Suzan Öniz, METU


A Mini Survey on Whether Soap-Opera-English Has Found Its Way into Turkish
  1. Introduction
  2. Procedure
  3. The 10 Selected Turkish Expressions
  4. The Questionnaire
  5. Data Analysis
  6. Acceptability of the Utterances
  7. Conclusion
  8. References
  9. Appendix: The Questionnaire

The purpose of this paper is to report on the findings based on a small-scale survey among young people attending secondary school and employed recent or older university graduates. The aim of the survey was to investigate the degree of acceptability of certain phrases used in the dubbed versions of soap operas.

Two Turkish dubbed soap operas The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful served as the sources for the utterances that were investigated in this small-scale survey. The collected language items were a number of expressions in Turkish, which were not necessarily translation errors but just awkward. They were chosen for the investigation because these expressions occurred several times within these serials. The striking thing about them was that, in everyday Turkish, these would not have been used; Turkish speakers would have used other expressions. The cultural aspects of Turkish and English come into play at this point. What is a totally appropriate and acceptable way of expressing an idea in one language may not be so in the other. For instance, in English, the expression "This is for your ears only" would sound awkward if translated literally as "Bu sadece senin kulakların için" as it was in one of the serials; "Bu seninle aramızda sır olarak kalmalı" would probably be more appropriate. The same can be said for the following expressions in English:


For this small-scale survey, ten Turkish expressions taken from the aforementioned serials were chosen and put in a questionnaire in Turkish  … which was then distributed to 70 people.

The 10 Selected Turkish Expressions

Out of a long list of similar items, the items picked for the survey were 10 utterances that at first hearing do not seem striking but, when looked at more closely, seem awkward and are not really appropriate in Turkish. These utterances varied in terms of the functions that they performed in communication. For instance, the expressions in question 1 "bana 5 dakika ver" (Give me 5 minutes), question 3 "Aptal olma" (Don't be stupid), question 4 "Daha iyi günlerim oldu" (I've had better days), also sound awkward and would probably be expressed differently by native speakers of Turkish. The first one often takes a form such as "bir dakika bekle" or in fact "bir dakika bekle"; the second one "Saçmalama" and the third one would probably not be expressed overtly to mean "I'm not OK"; rather it would be skipped over if the encounter was brief and the two people were not very close. In the case of two close friends talking, probably some interlocutors would directly state the fact that they are not feeling/faring well. Turkish "How are you?" type of greetings and socialising instances tend to be formulaic but the level of openness in these depends on the degree of intimacy of the speakers.

In question 2, "Korkarım", which is the translation of "I'm afraid", also occurs in initial position because this item introduces news with negative connotations or directly the bad news in English. In Turkish, speakers would probably use "Maalesef" if a one word equivalent expression is needed. There are also other ways of starting a sentence that will bear bad news in Turkish in phrase or clause form as in "Nasil söyleyeceğimi bilemiyorum ama".

 Another introductory utterance is "What can I do for you?", which does not have this meaning in its Turkish translation "Sizin için ne yapabilirim?" in question 5. This expression in English is used to close the previous, probably phatic communion, and open the 'real' topic of the interaction; in other words, this term serves to get speakers to get to the point in English. In Turkish, to the knowledge of this researcher, there is no one standard expression like this one mainly because Turkish culture and customs do not usually allow speakers to be direct about telling the guest or other person to cut short what they are saying and get to the point unless this is a hostile or intentionally rude situation. Gestures and mimics may be used, and often subconsciously, to imply the situation. The situation for many people in Turkey, until the last one or two decades when industrialism started to affect not only work life but also social life deeply, was one of having ample free time to socialise or "shoot the breeze"; lately, however, with more "western" type of work conditions and standards, people are on tighter time schedules and thus have very little free time and almost none to kill. New ways of politely and semi directly steering the conversation away from the social aspect towards the actual purpose of the meeting or conversation are needed in Turkish. Non verbal means still exist and are powerful in expressing this situation but also verbal expressions that turn the conversation to the topic to be discussed are now employed more and more frequently, especially by people who have had access to such terms in English. The purpose of including this item in the survey was to discover how much acceptance it has gained in Turkish.

In question 6, "Seninle dürüst olabilir miyim?" (Can I be honest with you?) serves as an opener in English of a sub topic or as a technique to focus the listener's attention on what will come next. This is also a way to get the listener interested in what will follow. The everyday Turkish equivalents vary but native Turkish speakers would probably use "Aslında bana sorarsan" or"... açıkcası...

Question 7 deals with an expression of encouragement: "You can do better than that" (Bundan daha iyisini yapabilirsin), at first sight, looks like a piece of criticism but actually functions as words of encouragement in English. The Turkish equivalent seems mainly to express mild criticism. The purpose of including this item in the questionnaire was to see if Turkish speakers would accept this item as one expressing encouragement despite the negative first impression.

"Bekle" (Wait) in question 8 functions, in English, as a 'non-participant signal' (Goffman, 1976), which is used to keep non-participants' noise out of the communication. In order to discover if in Turkish, "Bekle" serves the same function as its counterpart in English, this expression was included in the questionnaire.

"Biliyorsun..." in question 9 is a translation of "you know" and in this instance the English term served as a 'hedge' (Lakoff, 1975) that probably invites the listener to listen to the 'tale' that the speaker will tell or as a conversational greaser' (Wong-Fillmore, 1976) that smooths the flow of interaction. It was selected for the questionnaire because it is also used in Turkish but mainly for speaker certainty about shared knowledge or 'conjoint knowledge', a term that Holmes (1986) has coined.

Question 10 in the questionnaire set out to find out if "Merhaba" is found acceptable in Turkish as the counterpart of "Hello" which English speakers use when they enter a place where they suspect no one is present or when they want to find out if there is anyone in that place. Turkish speakers will often say "Kimse yok mu?" in the same situation.

The Questionnaire

One of the purposes of this survey was to discover if age, gender and exposure to soap operas had any bearing on the degree of acceptability that the 70 people indicated regarding the 10 language items on the questionnaire.

In order to discover the effect of these three factors, questions on people's age, gender, and whether or not they watched soap operas were included. To avoid a negative type of influence, the question on soap operas was hidden among other TV programmes. Some people might have seen the relationship between the language investigated and soap operas and have therefore been influenced by the questions.

The questionnaires were distributed among English instructors at METU (Middle East Technical University), (DBE and Ph.D students at the Faculty of Education) and Bilkent University, a TOEFL class at METU's DBE, at Bilim Koleji, a secondary school in Ankara and Turkish Aerospace Industries. All adults who responded were university graduates with good knowledge of English. The youngsters at Bilim Koleji have all attended the preparatory school for one year there and are junior high school children.

The 10 selected items were changed so that respondents would not be able to recognise the source of the language. If the original names and contexts had been kept, people who watch these soap operas would have realised perhaps the aim and would therefore have been influenced by the questions and might have answered in a particular way, not necessarily their own.

Data Analysis
The obtained data was analysed mainly for frequency of use/occurrence … Following is a brief summary of the data:

Total number of participants 70
Total number of females 41
Total number of males 29
Total number of people born between 1943 and 1960 17
Total number of people born between 1961 and 1985 53
Total number of people SOMETIMES watching soap operas 23
Total number of people ALWAYS watching soap operas 2
otal number of people NEVER watching soap operas 42
Total number of people who did  not give an answer 3
Total number of people who did not answer question 7 1
The data was also analysed for age differences. The oldest person was born in 1943 and the youngest in 1983. The data was analysed for people born between 1943 and 1960 and for those born between 1961 and 1985.1960 was taken as a random mid point, roughly dividing the people who answered the questionnaire into "younger" and "older" respondents . Due to time constraints, unfortunately, further subdivisions in age could not be undertaken.

Acceptability of the Utterances

… According to this small-scale survey, items 2, 5, and 7, "Korkarım", "Sizin için ne yapabilirim?" "Bundan daha iyisini yapabilirsin", respectively, are acceptable in Turkish. Question 8 about "Bekle" yielded interesting results in that people were divided almost equally (22 to 23 out of 70 respectively) between 'it can be said but I wouldn't' and 'it can't be said'. The rest of the utterances were marked as unacceptable. However, when viewed with more care, it can be seen that for almost all utterances that were found unacceptable, there are at least an equal if not higher number of people added together who said that they would say it or that they themselves wouldn't say it but that the utterance could be acceptable or that perhaps this term is acceptable. For instance, 32 people out of 70 rejected the use of "you know" as in question 9, but then 19+5+11(35) other people have not rejected this term. In other words, these terms have not been rejected with a clear majority.

Similar results have been found for gender differences. The overall results for the questionnaire and the overall results for the females show complete parallelism. On the other hand, with males, in items 1, 8, and 9, there are differences between the general questionnaire results and the overall male findings. In item 1, the male respondents seem to have divided opinions. The general results show that 22 out of 70 people said this utterance is unacceptable, whereas most males (35%) found it acceptable although they would not use it themselves; another large group of males (31%) said it was unacceptable. In question 8, where the general results were almost equally divided between can and can't be said, more males (28%) said it can be said than males who said it can't be said (24%). In question 9, although the general majority did not accept this utterance, an equal number of males (38%) found this utterance acceptable and the same number found it unacceptable. In brief, then, there is a gender variability in the answers to the questions about "give me 5 minutes", which females rejected but males half accepted (can be said but I wouldn't), about "Wait", on which females were divided between 'can be said' and 'can be said but I wouldn't' and males directly rejected, and about "You know", which females rejected but males accepted.
  The findings based on age are as follows: People born between 1943 and 1960 have rejected all utterances except "You can do better than that", which they accepted with a majority (65%) and "I'm afraid", which they have doubts about (41% stated this utterance can perhaps be said). All their responses seem clear, sweeping results; even in item 9 about the hedge "you know", 35% stated that this was unacceptable; the closest next group was the ones who marked this item as acceptable and perhaps acceptable both of which were 29.5%, much less than the percentage of the acceptors.

The questions on which there was complete agreement between genders and both age groups with the overall results were questions 3 (Don't be stupid), 4 (I've had better days), 6 (Can I be honest with you), 7 (You can do better than this), 9 (You know), and 10 (Hello) all which all were rejected. There was age and gender variability in the responses to question 1 (give me 5 minutes; females half accepted, males rejected; "older" respondents rejected whereas "younger" respondents accepted or half accepted). There was only age variability in responses to question 2 (I'm afraid; "older" respondents were unsure, "younger" respondents accepted) and question 5 (What can I do for you; "older" respondents rejected and "younger" respondents accepted). There was age and gender variability in responses to question 8 (Wait) with females being divided between rejecting and half accepting but males rejecting. "Older" respondents rejected but "younger" respondents half accepted this language expression.

The findings related to the group of the "younger" people, those born between 1961 and 1985 showed that they were basically parallel to those of the general results except in questions 1. In this question, this group indicated that "give me 5 minutes" was acceptable: an equal number of people (30%) of this age bracket marked 'can be said' and 'can be said but I wouldn't'. In question 6, although the overall results were unfavourable regarding the item "Can I be honest with you?", this younger age group was more flexible in that 30% said that it could be used but they would not use it themselves. In summary there is some difference in the way the "younger" and "older" people viewed the items on this questionnaire … They are more often wide apart than similar. To illustrate, take question 1:


'can be said'
'can be said but I wouldn't'
'perhaps can be said'
'can't be said'
'I don't know'

The following are the results relating to the soap opera viewing frequencies of the people who answered the questions. There is a very clear indication that most of the males and females of both age groups do NOT watch soap operas on TV. Only 44% of females, 17% of males, 29% of the older and 32% of the younger people said that they sometimes watch these serials. On the whole, the people who answered this questionnaire do not watch soap operas, which means that they are probably not used to hearing the quoted Turkish expressions. In other words, these answers can be taken to reflect what people whose head is not filled with 'soap opera Turkish' think about language items that have entered Turkish if they answered this part honestly. Some people watch soap operas yet refrain from saying they do because of the stigma that these serials carry among some people who believe that educated or intellectual people do not watch such serials. What is striking in the questionnaire is that although people who answered the questions have rejected most items on this questionnaire, there are a significant number of people who DO accept these on a more or less tentative basis as has been mentioned above.


There are several weaknesses in the set up of this survey. First of all, the 10 items were selected randomly and subjectively by the researcher who believed that their occurrence in the Turkish dubbings were not accidental; this needs to be tested prior to the survey because some items might have been the result of the translators lack of proficiency. This issue has been brought up by İnce (1993), who states that a large number of writers criticise translations, yet they do not base these on any tangible criteria. In this small-scale investigation, this aspect has been a weakness. Secondly, the collected language items have, unfortunately, not been marked for gender; i.e. when these expressions were written down during these TV programs, the speakers' gender was not indicated. It would have been interesting for this writer to see how Turkish males responded to what seems to be 'female' utterances in English. Third, the original utterances preceding the collected items were also not noted down during the TV viewing. The best would have been to tape these serials and extract whole situations in order to be able to provide a more accurate context. Lastly, the contexts provided in the questionnaire especially for questions 5, 7, and 8 need to be rewritten to prevent respondents from reading literal meaning into them.

Other possible amendments include statistical correlation studies on these data, and re-analyses of the answers by considering different age groups, the workplace/ schools. A follow up interview with these particular people would have helped locate difficulties that they had in answering or understanding. It is a strong suspicion of this researcher that people who are very proficient in English and/or teach English are heavily under the influence of what is said and how it is said in English in situations that in Turkish are hard to deal with directly because of cultural constraints. Therefore, there may be a correlation between the answers and questionnaire answerers knowledge of English and/or profession. A question to address this issue might be included in the questionnaire to cover this aspect of language transfer. Lastly, a question to cross check whether people's answers in the TV viewing habits section regarding soap operas were honest or not needs to be formulated.

In short, the three factors, age, gender, and TV viewing habits of the respondents that were suspected to have an influence on respondents' answers turned out different results: Age does play a role and so does gender. Exposure to soap operas turned out extremely low and so the correlation did not hold between soap opera viewing and accepting the tested terms.

On the whole, this small-scale survey has shown that new language expressions are creeping into Turkish despite the resistance of people. The role that TV plays in this has been argued successfully in various sources. The roles that people who are fluent in English play needs to be surveyed further. Are these the people who will pave the roads to new social interactions? Should Turkish lessons in secondary and perhaps tertiary education include these features or provide discussion opportunities regarding these expressions? Will Turkish and therefore so called typical Turkish behaviour and consequently Turkish life style change in the future? Who knows for sure but it is quite clear that change is unavoidable. With it, will come positive as well as negative aspects for the Turkish language and Turkish lifestyle. Will socialising, tea drinking, inquiring about family members' health all disappear gradually to be replaced by efficiently functioning schools and workplaces? Industrialism and socialising freely are two mutually exclusive life styles in the strict sense; a balance between the two would be hard but very enviable.


Goffman, E. 1976. Replies and responses. Language in Society 5, 3, pp.254-313.

Holmes, J. 1986. Functions of "you know" in women's and men's speech. Language in Society, 15, pp.1-22.

Ince, U. 1993. Çeviriyi eleştirmeden önce. Dilbilim Araştirmaları. Ankara: Hitit. 5-11.

Lakoff, R. 1975. Language and woman's place. New York: Harper Colophon.

Wong-Fillmore. L. 1976. The second time around: Cognitive and social strategies in second language acquisition,
Ph.D. dissertation. Stanford University.

Suzan Öniz is a graduate of the Department of English Language and Literature at Hacettepe University. She also has a B.A. in ELT from Brock Universitiy, Canada and an M.A. in ELT from METU, where she is presently doing her Ph.D. She is an instructor of English and a teacher educator for the DBE and DOTE at METU.


Read the situations below and put an 'X' in the appropriate column to indicate to what degree you think expressions in bold type can be said:


Can be said Can be said   
but I wouldn't
Perhaps can be said Can't be said Don't know
A teenager who is late yells out to his friend 'Give me five minutes' (bana beş dakika ver)          
An acquaintance walks into a room and starts to talk to you: 'I'm afraid I have some bad news for you' (Korkarım size bazı kötü haberlerim var')          
Two buddies are chatting: 'Don't be stupid!  You shouldn't do that' (Aptal olma!  Böyle yapılır mı?)          
Two acquaintances meet:  A: 'How are you?' B: 'I've had better days' (Nasılsın?  Daha iyi günlerim oldu)          
You are busy in your office when someone comes in.  To save time, you say 'What can I do for you?'  (Sizin için ne yapabilirim?)          
A friend confides in you: 'Do you know, I got engaged to Ali?'  You reply: 'I know.  Can I be honest with you?  I think her ex-fiance was better.' (Seninle dürüst olabilir miyim?)           
The child has done sloppy homework: the mother, who tries to get the child to do the homework again, says 'You can do better than that!' (Bundan daha iyisini yapabilirsin)          
Your friend is about to interrupt you.  You say:  'Wait! I must tell you what happened yesterday.' (Bekle!)          
Your friend wants to pour her heart out to you about what happened to her last week and starts by saying: 'You know, last Tuesday I ran into good old Veli'.  (Biliyorsun)          
Upon entering a place where there is no one in sight, you shout 'Hello!'  (Merhaba!)          
 From: Sibel Tüzel Köymen, Bülent Kandiller (eds.), Perspectives in English Language Teaching: Proceedings of the 4th METU ELT Convention, (Ankara, Department of Basic English, School of Foreign Languages, Middle East Technical University, 1997): 254-69.