Context statement

The place of the Turkish language and culture in Australia and the world

Turkish is the official language of the Republic of Turkey and one of the official languages of Cyprus.

It originated many centuries ago in the Northern Siberian Altay Mountain Range. Nomadic people brought the language with them as they expanded out to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and a number of other countries. Today, Turkish is the most commonly spoken Turkic language worldwide.

The first written records of the Turkish language date back about 1,300 years, and originate from central Asia. Turkish is also called Istanbul Turkish or Anatolian Turkish. As the language was developing, it was influenced by the language spoken during the Ottoman Empire. Eventually, in 1928, the Ottoman alphabet was replaced by the Latin alphabet by the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The new alphabet made reading and writing of the language easier and resulted in significant increases in literacy levels in Turkey. The Turkish Language Association, founded in 1932, worked to reform the language and to officially standardise it among Turkish speakers. In the process, many loan words from other languages were removed and many old Turkish words that had not been used for centuries were reintroduced.

Turkish Cypriot migration to Australia began in the late 1940s, the first migrants coming for work opportunities. Numbers grew from 1963 onwards as a result of the conflict in Cyprus. Larger scale migration from Turkey began once a bilateral agreement was signed in 1967 between the Turkish and Australian governments. Migration from Turkey continued in the 1980s, involving family reunion programs and an increase in general skilled and educational migration. While more than half of the migrant population settled in Victoria, mostly in Melbourne, significant numbers also settled in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), and smaller numbers in other states and territories. Turkish is a strong community language in many major Australian cities and in regional centres, such as Mildura and Shepparton in Victoria.

According to the Australian Census, in 2011 there were 59,624 Turkish speakers in Australia. The Turkish-speaking community in Australia includes people from Turkey, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Western Thrace and smaller groups from other Turkic backgrounds.

The campaign of the Gallipoli Peninsula during World War I laid the foundations of what later developed as strong, steadily growing Australian–Turkish connections. Tens of thousands of Australians, including Turkish Australians, visit Gallipoli each year to pay tribute and to gain understanding of shared Australian–Turkish history. The two countries enjoy strong contemporary connections, characterised by productive and steadily developing economic and bilateral trade relationships, cultural exchange and consular cooperation.

The place of the Turkish language in Australian education

Turkish has been taught in Australian schools since the 1950s. Originally offered by community-based organisations, it became part of the mainstream school curriculum in Victoria and NSW in the early 1970s.

Enrolments in Turkish language classes in some government and non-government schools and in community language school programs in Victoria and NSW have increased in recent years. Some students from non-Turkish backgrounds now learn Turkish as a second language in school, and community-based organisations such as the Council of Adult Education offer Turkish language classes for adult learners wishing to develop their language skills in particular domains of Turkish language use.

The nature of Turkish language learning

Turkish is a phonetic language with 29 letters derived from the Latin alphabet. Each letter represents only one sound. The decoding of Turkish words is assisted by a familiarity with English or other languages that use the Latin alphabet. Learning Turkish is also aided by the regularity of the grammatical system and the agglutinated nature of the language (that is, the addition of suffixes to root words regulates grammatical elements and generates new words and meanings, for example, the root word gör (see) becomes görmek (to see) and gördüm (I saw)).

While Turkish uses the same Latin alphabet as English, the pronunciation of some letters differs significantly. The use of diacritics on some letters represents an extra complexity. While the grammatical system is comparatively regular, there are differences between it and languages spoken by some learners, for example, the lack of gender forms and articles such as ‘the’ in English. The Turkish word order is subject + object + verb; however, this may change in spoken language or when there is variation in required emphasis or meaning, as when the word that is emphasised in terms of meaning is placed closest to the verb.

The diversity of learners of Turkish

The Australian Curriculum: Languages, Foundation – Year 10 (F–10) for Turkish is pitched to background learners, the dominant cohort of learners in the current Australian context for whom Turkish is a background but not necessarily the first language. Some students speak Turkish at home and have strong connections to mainland Turkey, Cyprus and Turkic countries; others are second- or third-generation Turkish Australians, with varying degrees of knowledge of Turkish language and culture; others are members of bicultural families, who may use some Turkish at home.

Small numbers of students from other language backgrounds may be studying Turkish in schools. For such learners, Turkish will represent similar challenges to those which frame their experience of learning English as their language of schooling. Teachers will use the Turkish F–10 curriculum to cater for learners of different backgrounds by making appropriate adjustments to differentiate learning experiences for these students.

The Australian Curriculum: Languages – Turkish has been developed according to two learning sequences: Foundation – Year 10, and Years 7–10 (Year 7 entry). Teachers will use the curriculum to cater for learners of different backgrounds by making appropriate adjustments to differentiate learning experiences for these students.

The intercultural language learning orientation of the curriculum explores the cultural dimension that shapes and is shaped by languages. Background language learners of Turkish already have lived experience of this relationship, ‘living between’ Turkish and English in the Australian context. The curriculum gives students opportunities for analysis, explicit focus and reflection on this lived experience and further opportunities to participate in intercultural experiences, to extend their ways of perceiving and being in the world, and to understand themselves as culturally, biculturally and interculturally situated.

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