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  • Galina Blankenship

How French (and Not English) Continues Shaping Turkish Writing

Updated: Sep 12


Modelled on Western-European languages, the current punctuation system used in Turkish does not fit as snugly upon its non-Western syntactic structure. With its writing system having been Latinized, mainly due to the French influence, Turkish adopted many of the French (as well as some German and English) punctuation conventions.



Harem Scene, Quintana Olleras, 1851–1919_Belle of Nelson whiskey poster (1878), based on a harem scene by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Harem Scene by Quintana Olleras (1851–1919)


Similarities with French as Opposed to English



Stylistic Preference of Juxtaposing▾


Conjunctions are not “native” to Turkish: The genuine Turkish way to link elements in a sentence is to simply place them side by side, i.e., to juxtapose them, without using any connectives.


Both French and Turkish have a strong preference for linking sentence constituents by merely juxtaposing them without using any conjunctions (and, or). In literary critique, such clause-linking is referred to as asyndetic parataxis (meaning, linking of equal, parallel items without any conjunctions).


English, on the other hand, strongly favors coordination, by using a coordinating conjunction (and, or) to connect equal, parallel items, including before the last item in a pair (2) or a series (3+) of such items. As a technique, the style of linking with a conjunction is called syndetic parataxis:

Preference for Asyndetic Linking

(no conjunction) (FR + TR)

Preference for Syndetic Linking

(with conjunction) (EN)

Je crois qu'il nous trouvait « mal élevés », trop bruyants, irréfléchis.

‒ Philippe Soupault

I believe he found us “badly brought up,” too noisy, and thoughtless.

‒ Philippe Soupault

Sanırım bizi, “kötü yetiştirilmiş”, fazla gürültülü, düşüncesiz olduğumuzu düşündü.

‒ Philippe Soupault

 

No Oxford Comma▾


In all three languages, three or more juxtaposed elements, referred to as a series, are separated by a comma. A coordinating conjunction (and, or) is often added before the last item in the series.


However, in English, especially in its U.S. variety, such an added conjunction in a series of three or more items is also preceded with a comma (known as an Oxford comma). Neither French nor Turkish ever use the Oxford comma:

No Oxford Comma (FR + TR)

Oxford Comma (AmE)

Un beau chat, fort, doux et charmant.

‒ Charles Baudelaire

A beautiful, strong, sweet, and charming cat.

‒ Charles Baudelaire

Güzel, güçlü, tatlı ve hoş bir kedi.

‒ Charles Baudelaire

 

Stylistic Preference of Polysyndetic Series (Repeated Conjunctions)▾


A series that uses the same conjunction to connect each pair of the items in the series is called polysyndetic. Although rarely used in English, polysyndetic linking is very common in both French and Turkish.


Polysyndetic series are usually translated into English as correlative series linked with paired coordinating conjunctions, which do not take commas unless the correlated items are clauses:

Commas Between Repeated Conjunctions (FR + TR)

No Commas Between Correlated Conjunctions (Unless They Are Clauses) (EN)

Ni les jeux, ni les cirques, ni les longues nuits de beuverie ne rendirent le citoyen d’Athènes heureux.

Neither the games nor the circuses nor the long nights of drinking made the citizens of Athens happy.

Ne oyunlar, ne sirkler, ne de uzun içki geceleri,* Atinalıları mutlu etmedi.


*This comma after the last item in the series is the compound subject-marking comma, which is unique to Turkish.

According to the Turkish language authority, TDK, polysyndetic series should not be separated with commas; however, numerous examples in Turkish literature, journalism, and academic papers prove otherwise.

 

Using a Comma Between Juxtaposed Independent Clauses ▾


If any two independent clauses are merely juxtaposed without a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence (sıralı cümle), a comma would be sufficient to link them in both French and Turkish. For English, however, a comma would be too weak, and a semicolon must be used:

Comma Between Independent Clauses (FR + TR)

Semicolon Between Independent Clauses (EN)

[Et un voyage, un voyage sans début et sans fin], [il n'était question que d'un voyage].

‒ Orhan Pamuk, La vie nouvelle

[A journey was involved]; [it was always about a journey].

‒ Orhan Pamuk, New Life

[Bir yolculuk vardı], [hep vardı], [her şey bir yolculuktu].

‒ Orhan Pamuk, Yeni Hayat

 

Comma + Conjunctive Adverb (Transitional Connective) Between Juxtaposed Clauses▾


In English, the semicolon-based linking between juxtaposed independent clauses may be additionally strengthened (but not replaced) by a logically appropriate transitional phrase (or a conjunctive adverb): e.g., therefore, however, thus, nevertheless, etc.


As a modifier of the entire clause, an English conjunctive adverb is understood as syntactically peripheral to the structure of the clause. A conjunctive adverb notwithstanding, the two independent clauses must be linked with a semicolon, with the conjunctive adverb signaled and emphasized with enclosing comma(s).


On the other hand, any French or Turkish compound clauses with an added transitional donc/ alors or o yüzden/ onun için, respectively, retain the comma that would normally link the two independent clauses. No other punctuation mark is needed to emphasize the connective:

Comma + Conjunctive Adverb

(No Other Additional Punctuation) (FR + TR)

Semicolon + Conjunctive Adverb Enclosed with Comma(s) (EN)

[Il arrive], donc [je pars].

[He has arrived]; therefore, [I will leave].

[He has arrived]; [I will, therefore, leave].


[O geldi], o yüzden [bende ayrılacağım].

[He has arrived]; [I will leave], therefore.

 

Rhetorical or Focusing Adverbs (Emphatic Device)▾


Compound sentences may also have a rhetorical adverb, such as even or especially, added for special emphasis, which does not affect the conventional punctuation.

Comma (No Other Additional Punctuation) (FR + TR)

Semicolon (No Other Additional Punctuation) (EN)

[Kamuoyu bunu asla kabul etmeyecek],[hatta patlayacaktır].

[Society will never accept this]; [it may even explode].

[La société n'acceptera jamais cela], [elle explosera même].

 

Ellipsis (Ellipsis Points) Used to Mean “Et Cetera”▾


Both Turkish and French have a penchant for the liberal use of ellipsis, not least because of the technical and academic use of this punctuation mark to convey the notion of et cetera in the end of lists of items. In English, in technical and academic literature, an ellipsis (or ellipsis points) is mainly used to signal an omission in a quotation.


🚩 The English equivalent of the corresponding French or Turkish ellipsis is the term and so on (and so forth), abbreviated as etc. (et cetera). Keep in mind that the traditional use of the abbreviated form etc. is somewhat informal, limited to technical and academic papers (in lists in tables, notes, and within parentheses), and expedient documents (such as business forms, catalogs, routine email messages, memos, and letters between business offices). As other abbreviations, etc. should be used sparingly in general prose—and only with incomplete lists of things (not people).

Used in the End of a List to Mean “Et Cetera” (FR + TR)

Use “Etc.” Instead (Sparingly) (EN)

J’y ai vu toutes sortes de bateaux (yachts, chaloupes, voiliers, kayaks).

I saw all kinds of boats there: yachts, rowboats, sailboats, kayaks, etc.

Orada her türlü tekneyi gördüm (yatlar, kayıklar, yelkenliler, kanolar).

 

Ellipsis (Suspension Points) Used to Mean a Break or Interruption in Speech▾


In French and Turkish fiction, an ellipsis (or suspension points) is used to indicate an interrupted speech in an exchange. In English literature, however, the appropriate choice is a dash:

Using an Ellipsis to Mark Interrupted Speech (FR + TR)

Using a Dash Instead (EN)

« — Je crois savoir qui a tué...

— Non, ne le dites pas ! Je ne veux pas le savoir ! »

“I think I know who killed

“No, don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!”

— Galiba biliyorum kimin öldürdüğünü

— Hayır, söyleme bana! Bilmek istemiyorum!

💥 English differentiates between speech interrupted by someone other than the speaker and self-interrupted speech, expressed as a hesitation, faltering, trailing off, or stuttering speech, in which case it is indicated by an ellipsis as well.

 

Ellipsis (Suspension Points) Used to Signal a Surprising or Dramatic Turn (Often Humorous)▾


An ellipsis (suspension points) can also be used to indicate an unexpected or surprising break in the narration for a dramatic or humorous effect. Again, a dash is preferred in English:

Using an Ellipsis to Mark Interrupted Speech (FR + TR)

Using a Dash Instead (EN)

Elle a pris l’verre de bière et elle lui a versé sur la tête !

She took the glass of beerand poured it over his head!

Bir bardak bira aldı ve... kafasına döktü!

Notice the placement of the dash before the conjunction and in the English sentence to prevent misreading the break as an interruption.

 

Common Use of Fragmented Sentences▾


The use of the so-called sentence fragments (sentences lacking a subject or a verb) to achieve a stylistic effect occurs relatively infrequently in English. In contrast, both French and Turkish are much more tolerant towards sentence fragmentation:

Sentence Fragmenting for Dramatic Effect (FR + TR)

Avoid Sentence Fragmenting (EN)

Je combattrai pour l’Homme. Contre ses ennemis. Mais aussi contre moi-même.

‒Saint-Exupéry, Pilote de guerre

I will fight for the Man against his enemiesand against myself.

‒Saint-Exupéry, War Pilot

İnsan için savaşacağım. Düşmanlarına karşı. Ama aynı zamanda kendime karşı da.

‒Saint-Exupéry, Savaş Pilotu

 

Dismissing Appositive Lists Grammatically▾


An appositive list contains a series of items summarized by a principal word (principal summarizer) that follows or precedes the list. The series may be syndetic, asyndetic, or polysyndetic. Although such a construction is semantically warranted, French does not always distinguish it grammatically. For example:


Un souffle, une ombre, un rien le faisait trembler.


In this example, the punctuation pattern suggests that the initially listed items form a series: un souffle, une ombre, and un rien, even though they clearly do not. In fact, the latter, un rien, is the principal of the preceding appositive list.


In English, such a sentence would be furnished with a dash separating the principal summarizer from the preceding list:


A breath, a shadownothing made him tremble.


Other examples of principal summarizers include such, these, they, all, everywhere, etc. (underlined below ).


Yet, in another French sentence, an appositive list is recognized but separated by a colon (the so-called listing colon) that follows the list (rather than by a dash, as it would be in English):


Du fromage, du vin, un peu de pâté : voilà un pique-nique réussi.

Cheese, wine, a little pâtéthese are the ingredients of a successful picnic.


In the standard use of the listing colon, the colon precedes the related appositive list:


Il pratique de nombreuses activités sportives: natation, planche à voile, course, tennis, etc.

He practices many sports activities: swimming, windsurfing, running, tennis, etc.

Inconsistent Formatting of Appositive Lists (FR)

Dash After & Colon Before an Appositive List (EN)

Etla neige, etla pluie, etle vent, j’ai tout essuyé.

Whether it’s snow, rain, orwindI wiped it all away.

Les chasseurs, les chevaux, les chiens, tous étaient éreintés.

The hunters, the horses, and the dogsall were exhausted.

Just like French, Turkish does not distinguish between principal summarizers and related appositive lists, separating them as part of a single series, or not separating them at all—as, for example, in the first sentence of Article 8 of the Turkish Law on National Education (Milli Eğitim Temel Kanunu):


Madde 8 – Eğitimde kadın, erkek herkese fırsat ve imkân eşitliği sağlanır.

Article 8 – Equality of opportunity in education shall be provided to everyone, men and women.

Inconsistent Formatting of Appositive Lists (TR)

Dash After & Colon Before an Appositive List (EN)

Ne sen, ne o, ikiniz de bilmediniz.

Neither younor heboth of you did not know.

Yolda, arabada, evde, her yerde bu konuyu konuşuyor.

On the road, in the car, at homehe talks about it everywhere.

Büyüler, tütsüler, okutmalar, yazdırmalar, kıllar, tüyler hepsi hava cıvaydı.

‒Volkan Burkay, Ağır Roman

Spells, incense, incantations, prints, hairs, and feathersit was all just a farce.

‒ Volkan Burkay, Heavy Novel

 

Using Dashes for Dialogues▾


In both French and Turkish, in direct discourse (conversation), opening quotation marks (used in English) are replaced by em dashes (always spaced at least a hair), with no closing quotation marks needed (unless the dialogue is part of a larger quotation):

Using Dashes for Dialogues (FR + TR)

Using Quotation Marks for Dialogues (EN)

Elle m'a regardé et m'a dit :

Es-tu fâché ?

Bien au contraire !

She looked at me and said:

Are you angry?

On the contrary!

Bana bakıp:

Kızgın mısın? diye sordu.

Yok canım, tam tersi!

 

Using Hyphen to Indicate Ranges of Numbers, Dates, Pages▾



In Turkish, as in French, a hyphen is used to connect continuing or inclusive numbers (dates, times, reference numbers, page ranges, etc.).


In English, however, a special punctuation mark, en dash, is used to indicate ranges and spans of numerals. En dash is typed as Ctrl + – (minus on Num Lock):

Using Hyphen to Denote a Range (FR + TR)

Using En Dash to Denote a Range (EN)

1968-1972

mai-juin 1967

p. 38-45

19681972

MayJune 1967

pp. 3845

1968-1972

Mayıs-Haziran 1967

s. 38-45

 

Formatting Individual Last Names in Uppercase▾


Turkish has adopted the French style of formatting people’s last names (as well as names of cities/ countries), mainly in official documents and academic papers (particularly in headings and signatures), by writing them all in caps, as opposed to the English title case-type capitalization (capitalizing each word).

All Caps (FR + TR)

Capitalize Each Word (EN)

Victor HUGO

144 bd Richard-Lenoir

75010 PARIS

FRANCE

Victor Hugo

144 Hollywood Blvd. Apt. 25

Los Angeles, CA 90002

United States of America

Deniz DUYMAZ

Atatürk Bulvarı No.: 21/6

75010 Kavaklıdere / ANKARA

TÜRKİYE

 

Using a Decimal Comma in Numerals▾


Numerals are formatted in a similar fashion in both French and Turkish, with a decimal comma instead of a decimal point, as it is in English:

Decimal Comma (FR + TR)

Decimal Point (EN)

102,71

102.71

102,71

 

German: Using Period (Full Stop) After Numerals to Indicate Ordinal Numbers▾


Apart from French, German has also had some influence on the Turkish writing conventions, specifically, in relation to formatting ordinal numbers: A period (full stop) after a numeral shows that it represents an ordinal number.


Moreover, in German, this convention is also used for days of the month, which could be the reason why dates in Turkish (as well as in English) may be written with periods:

Using Period for Ordinal Numbers (GR)

No Period for Ordinal Numbers (EN)

14. Auflage

der 2. Weltkrieg (der Zweite Weltkrieg)


der 01. Februar 2009 / der 01.02.2009

14th edition

Word War II (the Second World War)


the 1st of February 2009 / 01.02.2009 (or 01/02/2009)

14. baskı

II. Dünya Savaşı


1 Şubat 2009 / 01.02.2009