The main language in the Middle East is Arabic, however English and French considered as a secondary language. Especially in Algeria, Morocco and Lebanon (there are other countries..) people still use French daily and as a secondary language.

The main question is: When the Ottoman Empire 'conquered' several countries why didn't they force use of their language? The occupation period was long enough, comparable to English and French occupation.

Was the Ottoman colonization different in this relation from French? Or the territory was in some way different than other African territories?

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    Are you asking why French is used, or why Turkish isn't used?
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 17:18
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    I think this question shows some missing general knowledge. Africa's huge part was colonized by France and British Empire, and they made their language for official language. These regions - often multicultured regions - spent around 200+ years of european rule, and they typically kept their language. With a short research on randomly picked country this would be evident. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 21:10
  • @CsBalazsHungary my question was why france and britain colonised africa made their lnaguage how ever ottoman empire for example did not make that as an official
    – moudiz
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 6:40
  • @moudiz then the question's essence is not properly stated, if you allow me, I will correct it. In that way it makes sense. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 7:51
  • please notify me here if this wasn't what you asked for. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 8:12

6 Answers 6


The answer to the question is complex and has to do with cultural prestige, linguistic diversity, religious traditions, and the timing of colonization. English and French were (and continue to be) major languages of modern scholarly literature and people learned them to obtain access to the English or French-language education system (and career opportunities) either in the colonies or in the metropolis. Arabic enjoys similar standing in the Muslim world and is required in religious education just like Latin was in the Catholic world in the past.

So it was Turkish speakers who were exposed to Arabic after adopting Islam and the Ottoman language was enriched with many Arabic words. As a previous post mentioned, Turkish was used as an administrative language in the Levant for four centurieis, but not in the Maghreb, which was ruled by semi-autonomous beys who just paid tribute to the Ottomans.

In the Balkans, the Christian populations had their own literary traditions in languages of Orthodox Christianity (Greek and Slavonic) and administrative positions were generally reserved for Muslims. Even though Christians would learn Turkish to communicate with Muslims, formal education in Arabic and Turkish typically formed part of conversion to Islam, i.e. exiting one culture to enter the other. Modern influences in the Balkans came from Europe, not the Middle East, and Balkan Christian elites typically learnt European languages (French, Italian, Russian or German) to advance their education.

So you have to consider both the conquered population (were they largely illiterate at the time of colonization and did they have a developed native literary culture?) and the conquering population (were they numerous, did they bring a lot of settlers, did they have a developed literary culture or did they adopt that of the conquered peoples, was their culture seen as prestigious and modern?) Compare for example Latin America and the Philippines: they were both colonized and Christianized by Spain, but Spanish speakers were always too few in the Philippines and never supplanted local native speakers, even though the Philippines was colonized for about as long as Latin America.


This answer is for a previous version of the question

France did have extensive colonies in West Africa as well as a colony in Lebanon, but some of the linguistic picture you see today is due to especial effort at the end of the colonial period. Most African colonies achieved independence in the 1950's and 1960's. While the French government reconciled itself to the fact that the colonial age was over and that they would not be directly owning those lands, there was a strong desire to maintain leadership in the region. One of the ways this desire was channeled was into the concept of "la francophonie", meaning the French speaking world with its cultural center in France.

Several of the West African countries have the constitution written in French and their law courts operate based on French civil law. This sometimes has a desirable effect in countries where many languages are in common use as it can provide a useful lingua franca for the government to use, rather than the language of a specific ethnic group.

France also divested itself of its African colonies somewhat more gracefully than the British by passing the Loi Cadre in 1956. It provided a path to independence that, while not completely peaceful, allowed former colonies to associate with France for diplomatic, cultural, and military purposes. The major exception to this is in Algeria, where a very nasty war was fought from 1954 to 1962. Under colonialism, Algeria was classified as "part of France", and so they were very reluctant to let it go. That experience is more similar to the rebellions against British rule in Kenya and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

While there are many former British colonies in Africa (often Commonwealth members) that have adopted English as an official language, there was not the conscious push to weave English as deeply into the life of the nation. Egypt and Sudan had little trouble choosing Arabic as their language of government, and while Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania have English as an important official language, much is instead in transacted in Swahili.

While the association with France has not necessarily brought the West African nations peace and prosperity, it has forged a bond that looks like it will continue into the future. The are far closer ties between France and countries like Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire than you would find between the United Kingdom and Tanzania or Uganda. A recent example of this ongoing relationship is when the French military was asked to recapture northern Mali from Islamic separatists in 2013.

For an extensive discussion of French and English language policy in Africa and elsewhere, I recommend the book "Empires of the Word" by Nicholas Ostler.

  • The aim of the question changed significantly, so some edit will be needed. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 7:56
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    @CsBalazsHungary however his answer is really good , he explained many thing, I am reading the links he added and I am doing some researches before asking him questions
    – moudiz
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 8:18
  • Agreed, I just wanted to send him a notification about the question's scope. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 8:31

The Turks did not usually occupy the countries they conquered and did not impose any language requirements. They were completely satisfied as long as the countries paid their taxes. Other than a few Beys, the only Turks around would be tax collector, and perhaps a few soldiers to enforce customs. Remember, too, that most of the countries in the Turkish empire had many different languages to begin with. For example, in Algeria, Arabic, Berber and Tamasheq were just three of the many languages spoken. Turkish was just added to the list.

The French differed because they required knowledge of French for many official functions and the French involved themselves much more heavily in the their colonies beyond mere collection of taxes. In particular, they sponsored large efforts to build schools, all French-speaking.

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    why french involved more on their colonies ? what was the reason ?
    – moudiz
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 8:08

And one should also keep in mind that Before the Ottoman Empire's capture of the Levant, the Mamluks who ruled the Levant were also of Turkish origin. If you look at the History of the region, you'll see that hundred years after Turks were forced to convert into Islam, they started to establish Turkish led governments with Arabic populations, like Ghaznavids and Tulunids. So they have had some 1200 years to do so. The main reason behind their reluctance in enforcing their language might be based on two aspects. One is that if Turks had turkified Arabs instead of Balkan people, they would also have to include them into modern day Turkey. It would be detrimental because Arabs are not keen to choose secular ways over sharia, this would be a huge blow for the Turkish side. Another point is that France and England were overwhelmingly nationalist at the time of colonization of the Levant, so they might have felt the need to do so, but not until late 19th century the nationalist movement in Ottoman Empire started to gain edge over Islamist ones. The Islamist Ottoman Empire did not care about your tongue or your race as far as you were Muslim, they did not have the national identity to pursuit national goals.

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    I cannot see how the Turks foresaw that the Arabs might be a problem in the future if they became "Turkified". Do you have any evidence to back your claim that the Turks did not impose their language on the Arabs thinking that their adherence to Sharia would be a problem in the future?
    – Rajib
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 13:56
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    I agree with Rajib. Your answer would be much stronger if you cut the secular/sharia element and expanded on the lack of nationalism in pre-19th century Ottoman imperialism as compared to French and English imperialism.
    – two sheds
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 15:01

Adoption of languages is based on the populations respect for the ruling language.

The Middle east/North Africa would never have adopted Turkish because it was not seen as being as prestigious as Arabic, nor as expressive.

In contrast every people that the Arabs ruled adopted Arabic except when governments forced people to stop speaking Arabic ( Iberian peninsular etc)

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    This would be improved by citing sources that support your points. Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 0:39

Well actually, Turkish was the central language of The Ottoman Empire and the diverse lands it occupied for over 500 years. In the Balkan region, the Turkish language was spoken rather frequently in various cities and towns and the same could be said for various Middle East and North African countries under Ottoman rule. However, the existence of the Turkish language did not replace the older languages within the Balkan, Middle Eastern and North African regions;the Turkish language existed alongside the older languages of the Balkan, Middle Eastern and North African regions.

The Ottoman Empire, unlike the Spanish Empire, did not eradicate entire languages. The Spanish Empire did eradicate the indigenous Aztecan and Inca languages and supplanted the centuries old languages of the Americas with Spanish. The Ottoman Empire, did not eradicate the languages of its empire, though, one should recognize that Turkish, was an actively spoken and widely communicated language throughout its Empire.

So for example, in the Ottoman occupied Northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, there were 3 languages that were commonly spoken and expressed among its population, the city's indigenous and centuries old Greek language, followed by the Turkish language, as well as Ladino-(Judeo-Spanish), due to the city's sizable Sephardic Jewish population. Other Ottoman cities, such as its Capital, Constantinople/Istanbul, as well as Smyrna/Izmir and Alexandria, as well as Cairo in Northern Egypt, were similar to the Thessalonian example-(though one could add Armenian in Constantinople/Istanbul & Smyrna/ Izmir, as well as Coptic and Arabic in Alexandria & Cairo).

Yet, despite the linguistic diversity of these above mentioned major Ottoman era cities, the Turkish language was still, by far The "Lingua Franca" of the Ottoman Empire.

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