Two Basic Principles of Turkish Syntax and Other General Properties (As Compared to English)
Updated: 2 days ago
The two basic principles of Turkish syntax are:
Some general properties of the Turkish language, as opposed to the English language, are provided in the table below:
Head-Initial (Complements) / Head-Medial (Modifier)
Canonical Word Order
Subject–Object–VERB (syntactically flexible, pragmatically fixed)
Subject–VERB–Object (syntactically fixed, pragmatically depending on intonation)
Asyndetic Parataxis preferred
Syndetic Parataxis preferred
Nonfinite (Nominalization-Based Verbals and Postpositionals) & Finite
Finite & Nonfinite (Verbals)
Style of Describing
Left-Branching (+ Mid-Branching)
Left- and Right-Branching (+ Mid-Branching)
Subject vs. Topic
Determined by position and case marking
Determined by article: a(n), the, zero article
Determined by case marking
Determined by position within a sentence
Here, I'll explain in more detail some aspects of these principles and properties.
I. The Principle of Preceding Qualification in Turkish
The most prominent characteristic of the Turkish language is that, syntactically, it follows the so-called rectum-before-regens, or dependent-before-head, principle of phrasal and clausal structuring. In Turkish syntaxis, any qualifier precedes the qualified element, the secondary element is placed before the principal constituent, and all the words that complete the sense of (depend on) another word are placed before it, their head. This makes Turkish a head-final language.
Another term for the [dependent+head] relationship is phrase, or rather a dependent phrase, as opposed to a coordinated phrase based on an independent relationship. The common dependent phrases are verb phrases, noun phrases, adjective and adverb phrases, etc.
A phrase connected through an independent relationship, meaning that it does not have any heads or dependent elements, consists of equal, parallel items connected as a series, a compound construction, or an appositive structure.
The head plays a central role in defining a phrase: The grammatical category of the phrase depends on that of the head. If the most important part of the phrase, its head, is an adjective, the phrase is an adjective phrase; if the most important part of the phrase is a noun, the phrase is a noun phrase, etc. Clearly delineating the phrases helps make the structure of the sentence clearer and less ambiguous.
There are two kinds of dependents:
1. Complements (mostly obligatory)
2. Modifiers (optional), including determiners (articles, demonstratives, possessives, quantifiers)
While complements complete the meaning of their heads (and, as such, usually cannot be omitted), modifiers optionally modify their heads and, therefore, can be dispensed with.
In both Turkish and English, the common phrases with dependent complements include:
Verb phrases with direct and indirect objects, complement that-clauses, subject and object predicatives
Noun phrases with nominal complement that-clauses
Adjective phrases with adjectival complements (to-infinitival clauses)
Pre-/post-positional phrases with prepositional/postpositional complements
English: Head-Initial & Head-Medial
In English, complements always come after their heads, which makes English head-initial (with complements). English modifiers, however, may come before or after their heads, which makes English head-medial (with modifiers).
As a head-initial language (for complements) and a head-medial language (for modifiers), English words can have both pre- and post-dependent modifiers and post-dependent complements. The table below shows all kinds of phrases, with the heads highlighted in bold and their dependents identified in the brackets [...]:
HEAD OF PHRASE
if you can, call
call when you can
say that you are OK
[that-clause as an object]
(the) people present
(the) reason [that] he left
(the) then director
(the) people that we met
glad to know
tall as me
guilty of a crime
glad about this
glad that you could came
Turkish: Strictly Head-Final
In the head-final Turkish, in its basic syntactic units—phrases—the dependent element (or a complement) must come before its heads.
For example, compare the Turkish and English phrases with complements, with their heads shown in bold:
TR: öğrenciydik [noun (subject complement) + verb (copula)] ⟹ a verb phrase
EN: (we) were students [verb (copula) + noun (subject complement)] ⟹ a verb phrase
TR: çikolata yedi [obj.+ verb] ⟹ a verb phrase
EN: (she) ate chocolate [verb + obj.] ⟹ a verb phrase
TR: mutlu etti [adj. + verb] ⟹ a verb phrase
EN: made happy [verb + adj.] ⟹ a verb phrase
TR: işinden memnun [postposit. phrase + adj.] ⟹ an adjective phrase
EN: happy about the work [adj. + preposit. phrase] ⟹ an adjective phrase
TR: okulda [noun + locative case suffix] ⟹ a postpositional phrase
EN: at school [prep. + noun] ⟹ a prepositional phrase
TR: memnuniyet ile [noun + postposit.] ⟹ a postpositional phrase
EN: with pleasure [preposit. + noun] ⟹ a prepositional phrase
TR: sağdan ikinci [postposit. + numeral] ⟹ a postpositional phrase
EN: (the) second on the right [preposit. + preposit. phrase] ⟹ a prepositional phrase
As for modifiers, Turkish modifiers, again, come before their heads, whereas English modifiers come before and after the words they depend on:
TR: yavaşça konuş [adverb + verb] ⟹ a verb phrase
EN: ate chocolate [verb + adverb] ⟹ a verb phrase
TR: güzel okudu [adverb + verb] ⟹ a verb phrase
EN: read beautifully [verb + adverb] ⟹ a verb phrase
TR: bugün bitirdik [noun+ verb] ⟹ a verb phrase
EN: (we) finished today [verb + noun] ⟹ a verb phrase
TR: ilk olarak söyledi [converb + verb] ⟹ a verb phrase
EN: said first [verb + numeral (adverbial)] ⟹ a verb phrase
TR: belki görür [verb + verb] ⟹ a verb phrase
EN: maybe see [modal adverb + verb] ⟹ a verb phrase
TR: masadaki bardak [relativized noun + noun] ⟹ a noun phrase
EN: (the) glass on the table [noun + preposit. phrase] ⟹ a noun phrase
TR: naylon torba [qualifying noun + noun] ⟹ a noun phrase
EN: nylon bag [qualifying noun + noun] ⟹ a noun phrase
TR: yeşil kitap [adj. + noun] ⟹ a noun phrase
EN: green book [adj. + noun] ⟹ a noun phrase
TR: hep gülen yüz [participle + noun] ⟹ a noun phrase
EN: (the) face that always smiles [noun + relative clause] ⟹ a noun phrase
TR: annemin gelmesi [genitive noun + noun] ⟹ a noun phrase
EN: mother's arrival [genitive noun + noun] ⟹ a noun phrase
TR: senden daha yavaş [adjective + comparative clause] ⟹ an adjective phrase
EN: slower than you [adjective + comparative clause] ⟹ an adjective phrase
TR: beklediğimiz gibi meşgul [adjective + postpost. clause] ⟹ an adjective phrase
EN: busy as we have expected [adjective + comparison clause] ⟹ an adjective phrase
TR: çok yavaşça [adverb + adverb e] ⟹ an adverb phrase
EN: very slowly [adverb + adverb] ⟹ an adverb phrase
TR: çamur içinde [noun + postposition] ⟹ a postpositional phrase
EN: in the mud [preposit. phrase] ⟹ a prepositional phrase
TR: her ikisi [determiner + numeral] ⟹ a numeral phrase
EN: both of them [determiner + preposit. phrase] ⟹ a numeral phrase
While Turkish is a head-final language with both complements and modifiers, English is head-initial with complements but head-medial with modifiers.
Dependent & Independent (Coordinated) Phrases
In Turkish, like in English, the basic syntactic unit is a phrase, which can be presented as having dependent or independent relationships.
Turkish Coordinated Phrases = Serial Items & Appositive Constructions
In a phrase with independent relationship, the elements are syntactically equal, or parallel to each other.
For example, a series of any items, including subjects, predicates, complements, or modifiers (sevimli ve akıllı; ben, sen; ne burada, ne orada, etc.), or certain appositive constructions (biz, Türkler) are parallel.
Likewise, a series of independent clauses (geldi ve konuştu; gelecek ama konuşmayacak), constituting a compound sentence (sıralı cümle), are parallel.
Turkish Dependent Phrases = Dependents + Heads
In a phrase with dependent relationship, the central element is the head, while the other one is its dependent. The head and its dependent must be in agreement with each other, with the head containing the key information about its dependent.
In addition to the obligatory complements, optional dependent elements, e.g., modifiers and adverbials, can also exhibit the head vs. dependent relationship.
TR: onunki masa [relativized noun phrase + noun] ⟹ a noun phrase
EN: (the) table of his [noun + preposit. phrase] ⟹ a noun phrase
TR: okulda kal [postposit. phrase + verb] ⟹ a verb phrase
EN: stay at the school [verb + preposit. phrase] ⟹ a verb phrase
Turkish Phrases (and Clauses) = Phrases Within Phrases
As we can see, in both Turkish and English, phrases are recursive, meaning that phrases can be made of other phrases, which, too, stand either as heads vs. dependents or as independently linked items:
TR: [[dün ve bugün] [benimle [koşan adam]]] ⟹ a noun phrase
EN: [[[(the) man who ran] with me] [yesterday and today]] ⟹ a noun phrase
dün ve bugün
dependent _ head
dün ve bugün koşan
dün ve bugün benimle koşan
dün ve bugün benimle koşan adam
If we add another phrase, pek konuşkandır, another verb phrase that contains an adjective phrase (pek konuşkan) and the copular -dır, we get a complex sentence (birleşik cümle) with a verbal subordinate clause (girişik tümce) as its subject:
[Dün ve bugün benimle koşan adam] [pek konuşkandır].
The man who ran with me yesterday and today is very talkative.
Since phrases constitute the clausal elements that can function as subjects, predicates, complements (objects), adverbials, etc., in sentences, a basic sentence formula can be expressed as a sum of two phrases:
Simple Sentence = Subject + Predicate = Subject [Noun Phrase] + Predicate [Verb Phrase]
Subject + Predicate
Subject [Noun Phrase] + Predicate [Verb Phrase]