Turkish copula

Turkish copula

This article supplements the general articles on the copula and Turkish grammar.

The English infinitive "to be" is rendered in Turkish as "olmak", while "existence" is "varlık". The latter word is the abstract noun derived from "var", which is an adjective meaning "existing" or "present". Both "olmak" and "varlık" are used to render Aristotle's unicode|τὸ ὂν ᾗ ὄν ("unicode|tò òn hễi̯ ón") (in the "Metaphysics", line 1003a21, beginning of Book IV): Aristotle's Greek is "being as such" or "being "qua" being" in English; in Turkish, it is "varlık olmak bakımından varlık" "existence from the point of view of being existence".

The infinitive "olmak" has the stem "ol-", whose root meaning is "become". This verb is regular in its conjugation, as are all Turkish verbs, with the exception of one defective verb, whose stem is "i-" and which means "be". The missing forms of "i-" are supplied by "ol-": the infinitive "olmak" is an example, since there is no infinitive "*imek". (An infinitive "ermek" appeared in ancient texts; its stem "er-" became the current "i-" [Lewis, VIII,2 in both editions] .)

The various functions of the English "am-was-be" are accomplished in Turkish in (at least) six different ways:

# From a noun or adjective, a complete sentence is formed by addition of one of the enclitic personal suffixes: "-im" "I am", "-in" "thou art", "-iz" "we are", "-siniz" "you are". (These are enclitic in that they exhibit vowel harmony.) For example, from "ada" "island" comes "Adayım" "I am an island"; from "mutlu" "happy", "Mutlusunuz" "You are happy." These can be considered as instances of the zero copula, since the personal suffixes are, in origin, personal pronouns [Lewis, VIII,3 in both editions] .
# In another example of the zero copula, two nouns, or a noun and an adjective, can be juxtaposed to make a sentence: "Abbas yolcu" "Abbas is a traveller." However:
# The enclitic suffix "-dir" can be used for emphasis, or to prevent ambiguity: "yolcu Abbas" "traveller Abbas" (a person); "Yolcudur Abbas" "Abbas is a traveller (is characterized by travelling)."
# From the stem "i-", the past, inferential, and conditional (hypothetical) bases "idi", "imiş", and "ise" are formed; hence "Mutlu imişiz" or "Mutluymuşuz" "Apparently, we were happy."
# Other tenses and moods are supplied by "ol-": "Mutlu ol" "Be happy"; "Mutlu olacaksın" "Thou wilt be happy."
# Where English says "there is", Turkish says "var": "Gölde bir ada var" "Lake-in an island present", that is, "There's an island in the lake."

Thus, the role of a copula can be played by two different verbs, an adjective, a suffix, juxtaposition, and affixation. The six constructions collectively show three ways of negation:

# Regular verbs are negated with the enclitic suffix "-me": "Mutlu olmayacaksın" "Thou wilt not be happy."
# The negation of "var" is "yok": "Gölde hiçbir ada yok" "There's no island in the lake."
# Negation in the remaining constructions is by the particle "değil": "Gökay yolcu değildir" "Gökay is not a traveller"; "Mutlu değilmişiz" "Apparently, we were not happy."

It should be noted that, since Turkish has no verb for "have", "var" or "olmak" is used in expressions of possession: "çekiç" "hammer", "çekicim" "my hammer"; "Çekicim var" "I have a hammer"; "Çekicim olsaydı" "If I had a hammer".


*Aristoteles, "Metafizik", translated by Ahmet Arslan, Sosyal Yayınlar, İstanbul, 1996.
*G. L. Lewis, "Turkish Grammar", Oxford University Press, 1967; second edition, 2000.

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