunderstanding.
This is one of the most common disambiguating (ambiguity-removing) and conversation-optimizing strategies.
Pronominal Grammatical (and Logical) Subject Presupposability
In Turkish, the subject frequently appears in the post-verbal position.
The subject’s presupposability is rooted in its inferability from the predicate’s grammatical properties (suffix markings):
Here is the classic example of the everyday speech in Turkish, where the pronominal subject (ben) is backgrounded:
Seni hiç unutmadım, ben.
Never have I forgotten you.
Here, the speaker presupposes (assumes) that the hearer shares some knowledge about what is meant even if the speaker does not explicitly states the sentence’s subject (ben) at first. The speaker emphatically rushes to relay the important information to the listener as quickly as possible, moving the least important elements to the back.
👉 Because of the potential ambiguity, the speaker then chooses to recover or repair the implicit element by stating it explicitly in the backgrounded area.
The same happens with the often-omitted personal possessive pronouns (encoded into the structure of the related nouns), which can also function as logical subjects:
Param yok, benim.
Money, I don’t have.
Sigortaları maalesef yok, onların.
Insurance, they don’t have, unfortunately.
Presupposability of Multiple Elements
In Turkish, many structures are potentially ambiguous.
For example, Turkish relative clauses (specifically, object participles) and complement clauses use the same suffix (-dik).
In isolation, söylediğini literally means your saying as well as his/her/its saying.
However, it can also be interpreted as:
A relative clause meaning: what you/he/she/it say/have/ had said, or
A complement clause meaning: that you/he/she/it say/have/ had said.
In speech, some or all of these pronouns can be dropped:
I haven't heard/didn't hear what you/he/she/it say/have/ had said.
I haven't heard/didn't hear that you/he/she/it say/have/ had said [it].
Backgrounding can help with recovering the omitted pronouns in numerous ways.
Here are just a few examples:
Söylediğini duymadım neyi onun.
I haven’t heard what he’s said.
Söylediğini duymadım, ben onun bunu.
I did not hear that she had said this.
Söylediğini duymadım, ben neyi senin.
I did not hear what you said.
Söylediğini duymadım, onun ben.
I haven't heard her say [it].
Non-Pronominal Grammatical (or Logical) Subject & Object Recovery
Backgrounding area can also be used for non-pronominal subjects.
In the sentence below, the syntactical ambiguity inspires the speaker to background the previously mentioned or presupposed subject:
Doktora; hastaya bakmasını söyledi, bas hekim.
He told the doctor to look after the patient, [you know], the head doctor.
Logical subjects (in genitive case), alone or with their modifiers, can be backgrounded:
İlgi çekici bir yanı olmaz ki, bu çabanın.
There is nothing interesting about it—about this effort.
More than one element can be backgrounded and in any order:
Sana düşük not mu verdi, hoca?
Did he give you a low grade, [you know], the teacher?
Düşük not mu verdi sana, hoca?
Did he give a low grade to you, [you know], the teacher?
Kitabi verdi, Hasan Ali’ye.
[He] gave the book [to him], Hasan to Ali.
Neden hep beni bulur, böyle tuhaf şeyler!
Why do they always find me, these strange things!
Presupposability of Pronominal and Non-Pronominal Objects (and Adverbials)
Apart from subjects, Turkish speakers may also drop objects (and adverbials) and later choose to repair them through the backgrounding strategy.
💥 Objects (and adverbials) can appear post-verbally only if the subject or verb is stressed (so that the object can be inferred from the subject or predicate):
Ben içmem bu saatte çay.
I don’t drink tea in this (late) hour.
Değineceğiz bu konuya.
We will talk about this.
Ezra Erhat Sevgi Yönetim
Exclamatory Tags (Pseudo-Vocatives)
Exclamatory tags (or the so-called pseudo-vocatives) can be interpreted as backgrounded subjects or postponed emphatic afterthoughts:
Cebinde beş kuruş parası yok, adamcağızın.
He hasn't a penny to his name, poor man!
Backgrounding as a Sentence Stressing Strategy
The strongest stress in any Turkish sentence, whether it’s canonical or noncanonical, falls on any word (except the Turkish clitics mi, da, bile, etc.) placed immediately before the verb.
By shifting words around, the Turkish speakers intuitively place the emphasis on the word they want to stress. This strategy is also used in writing.
Let’s consider one literary example 📝:
The opening sentence of Orhan Pamuk’s My Father's Suitcase is an example of the so-called devrik sentence, in which one of the sentence constituents is placed after the verb:
Ölümünden iki yıl önce babam kendi yazıları, el yazmaları ve defterleriyle dolu küçük bir bavul verdi bana.
Two years before my father died, he gave me a small suitcase filled with his manuscripts and notebooks.
According to the word order, the stresses are positioned like this:
ORIGINAL (NONCANONICAL) VERSION:
[Ölümünden iki yıl önce] babam kendi yazıları, el yazmaları ve defterleriyle dolu küçük [BİR BAVUL] verdi bana.
So, why changing the word order here?
The story starts with a common narrative opener (Ölümünden iki yıl önce…): a temporal adverbial, sometimes called a locative/ temporal coda. This literary device, known as in medias res, (Classical Latin, lit. “into the middle of things”), opens in the midst of the plot, immediately situating the writer, and the reader, in a certain place and time. The sentence’s focused phrase is bir bavul. This is the new and the most important point of the sentence, the hero of this story.
Without the inversion, the sentence’s stresses would shift like this:
[Ölümünden iki yıl önce] babam kendi yazıları, el yazmaları ve defterleriyle dolu küçük bir bavul [BANA] verdi.
The backgrounding of the pronoun bana is essential because it shifts the focus of the sentence. By backgrounding the easily presupposed bana, the writer focuses on the “hero” of the story—bir bavul (the suitcase).
From the very first sentence, which transports us to a different time and place, we quickly understand that this is a memory, a memoire. The sentence’s topic [ölümünden iki yıl önce…] tells us the circumstance of the story, the sentence’s subject [babam] tells us that the story is about the author’s father, and the sentence’s focus [bir bavul] prompts us to zoom in to that particular object.
A topicalized locative/ temporal coda immediately situates the author, and the reader, in the plot of the story.
Without the inversion, the focus would fall on the word bana, the given (presupposed) information unworthy of being stressed. Backgrounding thus allows the writer to move into the background, to a de-emphasized position, any presupposed, old, or given information, without losing it.
💥 More than one constituent can follow the predicate, and these can occur in any order. If all the sentence constituents follow the predicate, then the predicate is obligatorily stressed.
Utanmıyorlar mı bunu yapanlar?
Aren't they ashamed, those who do this?
Predicate-Stressing: Grammatical Structures
Imperative sentences are typically backgrounded as a logical result of this strategy.
In imperative sentences, subjects are always implied. This shifts the focus-stress to the object. The speaker can also choose to emphasize the action by moving the object to the post-verbal position:
Kapat şunun sesini!
Turn that off!
Another inverting predicate-stressing construction is the use of the clitic da/de after the verb, including in some idiomatic expressions:
Rahatsız etmek istemedim de ondan.
I didn't want to disturb her.
Backgrounding as a Conversation-Optimizing Strategy
Allowing the speaker to cut to the chase (to get to the point quicker) while providing a space for correction or revision, backgrounding is used as a cognitive shortcut or a conversational repair strategy.
👉 Overall, backgrounding is a conversation-optimizing strategy.
Backgrounding: Low Pitch
In backgrounding, the post-verbal position is designated as the least informative element, and backgrounding is generally performed to de-stress or de-emphasize the element moved to the end of the sentence.
👉 In contrast with the mildly stressed topic or strongly stressed focus, the postverbal backgrounded element is de-stressed or de-emphasized.
Prosodically (in speech), backgrounding is distinguished from afterthought in that there is no pause following it (unlike the afterthought, which is usually marked with a pause). However, backgrounding has a very distinctive intonation contour: a particularly low pitch. Backgrounding creates a sudden drop in intonation after the verb.
✍ In inverted (devrik) sentences in which a subject is in the end of the sentence, a subject-marking comma should be placed before the subject.
Probably because of this shift in intonation, some Turkish grammarians instruct to place a comma before the backgrounded element in inverted sentence (devrik cümle), especially if the backgrounded element is the sentence’s subject.
Turkish subordination mechanisms are complicated, even for native speakers. So, in speech, Turkish speakers often rephrase or background such clauses.
Whole subordinate clauses, both nonfinite nominalized clauses and subordinate finite clauses, can be placed after the verb. Interestingly, Turkish speakers can background subordinate clauses in one or several steps:
Biliyorum, Hasan’ın, kitabı Ali’ye verdiğini.
I know that Hasan gave the book to Ali.
Biliyorum kitabı verdiğini, Hasan’ın Ali’ye.
I know that he gave the book to him, Hasan to Ali.
Here is a complicated case of backgrounding:
Sen sadece piyondun onlar için, çıkarlarına, hiç düşünmeden, hizmet eden.
You were just a pawn for them, serving their interests, without thinking.
Backgrounded Topic & Topic-Marking Comma
Here, the subject of the second sentence (bu) can be backgrounded without losing its semantic meaning, although pragmatically it loses its prominence. The topic-marking comma, however, is essential for that meaning to apply:
Cem, evdeki çeyrekleri birer birer satıyordu. Bu, aile için tehlikeliydi.
Cem was selling the house quarters one by one. This was dangerous for the family.
Cem, evdeki çeyrekleri birer birer satıyordu. Aile için tehlikeliydi bu.
Cem was selling the house quarters one by one. Dangerous it was for the family, indeed.
Cognitive Repair Strategy: Use of the Elaborative Hani
Turkish backgrounded constructions often utilize such particles as hani:
Kitabı hatırladın mı, hani senin için, yazarına imza attırdığım?
Do you remember that book, the one that, for you, I had the author signed?
If the backgrounded position does not provide explanation or additional information, its underlying process involves incorporation (transposition) of the omitted information into a sentence after a 🇨🇴🇷🇪 constituent for the purpose of cognitive repair.
Cognitive Shortcuts: Conjunctive Adverbs and Discourse Connectives, as Tail Constructions
Conjunctive adverbs and discourse connectives such as çünkü, iste, acaba, ama, etc., are often backgrounded as low-information elements:
— Mahzunsun çünkü.
— Evet, çok. Fakat basit bir kızım, ben.
— Değilim, çirkinim.
“Because you are sad.”
“Yes, I am very sad. Stil, I am a simple girl.”
“You are a sweet girl.”
“No, I'm ugly.”
Peyami Safa, Yalnızız
Yeni arkadaşının ağzı var dili yok, sanki.
Her new boyfriend does have a mouth but no tongue, it seems.
Bu evin dışında bir hayatı yok, neredeyse.
Outside this house she has no life, nearly.
Doğu'da kâtiplikler ve yolculuklarla paşaların hizmetinde geçirdiğim yılların altıncısında hayalimde canlandırdığım yüzün İstanbul'daki sevgilimin yüzü olmadığım biliyordum artık.
During the sixth year I spent in the East, traveling or working as a secretary in the service of pashas, I knew that the face I imagined was no longer that of my beloved.
Orhan Pamuk, Benim Adim Kırmızı
Afterthought, Sentence Fragments: Postponing vs. Backgrounding
👉 The differences between the processes of postponing and backgrounding become clear when the postponed element is an additional remark that provides extra information or an afterthought.
👉 These are often rhetorical devices used in literature to create a dramatic or humorous effect or to capture the reader's attention by showing a surprising turn of events.
✍ The comma intonation that necessarily precedes the postponing of an afterthought is especially distinctive in such examples and should be marked with at least a comma in writing:
Adam öldüğünü sandı, öldürüldüğünü sonra.
The man thought he was dead—and then that he was murdered.
Başlamış yamaçlara tırmanmaya, aya doğru uzanmaya.
And he’s started climbing the slopes, reaching towards the moon.
R. H. Karay
Kıvılcım gibi çıkıyordu hanımın dudakları arasından, her kelime.
Like sparks of fire came out each word from between the lips of the lady.
Kuzey Arnavutluk’un belki de bütün Makedonya’nın en büyük sürüsüydü, Kâhyası olduğu sürü.
The flock he was in charge of was the largest in northern Albania, and maybe in all of Macedonia.
Postponing of Adverbial Postpositional Phrases and Clauses
Adverbial phrases and clauses can be postponed, as shown below, where a comparison clause (dostlarının çoğu gibi) is added by postponing to another whole sentence (katolikti):
Katolikti, dostlarının çoğu gibi.
He was Catholic, as were most of his friends.
Here, the direct object (aynı şeyi) is further expanded on by a nominal complement clause (belki de nasıl uyuyacaklarını), which is clearly added as an afterthought and potentially as a sentence fragment (judging by the author’s choice of semicolon):
Hepsi de hemen aynı şeyi düşünüyorlardı; belki de nasıl uyuyacaklarını.
They all thought pretty much the same thing—and maybe how they were going to sleep.
K. Hulûsi. Kabaklıkoz hanında bir vaka
💥 Here, the appropriate punctuation mark should be a colon, and the afterthought part of the sentence should be understood as an elaborative appositive structure.
👉 The (mis)use of semicolons instead of colons is often found in the past Turkish literary works, legal documents, and journalism, and it may persist even today.