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I recently got puzzled as to why the Russian journalists spell the surname of the current Turkish president as Эрдоган, with г. We spell his surname as エルドアン, which does not include any sound similar to the Russian г. The Koreans spell his surname as 에르도안, which does not include any such sound either.

In the original language, Turkish, his surname is spelt as Erdoğan, using the letter ğ, not g.

The Turkish letters ğ and g are two different letters. The letter ğ has no sound on its own, with its effect varying depending on the location in a word and the surrounding vowels. This letter can have zero phonetic effect, slightly lengthen the preceding vowel, or somewhat separate two vowels. The letter g, in contrast, has its own consonant sound, which is practically the same as the Russian sound г.

The Turks pronounce the surname of their president as /ˈeɾdo‿an/, not making even a slightest consonant sound between o and a. They simply pronounce о and а distinctly.

If you say that non-Russian names should be blindly transliterated to Russian exactly as they are written in the original language regardless of the diacritic signs and original pronunciation, then what about Salisbury? There have recently been many Russian articles about that city, which is spelt by the Russian journalists as Солсбери. The Russian journalists changed the English а to the Russian о, omitted the English i, and replaced the English u by the Russian е in order to achieve resemblance to the original pronunciation.

I am so much puzzled as to why the Russians have no hesitation to perform major surgeries on names like Salisbury (Солсбери), Montreaux (Монтрё), and Middlesbrough (Мидлсбро) to achieve resemblance to the original pronunciation, but cannot circumcise the name Erdoğan by cutting off the non-pronounced ğ. This apparent inconsistency is appalling to me.

And if you say that it is because Erdoğan is the name of a president and not a geographic name like Salisbury, then what about Ronald Reagan? He was a president, too, but the Russian journalists spell his surname as Рейган, replacing the English а by the Russian й. So even president names are not blindly transliterated as they are spelt in the original language.

It is hard to see why the Russians cannot do what the Albanians can: they spell the surname of the Turkish president as Erdoan, simply omitting the letter ğ, which is absent in their alphabet.

My question is this: Why is the surname Erdoğan spelt in Russian as Эрдоган despite that ğ has no sound in the Turkish language?

I would like to read answers that are deeper than simple statements that the Russians generally transliterate both ğ and g as г in Turkish proper names. I already know this and am curious as to whether there is any official rule for that. Or is everyone entitled to transliterate "Erdoğan" to Russian how he or she pleases? If there is a rule prescribing to transliterate ğ as г, I would be grateful for an explanation as to what is the justification of such a seemingly unjustifiable rule.

I know that the letter ğ was pronounced in the Turkish language long ago, so I am curious whether the replacement ğ → г is simply an old continuous tradition of writing Turkish proper names in Russian, that is, a tradition that exists simply because no one was enthusiastic enough to change it after ğ lost its own sound in Turkish.

I am also curious whether it will be really considered a mistake if I write "Эрдоан" (i.e., without г) in a Russian text of mine.

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    Солсбери. The Russian journalists changed... - in rucorpora/ngram you'll find it was spelled like that already a century ago (and I suspect it's been like that a few centuries before). Эрдоган - you'll also find all geographic names using ğ are transcripted with г (so it's basically an established tradition, e.g.). ... considered a mistake if I write "Эрдоан" - you can but "nobody" will understand you (well, you know, languages are about understanding and not about being right or wrong :). – seven-phases-max Jun 21 at 4:58
  • I can't compare specific dialects but in my experience with Turks in southern Turkey ğ was not entirely omitted. It was pronounced with a slight glottal constriction like a very soft 'y'. – Sobachatina Jun 21 at 17:32
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    Ahm... you mean in Russian it's as in English or German? He is called "Erdogan" with a "g". Does not seem a typical Russian "issue" to me. – Mayou36 Jun 22 at 20:15
  • @Mayou36 : English and German have an alphabet that is similar to the Turkish and is based on Latin letters. Russian is a very different story. We, Japanese, do not spell his surname with g. I asked a similar question about spelling Erdoğan in the English SE (english.stackexchange.com/questions/502460/… ), and the answer I got is that the spelling of non-English names in English is based on the original spelling if the name is taken from a language whose alphabet is based on Latin letters. – Mitsuko Jun 22 at 20:21
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    I would not say that Russian is such a different story, most letters in fact have correspondent in the Latin alphabet. Also Serbian can be written in Cyrillic or Latin (sure, both slightly modified), hinting that they are not too far apart. While some letters may are (e.g. the "h" has no direct correspondent in Russian) the letter "g" goes always to "г" (AFAIK), so there is a more or less one-by-one correspondents (can be more, I know). So again, in English & German it's "Erdogan". It could be "Erdohan" or "Erdoan". But it's not. Conclusion: the "problem" is not specific to Russian. – Mayou36 Jun 23 at 8:11
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Russian has different transcription systems for different languages.

Some of them (Japanese, Korean, Chinese) have been developed by a single person or by a group of scholars, who had invested some thought and consideration into them, and had them codified.

Some of them (Greek, Latin, English) have been in use for quite a long time, so the rules have just evolved. Those rules are partly codified, partly implied and partly don't really exist and are just dealt with on ad-hoc basis.

Finally, lots of languages just don't have any kind of tradition of transcription into Russian.

Those systems might be old or relatively new, they might more or less closely reflect the actual pronunciation of the original language, they might have evolved along with the original language and/or Russian language, and they might be ridden with inconsistencies.

They also, usually, are not consistent between each other.

Now, an ideal transcription system has several requirements.

Russian renditions of foreign names should resemble the original pronunciation; should resemble the original spelling (if applicable); should be reversible (ideally you should be able to reconstruct the original word just from looking at its Russian rendition); should be actually utterable by Russian speakers; should be unequivocal and so on.

Of course all those requirements are impossible to achieve at once (partly because the original languages and writing systems are not examples of order and logic either), so some compromises are being made, either by the authors of the system or by the people who learn it by heart from their predecessors.

All these compromises have their ups and downs, pros and cons, and different people have different preferences about what should be put on top priority when making these compromises.

That's why some systems gain traction and some don't: if you don't make enough people happy enough with your system to start using that over the others, yours would just die from natural causes and be consigned into oblivion.

That said,

This apparent inconsistency is appalling to me

I'm sorry that you feel this way. This is something that is going to happen often.

If you say that non-Russian names should be blindly transliterated to Russian

Non-Russian names is a very large group of names and there's no single "you" who would have a say about all of them.

They come from different languages, get transcribed by different systems designed and used by different people.

English and French transcription rules have been never designed, they have evolved over the centuries.

People used to write and say Робинзонъ Крузоэ, сочиненiе г-на Данiеля Дефоэ but at some point that had been considered stupid so everyone stopped doing that.

People also used to write and say комета Галлея and круги кровообращения Гарвея and still do, because this is considered OK.

Inconsistent? Yes. Hard to learn? Yes. That's how evolution and collective decisions work.

If you say that it is because Erdoğan is the name of a president and not a geographic name like Salisbury, then what about Ronald Reagan?

The thing about Ronald Reagan is that he had an English name, and President Erdoğan has a Turkish name, so see above.

Personal names, or the status of their bearers, as a matter of fact, are rarely if ever get special treatment in transcription systems. There might be traditional exceptions, like Авраам Линкольн, but it's not a part of a system. President Lincoln's name is an exception because he was born and became famous enough to get an established Russian transcription back in XIX century, and not just because he was elected president.

It is hard to see why the Russians cannot do what the Albanians can

Just the fact something is good does not mean it's going to be adopted.

We'll leave aside the question of whether or not Albanian system is that great for a moment.

To "do" something with the language, like introducing a new transcription system, you have to gather a critical mass of influential people who can make that happen, leading by example.

Albanians don't make such a critical mass for Russian speakers.

Russians and Albanians live in different countries, speak different languages, write in different writing systems and don't share literary traditions in any significant way (not that I'm aware of).

There were never a critical mass of people who would be 1) influential Russian grammarians 2) familiar with Albanian language, 3) fascinated with the Turkish to Albanian rules and 4) not happy with the Turkish to Russian rules to make this transition happen.

Now, to your question:

Why is the surname Erdoğan spelt in Russian as Эрдоган despite that ğ has no sound in the Turkish language?

I don't speak Turkish and can't even say if your premise is true, as some sources say it's still pronounced in some dialects. But let's assume it's true.

At some point, a compromise had been made, most probably implicitly, between several conflicting aspects of a transcription system.

The Turks do one thing in writing (put the ğ in their words) and another one in speech (leave a hiatus between the vowels).

A hiatus between the vowels is not the same as two vowels uttered together, and this may change the meaning of words as far as I understand, so this is undoubtedly a phoneme.

To mark this phoneme in writing, they used a letter which was not a part of standard Latin alphabet.

I'm not sure what did they use when they were writing in Arabic script, but for some reason when switching to Latin script they chose to base this letter on the letter g, and not, say, x or p. They must have felt that the G was a better choice.

Russian transcription system had to face the same choice. Russian could have just omitted the letter, could have used a diacritic, could have used another letter than г or could have used г.

Some Russian author, probably long ago, had made a decision that it should be a г.

It has some upsides: it somewhat resembles the pronunciation at least in some dialects, it somewhat resembles the writing, it's some kind of a clearly marked phoneme.

It has the downsides either: it can be confused with the g, it is not actually pronounced in the mainstream dialect and it makes Mitsuko sad.

In other words, it's a compromise.

Is it a good compromise? I don't really know, it's not a large part of my life and I've never given any thought to that before you asked this question.

Apparently, it was good enough for everyone concerned to gain some traction, as that's what Russian ended up using.

I am also curious whether it will be really considered a mistake if I write "Эрдоан" (i.e., without г) in a Russian text of mine.

Usually, if you are writing or saying something not the way the others do, people would start looking for reasons behind that. Why does Mitsuko write Эрдоан and not Эрдоган like everyone else? What does she want to say with that?

And people have only so much attention and interest in reading, especially these days, so if questions like this would interfere with the rest of your text and stay unanswered, the chances are the readers would lose interest more quickly.

Using an alternative spelling is a literary device, a way to draw attention to some aspect of your prose by leaving a thorn your reader's attention would catch on.

If that's the effect you're hoping to achieve with the non-traditional spelling, then by all means go for it.

If that's not something you're looking for when writing your text, then concentrate on your main message and leave the less important stuff (like Turkish names) the way people are familiar with.

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    Thanks a lot for such a detailed answer, and it was very interesting for me to read your view. – Mitsuko Jun 21 at 13:55
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    >> I'm not sure what did they use when they were writing in Arabic script, but for some reason when switching to Latin script they chose to base this letter on the letter g, and not, say, x or p. They must have felt that the G was a better choice.<< My understanding is that before the letter ğ lost its own sound in Turkish, it sounded like the voiced counterpart of h ("звонкая аналогия звука х"). This is why the letter ğ is called "soft g." – Mitsuko Jun 21 at 13:55
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    What a thorough, thoughtful, non-dogmatic answer - enjoyed it greatly. SE would be a better place if more answers were like this. – Spike0xff Jun 21 at 14:48
  • Brilliant answer, but I might add that the transliteration of "Reagan" is also non-standard. The usual tradition is to transliterate uncommon or unstressed groups of letters that collectively produce the sound /eɪ/ as "э" or "е". – Max Jun 22 at 0:35
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    I agree that rendering the name of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as "Эрдоган" will distract the reader the least. Will you add what you would prefer doing in a text about another Turkish person with the same surname? – svavil Jun 22 at 1:17
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There are formal rules for practical transcription of Turkic proper names into Russian:

Турецко-русская практическая транскрипция

According to that table, ğ is transcribed as г and in rare cases as й. The choice of г brings to the syllable -ган which is more typical for Russian words than -йан and better combines with the previous syllable, ending with .

  • Thanks a lot, so at least I now know that there are official rules for that. – Mitsuko Jun 22 at 18:22
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    @Mistuko I would not call these rules "official", rather "formal" or "standard". – Mark Beadles Jun 23 at 17:23
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As a Turkic, I say that it is completely true to consider his name as Эрдоган. The name in Turkish is "Erdoğan". Note that the letter "ğ" is a sound most like the French "r" and is also a deformation of the sounds "g" and "q" which in today's Turkish dialect turned not to sound at all! Also note that Russian and Turkic peoples had many encounters during thousands of years. The last one was ruling of them to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Many conflicts against the Ottoman Empire and Iran ruling in Azerbaijan. Well, by all of these, I mean Russian journalists are right. You know that Russians care about literature very much.

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    Russian and Turkic peoples had many encounters... The last one was. - Hmm, there're still a lot of Turkic people in RF so there can be no "last one" obviously. – seven-phases-max Jun 21 at 9:10
  • I am also Turkic and I am not sure I agree with you. I think the opinion of non-Turkish Turkic people is not of much relevance here. Other Turkic languages do have very different pronunciation systems. It is true that, say, the "ғ" sound in Kazakh would most accurately transliterated as "г" in Russian (though some people would go for "х") but Turkish is an entirely different language and its pronunciation system should be taken into account when transliterating. I think the closest Russians can get would be an accent sign though I am not a linguist... – jon Jun 22 at 9:56
  • ..."г" seems to be pretty out of place, phonetically speaking. – jon Jun 22 at 9:58
  • @jon : >>I think the closest Russians can get would be an accent sign<< Do you mean this: Эрдо'ан? That is, the accent sign ' between о and a, like in Ка-д'Оро (link)? If so, I agree that this seems to be the best solution from the phonetic standpoint. – Mitsuko Jun 22 at 18:16
  • @jon you are also a Turkic, so you know what "Erdoğan" means literally. And also note that today prononciation system of Turkey is a deformation of Ottoman Turkish (a turkic language with many Arabic and Persian words). What I tried to say, is that Russian use the original and main prononciation of the word. – Qurultay Jun 22 at 19:02
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I would say because the letter г is not actually related to the latin r but it is to the greek Γ/γ which is known as gamma (as in gamma rays) and is also used in the greek version of his name which is Ερντογάν / ΕΡΝΤΟΓΑΝ in full capitals.

You can notice that something similar is happening with the cyrillic p as well, which, even though looks almost exactly the same as the latin p it actually relates to the greek ρ, a direct counterpart of R

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English is full of non-phonemic spellings. That is not so much the case in Russian, but it still happens.

Transliteration systems are not necessarily phonemic. They may capture dialectical differences or historical pronunciations, in the case where a sound shift has occurred in the source language.

The Wikipedia article for the letter Ğ says:

Ğ (g with breve) is a Latin letter found in the Turkish and Azerbaijani alphabets as well as the Latin alphabets of Laz, Crimean Tatar and Tatar. It traditionally represented the voiced velar fricative /ɣ/ or (in case of Tatar) the similar voiced uvular fricative /ʁ/ in all those languages. However, in Turkish, the phoneme has in most cases been reduced to a silent letter, serving as a vowel-lengthener.

Historical use

The letter, and its counterpart in the Ottoman Turkish alphabet, ⟨غ⟩, were once pronounced as a consonant, /ɣ/, the voiced velar fricative, until very recently in the history of Turkish, but it has undergone a sound change by which the consonant was completely lost and compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel occurred, hence its function today. The sound change is not yet complete in some Turkish dialects. The previous consonantal nature of the sound is evinced by earlier English loanwords from Turkish, such as yogurt/yoghurt (modern Turkish yoğurt) and agha (modern Turkish ağa), and the corresponding velar fricative found in cognate words in the closely related Azerbaijani language and the Turkish-influenced Crimean Tatar language. In Old Turkic (as well as earlier during Proto-Turkic times), this voiced velar fricative originated as an allophone of [ɡ], the voiced velar stop, when it occurred intervocalically. The expected process of lenition (weakening and eventual loss of the intervocalic Proto-Turkic consonant *ɡ) is thus complete in Turkish and underway in many other Common Turkic languages.

Another example of a proper name that captures a sound shift is Пекин. English has largely transitioned from "Peking" to "Beijing", which more closely reflects the pronunciation in modern Mandarin. That has not yet occurred in Russian and many other languages.

Considering that some Turkic languages spoken in the Russian sphere of influence still retain a more conservative pronunciation of ğ, I would speculate that it would be a long time before the г is dropped from the Russian transliteration.

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The letter ğ in Turkish historically was and sometimes still is pronounced as voiced velar fricative. Russian can represent it as either letter й but that would imply the palatalized version and the next vowel to be front vowel. The non-palatalized version is traditionally spelled with г in foreign words (the г is pronounced as voiced velar fricative in Southern Russian dialects). The voiceless velar fricative is also often traditionally spelled with г in foreign words, like in Гитлер and Гелиос.

  • There's never been a velar in Helios or in Hitler or anywhere else you're mentioning. Aren't you confusing it with a glottal fricative (h in English "here")? – Quassnoi Jun 24 at 13:39

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