top of page


  • Writer's pictureGalina Blankenship

Branching in Turkish Sentences, Or Why Turkish Is So Difficult to Read (or Write)

Updated: Sep 15, 2023


Introductory Verbals as Adverbial Clauses (Manner & Place)Introductory Postpositional Adverbial Phrase (Concessive) + Adverbial Phrases (Instrumental & Manner)
Introductory Adverbial (Time) + Postpositional Adverbial Clause (Time)
Interrupting Circumstance-Describing Adverbial (Verbless Absolute Clause)
Complement-Marking Interruptions
Interrupting Adverbial Clauses
Interrupting Appositive Phrases or Clauses
Modifying Adjectival Phrases
Modifying Universal Conditional Clauses (with a Wh-Phrase)
Modifying (-an) and Nonmodifying (-ip) Verbals


1. How Do Phrases Branch in Languages

1.1. Phrase Branching in Turkish

The most prominent characteristic of Turkish expressions is that their constituents are generally ordered beginning from the secondary ones (dependents) to the primary (heads).

There are two kinds of dependents: obligatory complements (objects) and optional modifiers, qualifiers, and specifiers (or determiners) (articles, demonstratives, possessives, and quantifiers). This means that, in Turkish, the complement (dependent) precedes the complemented (head), the qualifier (dependent) precedes the qualified (head), the modifier (dependent) precedes the modified (head), and the specifier (dependent) precedes the specified (head).

Grammatically speaking, one head and one dependent together form a phrase, which is the basic unit of any clause or sentence. In any phrase, the head plays a central role, and the grammatical category of the phrase depends on that of the head: in a noun phrase, the head is a noun; in a verb phrase, the head is a verb, etc. The most common types of phrases include noun phrases, adjective phrases, adverb phrases, and verb phrases.

In noun phrases, the modifying adjective, subject participle -(y)an or object participle -diği (functioning as a relative clause), the qualifying noun, or the specifying determiner precedes the noun it modifies, qualifies, or specifies:

güzel kitap okuyan kız okuduğum kitap okul kitabı bir kitap

In adjective phrases, the modifying postpositional phrase or adverb precedes the adjective it modifies:

kraliçe kadar güzel (kız) çok güzel (kitap)

In adverb phrases, the modifying postpositional phrase or adverb precedes the adverb it modifies:

kraliçe kadar güzel (yaptı) çok güzel (okudu)

In verb phrases, the complementing object or complement (object) clause, or modifying adverb, noun phrase (functioning as an adverbial), or adverbial (converbial) clause precedes the verb it completes or modifies:

kitabı okudum okuduğunu biliyorum yavaş okudum okulda okudum beklerken tanıştık

As you can see in the phrases/clauses above, all the constituents in bold are placed to the left of their heads. This underlines another prominent characteristic of Turkish expressions:

Turkish expressions expand, or branch, with added dependent details, to the left of their heads. This makes the Turkish language the solidly head-final, verb-last, and left-branching language.

In English, however, despite (or maybe thanks to) the strictness of the English word order, things are much more relaxed: details can be added in any direction.


1.2. Phrase Branching in English

English phrases can expand, or branch, with added information, to the left as well as the right of their heads.

For example, English complements always come after their heads, which makes English a head-initial language with complements, or a right-branching language. English modifiers and qualifiers, however, may come before or after their heads, and, while the specifying articles, quantifiers, and demonstratives come before their heads, the specifying possessives or constructions conveying possessiveness can go either way—before (Gary's wife) or after their heads (the wife of Gary). This makes English a head-medial language with modifiers, qualifiers, and specifiers, or a mid-branching language.

For example, in the verb phrase describes individuals, the object individuals follows the head verb describes. The added modifier in the phrase can go either way: to the left or to the right of the head individuals:

(describes) (the) present individuals OR (describes) (the) individuals present

Moreover, we can add a specifier (determiner) phrase on either side of the head:

(the) group's individuals OR (the) individuals of (the) group

English adverbs can go either way as well:

just called OR called immediately


1.3. Phrase Branching in Turkish and English

To recap, at the level of phrasing, Turkish is an almost fully left-branching (head-final) language, while English can create both right-branching (head-initial) and left-branching (head-final) structures, although right-branching is more common than left-branching. Because the same heads in English can have both left- and right-branching dependents, English is sometimes categorized as a head-medial language.

To sum up, the table below shows the branching at the level of phrasing for English and Turkish:




Head Directionality



Verb Position



Phrase Branching


Right-Branching (more common)

Left-Branching (less common)

Table 1. Phrase Branching in Turkish and English

Painting "Salomé" by Henri Regnault, depicting a young woman in a gypsy outfit
Salomé by Henri Regnault

2. Sentence Branching in Languages

When it comes to clauses, things are somewhat similar but also different.

Phrases are normally continuous (uninterrupted), ordered in accordance with the language-specific head directionality. Just as in case of phrase branching, heads are crucial to establishing the direction of branching in a sentence, which is the way any modifying details are added to the core constituents. Thus, any new dependent elements added to the left of their heads are characterized as left-branching. Likewise, any new dependent elements placed to the right of their heads are right-branching.

While phrases can only be either left- or right-branching, sentences can be left-, right-, and mid-branching.

What is different from phrasing is the fact that, while a phrase, by definition, cannot be interrupted, the flow of a clause can be disrupted from within. In other words, phrases that comprise a sentence can be interrupted by other phrases. Such sentences are referred to as mid-branching.


2.1. English Sentences Branch Anywhere: to the Left, to the Right, and in the Middle

In English, a sentence can expand, or branch out, in any direction: namely, to the left, to the right, and in the middle.

For example:

I watched him warily.

base (core) clause

Left branching would involve adding an introductory phrase or clause, before the subject of the base sentence. For example, nonfinite clauses, such -ing or -ed participial clauses, are often added to the left of the core of the sentence:

1. [Sensing a possible rival], [I watched him warily].

left branch base clause

A closing subordinate phrase or clause added after the core of the sentence, often as an afterthought, would be a right branch:

2. [I watched him warily], [as I wondered who he was].

base clause right branch

A mid-branching phrase or clause is usually an aside comment that interrupts the base clause, breaking the connection between the core elements—the subject and the predicate. Therefore, it’s better to keep it short (e.g., as a reduced adverbial or relative clause) to make sure the reader is not destructed:

3. I, [ever cautious], watched him warily.

mid branch

Many sentences in English combine various branches:

4. [Sensing a possible rival], [I, [ever cautious], watched him warily], [as I wondered who he was].

left branch a mid branch within a mid branch right branch

Clause-building is recursive, and branches can further expand with details inserted within them. By branching the clauses, we thus create embedded clauses (subordinate clauses within other subordinate clauses):

5. [Sensing a possible and threatening rival], [I, [ever cautious but controlled], watched him warily],

[[wondering, albeit in vain, who he was].


2.1.1. Punctuation and Branching in English

Roughly speaking, a clausal position corresponds to its branching direction:

  • Introductory clauses are left-branching.

  • Interrupting clauses are mid-branching.

  • Closing clauses are right-branching.

For example:

1. When you're ready, we’ll go to my parents’ place.

introductory clause is left-branching

2. We’ll go to my parents’ place when you’re ready.

closing clause is right-branching

3. We’ll go, when you’re ready, to my parents’ place.

interrupting clause is mid-branching

Note how punctuation signals the directionality within the sentences.

The second, canonical sentence has no punctuation interrupting the flow of the sentence, because, in English, a subordinate clause is placed after the main clause.

In the first sentence, the introductory clause is marked with the introductory comma, placed right before the subject of the main clause, which highlights the function of such comma—to discontinue the flow of narration and guide us towards the core of the sentence. As such, an introductory comma is disconnecting in its function.

The third sentence has an interrupting clause, which is isolated from the flow of the main sentence with the enclosing commas. Such enclosing commas thus highlight the structure of the main sentence by setting off an extraneous or intrusive construction and helping us maintain the continuity of thought. As such, enclosing punctuation marks are essentially connecting, or bridging, in their function.


2.1.2. Sentential Interruption in English

More about the interruption of an English sentence ...

Normally, the core of an English sentence should not be interrupted by any element that does not fit in syntactically, whether it is a word or a punctuation mark. Such normal, or canonical, sentences have unmarked word order, meaning that no constituents have any special prominence, rendering the sentence neutral. However, the normal word order may be altered to meet particular requirements of information flow or weight distribution, or to convey a special effect of emphasis.

For example, a canonical English sentence may be interrupted if we need to add a comment or a background detail. A sentence is deemed interrupted if the connection between the subject and the verb or the verb and the object/complement is interrupted by an insertion of a parenthetical, or otherwise syntactically extraneous, construction (e.g., an aside comment, an embedded clause, an interjection, an appositive construction, etc.).

The enclosing punctuation marks help readers bridge the gap between the structurally related parts of the sentence that come before and after the interruption.

The most common interruptions occur between the subject and the verb (with the interrupting constructions highlighted and the interrupted constituents italicized):

The rest, as they say, is history.

His style, if somewhat simple, is pleasant to read.

Our longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, reigned from 1837 to 1901.

Her lecture on AI, he was eager to report, went very well.

Another common interruption occurs between the verb and the complement (e.g., subject complement, that-clause, to-infinitive):

It was, uh, my fault.

But we were not, in fact, ready to go.

We knew who was responsible. We refused, consequently, to take any action.

I feeland the anxiety is still vivid to methat I might easily have failed before I began.

V. S. Naipaul, Literary Occasions

The rarer instance of interruption involves the auxiliary verb and the main verb:

I should, perhaps, add that we have no investments in that country.

I do, I’m afraid, rather act on impulse.

Interruption can also occur in subordinating structures:

When (like me) you live by yourself, it is more difficult to survive.

Stop by if, when you arrive, I am still here.

As interrupted sentences add elements midstream, delaying the grammatical conclusion of the sentence, they are described as mid-branching. Because interrupting constructions cause discontinuity, they must be enclosed with a pair of correlative punctuation marks to restore continuity.

Thanks to the rigidity of the English word order and the fact that details can be added after the verb, the clause-making mechanism in English is more productive and flexible, comparing to Turkish. The ways to expand sentences include mere juxtaposition (placing constituents next to each other) as well as coordination or subordination, using respective coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, yet, so, nor, for) or subordinating conjunctions (when, because, that, which, as, since, if, etc.), respectively.


2.2. Turkish Sentences Branch to the Left

Just as Turkish phrases, Turkish sentences, too, branch out to the left, which aligns with the verb-final structure of the Turkish language.

As a verb-final language, Turkish prohibits expanding beyond the core verb. Any element placed after the Turkish verb loses its prominence and automatically becomes de-emphasized. Therefore, Turkish clause-building prohibits right-branching, being mostly limited to left-branching.

As a verb-final language, Turkish has to turn any non-core verbs into nouns by nominalizing them as verbals, marking them with a noun case, and using them as subjects, complements, modifiers, or adverbials. Verbals and adverbials are the primary source of expanding complex Turkish sentences. Because Turkish sentences often lack explicit subjects, adding new elements at the beginning may not disrupt the sentence but may certainly burden it.

Turkish sentences often have multiple embedded clauses, at times, excessively so. Unable to freely move to the right, a Turkish writer may be drawn to go in circles, in repetitive, duplicating, and reduplicating constructions, and not always knowing how or when to end. It is very easy to get lost in a Turkish sentence, however beautiful it may be, whether it is a fiction or a nonfiction one:

Seni şimşeksiz havalarda bir sandala atıp(,) öğle uykusuna yatmış bir evin beyaz kireç badanalı sahil kasabasında(,) sandalımızı(,) bahçelerin, hamakların, uyumuş insanların, sahile eğilmiş çamların gölgesi vura vura, sandal denizin dibinden bir karış yukarıda, sahile sürünürcesine(,) kıyıdan götürmek(;) suda küçük balıkların kaçıştığını, çakıltaşlarının şekillerini kaybedip bulduğunu(,) yeşil, sarı, kumral, hatta beyaz yosunların oynaştıklarını göstererek dolaştırmak ve o anda çıkan küçük bir hava ile kokun burnuma değdiği zaman sevinmek ve sana o zaman aşktan güzelleşen ve iyileşen dertsiz, hastalıksız yüzümü göstermek, seni ne kadar sevdiğimi yalnız gözlerimle anlatmak, yalnız yüzümün ortasına düşmüş ince bir saadet çizgisi ile her şeyi ifade etmek isterdim.

If I could, I would put you in a boat, on a clear day, in the whitewashed seaside town of a house during a siesta, with the shadows from the gardens, from the hammocks, and the sleeping people, and the pine trees bent over the shore, and I would take you out in that boat, our boat an inch above the bottom of the sea, as if crawling towards the shore. I would row you about, showing you small fish scurrying in the water, pebbles losing and regaining their shapes, and the green, yellow, reddish-brown, even white, mosses frolicking in the currents. I would rejoice if your scent reached my nose with a momentary breeze. I would show you my face, healthy and untroubled, at that moment growing radiant and convalescing in love, and tell you only with my eyes how much I love you. I would like to express everything simply with a fine line of happiness running across my face.

Sait Faik Abasıyanık, Sevgiliye Mektup

Turkish sentences may, at times, resemble Russian nesting dolls with clauses embedded within clauses embedded within clauses:

Söz konusu duyuruda, verilen 29 Ağustos–1 Eylül 2022 tarihlerinde gerçekleştirilen PRAC toplantı ajandasında (Ek-1), ithal ruhsatına sahip olduğumuz Regorafenib etkin maddesini içeren “Stivarga 40 mg Film Kaplı Tablet” isimli ürünümüz ile ilişkili olarak trombotik mikroanjiyopati (TMA) sinyaline yönelik inceleme başlatıldığı bilgisi yer almaktadır.

Söz konusu duyuruda, verilen 29 Ağustos–1 Eylül 2022 tarihlerinde gerçekleştirilen PRAC toplantı ajandasında (Ek-1), ithal ruhsatına sahip olduğumuz Regorafenib etkin maddesini içeren “Stivarga 40 mg Film Kaplı Tablet” isimli ürünümüz ile ilişkili olarak trombotik mikroanjiyopati (TMA) sinyaline yönelik inceleme başlatıldığı bilgisi yer almaktadır.

According to the said announcement, as stated in the provided agenda of the PRAC meeting held between 29 August and 1 September 2022 (Annex 1), we have initiated a thrombotic microangiopathy (TMA) signal review in relation to our product Stivarga 40 mg film-coated tablets with the active substance Regorafenib, for which we have been granted a permit to import.


2.2.1. Recursiveness and Embeddedness in Languages

Strictly speaking, clauses can be continuously added to each other. Linguists call this property of languages recursiveness. In both English and Turkish, they can be stacked recursively in long chains or sequences.

A clause placed inside another clause is called embedded, and embedded clauses must be, by definition, subordinate (sub-ordinate). An embedded clause may be embedded within the main clause or another subordinate clause, in which case the embedding clause is referred to as a superordinate (super-ordinate) clause, or a matrix clause, rather than a main clause.

🎭 Excessive embedding may be distracting, however. If we disrupt the core of the sentence, the reader has to hold more information in memory to be able to understand the entire sentence later. Writers should be careful when adding details so that not to clutter the writing.

There is a common misconception that a longer sentence looks more credible. We all have experienced the itch to pack up a lean-looking sentence with a detail or two, just to make it longer. A detail added for its own sake, however, is doomed to be extraneous.


2.2.2. Sentential Interruption in Turkish, or a Gap Within a Turkish Sentence

With the verb-final word order (Subject–Object–Verb), a Turkish basic sentence pivots around its verb (predicate). What’s important to understand about the subject and object of any sentence in Turkish is that they have no direct syntactic relation—they can only connect, in any meaningful grammatical way, through their head, the sentence’s verb.

Only through the verb can a connection be made between the subject and object (or any other complement), which makes the verb the essential link, the thread that ties the subject and object of the action conveyed in the sentence:


[Subject] Object ⟵VERB


The verb is the absolute pivot of any Turkish clause, so much so that a single verb, with an implicit subject or no subject at all, may be sufficient to form a whole sentence in Turkish. (This is radically different from English, in which every sentence must have an explicit subject.)

In a Turkish sentence with an overt grammatical or logical subject, this creates a syntactic gap between the subject and the object—a hole, if you will, at the very core of every Turkish sentence. Because of this gap, Turkish sentences are not linear, as opposed to English sentences, in which the connecting verb (the head) is positioned between the subject and the object (the dependents).

Every regular Turkish sentence has a hole in its core.

In the head-medial English, the canonical sentence is linear and perfectly symmetrical: the head verb is positioned in the middle between the subject and the object, both of which depend on the verb. This way, the boundary between the subject and the object, which may be easily confused in English as two nouns (or noun phrases), is marked with the verb:

Canonical Sentence in English:

Subject ⟵ VERB ⟶ Object

The kids ate the ice-cream.

↑_who? 🠃🠃_what?

The core of the English sentence is, therefore, syntactically uninterrupted. There are no gaps within the core of the canonical English sentence.

In the head-final Turkish, however, the structure of the canonical sentence is non-linear and non-symmetrical. More importantly, it has a gap at its heart (shown with an ellipsis points [...] below):

Canonical Sentence in Turkish:

[Subject] Object ⟵VERB


Çocuklar dondurmayı yediler.

↑ ↑__neyi?_🠃


This gap signals discontinuity, or interruption, at the very center of any regular Turkish sentence. This subject-marking gap, often signaled with a pause in speech or a comma in writing, is also the place for potential revision, or expansion, of the sentence.

In the left-branching Turkish, any new details can, therefore, be added at the beginning of the sentence as well as immediately after the subject. So, comparing to English, interruption occurs more naturally in Turkish. In a way, because the connection between the subject and the verb tends to be always interrupted by the object, we can say that any Turkish sentence with an explicit subject is naturally interrupted.


2.2.3. More About the Gap ...

In Turkish, even simple sentences start with strings (as the subject and the object) of noun phrases, nominal adverbials, or nominalized verbals (which themselves may be modified by nouns, nominalized verbals) and end with the verb that connects the subject and the object.

Although Turkish has developed an effective case-marking system (that signals the relations between the elements in the sentence through inflection suffixes of nouns) to keep such strings of nouns apart, the boundaries between noun phrases, including their modifiers, are often not immediately clear, not least because markings for some cases are the same.

Such boundaries are, therefore, often marked with a gap (discontinuity between the adjacent constituents) or the so-called comma intonation, signaled with the falling intonation and pausing in speech (and shown with a comma in writing).

The major instance of such a gap in Turkish sentences is the one that follows the topic/subject in a sentence. Turkish topic constituents are typically separated from the rest of the sentence by a short pause, marked by a comma in writing.

In Turkish sentences with overt subjects, topics and subjects coincide. The grammatical subject is in the nominative case, having no case markings.

For example, in the sentence below, the topic-subject-marking comma marks the intonational gap that signals the subject-topic of the sentence:

Karşıdan gelen, karım olacak.

Coming from across will be my wife.

(lit. The one coming from across will be my wife.)

In complex sentences, the subject-topics of subordinate (embedded) clauses, which are often genitive-case-marked, are also marked by the disconnecting gap, signaled by the topic-subject-marking comma in writing:

Kızın, olduğundan daha büyük gösterdiğini düşündüm.

I thought that the girl showed herself bigger than she was.

In fact, this introductory topic-subject-marking comma has other remarkable functions:

  1. The comma disconnects the topic from the adjacent word, so that we don't read these as a single unit (gelen karım).

  2. The comma tells us that the preceding word (phrase), being the topic of the entire sentence, has a wide sentential scope (i.e., an effect over other constituents in the sentence).

  3. The comma is a disambiguating (removing ambiguity) device.

Unlike the subject-prominent English, Turkish is a topic-prominent language. While any English sentence must have a subject to make sense, Turkish sentences often start with the object, having their subjects omitted. Whether it’s subject or object that starts the sentence, the sentence-initial constituent is invariably treated as the sentence’s topic, receiving its characteristic secondary stress.

Gaps can also occur in other Turkish constructions. For example, in the -dan çok construction:

[Antikalardan çok, bahçedeki renk renk çiçeğe], [özelikle lale tarlasının rüzgârda dalgalanmasına] gözlerim yapıştı kaldı.

My eyes were glued to the colorful flowers in the garden, especially the tulip field fluttering in the wind, rather than the antiques.

H.E. Adıvar, Akile Hanım Sokağı

In sentences with irregular word order (devrik sentences), the discontinuity may occur between the adjacent words (here, between the backgrounded Nebahat Abla’nın and gözüne) that needs to be marked with a comma:

Soğukluğun kubbesinde biriken damlalardan biri dolgunlaşıp yüzüne düşüyor Nebahat Abla’nın, gözüne doğru inerken elinin tersiyle alıyor alnından.

Accumulating on the dome of the frigidarium, a drop plumps up and falls on Nebahat Abla’s face. As it slides down towards her eye, she wipes it off her forehead with the back of her hand.

Murathan Mungan, Kadından Kentler

3. Left (Introductory) and Mid (Interrupting) Branches

Introductory Verbals as Adverbial Clauses (Manner & Place)

Turkish verbals are nominalized forms of verbs, capable of substituting and modifying nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. The convenience of adding introductory verbals—universal modifiers—makes them an excellent choice for “padding” Turkish sentences.

The sentence below starts with an introductory series of verbals functioning as a manner adverbial, followed by an introductory place adverbial:

[Korkarak, çekinerek ve merak ederek] [karanlık kapıya doğru] ilerledim.

left branch left branch base clause
manner advl clause place advl phrase

With fear, timidity, and curiosity, I went straight to the dark door.

R. Enis, Gonk vurdu

Introductory Postpositional Adverbial Phrase (Concessive) + Adverbial Phrases (Instrumental & Manner)

Adding an introductory adverbial is another common way to branch the sentence to the left. Here, we have three introductory adverbials (concessive, instrumental, and manner):

[Buna rağmen], [Nuran'la] [uzun uzun] konuştular.

left branch left branch left branch base clause
concessive advl instrumental advl manner advl

He and Nuran still spoke at length.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Huzur

Introductory Adverbial (Time) + Postpositional Adverbial Clause (Time)

👉 The comma after the adverbial tells us that it modifies the entire sentence, and not just the adjacent subordinate clause. As such, it functions as a discourse connective, meaning it connects sententially, to the previous sentence:

[Sonra], [eve döndüğünden beri], akrabasına karşı olan sevgisinin daha başka bir hal aldığına dikkat etti.

left branch left branch base clause
time advl (discourse connective)

His affections for her had taken on new proportions since he’d returned to the house.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Huzur

📌 Such introductory comma is both discontinuous and distributive in its scope of action, meaning that its effect reaches over the adjacent constituent to other constituents.


3.1. Embedded Constructions

In this sentence, the base clause is expanded with the postpositionbal adverbial degree clause (lokanta karnesini yenileyecek kadar), intensified with bile, which is further expanded with an embedded subject participial clause on the left (bir hafta sonra bitecek olan):

[Bir hafta sonra bitecek olan lokanta karnesini yenileyecek kadar bile] param kalmamıştı.

embedded left branch base clause

My restaurant ration card was to expire within the week, and even this I could not afford to renew.

(lit. I didn’t even have enough money to renew the restaurant ration card, which was due in a week.)
Ali Sabahattin, Kürk Mantolu Madonna

3.2. Interrupting Verbals (Ara Cümleler)

Although considered mostly left-branching, Turkish also allows the use of interrupted (mid-branching) sentences as parenthetical asides (ara cümle). Again, the most common interrupters are adverbial verbals. Such interruptions often occur right after the subject.

An overt grammatical or logical subject is always followed by a syntactical and semantical gap that disconnects it from the adjacent word, unless that word is the clause’s verb. The subject-marking interruption is, therefore, very common in Turkish, especially by adverbial clauses that share the subject with the main clause:

Mümtaz, [bunu düşünürken], küçük yeğeninin hallerine içinden gülümsedi.

base mid branch base clause

As Mümtaz mused, he smiled inwardly at the various postures of his young niece.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Huzur

Interrupting Circumstance-Describing Adverbial (Verbless Absolute Clause)

Another common interruption is an adverbial phrase or clause describing the appearance or circumstance of the subject, which is why it is placed right after the subject:

Nuran, [bir ayağı son merdivende], [olduğu yerde] durdu.

base mid branch mid branch base

Nuran, with the ball of one foot on the final step, stopped in her tracks.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Huzur

This is a verbless type of an adverbial construction, referred to as an absolute clause in English.


Complement-Marking Interruptions

Even though the subject-marking interruption is the most common, interruption can also take place right after a complement—to insert a verbal modifier (here, the time adverbial clause):

[O andaki] hislerimi, [bilhassa aradan bu kadar seneler geçtikten sonra], anlatmama imkân yok.

left branch base mid branch base

Even now, after all these years, I cannot describe the torrent that swept through me in that moment.

Ali Sabahattin, Kürk Mantolu Madonna

Interrupting Conditional Adverbial Clauses

Bu yaklaşım, [eğer Rum yönetiminin o zamanki oluşumu anayasaya uygun olsaydı], geçerli olmayacaktı.

base mid branch base

This approach would not have worked if the Greek administration established at the time complied with its constitution.

Mesut Arslan, 50 Soruda Kıbrıs Sorunu

Interrupting Appositive Phrases or Clauses

Sentences can also be interrupted by an appositive phrase or clause that restates, describes, or identifies the noun or pronoun it follows (classic appositive construction). Appositive structures can also precede the related nouns or pronouns, in which case they are called inverted appositives.

In the sentence below, the added list of attributes stands in apposition to the implicit subject:

[Bir nebat gibi], [şikâyetsiz, şuursuz, iradesiz], yaşayıp gidiyordum.

left branch left branch base clause
similarity-phrase appositive phrase

I lived like a plant, unconscious and uncomplaining and without a will.

Ali Sabahattin, Kürk Mantolu Madonna

3.3. Interrupting Asides

In the sentence below, there are multiple interrupting clauses, which are not marked with punctuation—the common occurrence in Turkish:

Bu rezillerin umarım uzak olmayan idamlarında, bazen ibret olsun diye yaptıkları gibi cellat arkadaşlar bizleri de parça yiyelim diye çağırırlar.

At the, I hope, not too distant executions of these disgraceful men, I pray our executioner friends invite us to take a bite, as they sometimes do to set a deterring example.

Orhan Pamuk, Beni Adim Kırmızı

With punctuation, the parenthetical nature of the asides (umarım) becomes clearer:

Bu rezillerin, [umarım], uzak olmayan idamlarında, [bazen ibret olsun diye yaptıkları gibi], cellat arkadaşlar, bizleri de, [parça yiyelim diye], çağırırlar.


3.4. Embedded Appositives

Interrupting elements are, by definition, parenthetical, often used as asides, and should be marked with enclosing short dashes. Here, the interrupting appositive phrase (İhsan’ın annesi) is inserted after the related noun and within the introductory adverbial clause:

[Ne Macide, ne yengesi -İhsan'ın annesi- hastanın başı ucundan ayrılmadıkları için], çocuklar haraptılar.

left branch mid branch base clause

Given that neither İhsan’s wife, Macide, nor his mother, Sabire, ever stepped away from the sickbed, the children languished in ruin.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Huzur

3.5. Other Introductory + Interrupting Elements

The introductory modifier in the sentence below can be interpreted as a reduced adverbial clause that expresses an implied causal connection with the main clause:

[Çaresiz], [[ben de akranlarıma katılarak] [köşe başlarında sevgili avına çıkmayı ciddî bir surette düşünmeye başladığım bir zamanda]] talih, imdadıma yetişti. [= Çaresiz hissettigim icin, ben de akranlarıma katılarak ...]

left branch left branch left branch

When I, desperate and seriously considering hunting for lovers around the corner, joined my peers, kismet came to my rescue.

Reşat Nuri Güntekin, Miskinler Tekkesi

3.6. Introductory and Interrupting Punctuation

Punctuation is essential for correct interpretation of introductory or interrupting (parenthetical) elements.

In the sentence below, judging by the predicate, the subject of the sentence should be compound. The first subject (Nuriye Hanım) is also the subject of the introductory adverbial clause. The missing comma after the first subject confuses the reader:

Önde Nuriye Hanım yarı sendeleyerek, [arkada o], [kendisinden bezgin], [çamlığın ücra ve gölgelik yerlerine doğru] yürüdüler.

Nuriye Hanım in the front, half staggered, and he in the back, weary of himself, walked towards the remote and shady places of the pine grove.

Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu, Kiralık Konak

With the comma after the first subject (Nuriye Hanım), the adverbial clause (yarı sendeleyerek) is isolated as an interrupting aside, parallel to the interrupting appositive construction (kendisinden bezgin) that follows the second subject (o):

Önde Nuriye Hanım, [yarı sendeleyerek], arkada o, [kendisinden bezgin], [çamlığın ücra ve gölgelik yerlerine doğru] yürüdüler.

💥 In Turkish, appositive structures are notoriously underpunctuated or semi-punctuated, almost always lacking one of the enclosing punctuation marks.

One of such appositive constructions is yani (that is), which should be enclosed with commas (or short dashes) on both sides:

Kadınların, [yani nüfusunun yarısının] işgücüne neredeyse katılmadığı bir ülke en fazla nereye kadar gidebilir?

[Kadınların, [yani nüfusunun yarısının], işgücüne neredeyse katılmadığı bir ülke] [en fazla] nereye kadar gidebilir?

What progress can a country make, in which women—almost the half of the work force—don’t work?

Türkiye'de Kadın İşgücünün Görünümü

Here, the appositive comment interrupts the modifying clause of the subject.


3.7. Adding Modifiers

Modifying Adjectival Phrases

In addition to adverbials and verbals, sentences can also be expanded with optional modifiers. Those can be positioned before any nouns or nominalized constituents, included before genitive complements as part of izafet constructions:

Biz, bu şehrin [başkalarınca en külüstür, bizce en ucuz ve güzel] meyhanesinde içerdik.

We drank in this city’s notoriously most rundown, yet, in our opinion, the cheapest and most beautiful tavern.

Ihs. Devrim Katimka

Here, the izafet construction is elliptical, with the shared constituents postponed.


Modifying Universal Conditional Clauses (with a Wh-Phrase)

The core constituent of the sentence (the predicate) can also be expanded with phrasal and clausal modifiers, including an object clause.

Here, for example, the object clause (ellerine ne geçerse), an equivalent of the English whatever-clause (the conditional clause, geçerse, + the wh-question, ne) modifies the embedded postpositional clauses (ellerine ne geçerse yemekten ibaret gibi) within the predicate of the sentence:

Biri iki, öteki beş yaşında olan bu sıska çocukların bütün işleri, [basık tavanlı bir damdan ibaret olan evde](,) [[ellerine ne geçerse] yemekten] ibaret] gibi]] idi.

All these skinny two- and five-year-old kids had to do seemed to consist of eating whatever they could get their hands on in the house with a roof with a low ceiling.

S. Ali, Ayran

3.8. Modifying Adverbials

The first verb (çivili idi) has a left-branching modifying locative adverbial (yatakta) added, while the other verb (inip kalkıyordu) is modified with the left-branching manner adverbial (zorlukla):

O, yatakta çivili idi; göğsü zorlukla inip kalkıyordu.

İhsan lay as if spiked to his bed; his chest rose and fell with labor.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Huzur

Modifying (-an) and Nonmodifying (-ip) Verbals

Modifying subject (-an) and object (-diği) verbals are the most prolific modifiers in Turkish.

The sentence below consists of multiple action nominal (-mak, -ma) clauses. In the first clause, the object complement is modified with a complex subject participle modifier, consisting of adverbials (place and manner) (İstanbul sokaklarında, serbestçe), a postpositional clause (İstanbul sokaklarında sürüler, cemaatler halinde), and serial nouns (sürüler, cemaatler). The second clause is modified with a postpositional clause (efendi sahip tanımadan icabında).

The remaining clauses are expanded with added converbial clauses. As nonmodifying verbals, the converbs -ip and -arak are used to create compound predicates:

Bizim [[İstanbul sokaklarında] [sürüler, cemaatler halinde] [serbestçe] gezen]] köpekler olmamız, [efendi sahip tanımadan icabında] yol kesmemiz, [keyfimizin çektiği sıcak köşeye kıvrılıp, gölgeye yatıp] mışıl mışıl uyumamız, [istediğimiz yere sıçıp] istediğimizi ısırmamız, gâvurların akıllarının alacağı şeyler değil.

Dogs who roam the streets of Istanbul freely in packs and communities, the way we do, dogs who threaten people, if necessary, who can curl up in a warm corner or stretch out in the shade and sleep peacefully, and who can shit wherever they want and bite whomever they want, such dogs are beyond the infidels’ conception.

Orhan Pamuk, Beni Adim Kırmızı

4. Enumerations & Excessive Detailing in Turkish

As a verb-final language, Turkish penalizes any elements that are placed after the verb by diminishing their prominence. De-emphasized post-verb elements can only be presupposed (inferable from previous sentences). With the verb carrying such a finalizing force, Turkish writers have to prolong getting to the verb for as long as possible. When writing in Turkish, one may feel compelled to further expand the existing constituents with added synonyms or duplicates.

In addition to copious idiomatic reduplications, Turkish writing abounds with enumerations and enumerations within enumerations. In fact, one of the biggest usage issues in literary Turkish is redundancy.

Below are some examples of sentences from Turkish literary works that illustrate the use of enumerations (with the base part underlined).

For example, below is a sentence from Tanpınar’s sublime novel Huzur. Here, Tanpınar expands on the existing modifiers of the subject (bir korku). One could argue that the modifiers evi sarsan, camlardan temellere kadar [çıldırtan] and her şeyi çıldırtan express a similar thing:

[[Bazen de evi sarsan], [camlardan temellere kadar her şeyi çıldırtan]] bir korku olur] ve Mümtaz, melekelerinin azami hadde varmış çılgınlığı içinde her şeyden adeta kokarak yaşardı.

Sometimes there was a fear that shook the house, driving everything—from the windows to the foundations—crazy, and Mumtaz lived in the frenzy of the maximum of his faculties, almost smelling of everything.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Huzur

In another masterpiece of Turkish literature, Sabahattin Ali’s Kürk Mantolu Madonna, the opening sentence seems to have extraneous circumstantial detailing, as reflected in the rather economical English translation:

[[Büyük salonun] [kapıya yakın] [bir duvarının önünde]] [birdenbire] durdum.

Suddenly, near the door to the main room, I stopped.

(lit. Suddenly, near the door to the main room in front of the wall, I stopped.)
Sabahattin Ali, Kürk Mantolu Madonna

Repetition is, by nature, emphatic, which makes much of Turkish writing, with its frequent uses of reduplication and doubling, overcharged with emotions.

Again, are all the repetitions here justifiable?

[[Durgu durak] bilmeksizin], hızlanmadan, yavaşlamadan, hele hele hiç dinmeden], [tel tel, iplik iplik] yağmur yağardı.

Heavy rain poured incessantly—as if in threads and strings, relentlessly, with no interruptions or slowing down.

B. Karasu, Göçmüş Kediler Bahçesi

Such repetitiveness, for the sake of rhyming rather than meaning, is very common in Turkish writing.

Turkish enumerations can also be recursive, meaning that series can be embedded within other series:

[Küçük insanların büyük problemlerini çözmekten], [[saçlarındaki kurdeleleri, aritmetik, ödevlerini, el yazılarını, düşünceleri] düzeltmekten] Bayan Jackson’ın zihni [boş ve uykuluydu].

Miss Jackson's mind was blank and sleepy from solving big problems of little people, correcting ribbons in her hair, correcting arithmetic, homework, handwriting, thoughts.

Bütün bir günün ve bütün bir gecenin heyecanlarından, üzüntülerinden, zevklerinden, neşelerinden, şarkılarından, danslarından sonra bile, bu yüzde ne bir yorgunluk emaresi, ne bir kırışık, ne bir çizgi görülüyordu.

Even after excitement, anxiety, pleasure, slight intoxication, songs, dances for a whole day and a whole night, neither signs of fatigue, nor wrinkles, nor lines were visible on this face.

Yakup Karaosmanoğlu, Ankara

5. Periodic vs. Loose Sentences

In rhetoric, sentences that branch to the left are called periodic sentences. The main point (the predicate and/or the independent clause) of a left-branching periodic sentence occurs at the end, after one or more side points (dependent clauses) that lead up to the main point.

Left-branching sentence is a periodic sentence.

For example:

And as it ended, as they sat up in the gloom and prepared to enter ordinary life, suddenly the long-drawn strangeness of the morning snapped.

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India

Holding the verb—the main action—till the very end creates an effect of suspense, which holds the attention by withholding the resolution, and then suddenly snaps into place. Though it requires more effort from the reader because of the delayed key points, a periodic sentence effectively builds drama and suspense by listing the subordinate ideas and modifiers first, before delivering the main idea at the end.

This effect is further amplified by the prosodic structure of a canonical English sentence, in which the element at the end of the sentence receives the strongest emphasis. Right-branching sentences state the main idea (the core of the sentence) first before providing any additional details.

Right-branching sentence is a loose or cumulative sentence.

For example:

She looked mad, absolutely round the bend, standing in a filthy bare hall on ragged linoleum under the dismal light of one feeble, flyblown, naked bulb, casually dispensing thousands of pounds.

Angus Wilson, No Laughing Matter

Starting with the main clause, followed by its dependents, a loose sentence creates an easy-going, relaxed pace of narration, reflecting a mind in the process of thinking. In contrast, a periodic sentence (with its subordinate clause preceding the main clause) requires a pre-thought and careful planning, with its timing climactically ordered.

Although canonically left-branching, Turkish sentences alternate between periodic (left-branching) and interrupted (mid-branching).The canonically right-branching English sentences alternate from loose (right-branching) to periodic (left-branching) to interrupted (mid-branching).


Here is a classic example of the differences in the ways English and Turkish build complex sentences: The English sentence is a grammatical and meaningful sentence with multiple embedded content that-clause:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

[This] [is] [the cat] [that caught] [the rat] [that ate] [the malt] [that lay] [in the house] [that Jack] [built].

If we number each constituent as they are ordered in the sentence-building process and compare that with the Turkish translation and if we also number the Turkish constituents, we can see the dramatic difference:

1 10 11 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

[Bu], [Jack'in] [inşa ettiği] [evde] [bulunan] [maltı] [yiyen] [fareyi] [yakalayan] [kedidir].

While the English sentence unfolds in a strictly linear way, the Turkish sentence makes a jump right after the topic/subject of the sentence, or at the disconnection or gap, before proceeding further linearly.

While an English writer can start writing a sentence like this without having to map out the flow of the entire sentence in advance and without knowing the sentence’s finale, the Turkish writer must have a clear idea where the sentence is heading, including the last constituent(s). Needless to say, this makes left-branching sentences more challenging to create and to process.


6. Left-Branching in English

In English, considerable left-branching is possible in the noun phrase, as illustrated in the following genitive construction, although comprehension becomes more difficult as the complexity of left-branching increases:

[[[[Tom’s] sister’s] husband’s] mother’s] house

three degrees of embedding

[[[Tom’s] sister’s] husband’s] house

two degrees of embedding

[[Tom’s] sister’s] house

one degree of embedding

In clause structure, left-branching tends to be limited to two degrees of embedding:

He said [that [if [when you’ve finished] you’d close the door] he’d be very grateful].

Two degrees of embedding: when-clause is embedded as initial in the if-clause, and the if-clause, in turn, is embedded as initial in the that-clause.

However, this extent of embedding becomes extremely awkward and indeed incomprehensible if the clauses are positioned initially in the sentence, where the length and complexity of the clauses contravenes the principle of end-weight. To remind, in English, the principle of end-weight stipulates that, at the sentence level, the part of the sentence following the verb be as long as, and preferably longer than, the part that precedes the verb.

In the initial position in the sentence, only one degree of left-branching is possible, though still awkward:

[[That [if you could] you would help me] is of small comfort.

one degree of embedding: awkward

In English, such sentences are modified to make them easier to read by using the it-dummy subject, in the process called extraposition of the subject:

It is of small comfort [that you would help me [if you could]].

more acceptable

By using it-subject, we end up converting a left-branching sentence into a right-branching sentence.

As we have already established, interrupting constituents are those that interrupt the connection between the subject and the verb (rarely, between the verb and the object). Some constituents are naturally interrupting, however: for example, a nonessential relative clause that modifies the subject. If it’s long, it may be difficult to process:

Elena, [whose husband likes to tell at great length about his parties with famous move stars in Los Angeles], is my best friend.

Long and complex interrupting, or medial branching, clauses cause the most awkwardness:

Elena, [[[whose husband likes to tell at great length] [[how he used to party with famous movie stars] [when he lived in Los Angeles], is my best friend.

Although the subordinate clauses within this interrupting relative clause are all right-branching, the interruption with just one superordinate relative clause is sufficient to make it awkward because it violates the principle of end-weight.

To make the sentence more readable, we need to shift the interrupting part to the end of the sentence. As the relative clause is attached to the subject Elena, we must shift the subject to the end by making it the predicate, which means that the predicate must become the subject:

My best friend is Elena, [[[whose husband likes to tell at great length] [[how he used to party with famous movie stars] [when he lived in Los Angeles].

Posing particular difficulties for comprehension is self-embedding (embedding within embedding), which means the medial subordination of one constituent within another constituent of the same kind.

The embedded sentence below (found in a well-known nursery story) is tolerable and easily intelligible regardless of the number of relative clauses:

This is the rat [[[that ate the malt] [[that lay in the house] that Jack built].

The self-embedded version, however, is extremely awkward and not easy to understand, even though there is only one layer of self-embedding:

This is the house [that the malt [that the rat ate] lay in].

We need to add only a second layer of self-embedding to render the sentence completely incomprehensible:

*This is the house [that the malt [that the rat [that the cat killed] ate] lay in].

The various arrangements of subordinate clauses, therefore, do not just concern stylistic options and their relative merits, but also the more basic question of what constitutes a possible English sentence.

Despite the overall tendency towards final subordination, certain types of adverbial clauses favor initial position. These include:

Discourse connectives: then, in that case, besides, yet, on the other hand, instead

Perhaps you can do it. On the other hand, maybe not.

Sentential rhetorical adverbs:

Quickly, resolutely, he strode into the bank.

Sentential or contrastive adverbials:

Today, we are going to discuss the last days of WWII.

Fronting of contrastive constituents:

Talent, Mr. Micawber has; money, Mr. Micawber has not.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Which of these calls seemed more mysterious, it is not possible to say.

James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Moreover, semantically some adverbial clauses may need to be placed initially in the sentence. For example, in sentences expressing a cause-effect relationship:

Given that Monday is a holiday, we could go to Scotland for the weekend.

Since you won’t share the information, I can’t help you.

Or in sentences with concessive or rhetorical conditional clauses:

If he's poor, he's at least honest.

concessive conditional clause

If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

rhetorical conditional clause

Adverbial correlative constructions with a correlative adverbial in the second clause not merely favor but require initial placement of the subordinate clause:

If it wasn’t Jill who left the gate open, then it must have been Nat.

subordinate correlative clause if … then …


7. Left-Branching vs. Right-Branching: Which Wins?

Studies have indicated that English speakers find right-branching sentences the easiest to understand, probably because such sentences immediately get to the main point. Mid-branching sentences are reportedly the most difficult to understand—no doubt, because of the disruption of the link between the subject and the verb.

By this logic, most Turkish sentences, which are structurally interrupted (by the object butting in between the subject and the verb), would be difficult to understand for English speakers.

Moreover, as I showed in the previous section, left-branching in English tends to be limited to two degrees of embedding. In Turkish, embedding, or rather self-embedding, can reach

Turkish left- and mid-branching sentences can certainly be challenging for the reader and the writer: The reader has to remember the information about one part of the core of the sentence (subject, object, complement, etc.) until reaching the other part of the core (clause-final postposition, clausal suffix, nominal, sentence-final verb, etc.).

Studies of reading habits have found that interrupted sentences (whose subject-predicate links are interrupted) are the most difficult to process. This means that every regular Turkish sentence, being syntactically interrupted (by an object between the subject and the predicate), should pose a problem to parsers—at least non-Turkish ones.

In writing, Turkish writers may be motivated to prolong getting to the verb for as long as possible while keeping in mind the pre-decided resolution of the sentence. Writing in Turkish requires having some preconceived idea about the entire sentence from the start. Turkish writers cannot just jump into a sentence, letting themselves be guided by the motion of the narration alone.

Turkish sentences are mostly limited to periodic (left-branching) and interrupted (mid-branching) sentences, the latter often formulated as parenthetical asides (ara cümleler). As a verb-final, left- and mid-branching language, Turkish produces sentences with dislocated, highly informative predicates—whose structure and mechanism, arguably, demand more attention from the reader than regular English sentences.


8. Right-Branching Sentences in Turkish

Even though it is canonically prohibited, if pragmatically or stylistically motivated, Turkish can move (or background) the least informative (presupposed) constituents after the main verb, creating non-verb-final irregular structures (called devrik cümleler).

However, backgrounding in Turkish has not yet been fully explained or properly studied. All linguists agree, however, that backgrounding of given information de-emphasizes it and shifts stress within the sentence (Aslı Göksel and Celia Kerslake, Turkish: A Comprehensive Grammar). Yet, Gerjan van Schaaik in his The Oxford Turkish Grammar cryptically suggests that given information is “merely mentioned for safety’s sake and then only by way of an afterthought.”

I argue that devrik, or irregular, structures are not only very common (albeit severely understudied and underappreciated); they are also as vital to clause-building and writing altogether as the so-called “regular” structures. But first, we must understand the difference between backgrounding, postponement, and postposing (dislocation).


8.1. Postponement of Afterthought Remarks as a Right-Branching Strategy in Turkish

As clausal linking in Turkish can surpass clausal boundaries, the right-branching-type strategy in Turkish involves postponement, which means placing supplementary, and often new, elements after the verb, typically as afterthought remarks.

For example, adverbial clauses, noun modifiers, or verb modifiers can be postponed. Sentences with correlative coordination conjunctions (ne ... ne, kimi ... kimi) also often use postponing (shown in italics):

Sıktık birbirimizi, sarılıp. Bizim küçük bir yazlık evimiz vardı, bahçeli.

We squeezed each other, hugging. We had a small summer house—with a garden.

“O senin mezarın mı?” diye sordum, şaşkınlıkla. Sanki bu otobüsü bir filmde görmüştü, bu sahneyi.

“Is that your grave?” I asked, with astonishment. It was as if he had seen this bus in a movie, this scene.

Murathan Mungan, Aynalı Kırk Oda

Ah, о on beş günün hâtırasını içinde nasıl bir yerde saklıyorum, bilseniz.

Ah, how deep I keep the memory of those fifteen days. If you only knew.

S. Ali, Köstence güzellik kraliçesi

Ne ben ona bir kelime söyleyebiliyorum, ne o bana.

Neither I can say a word to him, nor he to me.

Yaşar Kemal, Yaban

Afterthought elements may also be added using appositive constructions such as hatta, yani, or bir de:

Frenk gâvurlarının ülkesinde zaten her köpeğin bir sahibi varmış. Zavallı köpekler boyunlarında zincir, en sefil köleler gibi zincirlenmiş olarak tek tek sürüklene sürüklene sokaklarda gezdirilirlermiş. Bu adamlar(,) sonra bu zavallı köpekleri zorla evlerine sokarlar, hatta yataklarına da alırlarmış onları.

In the lands of the infidel Franks, the so-called Europeans, every dog has an owner. These poor animals are paraded on the streets with chains around their necks, they’re fettered like the most miserable of slaves and dragged around in isolation. These Franks force the poor beasts into their homes and even into their beds.

Orhan Pamuk, Beni Adim Kırmızı

[Er ya da geç buluşmak vardı kaderimizde. Onu bulduğumda o derin, ela gözlerin neden öylesine mahzun baktığını öğrenecektim] [ve tabii bir de hazan mevsiminde bir gece yarısı nasıl öldürüleceğimi].

We were destined to meet sooner or later. At the meeting, I had to find out why those deep hazel eyes looked so sad, and, of course, how I would be killed at some autumn midnight.

Elif Şafak, Aşk

In supplemented structures, some elements may also be backgrounded as onları in hatta yataklarına da alırlarmış onları in the sentence above or as çünkü in biliyorum çünkü in the sentence below:

O yapılacak şeyleri ben tek başıma da yapabilirim(,) beyler, tek başıma da ben yürürüm o yolda, biliyorum çünkü.

I can do those things that have to be done all by myself, gentlemen, I can walk that road alone, because I know.

O. Pamuk, Sessiz Ev

Note that while the presupposed or given information is assumed to be shared by the listener, the afterthought material has a supplementary role and mostly provides a new piece of information. It is not clear whether such afterthought material is necessarily de-emphasized for some pragmatic reason. In many instances, especially when new information is added, the intonation is not de-stressed.

Supplementary constructions are often used for providing a twist or a punchline in a narrative. As such, they require a particular highlighting intonation. The information may also be supplementary because it elaborates or specifies what has been said in the topic or focus positions of the sentence.


9. The Paradox and Magic of “Irregular” Sentences in Turkish

In line with the information structure principle in Turkish, any backgrounded element loses its prominence and automatically becomes de-emphasized. Only presupposed (given) information, therefore, can be backgrounded, meaning that, if such constituents are pronominal, they can be dropped or omitted. So why move such constituents at all? Why not keep them dropped?

For example, why did Yaşar Kemal keep the non-contrastive ben in the example below, since it can be inferred from the predicate’s suffix?

Iraz: “Demedim mi ben size?” dedi.

Iraz asked, “Didn't I tell you?”

Yaşar Kemal, İnce Memed-1

A significant (and largely understudied and underestimated) portion of sentences in Turkish literature are irregular in their structure, the majority of which have their would-have-been-topics backgrounded—to bring them as close to the verb as possible.

For example, in the sentences below, by backgrounding the topics of the sentences, we effectively reduce the dependency distance between the head verb and the topic/subject, its dependent, which reduces the burden on our memory and the overall effort needed for processing such sentences:

Erkeklere özgü, çoğu kez karşılığı olan bir duyarsızlıktan ve ilgisizlikten kaynaklanıyor bu hali.

(Bu hali, erkeklere özgü, çoğu kez karşılığı olan bir duyarsızlıktan ve ilgisizlikten kaynaklanıyor.)

This situation is often accompanied by male-specific indifference and insolence.

Murathan Mungan, Aynalı Kırk Oda

İstediği anda da topuklarına dayandığı gibi fırladı yerinden.

(Yerinden, istediği anda da topuklarına dayandığı gibi fırladı.)

When he wanted to, after resting on his heels, he jumped up.

Selçuk Baran

In sentences with emphatic qualifiers, such as her or hiç, able to generate secondary stress within a sentence, by backgrounding them or their phrases, we can create a more balanced structure with a recognizable intonation contour that requires less intonational effort, especially if the main verb is negative and is, thus, naturally stressed (shown in CAPs):

Belki bu yüzden, oğlum gibi ve oğlumdan da öte severim, ama hiç hayranlık duyaMAm ona.

(Belki bu yüzden, oğlum gibi ve oğlumdan da öte severim, ama ona hayranlık hiç duyamam.)

Maybe it’s for this reason that I love him like a son, nay, more than a son—but I never felt any awe toward him.

O. Pamuk, Benim Adım Kırmızı

Backgrounding is also an economic way to shift constituents within a sentence to reposition the focused emphasis, i.e., to refocus the sentence. For example, refocusing is effective in sentences with lexicalized verb compounds or idiomatic verbal collocations, consisting of a common auxiliary verb and an attached bare nominal, the latter having the appearance of an object. To shift the focus stress that otherwise may fall on such object, writers often background the nominal part of the verb compound, as Pamuk does in the sentence below. By backgrounding the context-recoverable nominal part (aklıma) of the verb compound akla gelmek, the writer focuses put olacağı instead:

Hikâyeyi tamamlamayan bir resmi düşünmeye çalıştığımda o resmin sonunda bir PUT OLACAĞI geliyor aklıma.

(Hikâyeyi tamamlamayan bir resmi düşünmeye çalıştığımda o resmin sonunda bir put olacağı AKLIMA geliyor.)

An illustration that does not complement a story, in the end, will become but a false idol.

Orhan Pamuk, Benim Adım Kırmızı

Being “context-recoverable” does not mean being given, however. It is neither old nor new. One can argue that it is the least informative element in the sentence. And by backgrounding such least informative element(s), if needed, writers can ensure that we quicker get to the focused constituent. In the sentence below, for example, bağıran is again context-recoverable; it is also the sentence’s topic. By backgrounding the topic, i.e., through detopicalization, the writer emphatically and quickly gets to the point:

Evin içinden bir çığlık geldi; Hayriye idi bağıran.

(Evin içinden bir çığlık geldi; bağıran, Hayriye idi.)

There came a cry from within the house; it was Hayriye who’d screamed.

Orhan Pamuk, Beni Adim Kırmızı

In a complex sentence, backgrounding can occur in the main clause as well as the subordinate clause. If the main clause and the subordinate clause share the subject (and/or the object), Turkish writers may find a way not to repeat the subject within the same sentence by moving it to the middle of the sentence, at the boundary between the clauses, where it is close to both clauses.

For example, in the Turkish classic novel İnce Memed, Yaşar Kemal wants to avoid repeating the subject Abdi Ağa and the object beni, so he moves the subject to the middle, placing it after the conditional verb. He also drops the second mention of the pronominal object:

Beni burada bulursa Abdi Ağa(,) öldürür.

If Abdi Agha finds me here, he’ll kill me.

Yaşar Kemal, İnce Memed 1

By reducing the cognitive planning effort and memory load, the strategy of backgrounding in Turkish ultimately aims to optimize text for cognitive processing. In a language with a myriad of emphatic constructions, native Turkish speakers and writers know exactly which part of each sentence can be optimized this way.

Like any other speakers in the world, Turkish speakers strive to express themselves in the most economical yet effective way. To do that, they optimize their utterance planning and delivering efforts by shifting words around, knowing exactly which words to move and in what order so that these words, although serving the least informative purpose, nevertheless do serve that purpose.

An icon of a yellow flower


bottom of page