Saturday, April 24, 2010


In case you're the sort of person who notices such things, I've added a couple of links to dictionaries into the sidebar. That's because I've decided I'm too lazy to translate every single Turkish word I use into English. This is perhaps a bit rude for my non-Turkish-speaking readers, but I've just gotten tired of all the parentheticals. Which probably isn't a word but I don't care. And I also recognize the complete pretentious dorkiness of throwing Turkish words into English sentences, but I've been here too long to care about that either. There just aren't any English words that exactly capture "bakkal." "Corner store" is close but not close enough. Or "soba" (I'm just thinking back to my last post here). "Small coal-burning stove" is just unwieldy, and "brazier" is confusingly out-dated and it sounds much finer than what a soba actually is, plus it sounds like "brassiere."

So. The first dictionary is just your basic Turkish English dictionary. It's a bit weird because a lot of it appears to be copy-pasted from a number of sources, and there isn't always have enough regard for the realities of English (that's the best way I can think of putting it), but it gets the job done and it's the best one online I know of. I even got the free Sesli Sözlük app for my iPhone.

Oh iPhone. How do I love thee?

The other dictionary is super-cool. For turning me on to it, a heartfelt thanks to Bülent, a faithful commenter who takes the time to give additional helpful info and insight and he's never once been rude when I've said things that are wrong or mean. Ekşi Sözlük is user-generated, where people write in their definitions for words and phrases. For Turkish, it's one of neatest things I've ever found, and it's very well-suited to the nature of Turkish and Turkish people.

Of course, every language has its cultural baggage and every word has its contextual issues. You can certainly debate the meanings of words and sayings in English, but one reason I think English is becoming so quickly global is that the language itself is so low-context. You don't have to live in America to get a pretty good idea of what most things mean.

But Turkish, I don't know how people learn it outside of Turkey. Since there are fewer lexical items than in English, each word does its job and then some, with many meanings and slippery nuances that can change completely just because you raise your eyebrow or change your voice a certain way. That's why Ekşi Sözlük works so well (when I can understand it). Instead of getting one person's opinion on what a word means, it's like asking at a party and having everyone tell you what it means, and then they tell you story of its life, and then they all get into a big argument about it. At the end of a long page, I may not know exactly what it means, but instead there is some sort of consensus (or not) about what everyone thinks it means.

Which is all language is anyway, right? Have fun!


Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Thanks Stranger. You probably don't [know how to?] provoke me -- I've been obnoxious and vitriolic elsewhere for sure.

A tip for Ek$i Sozluk: if you click on the button labeled 'don bebegim' on the right you get a gray -- commercial-free -- background for while.

Stranger said...

A button called 'don bebegim' would have been the last one I ever clicked. Thanks for that one too (yet another helpful tidbit!)-- the backgrounds make the page even harder to read sometimes...

sib said...

as a long term writer of eksi sozluk, I just would like to point out that even though eksi sozluk is pretty good, it doesn't reflect the bigger picture of Turkey as its readers and writers *mostly* come from a better education background, pop-culture, younger people, and are informed on most global things. With this said, though, there is also pretty lame information that is not to be taken for granted :)
I'm glad someone brought it up though.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Yes, there's an entry for that too: ekşi sözlük yazarlarının çoğunluk olduğu türkiye. (A Turkey where ek$i sozluk writers are in the majority.)

Stranger said...

That's okay, sib. There's nothing anywhere in the world you can't read with a big grain of salt. Anyone in Turkey who can work a computer and keyboard is in the minority. Anyone who can use it to write something original and sensible is an even smaller minority.

I get the feeling that, like anywhere, there is no bigger picture in Turkey-- just a lot of smaller pictures smashed together and told to play nice.

But after reading Bülent's link, I'm thinking what the hell? Where are these people and how come I never meet them?

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...


I don't know why you don't meet those people. Some might be living abroad and some are probably still in school. I've never been involved with that site, so I don't really know. You could perhaps click on the button named 'istatistik' and look at the age/country etc. breakdown. One thing that sticks out is that even though many more Turks live in Germany, the US the is ranked as the second country after Turkey.

Looking up the authors and perhaps works from the 'banned books' link you include here (or off the top of your head) might also give you clues about how far out of the mainstream some of the folks there might be. I just looked up Chomsky there for example, and the Chomsky Hierarchy was mentioned in the first few entries. This is not surprising to me, because I myself first ran into his name in a compiler (computing sense) book and remember being surprised when an American leftie mentioned his name (I remember going 'WTF could this communist idiot possibly know about languages and automata?' when of course the right question would have been 'WTF do I really know about anything outside of the techie stuff?'). They seem to like Vonnegut and Bradbury too.

Dunno. There might be decent amount of interesting data there (if they keep it) that could be studied by someone with a background in social science. Actual reading and grading habits and sub-groupings (clusters) that can be inferred from them would probably be far more revealing than the explicit and public like/dislike, or 'friend' links on regular socialization sites.

sib said...

"I get the feeling that, like anywhere, there is no bigger picture in Turkey-- just a lot of smaller pictures smashed together and told to play nice."

Awesome! I couldn't have summarized it better!

As for Chomsky, he is regarded as the American father of structural linguistics, he's written tons on the subject, and still continues to be studied today, but i guess that's not much related to this post :)

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Oh I wasn't curious about Chomsky himself (thank you though), I was trying to see if there could be a way to get at the political alignments/attitudes etc. of some of the people who write there by looking at what they wrote about somewhat controversial figures that Stranger would know about from the US (eg her banned book list).

I noticed the grammar thing getting an early mention there because it showed some similarity to the way I heard about the guy. That is, I took it as an indication that the people there also heard about him due to his academic -- and not political -- work which implies that they themselves spent some time in institutions of higher education.

Stranger said...

Hehe. The first time I heard a techie mention Chomsky, I thought, "Gosh, those techies are smart. They know about everything!" That was before I knew Chomsky had his hand in every pot, not just linguistics.

The more I read about him outside of linguistics, the less I like him. In fact, I quit reading about him because I liked the early flush of adoration for Chomsky's brilliance. I even pulled off discussing him in my MA thesis, to profs who were well sick of him.

Poor Chomsky. He's also the unwitting father of the farce that is neuro-linguistic programming. Interestingly, the wedding gift given to us by the state registry office where we were married was a book on NLP and family relationships. Needless to say, I haven't read it, and not just because it's in Turkish.

I suspect my brother-in-law is more of that intellectual fringe element we're talking about here. Sadly, he moved to England a couple of years ago and I don't think he's likely to return. Poor Turkey and its brain drain.

That banned book list, BTW, is books that are or have been banned in America. Not by the feds, but by local and school libraries...

toastytoasty said...

Chomsky as far as linguistics and child language acquistion got it wrong. I did a degree in linguistics in the early nineties and most of it was Chomsky-tree diagrams and tansformational grammar.

It was only years later that I discovered when doing a Masters that Halliday is more on the level.

An odd justification when I did my first degree for Chomsky was that he was the only linguist that was really well known-wow he had been on the telly.

Theoretical linguistics is very esoteric and of dubious value to computers, language teaching and speech therapy.


Stranger said...

Ugh, I managed to avoid that side of things. I got all excited about Chomsky's Universal Grammar theories (though admittedly without having read in detail much of Chomsky himself-- most other researchers re-hashing him)