AZERBAIJAN viii. Azeri Turkish

Oghuz languages were earlier grouped into Turkish (of Turkey), Azeri, and Turkmen, but recent research has modified this simple picture.



viii. Azeri (Āḏarī) Turkish

Azeri belongs to the Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family. In the eleventh century the “Tūrān defeated Ērān” and a broad wave of Oghuz Turks flooded first Khorasan, then all the rest of Iran, and finally Anatolia, which they made a base for vast conquests. The Oghuz have always been the most important and numerous group of the Turks; in Iran they have assimilated many Turks of other origins and even Iranians.

Oghuz languages were earlier grouped into Turkish (of Turkey), Azeri, and Turkmen, but recent research has modified this simple picture. Today we may provisionally distinguish the following languages: Turkish of Turkey (including Crimean Osmanli and Balkan dialects, such as Gagauz), Azeri, “Afsharoid” dialects (spoken east and south of the provinces of Azerbaijan; there is a broad area of either transitional Azeri-“Afsharoid” dialects or of mixed territories between Qazvīn and Ḵalajestān, but south of a line Hamadān-Qom, including Qašqāʾī and Aynallū, “Afsharoid” dialects dominate; Afshar is also spoken in Kabul), Khorasan Turkic (northeastern Iran, Turkmenistan and northwestern Afghanistan), and Turkmen (in Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan and close to the southeastern shore of the Caspian Sea). Some features of Oghuz were described by Maḥmūd Kāšḡarī (11th century), e.g., the sound change t- > d- (däva “camel” = tävä, or similar, of other Turkic branches). But it is very difficult to draw a clear line between the East Anatolian dialects of Turkish and Azeri, on the one hand, and between Azeri and “Afsharoid” dialects or even Khorasan Turkic, on the other hand. There is a plethora of transitional phenomena among all Oghuz idioms. Thus one possibility would be to range East Anatolian as Azeri; however, the personal forms of the predicate show clear, and apparently archaic, distinctions among these five groups (Doerfer, 1982, pp. 109-15). The most distant of the Oghuz dialects is Turkmen; therefore the Iranian designations torkī (i.e., all Oghuz dialects except Turkmen) and/versus torkamā/ănī (i.e., Turkmen are rather appropriate.

Azeri is spoken in the Soviet Union (above all, in the AzSSR = Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic), Iran (above all, in the northwestern provinces East and West Azerbaijan, but also on the southeastern shore of the Caspian Sea: Galūgāh, 36° 43’ north latitude, 53° 49’ east longitude), and in northern Iraq (e.g., in Kerkūk).

The early Azeri texts are a part of the Old Osmanli literature (the difference between Azeri and Turkish was then extremely small). The oldest poet of the Azeri literature known so far (and indubitably of Azeri, not of East Anatolian of Khorasani, origin) is ʿEmād-al-dīn Nasīmī (about 1369-1404, q.v.). Other important Azeri authors were Shah Esmāʿīl Ṣafawī “Ḵatāʾī” (1487-1524), and Fożūlī (about 1494-1556), an outstanding Azeri poet. During the 17th-20th centuries a rich Azeri literature continued to flourish but classical Persian exercised a great influence on the language and its literary expression. On the other hand, many Azeri words (about 1,200) entered Persian (still more in Kurdish), since Iran was governed mostly by Azeri-speaking rulers and soldiers since the 16th century (Doerfer, 1963-75); these loanwords refer mainly to administration, titles, and conduct of war. This long-lasting Iranian-Azeri symbiosis must be borne in mind if one is to understand the modern history of Iran and its language correctly.

Azeri dialects. We may distinguish the following Azeri dialects (see Širäliev, 1941 and 1947): (1) eastern group: Derbent (Darband), Kuba, Shemakha (Šamāḵī), Baku, Salyani (Salyānī), and Lenkoran (Lankarān), (2) western group: Kazakh (not to be confounded with the Kipchak-Turkic language of the same name), the dialect of the Ayrïm (Āyrom) tribe (which, however, resembles Turkish), and the dialect spoken in the region of the Borchala river; (3) northern group: Zakataly, Nukha, and Kutkashen; (4) southern group: Yerevan (Īravān), Nakhichevan (Naḵjavān), and Ordubad (Ordūbād); (5) central group: Ganja (Kirovabad) and Shusha; (6) North Iraqi dialects; (7) Northwest Iranian dialects: Tabrīz, Reżāʾīya (Urmia), etc., extended east to about Qazvīn; (8) Southeast Caspian dialect (Galūgāh). Optionally, we may adjoin as Azeri (or “Azeroid”) dialects: (9) East Anatolian, (10) Qašqāʾī, (11) Aynallū, (12) Sonqorī, (13) dialects south of Qom, (14) Kabul Afšārī.

Modern literary Azeri has been constructed on the basis of the eastern group in the Soviet part of the Azeri area; this does not mean that it is identical with the dialect of Baku. It became the official language of the AzSSR after its establishment in 1936 and many thousand works have been published in this language.

This situation is different in the Azeri-speaking territory of Iran (Doerfer, 1970, p. 226): Very few native, European, or American scholars have worked on the Iranian type of Azeri. Most literary works there are produced in a language which resembles the dialect of the main city, Tabrīz. But the official language is Persian, and a large part of the population is bilingual. The only linguistic studies are some small vocabularies, grammars, and handbooks (for the use of Iranians) composed mostly in the 1960s by native authors (see the bibliography). New efforts at shaping a standard Azeri literary language have been made since the Islamic Revolution. Curiously enough, the most recent Azeri-Persian dictionary (Peyfūn) is based on the language of the AzSSR; the Persian word īstgāh, “railway station,” e.g., has been replaced by vaḡzal (< Russian vokzal < English Vauxhall).

The script. The older Azeri literature was written in the Arabic alphabet. In the Soviet-controlled northern Azerbaijan the Latin alphabet was introduced in 1925, and three variants of it were in use or at least tried out. In 1939 the Latin alphabet was replaced by an alphabet based on the Cyrillic alphabet. Subsequently, five different variants of this system came into use, the fifth in 1958; this means that between 1925-58 nine different writing systems existed (see Ismailova). In southern Azerbaijan the Arabic alphabet is still used (Peyfūn, however, distinguishes ö from the other labial vowels by adding a hamza to wāw).

The language. The linguistic structure of Azeri is very similar to that of Turkish. Therefore, it will be sufficient to characterize the main differences between these languages.

The modern literary language has nine vowels in initial syllables of Turkic words. Like the Anatolian and Khorasani dialects it has preserved the ancient Turkic opposition ä ~ e, lost in Turkish of Turkey; in most cases e is from Old Turkic e: Non-initial syllables have vowel harmony, as in Turkish; many dialects, however, show signs of a dissolution of the vowel harmony (e.g., gäl-max- “to come” instead of gäl-mäk). In consonantism, Azeri shows usual Oghuz features, such as t- > d-, k- > g-; but the frequent elision of y- before high vowels i, ï, ü is peculiar to Azeri (it- “to be lost” < yit-, il “year” < yïl, üz “face” < yüz). A few of the twenty-four Russian letters for Azeri consonants mark allophones, e.g., g (front) and q (back; only initially; pronounced like Persian q), both belonging to the /G/ phoneme; other allophones, such as the back and front l, lenes and madiae lenes, are not distinguished in writing.

Grammatical structure. All the Turkic languages, including Azeri, are highly synthetic, i.e., words are inflected by means of affixes and suffixes (not, e.g., by umlaut and other internal inflection), cf. the typical example türk-lä-š-dir-äbil-sä-x “if we can make (somebody) become like Turks,” literally “Turk + verbal derivative (--) + cooperative (-š-) + causative (-dir-) + possibilitive (-äbil-) + conditional (--) + 1 person plural (-x).”

Azeri has many productive and non-productive suffixes both for nominal and verbal derivation. The Azeri literary language has six main cases (dialects show up to ten). Just as the other Turkic languages, Azeri has no special category of pre- or postpositions; instead it uses inflected “space nouns,” e.g., kändin ičindä “within the village,” literally “village’s-inside-its-LOCATIVE;” some of these space nouns are of Persian or Arabic (via Persian) origin; these loans were facilitated by the fact that Persian itself uses such “space nouns” as tū-ye, mīān-e contrasting with genuine prepositions such as be, dar. Many dialects have a comparative case form in -rAx.

Whereas Azeri nominal morphology, generally speaking, is quite similar to that of Turkish, verbal morphology shows some distinctive features. We may distinguish five diatheses: active, passive, reflexive (nonproductive), reciprocal-cooperative, and causative. Each of them may be positive, negative, or possibilitive; the impossibilitive base form is, in contrast to Turkish, a simple combination of possibilitive + negative. We may distinguish the following “tense” forms: aorist (always in -Ar, in contrast to Turkish), present (-Ir), future (-AjAK), perfect (-mIš ~ -Ib, varying in the dialects), preterite (-dI), durative present (-mAkdA, also -AdU and similar forms in the dialects). Furthermore, we may distinguish five moods: indicative, voluntative-imperative (vocative verbal form), optative (-A), necessitative (-mAlI, -AsI), and conditional. From a Turkic point of view, however, there is no structural difference between moods and tenses, cf., al-a “may he take” and al-mïš “he took, he has taken.” It is therefore better to operate with only one category “tense-mood,” rather than the two categories “tense” and “mood.” Real past tense forms can be formed analytically by adding (i)di or (i)miš “was” to the tense-mood forms, e.g., al-mïš-dï “he had taken.”

On the vocabulary see Iranian Elements in Azeri Turkish below.

The state of research. Soviet Azeri has been fairly well researched, although as yet no large Azeri dictionary has been produced and the available collections of dialect words are by no means comparable to the Turkish Derleme sözlüğü (Ankara, 1963-82, 12 vols.). However, the investigation of other parts of the language: phonology, grammar, etc., is satisfactory.

In contrast, Iranian Azeri is still but poorly known. In 1970, Doerfer stated that there existed at least 1,442 works on Soviet Azeri but only 18 on Iranian Azeri. Nevertheless, the publication of material from several Azeri dialects of Azerbaijan, Ḵalajestān, and Galūgāh (as well as quite comprehensive material from Afsharoid and Khorasani Turkic), based upon the Göttingen expeditions of 1968, 1969, and 1973, is planned for the near future.



1. General works: A. Caferoğlu, “Şarkta ve garpta azeri lehçesi tetkikleri,” Azerbaycan yurt bilgisi (Istanbul) 3, 1934, pp. 96-102, 136-41, 197-200, 233-38.

Idem and G. Doerfer, “Das Aserbaidschanische,” Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta 1, Aquis Mattiacis, 1959, pp. 280-307.

G. Doerfer, “Irano-Altaistica,” in Current Trends in Linguistics VI, ed. Th. A. Sebeok, The Hague and Paris, 1970, pp. 217-34.

Idem, “Ein türkischer Dialekt aus der Gegend von Hamadān,” Acta Orientalia Hungarica 36, 1982, pp. 99-124.

G. G. Ismailova, “K istorii azerbaĭdzhanskogo alfavita,” in Voprosy sovershenstvovaniya alfavitov tyurkskikh yazykov SSSR, Moscow, 1972, pp. 28-40.

S. Säʾdiyev, Azärbayjan diḷčiliyinä dair ädäbiyyatïn bibliografiyasï(Sovet dövrü), Baku, 1960.

2. Dictionaries: Kh. A. Azizbekov, Azerbaĭdzhansko-russkiĭ slovar’, Baku, 1965 (the best available dictionary).

G. Doerfer, Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen, 4 vols., Wiesbaden, 1963-75.

G. Guseĭnov, Russko-azerbaĭdzhanskiĭ slovar’, 4 vols., Baku, 1960-66.

N. Z. Hatämi and M. Š. Širäliyev, Farsja-azärbayjanja danïšïq kitabčasï, Baku, 1983.

H. H. Hüseynov, Azärbayjanja-rusja lüğät, Baku, 1941.

M. Javadova, Šah Ismayïl Xätainin leksikasï, Baku, 1977.

J. M. Jäfärov, Almanja-azärbayjanja lüğät, (Deutsch-aserbaidschanisches Wörterbuch), Baku, 1971 (the best available non-Russian-Azeri dictionary).

Yu. Mirbabaev et. al., Kratkiĭ persidsko-russko-azerbaĭdzhanskiĭ slovar’, Baku, 1945.

Ä. Ä. Orujov, Azärbayjan dilinin orfografiya lüğäti, Baku, 1975.

Idem, Azärbayjan dilinin izahlï lüğäti, 3 vols., Baku, 1964-83.

Idem, Russko-azerbaĭdzhanskiĭ slovar’, 3 vols., Baku, 1971-78.

Ä. N. Orudzhov, S. D. Melikov, and A. A. Efendiev, Russko-azerbaĭdzhanskiĭ slovar’, 2 vols., Baku, 1956-59.

J. Qährämanov, Näsimi divanïnïn leksikasï, Baku, 1970.

R. Ä. Rüstämov and M. Š. Širäliyev, Azärbayjan dilinin dialektoloži lüğäti, Baku, 1964.

H. Zärinäzadä, Fars dilindä azärbayjan sözläri, Baku, 1962.

3. Grammars: Z. Budagova, Azerbaĭdzhanskiĭ yazyk (kratkiĭ ocherk), Baku, 1982.

Idem, Müasir azärbayjan dili II: Morfologiya, Baku, 1980.

G. Fraenkel, A Generative Grammar of Azerbaijani, doctoral thesis, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1962 (Dissertation abstracts XXIII, 1963).

N. Z. Gadzhieva, “Azerbaĭdzhanskiĭ yazyk,” in Yazyki narodov SSSR II: Tyurkskie yazyki, Moscow, 1966, pp. 66-90.

R. A. Rustamov, Grammatika azerbaĭdzhanskogo yazyka, 2 vols., Baku, 1959-60.

M. Š. Širäliev and È. V. Sevortyan, Grammatika azerbaĭdzhanskogo yazyka, Baku, 1971.

4. Linguistic studies: Ä. Z. Abdullaev, Müasir azärbayjan dilindä tabeli müräkkäb jümlälär, 2 vols., Baku, 1964-74.

N. G. Agazade, Sistema glagol’nykh nakloneniĭ v sovremennom azerbaĭdzhanskom literaturnom yazyke, Baku, 1967.

Ehliman Ahundov, ed., with a foreword by Semih Tezcan, Azerbaycan halk yazını örnekleri, Ankara, 1978 (this contains interesting texts with a concise linguistic introduction and dictionary).

A. Axundov, Azärbayjan dilinin fonemlär sistemi, Baku, 1973.

Idem, Azärbayjan dilinin tarixi fonetikasï, Baku, 1973.

A. K. Alekperov, Fonematicheskaya sistema sovremennogo azerbaĭdzhanskogo yazyka, Baku, 1971. Z. Älizadä, Müasir azärbayjan dilindä modal sözlär, Baku, 1965.

Z. I. Budagova, Müasir azärbayjan ädäbi dilindä sadä jümlä, Baku, 1963.

A. M. Dämiṛčizadä, Müasir azärbayjan dilinin fonetikasï, Baku, 1960.

Idem, Azärbayjan ädäbi dilinin tarixi, Baku, 1979.

A. Djaferoglu, “75 azärbajğanische Lieder "Bajatv" in der Mundart von Gänjä, nebst einer sprachlichen Erklärung,” Mitteilungen des Seminars für Orientalische Sprachen zu Berlin, Westasiatische Studien 32, 1929, pp. 55-79; 33, 1930, pp. 105-29.

N. Z. Gadzhieva, Sintaksis slozhnopodchinennogo predlozheniya v azerbaĭdzhanskom yazyke, Moscow, 1963. M. Hüseynzadä, Müasir azärbayjan dili, Baku, 1963.

R. J. Mähärrämova and M. P. Jahangirov, Azärbayjan dilinin tarixi sintaksisinä dair materiallar, Baku, 1962.

H. Mirzäzadä, Azärbayjan dilinin tarixi morfologiyasï, Baku, 1962.

Idem, Azärbayjan dilinin tarixi grammatikasïna aid materiallar, Baku, 1953.

M. Rähimov, Azärbayjan dilindä fe’l šäkillärinin formalašmasï tarixi, Baku, 1965.

R. Ä. Rüstämov, Azärbayjan dili dialekt vä šivälärindä fe’l, Baku, 1965 (important work).

È. V. Sevortyan, Affiksy glagoloobrazovaniya v azerbaĭdzhanskom yazyke, Moscow, 1962 (important work).

Idem, Affiksy imennogo slovoobrazovaniya v azerbaĭdzhanskom yazyke, Moscow, 1966 (important work).

Z. N. Verdieva et al., Azärbayjan dilinin semasiologiyasï, Baku, 1979.

5. Dialects: M. Amirpur-Ahrandjani, Der aserbaidschanische Dialekt von Schapur, Phonologie und Morphologie, Freiburg, 1971.

N. I. Ashmarin, Obshchiĭ obzor narodnykh tyurkskikh govorov gor Nukhi, Baku, 1926.

S. Buluç, “Tellâfer Türkçesi üzerine,” Türk dili araştırmaları yıl’lıği, Belleten, 1973-74, pp. 49-57.

Idem, “Kerkük ḫoyratlarına dair,” Reşit Rahmeti Arat için, Ankara, 1966, pp. 142-54.

G. Doerfer, “Zum Vokabular eines aserbaidschanischen Dialektes in Zentralpersien,” in Voprosy tyurkologii, Baku, 1971, pp. 33-62.

V. T. Dzhangidze, Dmanisskiĭ govor kazakhskogo dialekta azerbaĭdzhanskogo yazyka, Baku, 1965.

Dj. B. Hadjibeyli, “Le dialecte et le folk-lore du Karabagh,” JA 222, 1933, pp. 31-144.

Hussin Shahbaz Hassan, Kerkük ağzı, dissertation, Istanbul, 1979.

Choban Khıdır Haydar, İrak türkmen ağızları, dissertation, Istanbul, 1979.

A. Hüseynov, Azärbayjan dialektologlyasï, Baku, 1958.

M. Islamov, Azärbayjan dilinin Nuxa dialekti, Baku, 1968.

V. Monteil, “Sur le dialecte turc de l’Azerbâydjân iranien,” JA 244, 1956, pp. 1-77.

K. T. Ramazanov, Azärbayjan dilinin Muğan grupu šïväläri, Baku, 1955.

Idem, Azärbayjan dilinin Naxčïvan grupu dialekt vä šiväläri, Baku, 1962.

H. Ritter, “Azerbaidschanische Texte zur nordpersischen Volkskunde,” Der Islam 11, 1921, pp. 181-212; 25, 1939, pp. 234-68.

R. Ä. Rüstämov, Guba dialekti, Baku, 1951.

Idem and M. Š. Širäliev, Azärbayjan dilinin qärb grupu dialekt vä šiväläri 1, Baku, 1967.

M. Š. Širäliev, “K voprosu ob izuchenii i klassifikatsii azerbaĭdzhanskikh dialektov,” Izvestiya azerbaĭdzhanskogo filiala Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1941, 4.

Idem, “Izuchenie dialektov azerbaĭdzhanskogo yazyka,” Izvestiya Akademii Nauk SSSR 4, 1947, pp. 431-36.

Idem, Azärbayjan dialektologiyasï, 2 pts., Baku, 1942-43. Idem, Bakï dialekti, Baku, 2nd ed., 1957.

Idem, Azärbayjan dilinin Naxčïvan grupu dialekt vä šiyäläri, Baku, 1962.

Idem, Azärbayjan dialektologi yasïnïn äsaslarï, Baku, 1962 (indispensable description of Azeri dialects).

H. S. Szapszal, Próby literatury ludowej Turków Azerbajdżanu perskiego, Krakow, 1935.

S. Taliphanbeyli, “Karabağ-Istanbul şivelerinin savtiyet cihetinden mukayesesi,” Azerbaycan yurt bilgisi 2, 1933, pp. 23-41, 65-71, 212-19, 380-85.

6. Manuals: Fr. W. Householder, with M. Lotfi, Basic Course in Azerbaijani, Bloomington and The Hague, 1965 (excellent practical introduction).

C. G. Simpson, The Turkish Language of Soviet Azerbaijan, Oxford, 1957.

7. Important older works: K. Foy, “Azerbajğanische Studien mit einer Charakteristik des Südtürkischen,” Mitteilungen des Seminars für Orientalische Sprachen zu Berlin, Westasiatische Studien 6, 1903, pp. 126-93; 7, 1904, pp. 197-265.

A. Kazembek, Obshchaya grammatika turetsko-tatarskago yazyka, 2nd ed., Kazan’, 1846.

L. Lazarev, Turetsko-tatarsko-russkiĭ slovar’, s prilozheniem kratkoĭ grammatiki, Moscow, 1846.

D. F. M. Maggio, Syntagma linguarum orientalium, quae in Georgiae regionibus audiuntur, liber secundus, complectens Arabum et Turcarum orthographiam et turcicae linguae institutiones, Rome, 1643 (2nd ed., 1670).

8. Selected studies in Persian: anonymous, Ḵᵛodāmūz-e torkī yā mokālamāt-e rūz-marra-ye zabān-e torkī, Tabrīz, 1339 Š./1960.

M. A. Farzāna, Mabānī-e dastūr-e zabān-e Āḏarbāyjān, Tabrīz, 1344 Š./1965.

S. Jāvīd, Ḵᵛodāmūz-e zabān-e āḏarbāyjānī wa fārsī, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964.

ʿA. Kārang, Dastūr-e zabān-e konūnī-e Āḏarbāyjān, Tabrīz, 1340 Š./1961.

M. Moḡdam, Gūyešhā-ye Vafs o Āštīān, Tehran, 1318 Š./1949. M. Peyfūn, Farhang-e āḏarbāyjānī-fārsī, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982 (based on Soviet Azeri material).

M. R. Šeʿār, Baḥṯ-ī dar bāra-ye zabān-e Āḏarbāyjān, Tabrīz, 1346 Š./1967.

M. T. Z. (sic), Iran türkčäsinin ṣärfi, n.p., 1355 Š./1976.

See also D. Sinor, Introduction à l’étude de l’Eurasie Centrale, Wiesbaden, 1963, pp. 62-64.

J. Benzing, Einführung in das Studium der altaischen Philologie und der Turkologie, Wiesbaden, 1953, pp. 90-93.

(G. Doerfer)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 18, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 3, pp. 245-248