İstanbul’dan merhabalar!

İstanbul’dan merhabalar!
Greetings from Istanbul!

For my first post, I’d like to give some background information about myself, Turkey, and how I ended up here. These are difficult topics to cover succinctly, but I will do my best. If you have any questions, post them in the comments and I’ll happily answer them.

Turkish Flag

My name is Seth O’Malley. I’m a fourth-year student of linguistics at Portland State University. Linguistics is the study of language, which can mean a lot of different things. For instance, some linguists study the individual sounds of language, and some linguists study the ways people use words in different situations, like arguments or political speeches. Other linguists travel to remote regions of the world to collect information about obscure languages. I haven’t decided what field I’d like to get into, but in the meantime, I’m learning a great deal about humanity by studying how we communicate. The experience has been rewarding.

The reason I’m studying Turkish is twofold. The first reason is that I wanted to study a language that is extremely different than English. Turkish is certainly that. We learn a lot by studying subjects that are completely foreign to us. As a linguist, if I only studied English or its relatives (like Spanish or German), I would be biased toward my native language, which would make it difficult for me to understand language from a global perspective.

Here’s an example to illustrate how different English and Turkish are.

Turkish:                                 Kedimizin ateşi olduğuna düşünüyorum.
Literal translation:                Our cat’s fire being-to I am thinking.
What it means:                       I think our cat has a fever.

The second reason I chose Turkish (over, say, Arabic or Chinese) was simple. I’ve always found Turkish culture and history fascinating, and I’ve had a desire to experience this part of the world for a long time. By studying Turkish, I was able to combine my personal and academic interests. The decision was easy.

After two years of studying Turkish at PSU, I finally seized the opportunity to do it in Turkey. With a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, I saved some money, got accepted to a Turkish university, found a place to live, and got a plane ticket.

The colorful stairs leading to my apartment

The colorful stairs leading to my apartment

I’ve been in Istanbul for about three weeks and I’ll be here through January. As I write this, I’m sitting in my “bedroom” (read: the living room) in an apartment with my two roommates and a cat (who, fortunately, doesn’t have a fever). Neither of my roommates speak much English, so there’s a lot of pressure on my Turkish abilities. Both of them play the bağlama (BAH-lah-mah), a traditional Turkish string instrument. In a few weeks, I’ll be traveling with one of them to some bağlama performances in Southeast Turkey (Urfa, Diyarbakır, and a city I’m especially excited to visit, Batman).


That’s my roommate on the right!

While I’m here, my main goal is to improve my Turkish. Naturally, practice with my roommates and other native speakers will be hugely beneficial. It’s hard to get around without using any Turkish since most Turks know very little English. In addition to practicing Turkish on the street, I’m taking a Turkish class along with my linguistics classes at Boğaziçi (boh-WAH-zih-chih) University. By the end of my trip, I hope to be nearly fluent in Turkish. This will take a ton of work.

Campus cats

The Boğaziçi University campus is gorgeous. The architecture is magnificent and the school overlooks the Bosphorus Strait. There are also hundreds of cats and dogs running around, which really adds to the charm.

You’ve probably heard of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) in your history classes, since it has always been one of the largest cities in the world and occupies an important geographical and political location. Istanbul was also the capital of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries, until 1923 when it became the Republic of Turkey. We’ll talk in more detail about Turkish history later, but for now, here are some important things to know.

See Istanbul and the Bosphorus Strait in the northwest corner?

See Istanbul and the Bosphorus Strait in the northwest corner?

Turkey is about 303,000 square miles, making it a little bigger than the State of Texas. As you can see in the map, it borders seven countries and many significant bodies of water. It also spans two continents; the Bosphorus Strait (in the Northwest corner) is the boundary between the European and Asian sides of Turkey.

Istanbul is located on the Bosphorus Strait and has about 13.9 million inhabitants – roughly 23 times the population of Portland! This makes it by far the most populous city in Turkey and the second most populous city in the world. Due to its complex, exciting, and very long history, Istanbul is home to some of the most famous landmarks and cultural traditions in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

The culture of Turkey, like of any culture, is hard to define in simple terms. For example, most of the country’s population is Muslim, but unlike other Muslim nations, the government is secular. According to Turkey’s constitution, all religions are treated equally and religious rules do not determine legal rules. As a result, beautiful centuries-old mosques sit across the street from Christian cathedrals, and the Islamic call to prayer can be heard from inside some of the city’s ultra-modern nightclubs. Similarly, Turkey’s culture reflects the fact that it is both European and Asian. Its cuisine and music, both rich combinations of native and international influences, are good examples of this.

Hot peppers drying on a clothesline

Hot peppers drying on a power line

The official language of Turkey, maybe unsurprisingly, is Turkish. Turkish is a very unique language; it’s related to Mongolian and has almost nothing in common with English. However, English has borrowed some words from Turkish – for example, baklava, yogurt, and kiosk – but that’s about it.

If this is an overwhelming amount of information, don’t worry! I’ll cover all of these topics individually in later posts.

For now, I’d like to start getting to know you. Here’s what I’d like to see in the comments:

  • Your name
  • Your favorite hobby
  • What topics you would like me to post about
  • Any questions you have about this post

Thanks for reading my first post. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to share this experience with you all!

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