Gastarbeiterdeutsch & Linguistic Characteristics of Second Generation (German)-Turks in Germany

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3



I. Introduction

II. Origin of the Turkish Language

III. Typology of Turkish

IV. Social Factors / Circumstances

V. Linguistic Analysis of Gastarbeiterdeutsch – Selected Example

VI. Gastarbeiterdeutsch – A Pidgin?

VII. German Language Use of Second Generation Turks in Germany

I. Introduction

Guest Workers’ German (Gastarbeiterdeutsch) is a phenomenon which emerged in Germany in the early 1960s and has developed gradually intensely ever since. Commonly, this term refers to the first generation of so-called guest workers or Gastarbeiter, mainly from the South (Eastern Europe) who flocked to post-war Germany out of economic reasons, where a so-called Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) had been taking place since the early 1950s. Most of them intended to stay in Germany for a restricted number of years, to spend some money and return to their respective country they came from. In the meantime this has proven to be false since the majority of them stayed in Germany for some forty years now. Their connection to their home-country and culture[1], however, remained and the now ‘retired’ Gastarbeiter of some sixty or seventy years, who are mostly visiting their ‘old homeland’ for some months in a year, are still dwelling in Germany. They are, for various reasons and unlike most of their children (and children’s children), not fully integrated into German society - in fact, they are anything but. For social as well as cultural reasons the ‘first generation Turks’, who have chiefly been living among themselves without any mutual cultural dealings with Germans and likewise without any inducement by the Germans, they have not accomplished to integrate themselves – a circumstance which becomes quite clear when analysing their German language use. Their children, the (so-called) second generation who were mostly born in Germany had a not so fundamentally different relationship to Germany which is actually supposed to be their home country. There are, however, some vast differences between these generations, especially in terms of their German language proficiency. Most of the second (or third/fourth) generation of Gastarbeiter today are bilingual speakers[2], generally more fluent in German than in the respective language of their parents. Of course, these generations share more “distinctive” features than sole linguistic ones: the majority of the guest workers’ children are, in full contrast to their parents, in many ways integrated into German society and do have a much closer relationship to Germany as a whole. Whereas most Germans are monolingual, speaking “some” (more or less acceptable) English or French or Italian etc., the Germans (!) with foreign descent have two languages at their disposal – whether they succeed in both languages (or in either of them!) is, of course, another question, many of which, however, can be tackled using a socio-linguistic approach.

For the purpose of this paper I shall focus on some linguistic phenomena of Gastarbeiterdeutsch, not only referring to the (highly restricted) German language proficiency of the first generation of Turkish guest workers (circa 1960-1975) but also on their offspring (circa 1975-). Since I am of Turkish descent myself –my father, a guest worker himself, had his “first shift” in a German coal-mine in August 1965- I have been (and still am) dealing very closely with the language-related particularities (and oddities) of a Turkish dominated parents’ house somewhere in North Rhine-Westphalia. In order to explain these, to my mind, one has to investigate profoundly the linguistic “equipment” of the respective speakers alongside with their “social whereabouts” and the country they immigrate to and where they live, especially the linguistic “challenges” they have to face. For this purpose, a comparative analysis of Turkish and German is indispensable. Since it goes without saying that an elaboration on all of these aspects would undoubtedly go beyond the scope of this paper, I shall concentrate on the language equipment of the “first generation Turks” and their children, specifically on code-switching phenomena. What is required in the first place, I think, is an overall outline of both Turkish and German, especially of Turkish[3].

II. Origin of the Turkish Language

Turcic is one of the biggest language groups spoken by approximately 250 million people across a wide area stretching from Southern Europe to Western China and Siberia. Turki sh is spoken by approx. 70 million people in Turkey and surrounding territories, the majority of which is situated near the Caucasus and in Central Asia, such as Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Uzbek, Uighur etc. Turkish is spoken by minorities in Iran, Afghanistan and many other countries – Turkish spoken in Germany, of course, is, geographically speaking, a special case. Other representatives of Turkic language are Mongolian and (Manchu)-Tungus. These languages (incl. Korean and Japanese) are counted by some linguists among the Altaic language family. The term Altaic is highly controversial since many linguists deny the existence of such a language family (as they reject the theory of Korean and Japanese having a kinship with Turkish). The following map is therefore a trifle delicate:

illustration not visible in this excerpt


Although there are striking morphological similarities among all these languages, the Altaic theory is not universally acclaimed: “The common ancestry of these groups is maintained by many scholars; but this hypothesis is contested by those who feel that the linguistic similarities could be explained in other ways – such as the mutual influences displayed when languages are in contact with each other [4] [such as borrowings etc.] (307).”

The earliest Turkish scripts date back to the eighth century AD (Moser-Weithmann, 3)[5].

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Turkish runes (eighth century).


III. Typology of Turkish

Turkish, as all Altaic languages, does not belong to the Indo-European branch which comprises such prominent languages as e.g. Persian, German, Italian, Greek, Sanscrit etc. The greatest difference between these languages and (Altaic) Turkish is, in grammatical terms, that Turkish does not have any gender and thus has no use for an article[6]. In contrast to Indo-European languages, grammatical relations are expressed through agglutinating bound grammatical morphemes to the stem of a word, according to a strict organization of vowels which conform with the “vowel harmony, e.g. “t e r-l i k” (= slipper). Whereas here the second front vowel i accords with the preceding, likewise, front vowel e , “s u r- a t” (= face) contains a back vowel u followed by a back vowel a. All vowels are, as a rule, short, unless they are borrowed from another language. Of course, there are many more combinations to these, as we can observe in any agglutinating language (cp. Hungarian, or more accurately, Magyar:

A jó gy e r e k azt cs i n á lj a , a m i t az é d e s a ny a a k a r.[7]

A good child that does what the mother-her/-his wants.

As we can see in cs in á lja or a mit, Magyar vowel harmony does not follow the ‘front vowel’ harmony of Turkish but has a set of vowel system of its own. There are a number of Turkish varieties which explicitly break these rules of standard Turkish[8], cp. “Georgian-Turkish” (spoken in the North-East of Turkey where my parents are from) g a lm i y e r (he/she does not come) instead of g e lm i y o r. Likewise, there are many examples of consonants which are modified, cp. Laz /’tsQdzUk/ (= child) to standard Turkish[9] /’tSQdZUk/

“In Turkish, inflectional morphemes are stressed, obligatory, regular, and distinct. Children do not have to deal with homonyms, as in “She ate eight cookies,” with irregularities such as “cows, mice, sheep,” with contrasts such as “ring/rang, bring/brought,” or “eat/ate, beat/beat, treat/treated,” or with acceptable options such as “None of these go/goes.”[10] (151).

Moser-Weithmann states that Turkish is supposed to be easy to learn because of its high regularity. Turkish syntax and the analysis of Turkish syntax, however, require “a total rethinking” on the side of a beginner of Turkish (Moser-Weithmann, 9):

Turkish word order is, in contrast to German and English, S-O-V:

“Ali kitap okuyor” (= Ali a book reads)

As for the word/syntax analysis, there lie some of the most difficult tasks in Turkish (or likewise Hungarian) since the function of each possible morpheme must be clear to the speaker (and listener) who must utter and understand almost instantly what is being spoken:

Batılılaştırılamayacaklardanmışız (= “it seems we belong to those who can not be



[1] I will not embark on defining this delicate term. I employ it, however, as a collective term for values, traditions, eating habits etc.

[2] It seems difficult to list criteria for a “bilingual speaker” since very few people seem to have an excellent command of two different languages, thus I am not tempted to dabble in a clear definition .

[3] Since I presuppose the reader of this paper knows German, I shall give an account of Turkish only.

[4] David Chrystal: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.

[5] „Die ältesten Sprachdenkmäler (eine Art „türkischer Runen“) der Turksprachen stellen die Inschriften (meist religiösen Inhalts) der „Köktürken“ [= „primal Turks“] aus dem 8. Jahrhundert dar“. (3). From: Moser-Weithmann. Türkische Grammatik. Hamburg: Buske, 2001.

[6] Except for the indefinite article bir (=one)

[7] Haik Wenzel: Langenscheidts Praktisches Lehrbuch Ungarisch (70).

[8] Standard Turkish goes back to its “founder” Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who –in order to approach culturally to Western Europe- had the Arabic script abolished and replaced with a customised Latin alphabet instead in 1928.

[9] Standard Turkish is Turkish spoken in Istanbul and its surroundings.

[10] Slobin, D.I., Johnston, J.R.: The Crosslinguistic Study of Language Acquisition, Vol. 1. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Inc. (Cited in Cited in Banaz, Halime. Bilingualismus und Code-switching bei der zweiten türkischen Generation in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

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Gastarbeiterdeutsch & Linguistic Characteristics of Second Generation (German)-Turks in Germany
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Anglistisches Institut)
Pidgins & Creoles
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gastarbeiterdeutsch, linguistic, characteristics, second, generation, german, germany
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StR Sener Saltürk (Author), 2006, Gastarbeiterdeutsch & Linguistic Characteristics of Second Generation (German)-Turks in Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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