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What language do they speak in Turkey: Turkish or Arabic?

What language do they speak in Turkey: Turkish or Arabic?
What language do they speak in Turkey: Turkish or Arabic?

What Language Do They Speak In Turkey? 

Many travelers and business people wonder, “What language do they speak in Turkey?” Some people mistakenly believe that since Turkey is a Muslim country, Turkish people speak Arabic. But the truth is that vast majority of country's population (85-90% of citizens) speaks Turkish.

Turkish is official language of Turkey. However, just like any other country, it is a home for some ethnic minorities who speak their own lingos. Let's explore linguistic diversity of Turkey in more detail!

What Languages Are Spoken in Turkey 

Article 3 of the constitution declares Turkish to be the one and only official language. Article 42.9 declares, “Aside from Turkish, no other language shall be studied by or taught to Turkish citizens as a mother tongue in any language, teaching, or learning institution.”

It means that use of Kurmanji, Arabic, Zazaki, and other dialects of minorities in education, politics, and broadcast media is prohibited by law. Why does such prohibition exist in Turkey, and why does the government promote Turkish official language?

When the Republic of Turkey was established, government designed a radical program of nation-building. At that moment, ethnic and language diversity was perceived as a danger to state's integrity. Since the Kurds were the largest non-Turkish ethnic group, government saw it as the most severe threat. Authorities restricted use of Kurmanji and other lingos to get control over ethnic minorities.

Naturally, government restrictions have influenced education accessibility and literacy levels in Turkey. Policy resulted in asymmetrical development of the Turkish and Kurdish.

Now let's answer the main question, what language do people speak in Turkey today? Here is a list of spoken lingos broken down by the percentage of country's population:

  • Kurmanji – 11.97%
  • Arabic – 1.38%
  • Zazaki – 1.01%
  • Other Turkic languages – 0.28%
  • Balkan – 0.23%
  • Laz – 0.12%
  • Circassian – 0.11%
  • Armenian – 0.07%
  • Other Caucasian languages – 0.07%
  • Greek – 0.06%
  • West European languages – 0.03%
  • Jewish – 0.01%
  • Coptic – 0.01%
  • Other – 0.12%

The use of these lingos varies from region to region. Different ethnic groups prefer to live in different places, and that influences Turkey languages and their development.

Main Languages Spoken per Region

Territory of Turkey is divided into seven regions. Four regions are surrounded by seas: 

  • Marmara Region
  • Mediterranean Region
  • Aegean Region
  • Black Sea Region

Three other regions are inner regions:

  • Central Anatolia Region
  • Eastern Anatolia Region
  • Southeastern Anatolia Region

Each of seven regions has its own unique landscape, natural resources, traditions, and dialects.  And if you want to know what do Turkish people speak, you should analyze each region separately rather than country in general.

The Marmara Region

The Marmara region is located in the northwest part of Turkey. This region includes Istanbul and its surroundings – it's the most densely populated area in the country. For many centuries, Istanbul has been attracting not only tourists but also business people and immigrants. Today, it's known as one of the most diverse cities in the country. The list of most common languages in Istanbul includes Kurdish (Kurmanji), Azerbaijani, Arabic, Aramaic, Zazaki, Pomak Bulgarian, Balkan Gagauz Turkish, Laz, Megleno-Romanian, Armenian, Greek, Pontic Greek, Judaeo-Spanish, Adyghe, Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian, Crimean Tatar, Georgian, Kabardian.

English also can be added to this list – it's another language spoken in Istanbul. According to statistics, 17% of people who live in the Marmara region speak English as a second language. So if you travel to Istanbul, you don't really have to learn Turkish. 

The Mediterranean Region

The Mediterranean region is a home for 9,906,771 citizens, including 226,062 immigrants and refugees. Vast majority of refugees come from neighboring Syria and speak Arabic. Notably, this region is also a home for Kurds who speak Kurmanji.

Antalya is the biggest city in the Mediterranea region. It's the most touristic spot in country that attracts travelers and workers of the travel industry from all over the world. Therefore, Antalya is one of not many places where locals speak not only Turkey main language but also English, Russian, German, and Spanish. If you speak one of them and use best translation website, it will be easy for you to communicate with locals.

The Black Sea Region

In the Black Sea region, majority of citizens and residents speak Turkish. What about ethnic minorities of the region? They speak Las (around 20,000 native speakers), Armenian, and Greek. 

The Aegean Region

How many people speak Turkish in the Aegean region? Up to 96% of region's population speaks official language. Minorities speak Greek and Armenian. Since this region is a touristic one, you can also meet here people who speak English as a second language.

The Central Anatolia Region

Ankara is the capital of Turkey. It's located in the Central Anatolia region. The most common lingo here is Turkish. The minority are the following: Kurmanji, Azerbaijani, Arabic, Aramaic, Zazaki, Pomak Bulgarian, Balkan Gagauz Turkish, Laz, Megleno-Romanian, Armenian, Greek, Pontic Greek, Ladino.

Ankara is also known for its advanced medical institutions and hospitals. If you are interested in medical tourism and are planning your visit to Ankara, make sure to use the best medical document translation services to smooth communication with local health workers.

The Eastern Anatolia Region

People, who live in the Eastern Anatolia region, speak mainly Turkish, Kurmanji, Zazaki, and Arabic. English and other foreign languages spoken in Istanbul and touristic cities are uncommon in this part of the country.

The Southeastern Anatolia Region

In the Southeastern Anatolia Region, you can meet not only Turkish native speakers, but also Kurds who speak Kurmanji as well as Syrian refugees who speak Arabic. If you are going to travel to this region, be aware that most locals don't speak West European lingos.

Top Languages Spoken in Turkey

Now let's talk about seven languages that play an important role in the social and political life of Turkey. Here is an answer to the question, “What language is spoken in Turkey?”


Kurmanji is the northern dialect of the Kurdish dialect. It is a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. Kurmanji is the most common second lingo – it amounts to eight million speakers. Around three million Kurmanji speakers are monolingual – they can't write and speak in Turkish, a primary language in Turkey. And for this very reason, they have limited access to education and employment opportunities.  

If you run an international company and consider Turkey a new market for expansion, you should understand that Kurds are an integral part of its demographics. You should use best transcription services to make your video, podcasts, and other content accessible for Turkish and Kurmanji speakers.


When people ask a question, “What language do Turkish people speak?”, they often suppose that the answer will be “Arabic”. But in fact, Arabic is used only by a small part of population – citizens and residents of Turkey who are ethnically of Arab descent. 

There are four main dialects of Arabic that dominate in Turkey:

  • North Levantine Arabic – 1,130,000 speakers 
  • North Mesopotamian Arabic – 520,000 speakers 
  • Modern Standard Arabic – 686,000 speakers
  • Other Mesopotamian Arabic – 101,000 speakers

Taking into account the fact that number of refugees who come from Syria is increasing year by year, we can presuppose that the number of Arabic speakers will go up.


Zazaki is language of Zaza people. It is also called Dimli and Kirmanjki. The number of Zazaki speakers in Turkey amounts to 1.7 million people. Zazaki belongs to languages of Turkey that suffered from the undergone language repression the most. UNESCO listed Zazaki as one of the most endangered languages in the world.

The government of Turkey made the first steps to protect this lingo in 2012. It allowed educational institutions to teach Zazaki as an elective course at universities. However, due to lack of qualified Zazaki teachers and absence of a proper examination system, it's rather challenging to evaluate development of students speaking the language.


Ladino (also known as Judeo-Spanish, Judesmo, or Sephardi) is a Romance language spoken in Turkey, Israel, the Balkans, North Africa, and Greece. Ladino originated in Spain. In 1492, this language was transferred abroad by descendants of the Spanish Jews who were expelled from the country. According to the Census Bureau data, current number of Ladino speakers in Turkey is as small as 13,000 people.

In contrast to Kurds' lingos, Ladino is protected by law. The Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923, gives Jews more linguistic rights than other minorities in Turkey.


Today, Greek is still one of languages in Turkey. The number of Greek speakers in the country doesn't exceed 10,000 speakers. In 1923, population exchange between Greece and Turkey took place. Turkey and Greece legally get rid of their ethnic minorities to build nation-states. Here is what happened: the Greek Orthodox population of Anatolia was sent to Greece, while the Muslim population of Greece was sent to Turkey.

The Treaty of Lausanne applies not only to Ladino but also to Greek and Armenian. For this reason, it was easier for Greeks to protect their language and ethnic authenticity than it was for Kurds and Zaza people.


Kabardian is one of the non Turkish languages spoken in Turkey. It has two dialects: Kabardino-Cherkess or East Circassian, and Kabardian is a Northwest Caucasian language. There are more than one million people in Turkey who speak Kabardian as their first lingo.

Grammar and phonetics of the Kabardian are pretty unique. Have you developed a software product or a game and want to make it accessible for Kabardian native speakers? You should get professional help from video game localization companies because free online translation tools do not work effectively for the Kabardian language.


As we have already mentioned, Armenian is the third language that falls under protection of the Treaty of Lausanne. As of today, the number of Armenian speakers in Turkey is 61,000 people. The majority of Armenian native speakers (about 50,000 people) live in Istanbul.

However, it's worth mentioning that the greater part of the modern Armenian population is bilingual.  Can you guess what do they speak in Turkey? Armenians speak Turkish in everyday life to get free access to education and medical institutions and get more rights.

Turkey Official Languages and Accuracy of Translation

The Turkish is more diverse and sophisticated than it may seem. Modern Standard Turkish, the Istanbul dialect of Anatolia, is known as the main dialect of the country. But there are many other dialects that vary from region to region.

Turkish has significant linguistic and cultural differences from English. For this reason, Foreign Service Institute put Turkish into a category IV language. To become fluent in Turkish, you will need to spend up to 1,100 hours to reach your learning objective.

Therefore, if you need help with English to Turkish or Turkish to English translation, we highly suggest you check USCIS certified translation services reviews and find qualified translators.

Impact of Language in Turkey

In today's world, multiculturalism and language diversity are highly appreciated. Unfortunately, due to Turkey's laws, local ethnic lingos are fading away – since almost 90% of population speaks Turkish, minorities are also forced to speak official lingo.

The future success of the country will depend on what language Turkey speak. If Turkey revisits its policies and introduces foreign lingos in the curriculum, it will positively influence its image and reputation.

Wrapping up

Turkish is the main language in all regions of Turkey. So whether you travel to Ankara for business or to Istanbul for pleasure, you should learn at least a few phrases in Turkish. Also, you can expect that you will meet people who speak Kurmanji, Arabic, Kabardian, Zaziki, Ladino, Greek, and Armenian.

We hope we have answered all your questions, and now you know what language does Turkey speak and what roles ethnic minority languages play. This information will help you better understand local culture and its peculiarities.