• Galina Blankenship

Turkish, French, and English Punctuation

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

The extensive foreign borrowings in the Turkish literary language included numerous Arabic-Persian loanwords and grammatical constructions, followed by French and, later, English loanwords and writing conventions, in particular, punctuation.

An oil painting by Paul Ranson "Apple Tree with Red Fruit" (Museum of Fine Arts)
Osman Hamdi Bey, Persian Carpet Dealer on the Street (1888), Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Although Turkish constitutes its own language family, through the experience of translating Western literature, especially French, Western punctuation system was introduced into the Turkish literary language.

Below are some similarities and differences between the use of punctuation in Turkish, French, and English:

1. Many uses of punctuation in Turkish, French, and English are similar, including the use of comma to set off salutations, appositives, introductory phrases, interjections, and series of words or phrases. Unlike the U.S. English, however, neither French nor Turkish uses an Oxford comma.

Je dois acheter du pain, de la confiture, du miel, un fruit et du sel.

I have to buy bread, jam, honey, fruits, and salt. (U.S. English)

I have to buy bread, jam, honey, fruits and salt. (U.K. English)

Bu, | tek gözlü, genç fakat ihtiyar görünen | bir adamcağızdır. (Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil)

This is a | one-eyed, young, if old-looking, | poor man.

2. Just as French, Turkish allows a comma between two related independent clauses. In English, a semicolon or period would be necessary in this position.

C’est plus qu’un engouement ou une mode, | c’est un phénomène de société.

It’s more than just a craze or a fad; | it’s a social phenomenon.

Babamın babası -dedem- zengin bir iş adamıydı, babam rahat bir çocukluk ve gençlik geçirmişti, edebiyat için, yazı için zorluk çekmek istemiyordu. (O. Pamuk, Babamın Bavulu)

My father’s father—my grandfather—was a rich businessman. He had an easy childhood and adolescent life. He had no intention of enduring hardship for the sake of literature or writing.

3. As in French, Turkish direct speech is not always enclosed in quotation marks, and may just be followed by a comma. In English, such punctuation may occasionally be employed as a literary device: for example, to represent the hero’s stream of consciousness.

Je vais vous expliquer la formation des nuages, dit le professeur.

"I am going to explain to you the formation of clouds," said the professor.

Ben ayrılalıdan beri kaç göçe dört el sarılmışa benziyorsun, dedim. (H. Balıkçısı, Bütün Eserleri)

I said, “It looks like you've had to hide from men many times since I left.”

4. Two independent clauses in a French compound sentence may be separated by a semicolon if the second clause starts with an adverb. The same may occur in Turkish if the second clause starts with fakat, ancak, ama, etc.

Sa voiture est tombée en panne au milieu de la campagne ; heureusement un fermier passait par là.

His car broke down in the countryside; luckily, a farmer was passing by.

Evet, ikisi de çocuklarını ihtimal, aynı kuvvetle seviyorlardı; fakat ne yazık bu seviş tarzları başka idi. (R. Nuri Güntekin, Yaprak Dökümü)

Yes, it is possible that they both loved their children with equal strength; however, unfortunately, they loved each in their own way.

5. However, a French clause starting with mais (but) does not take a comma. In Turkish, the rule is not clear. The TDK provides sentences both with and without a comma.

Je suis fatigué | mais je vais faire ce devoir.

I am tired, | but I will do this homework.

İsteseymiş bir günde bitirirmiş | ama ne yazık ki vakti yokmuş.

If she wanted to, she could have finished it in one day, | but unfortunately, she didn't have time.

6. Subordinate clauses in a French compound sentence are not set off by commas. English clause, however, is always followed by a comma if it is in the beginning of the sentence. According to the TDK, Turkish adverbial clauses may be set off by commas only if there are 2 or more clauses, i.e., a series of clauses.

Il hochait la tête doucement | tout en regardant mon avion.

He shook his head quietly, | eying my plane.

Peki, nüfusumuzun yarısı verimli çalışmıyorken | Avrupa'yı, Amerika'yı nasıl yakalayacağız?

Well, while half our population is not working efficiently, | how can we catch up with Europe and America?

7. In English, comma should not separate correlative pairseither … or, neither … nor, both … and, etc.—unless the correlatives precede independent clauses. In Turkish, the TDK instructs not to separate the pairs with comma. However, many literary examples contradict this rule.

Tu n’as ni patience ni discipline.

You have neither patience nor discipline.

Ama ne o sabır var bizde ne de istek.

But we have neither that patience nor the will.

8. French does not set off conditional clauses. Nor does Turkish—at least according to the current TDK ruling. Numerous literary examples in Turkish, however, contradict this rule.

In English, conditional clause is just another subordinate clause, and, as such, it does not require a comma if it is placed in the end of the sentence. However, a subordinate clause in the middle of the sentence should be set off with commas on both ends., and a subordinate clause in the beginning of the sentence should be followed by a comma.

Il faut bien que je supporte deux ou trois chenilles | si je veux connaître les papillons.

I have to endure two or three caterpillars | if I want to meet butterflies.


If I want to meet butterflies, | I have to endure two or three caterpillars.

In this life, | if I want to meet butterflies, | I have to endure two or three caterpillars.

Vergi reformu olursa | sağlıklı finanse edilir.

If there is a tax reform, | it can be robustly financed.

9. The Turkish penchant for ellipses may be explained by the French use of ellipsis.

Like in French sentence, Turkish ellipsis is used for self-censuring, to denote expletives that would otherwise have been censored:

Marre de cette p… de vie !

Tired of this sh... life!

Hızlı koşan atın ... seyrek düşer.

A fast running (busy) horse rarely sh…

10. Finally, another peculiar similarity between French and Turkish is stylistic: In official documents, French last names are often written all in caps.


Victor HUGO

Unfortunately, when translating into English, translators often neglect to adjust the case of the last names in the target document. In fact, one should be particularly careful when using the uppercase formatting in English documents. English speakers tend to perceive writing in caps as overly familiar and "loud," or even rude. This is why we use caps to convey our emotive reactions, i.e., "screaming," in online communication.

Falih Rıfkı ATAY, Tuna Kıyıları, Remzi Kitabevi, İstanbul, 1938

Falih Rıfkı Atay, Tuna Kıyıları, Remzi Kitabevi, Istanbul, 1938