my Cyprus, my Κύπρος, my Kıbrıs

How can you forget a language?

The similarities between Cypriot Turkish and Cypriot Greek. Credit: SharedWords

The similarities between Cypriot Turkish and Cypriot Greek

Forgetting a language is easy, relearning it is sometimes not as easy.

My childhood was overflowing with languages: English, Greek and Turkish. I was incredibly lucky. It was English in my home, Turkish with my grandmother (and probably some other family members too) and Greek with everyone else.

What went wrong along the way to make me so carelessly forget about Turkish, a language I was once fluent in? Over the years, I realised that I didn’t need the language anymore – English and Greek slowly but surely took over and later French. When children don’t need a language they let it mercilessly slip away.

By age ten that part of me had been erased. Why speak to anyone in Turkish when I could just speak to them in Greek or English?

I left the language but it didn’t leave me. All it took was to find the key to the door, unlock it and there it was, waiting for me after so many years, just as I had left it in my childhood years.

However, it seems I’ve been painting a rather magical picture. It was and it wasn’t this magical and easy.

Almost two years ago (aged 29) I started intensive courses of the language at the University of Cyprus. I was excited and fully committed.

Something felt wrong and alien to me though. There were terms and words I was meeting for the first time. Why was I having such trouble remembering ‘siyah’ (black) and ‘etek’ (skirt)? I soon realised: I knew and had been using ‘kara’ (or in the dialect ‘gara’) and ‘entari’. Why did I keep wanting to say ‘tayka’ instead of ‘dakika’. They both mean ‘minute’ but ‘tayka’ is used in the Turkish Cypriot dialect, whereas ‘dakika’ is used in Turkish.

Three months into the course things still hadn’t clicked into place the way I had imagined they would. I still couldn’t relate to the language: I felt like a foreigner learning it. Until one day I decided to bombard myself with Turkish Cypriot programmes: I watched anything in the Turkish Cypriot dialect. And finally everything made more sense; something clicked, making it that bit easier to learn the language. Undoubtedly, I wasn’t learning the dialect at the university but I could finally relate to the language as a Turkish Cypriot at least.

Suddenly I realised why there were certain words that came to my mind but had to be suppressed in my Turkish class. They were words and an accent that had never left me.



Since today’s post was all about language I wanted to share with you a photo from the project SharedWords, which is a social project funded by the Peace It Together Network. This is a project on shared words between different languages – in this case specifically Greek and Turkish – aiming to motivate people to focus on similarities, making us feel familiar with each other, rather than differences that may make us feel estranged from each other.

Find out more here:

Ziligurti/ζίλικουρτι. Credit: SharedWords

The rather strong exclamation of ziligurti/ζίλικουρτι. Credit: SharedWords

7 thoughts on “How can you forget a language?

  1. Nuri

    Çok güzel Natalie.

    Paylaştığın için teşekkürler.
    Öğrenmenin sonu yok. Hepimiz hayatın öğrencileriyiz. Bu süreç hiç bitmiyor.
    Her yeni öğrendiğim kelimeden sonra ne kadar da çok bilmediğim şey olduğunu fark ediyorum.
    O yüzden yapabileceğimiz tek şey öğrenmekten zevk almak.

    öğrenmeye devam 🙂
    yolun açık olsun.


  2. Evren

    Natalie, eline sağlık. Yazını çok beğendim. Yenilerini okumak için sabırsızlanıyorum. Yazmaya devam et çünkü bu işi çok iyi yapıyorsun.

  3. fuat

    ‘tayka’ is more village version or maybe old aged people are using this more often..

    i think ‘dagga’ or ‘dakka’ is using more widely..

    usually people are saying like ‘iki dakkacıkda geliyom’ — two (little) minutes and i will be there..))

    or ‘iki daggada geldik be / iki dagga olan’ — will be there in two minutes re..

  4. Nadia

    Excellent articles but there is one thing that I’d like to focus on.

    The choice of “kazma/kuspos” picture is brilliant!!! Showing how there are words common to standard Turkish and Greek, but still Cypriots have all together opted for a word of Latin origin. To me it’s proof how the island has developed its own distinct characteristics that do not associate to either Greece or Turkey. I’m stating the obvious here, but I’m afraid it is not so obvious to many people on the island and gems like this need to become widely known in an attempt to finally start focusing on our similarities as opposed to our differences. It’s definitely an example I will start giving people in constructive discussions.

    Great job! Looking forward to future articles! : )

    1. mycyprus Post author

      Hi Vaughn, I think mother tongue and first language are the same thing but when we say native tongue we might refer more to the language of a particular nation. Although they could very well be the same thing!
      That’s very fascinating actually because I feel that however good my 2nd and 3rd languages get my first language will always be more dominant.

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