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Language in Azerbaijan
24 September 2013
Language in Azerbaijan

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Language in Azerbaijan
By Karen Politis Virk
Language Connections

 

Azerbaijani Language:  Azerbaijani, among the worlds most spoken one hundred languages with over 23 million native speakers, is a language spoken mainly in Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Georgia (Kvemo Kartli region), Armenia, Turkey, Syria and Russia (southern Dagestan).  A Turkic language, and the official language of Azerbaijan, it is mutually intelligible with modern Turkish. Grammar, and to a large extent vocabulary, is a closely related to the Turkish language. However, political divisions resulted in varying influences.

Language Roots: The Azerbaijani language is considered part of the Western Turkic language family together with Anatolian Turkish (spoken in Turkey). Dialectical differences between Azerbaijani and Anatolian Turkish have been attributed to Mongolian and Turkic influences. Spoken Azerbaijani varies, by geographic region. During the Soviet Era, Russian loan words as well as grammar entered the Azerbaijani language in the Russian-controlled part of Azerbaijan. Similarly, Iranian Azerbaijani has borrowed many words from Farsi (Persian). The resulting variants remain mutually intelligible, however.

Dialects: There are two main dialects of Azerbaijani: Northern Azerbaijani and Southern Azerbaijani. Northern Azerbaijani is spoken primarily in Azerbaijan, and is a minority language in Armenia, Georgia and Russian Dagestan. Southern Azerbaijani is primarily spoken in Iran, but also has a significant number of speakers in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria and a small number in Afghanistan. The Northern Azerbaijani language is also known as Azeri, Azari, Azeri Turkish, or Azerbaijani Turkish. 

Script: The Arabic script, first introduced in the 7th century, was used to write Azerbaijani until the 1920s. Three different versions of the Arabic script were in existence during this period: a 28-letter Arabic script, a 32-letter Perso-Arabic script and a 33-letter Turkic Arabic script.

Until 1922, the Persian-Arabic alphabet was used amongst all Azerbaijani speakers. In 1922, a Latin alphabet was created by the New Turkish Alphabet Committee a group of intellectuals in Baku.  By 1929, the Uniform Turkic Alphabet replaced the varieties of the Arabic script in use at the time. In Iran the Azerbaijani language has always been written using a version of the Arabic script. 

In 1939, the Soviet government made an effort to separate Azerbaijan culturally from Turkey; and thus replaced the Latin alphabet with the Cyrillic alphabet. When Azerbaijan gained its independence from the former Soviet Union, one of the first laws passed in the new Parliament was the adoption of the new Latin alphabet. As a result, since 1991 and the end of the Soviet Era, the official script of Azerbaijani language has been Latin alphabet.

Today Azerbaijani is written using the Latin alphabet in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey, and in the Persian-Arabic alphabet in Iran and Iraq.

 Perso-Arabic  Cyrillic

 Latin

 -1922
 19391958
1922-1939; 1991present

Russian Speakers in Azerbaijan: In addition to Azerbaijani, Russian is the first language of a large number of predominantly ethnic Russians, Russified Azeris, Ukrainians, Jews, and other minorities living in Azerbaijan. Russian plays a significant role in both education and communication in Azerbaijan today. Despite the decline of native Russian speakers following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian language continues to be prominent especially in the nations cities where there are several Russian language newspapers and TV channels.

Russian was first introduced to Azerbaijan during the nineteenth century after Russia conquered the area. By 1830, there were schools with Russian as the language of instruction in several cities. Education solely in Russian was unpopular among ethnic Azeris. This led to the establishment of the capitol citys first Russian-Azeri school in 1887, which provided instruction not only in both Russian and Azeri, but also reinforced the cultural values and traditions of the Muslim population living in this region of Azerbaijan.

Eventually 240 schools of this type were established prior to the "Sovietization" of Azerbaijan. In 1918, during Azerbaijan's independence, the government declared Azerbaijani the official language. However, the use of Russian in government documents was still permitted during the period of transition.

During the Soviet Era, the large Russian population residing in Baku, the quality of education in Russian as well as other factors contributed to the continued Russification of Baku's population. This resulted in an urban subculture that united many groups living in Baku including Russians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, and Jews who were Russian speakers. The widespread use of Russian resulted in a growing group of Russian-speaking Azeris , i.e. Azerbaijani-born ethnic Azeris who considered Russian their native language.

In 1970, 57,500 Azeris identified Russian as their native language. Outside Baku, however, the use of Russian decreased significantly with the end of the Soviet Era. Despite this, the Russian language continues to be prominent in Baku. As was the case during the Soviet rule, the use of the Russian language in Azerbaijan remains mostly among the intellectual and wealthy in the community.

Other Minority Languages: There are several minority languages spoken by various immigrant groups and ethnic minorities living in Azerbaijan. Ethnic groups include Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Belarusian, Dargwa, Erzya, Georgian, Iranian Persian, Karachay-Balkar, Lak, Lishán Didán, Lomavren, Ossetic, Polish, Pontic, Romanian, Tabassaran, Tatar, Turkish, and Ukrainian.

Minority languages include Akhvakh, Armenian, Avar, Budukh, Judeo-Tat, Khalaj, Khinalugh, Kryts, Kurdish, Lezgi, Rutul, Talysh, Tat, Tsakhur, and Udi. While many of these are living languages, at least ten of them are endangered languages.

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