The Language of Azerbaijan
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Caucasus: ethnic mapAzeri is spoken not only in Azerbaijan, but also in Iran. In Azerbaijan it is the first language of about 6 million people and in Iran is spoken by a much larger population. The most conservative numbers point to 13 million, but more realistic estimates indicate about 30 million speakers in Iran. Azeri speakers live mainly in the northwest part of Iran, also known as Azerbaijan, usually mentioned as "Southern Azerbaijan". Smaller numbers of Azeri speakers are also to be found in Dagestan, Georgia, Iraq, Turkey and Syria.

Azeri is a Turkic language, belonging to the southern branch of the Altaic language family (therefore non Indo-European). The Azeri language is part of the Oghuz, or Western Turkic, group of Turkic languages, together with Anatolian Turkish (spoken in Turkey) and Turkmen (spoken in Turkmenistan).

The Oghuz tribes of Central Asia spoke this precursor language between the seventh and eleventh centuries. The three descendent languages share common linguistic features. Dialectical differences between Azeri and Anatolian Turkish have been attributed to Mongolian and Turkic influences. Despite these differences, Anatolian Turkish speakers and Azeris can often understand one another if they speak carefully.

Spoken Azeri includes several dialects. Since the nineteenth century, Russian loanwords (particularly technical terms) and grammatical and lexical structures have entered the Azeri language in Russian-controlled Azerbaijan, as have Persian words in Iranian Azerbaijan. The resulting variants remain mutually intelligible, however. Despite these influences the Azeri language maintains several archaic characteristics that are absent from modern Turkish or Turkmen.

Fziuzat newspaper -  1906 - Azeri in Arabic script
Accompanying the Islamization of the Eastern Caucasus the Arabic script was introduced to the region in the Azerbaijan region, in the late 7th century. This script continued to be used to write Azeri until the 1920s. Three different types were used: the 28 letter Arabic script, the 32 letter Perso-Arabic script and the 33-letter Turkic Arabic script. None of these very adapted to writing Azeri and several modifications were attempted. Until the immediate pre-Soviet period, literature in Azerbaijan was written in these Arabic scripts, in several literary forms that by 1900 were giving way to a more vernacular Azeri Turkish form.

In 1924 Soviet officials pressured the Azeri government into approving the gradual introduction of a modified Roman alphabet, which became known as 'Yanalif' (contraction of 'New alphabet'). Scholars have speculated that this decision was aimed at isolating the Muslim peoples from their Islamic culture, thus reducing the threat of nationalist movements. In the late 1930s, however, Soviet authorities reversed their policy and dictated use of the Cyrillic alphabet, which became official in 1940. Turkey's switch to a modified Roman alphabet in 1928 may have prompted Stalin to reinforce Azerbaijan's isolation from dangerous outside influences by switching to Cyrillic. This change also made it easier for Azeris to learn Russian.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the alphabet question arose once again. Iran advocated use of Arabic as part of a campaign to expand the influence of Shia Islam in Azerbaijan. Most Azeri intellectuals ultimately rejected switching to Arabic, however, noting that Iran had not allowed proper study of the Azeri language in northern Iran. Instead, the intellectuals preferred a modified Roman alphabet incorporating symbols for unique Azeri language sounds. In December 1991, the legislature approved a gradual return to a "New Roman" alphabet and on August 2001 the Latin script became mandatory for all official purposes. Azeri speakers in Iran still use the Arabic script.

There are some particularities in the Azeri Latin alphabet, specially the inverted "e" (the 'schwa'), which caused a lot of debate in intellectual and literary circles, not to mention the initial problems for computer implementation. The remaining non standard characters can be found in some other languages, but as a further distinction it should be noted that the the traditional alphabetic order is not respected, with "X" coming after "H" and "Q" after "K". So don't worry, there aren't any pages missing in your Azeri dictionary, they just moved a little! (there's no "W" in the Azeri alphabet.)

This is the full Azeri Latin alphabet:

Azeri Latin alphabet / Latin qrafikali azerbaycan elifbasi


 If you are not used to the Azeri alphabet please see the pronunciation table. See also a basic Azeri vocabulary for foreigners.

Should you be interested in reading Azeri sites, downloading Azeri documents or writing your own texts in Azeri, you'll need to download Azeri fonts.


Other languages spoken in Azerbaijan:

  • Russian (475.000, but decreasing),
  • Armenian (200.000, now only in the Nagorno-Karabakh region),
  • Lezgin (170.000, northeast - near Daguestan),
  • Talysh (130.000, southeast - Lenkoran region),
  • Avar (45.000, Zaqatala and Belokany regions),
  • Tatar (30.000),
  • Tat (22.000, northeast - near Quba - and Baku),
  • Tsakhur (15.000, north - near Kas),
  • Georgian (14.000),
  • Kurd (13.000).

If you wish to further your study of the Azeri language you may wish to consult the following books:
Azerbaijani Dictionary and Phrasebook
Awde, Nicholas and Ismailov, Famil; Caucasus World, 1999
ISBN: 0700706631

Colloquial Azerbaijani : A Mini Course (with cassette)
Oztopcu, Kurtulus; Audio Forum, 1997
ISBN: 0884327884 

Azerbaijani-English Phrasebook
Awde, Nicholas; Hippocrene Books, Inc, 1998
ISBN: 0781806844

Basic Course in Azerbaijani
Householder, F.; Curzon Press, 1997
ISBN: 0700708456

English-Azerbaijani/Azerbaijani-English Concise Dictionary
Mamedox, Seville; Hippocrene Books, 1995
ISBN: 078180244X 

Learn Azerbaijani 1
Shikhbabayev, Nusrat; Yusifov, Sabuhi
GRBS, 2011
ISBN: 9789952813968

Azerbaijani-English Dictionary 
O'Sullivan, Patrick et al., Dunwoody Press, 1995
ISBN: 1881265188 

Azerbaijani-English Dictionary 
Musayev, Oruc; Azerbaijan State Institute of Languages, 1998

English-Azerbaijani Dictionary (pocket book)
Rahimov, Ismihan; Azerneshr Publishing, 1997

note: In English the words 'Azeri' and 'Azerbaijani' are both used as names for the language and people of Azerbaijan.

see also: learning Azeri, law on language, people, culture, Derbent, Rustavi, Kirkuk, Kars, summary, places, photos
A to Z of Azerbaijan / A dan Z ye Azerbaycan