Consonant alternation also known as consonant mutation is one of the phonological phenomenas in Turkish.
Don’t think that only Turkish has this thing. This kind of sound alternations or mutations make life easier for all the speakers in many languages.
By minimizing the mouth shape change (so that less effort is spent).
Let’s explain in depth.
Consonant alternation is the mutation in the ultimate consonant of words. What should you understand with this?
Çocuk (en. Child)
If you need to derive accusative case with this word, do you remember which suffix is added?
Since the ultimate vowel in ‘Çocuk’ is u, the suffix that is being attached must be u, too. (Because of Vowel Harmony rules, check them if you don’t remember)
Does it look OK for you? For me, no. (Of course, because I am a literate Turkish native.) Actually, this is what you want to learn on this page: why ‘Çocuku’ is not OK.
But let’s first learn why only these four consonants (p, ç, t, k) go through consonant mutation:
Turkish consonants can be categorised into two parts: soft and strong consonants. (lenis and fortis consonants). All the consonants of this mnemonic eFe PaŞa ÇoK HaSTa are strong consonants. And these p, ç, t, k among them, are ‘discontinuous’.
What does it mean?
When you pronounce ‘s’, you can make a sound that lasts long. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssss. It’s a continuous consonant. But when you say ‘p’. It’s just p! Go to the consonant harmony video if you want to hear the pronunciations.
P, ç, t, k: they have discountinous sounds: Let’s see with a table:
I tried to show without using linguistic terms so that you can understand easier.
p,ç,t,k are there on the list. They are strong and discontinuous! And these consonants (p,ç,t,k) mutates to (b,c,d,g) when a suffix is attached. They don’t want to be strong and discontinuous. They want to be soft and discontinuous.
In Turkish grammar, the phenomenon is called ‘yumuşama’ which means ‘softhening’.
I told you that this phenomena exists in many languages but the mutation shows different features depending on the phonetics of that language.
Let’s see some examples in the Turkish Language.
Mutation of “k” to “g”
This type of mutation is the most common one. When a vowel is added to a word ending with k, “k” becomes “ğ”.
e.g. Kabak (eng. zucchini )> Kabak + ı > Kabağı
Some of the loanwords don’t follow consonant alternation.
e.g. Hukuk (eng. law) > Hukuk + u > Hukuku
Although proper nouns have this mutation in spoken language, you must write them as mutation doesn’t occur and use an apostrophe instead.
e.g. Berk ( a male name ) > Berk’in
“p”,” ç”, “t” > “b”,”c”,”d”
When a vowel is added to a word ending with “–p, -ç, -t”, “-p,-ç,-t” must be mutated to “-b,-c,-d”
Consonant Alternation in Turkish – Examples:
Kitap (eng. book ) > Kitap + ı > Kitabı
Lütfen kitabı bana ver. (eng. Please, give me the book. )
İlaç (eng. medicine) > İlacı
Kağıt (eng. paper) > Kağıdı
Proper nouns and some loanwords show the same exception. In addition to that, some monosyllables do not follow this rule.
e.g. At (eng. horse) > At + a > Ata
We should emphasize that for proper nouns, these mutations occur only for spoken language but not for the written language.
The word “peçete” (eng. handkerchief) is usually taught as a reminder because of its consonants. “ P, Ç , T and k “ mutates to “ B, C, D, G “.
As you expose yourself to Turkish more, you will gain the ability to form words without even thinking about these rules. Consonant alternation or consonant mutation in Turkish is an easy phenomenon, I am sure you understood it quite well but you must practice it so that you gain the ability to form words fast.
Being fast is important because talking in a foreign language is only possible if you be fast while forming new words. Everyone can apply these rules, but not everyone can be fast.