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  • Galina Blankenship

The TDK’s Punctuation Guidelines… Don’t Always Make Sense


Grammar rules even kings. --Molière






Turkish punctuation is a de facto project in progress.


With numerous Arabic, Persian, French, and recently English lexical borrowings, Turkish has also appropriated certain grammatical forms, syntactic constructions, and punctuation conventions.


With the Latinization of the Ottoman Turkish alphabet in the late 1920s, the respective writing conventions were also adopted. Unlike the vowel-starved Arabic script, the Latin alphabet was largely viewed as a better fit for the Turkish language, which has eight vowels.


[Read more about the Turkish language reforms and the Great Turkish Lexical Paradox in The Turkish Language Reform… May Never End.]


However, adopting the European-style punctuation that came along with the Latin alphabet for a non-European language has had its challenges. To this day, disparities in the use of punctuation among Turkish writers and students remain common, prompting debates among national scholars and calls from teachers and educators for a comprehensive and coherent punctuation policy. As shown by numerous surveys and studies, Turkish students struggle by far the most with the use of punctuation marks (especially semicolon, colon, and comma) and compound words.


The Turkish authority on the national literary language and punctuation conventions, the Turkish Language Academy (Türk Dil Kurumu, TDK), periodically revises its guidelines—for linguistic as well as political reasons, e.g., to minimize the effects of certain foreign languages on Turkish.


Notwithstanding the revisions, the guidelines on punctuation remain inconsistent and, largely, incomplete.


Here are some issues with the current 2015 TDK Guidelines.







The Inconsistent TDK Guidelines





Quotes without Quotes

1. Virgül… tırnak içinde olmayan alıntı cümlelerinden sonra konur. (Comma should be placed after a quotation (direct speech) that is not enclosed in quotation marks).


There is no explanation as to why some quotations or direct speech have no quotation marks and whether it is up to a student to use such marks or not.


❓ Can a comma be placed before a quotation/direct speech without quotation marks?




Setting Off the Subject with Comma

2. Virgül… uzun cümlelerde yüklemden uzak düşmüş olan özneyi belirtmek için konur. (In long sentences, use a comma to indicate the subject if it is placed far from the predicate).


Example provided (with the subject highlighted):


Saniye Hanımefendi, merdivenlerde oğlunun ayak seslerini duyar duymaz, hasretlisini karşılamaya atılan bir genç kadın gibi koltuğundan fırlamış ve ona kapıyı kendi eliyle açmaya gelmişti.

As soon as she heard her son’s footsteps on the stairs, Ms. Saniye jumped out of her seat, like a young girl rushing to see her beloved, and herself came down to open the door for him.


❓ How long is “a long sentence” and how “far” should a subject be from the predicate?


In another, much shorter sentence provided further, the subject is also separated by comma:


Türk dili, Türk milletinin kalbidir, zihnidir.

The Turkish language is the heart and mind of the Turkish nation.




Separating Consecutive Adverbial Clauses

3. Virgül… metin içinde art arda gelen zarf-fiil eki almış kelimelerden sonra konur. (Use comma to separate two or more consecutive adverbial clauses in a sentence).


Consecutive adverbial clauses form a series of adjacent parallel elements, which, according to another TDK guideline, should be separated by comma.


The example provided has two adverbial clauses separated by a comma (with the consecutive clauses shown highlighted):


Ancak yemekte bir karara varıp, arkadaşına dikkatli dikkatli bakarak konuştu.

Having made his decision only at dinner, he spoke as he stared at his friend intently (lit., Having made his decision only at dinner, staring at his friend intently, he spoke).


Yet, this guideline is immediately followed by a seemingly conflicting warning that states:


Warning: Metin içinde zarf-fiil eki almış kelimelerden sonra virgül konmaz (Do not separate adverbial clauses in a sentence).


Although poorly worded, my guess is that the guideline refers to sentences with a single adverbial clause (instead of a series of adverbial clauses).



Nonetheless, the example provided for this guideline has two adverbial clauses:


Şimdiye dek, ben kendimi bildim bileli kimse Değirmenoluk köyünden kaçıp da başka köyde çobanlık, yanaşmalık etmedi.

Until now, as long as I can remember, no one has [ever] escaped from Değirmenoluk to work as a shepherd in another village (lit. Until now, as long as I can remember, by escaping from Değirmenoluk, no one has [ever] worked as a shepherd in another village).


There is no explanation as to why no comma is used in this case. In the previous example, the clauses shared the subject. Here, the subjects are different (ben and kimse). Could that be the reason?


❓ Are clauses with different subjects serial?


❓ Incidentally, why there is a comma after the introductory şimdiye dek? None of the TDK guidelines addresses this question.




Separating Consecutive Adverbial and Adjectival Clauses

Additionally, a sentence provided earlier for another guideline has an adverbial clause (as well as a adjectival (participial) clause (sıfat-fiil), "hasretlisini karşılamaya atılan bir genç kadın gibi"), separated by a comma:


Saniye Hanımefendi, merdivenlerde oğlunun ayak seslerini duyar duymaz, hasretlisini karşılamaya atılan bir genç kadın gibi koltuğundan fırlamış ve ona kapıyı kendi eliyle açmaya gelmişti.

As soon as she heard her son’s footsteps on the stairs, Ms. Saniye jumped out of her seat, like a young girl rushing to see her beloved, and herself came down to open the door for him.


❓ Does an adverbial clause constitute a series with an adjectival clause? What exactly makes clauses or any other parts of speech serial? In fact, what parts of speech can or cannot constitute adjacent parallel elements in a series?