Both Persian and Turkish - as have other "islamic" languages - have a great deal of Arabic vocabulary. Due to an (initially) favourable vowel inventory (and maybe due to the same script being used) these loans have come to Persian in much of their original shape, while their Turkish counterparts do differ quite a lot. There seems to be some regularity, but I did not, up to now, figure it out completely. So the question is: how do (especially vowel) sounds change, when a word travels from Arabic to Turkish? How about the same thing for Persian words in Turkish? To understand these processes better: what was the general way of Arabic words coming to Turkish, I mean by way of which idiom or even language did Arabic words come to modern Turkey-turkish?

Now what I figured out up to now is this:

The short vowels a, i and u in Arabic can be realized in Turkish as a/e, i/ı and u/ü respectively. This accords with the vowel harmony and it seems, that there is some connection with a kind of "consonant harmony" which is familiar to me from Old Uyghur, to the effect that the dark vowel is chosen in circumstances of dark consonants like q, 'ayn and the retroflex l. And of course vice versa, the light vowel being used in appropriate consonant surroundings.

Does anybody know more about that, since it does not seem to be the be-all and end-all?

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    You assume these languages adopted the Arabic script before borrowing Arabic loanwords?? Commented May 11, 2014 at 1:42
  • Well, as far as I am informed the Persian scribes were quite happy to get rid of the Middle Persian script the first moment they could, which, after even the slightest contact with Middle Persian, I had no problem to empathize with :) But what's the point you wanted to make?
    – zwiebel
    Commented May 11, 2014 at 20:51
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    I guess, it makes some sense, since a script is much more clumsy to borrow (you don't just borrow one letter here and one there) than single words. But Persian really did not borrow the Arabic script at some point but right away. For some scholars even the transition of Middle Persian to New Persian is marked by the borrowing of the script. (Others do differentiate a short initial stage of coexistence of pāzand - New Persian in Middle Persian script - and pārsī - the same in Arabic script.)
    – zwiebel
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 9:02
  • 1
    ...and be so much rewarded for whatever effort you make. Good luck!
    – zwiebel
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 9:05
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    @zwiebel "Pazend" is used to mean "Middle Persian in Avestan script", not "New Persian in Middle Persian script".
    – fdb
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 18:51

2 Answers 2


Nişanyan gives this table in his etymological dictionary of Turkish (Sözlerin Soyağacı, ISBN: 9789752896369):

Front consonants: ب‎ ت‎ ث‎ ج‎ ز‎ س‎ ش‎ ك‎ ل‎ م‎ ن‎ ه‎ ی‎

Back consonants: ح‎ خ‎ ص‎ ض‎ ط‎ ظ‎ ع‎ غ‎ ق‎

Unstable consonants: د‎ ذ‎ ر‎ ف‎ و‎‎

You can look here for what consonants they correspond to in Ottoman Turkish (it didn't change much since then).

Basically, emphatic consonants (and some others) were used with back vowels and the rest were used with front vowels. To my experience this explains 80%-90% of the vowel changes.

But different words have different histories. For example words that were frequently used by common people were further assimilated (vowel harmony, devoicing at coda position etc.) in less predictable ways while words that were used by the educated classes remained closer to the originals.

  • Great, thanks. Now, is it the preceding consonant, the following or both of them, that determines the vowel? And: faithful rendering of the original had (initially) priority over the vowel harmonies?
    – zwiebel
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 12:09
  • And I suppose ذ among the front consonants should be ز? (Just guessing since ذ figures twice and ز not even once)
    – zwiebel
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 12:10
  • You're right, thank you, it was a typo. I've edited it. As a general rule it's the preceding consonant. But sometimes they can influence the preceding vowels too.
    – cyco130
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 14:13

Are you speaking about spelling or pronunciation?

The dialects of Arabic differ a lot in pronunciation. (e.g. most common example the definite article is sometimes transliterated as al and sometimes as el in Latin script)

The Persian pronunciation of Arabic words is also quite different from Arabic.

Most of the words from Arabic traveled to Turkish not directly but via Persian.

Finally the Turkish alphabet reform made the different pronunciation visible.

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