Search for resources by:

Definitions of materials Definitions of levels
Exclude Websites
Advanced Search
Please note: Due to project funding termination in summer 2014, this database is no longer actively being maintained. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the listings.


Azerbaijani Citations   Azerbaijani Links   Select a New Language

Number of Speakers: 7 million

Key Dialects: Eastern, Western, Northern, Southern, Central, Eastern Anatolian, Northern Iranian, Southern Iranian

Geographical Center: Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani is spoken by approximately 7 million people in Azerbaijan as well as in the former USSR, in southern Dagestan, along the Caspian coast, and beyond the Caucasus Mountains (Grimes 1992). It is spoken in north-western Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, as well. Four million speakers of Azerbaijani are monolingual, and 98 percent of Azerbaijani's speakers regard it as their first language. Azerbaijani has a long literary history and was, at one time, promoted as the lingua franca for Turkic speakers in Central Asia. The main religion of the Azerbaijani is Islam, and like other Islamic peoples their language has been influenced to a considerable extent by Arabic, especially in terms of vocabulary, the sound system, and grammar. Azerbaijani speakers in Iran are often bilingual, resulting in a strong Persian language influence as well as Arabic language influence in those dialects (Comrie 1981).

Azerbaijani is a member of the Turkic branch of the Altaic language family. Specifically, it belongs to the Oghuz Seljuk sub-group (Akiner 1986), along with (Osmanli) Turkish and some dialects of Crimean Tatar (Campbell 1991). Other well known members of the Turkic branch include: Uzbek, Kipchak, Kyrgyz, Tatar, and Kazakh. The Turkic languages closely resemble each other and form a complex of mutually intelligible dialects. The other two branches generally presumed to make up the Altaic family are Mongolian and the Manchu Tungus languages.

There are eight Azerbaijani dialect groups: the Eastern dialect group that includes the dialect spoken in the capital city, Baku; the Western dialect group that includes a dialect called Kazakh that differs from the language Kazakh; the Central dialect group; the Northern dialect group; and the Southern dialect group. The Eastern Anatolian dialect is called Karapapak, which is not the same as the Turkic language Karakalpak. Two dialect groups are spoken in Iran: the Northern Iranian group, whose single dialect is spoken in the city of Tabriz, and the Southern dialect group.

The Arabic script was formerly used for Azerbaijani. The adoption of a Roman alphabet was proposed in the mid-nineteenth century, but the change did not take place until the 1920s under Soviet rule. The Roman script was used from 1922 to 1939. The Cyrillic alphabet, which is now used in Azerbaijan, was introduced in 1939, and was amended over the next twenty years. The alphabet now contains six non-Cyrillic characters.

Like all of the Turkic languages, Azerbaijani is agglutinative, that is, grammatical functions are indicated by adding various suffixes to fixed stems. Separate suffixes on nouns indicate both gender and number, but there is no grammatical gender. There are six nominal cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, and ablative; number is marked by a plural suffix. Verbs have voice, mood, tense, and nonfinite forms and they agree with their subjects in case and number, and, as in nouns, separate identifiable suffixes perform these functions.

Subject-Object-Verb word order in Azerbaijani is the norm, but other orders are possible under certain discourse situations. As a SOV language where objects precede the verb, Azerbaijani has postpositions rather than prepositions, and relative clauses that precede the verb.

Azerbaijani has nine vowels and twenty three consonants. It also has Turkic vowel harmony in which the vowels of suffixes must harmonize with the vowels of noun and verb stems; thus, for example, if the stem has a round vowel then the vowel of the suffix must be round, and so on.

Azerbaijani is the official language of Azerbaijan. The earliest writer in Azerbaijani wrote during the sixteenth century; Fuzuli was the author of the mystical epic Leyla ile Mecnun. Newspapers and magazines have been published in the language since the mid-nineteenth century. In 1989, 131 of 151 officially registered newspapers published in Azerbaijan were in Azerbaijani. Fifty-five out of 95 periodicals appeared in Azerbaijani in the same year. Radio Baku broadcasts in Azerbaijani, as well as Russian, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, and Baku Television broadcasts in Azerbaijani and Russian.

Literacy improved over the twentieth century, rising to almost 100 percent by 1970 under Soviet literacy programs. Azerbaijani is the main language of instruction; in 1988 three-quarters of pupils in general day school were taught in Azerbaijani. The rest were taught in Russian or in Armenian (only 2 percent). At more advanced levels of education, technical subjects are often taught in Russian, but increased use of Azerbaijani is being demanded (Europa Publications 1993).

In Iran, Azerbaijani is widely used as a lingua franca, although it has no official status in the country (Comrie 1981). In Iraq, literacy in Azerbaijani is low. Many people in Iraq read Arabic and Kurdish, but speak Azerbaijani at home and within their own communities. Turkish is the language used for written communication by Azerbaijani speakers in Turkey (Grimes 1992).

Turkic-speaking peoples first arrived in the area of present-day Azerbaijan in the seventh century although it was not until the eleventh century, with the Seljuk Orghuz invasions, that the whole region became Turkic speaking. The area was invaded by Mongols in the early part of the thirteenth century but they were unable to establish lasting rule. Until the twentieth century, the area went through periods of Persian, Turkish, and Russian rule, and at the same time, local khanates (rulers) managed to establish some degree of independence. In 1828, Azerbaijan was divided between Persia and Russia. Persia took control of the southern region, Russia the north--the river Araks marks the border between the two.

In Russian Azerbaijan, intellectuals actively developed the already rich Azerbaijani literary tradition. Literary circles dedicated to new genres appeared, vernacular theater and opera were created, and new schools opened. During the first years of Soviet rule, communist authorities promoted Azerbaijani over other languages spoken in the area, and in 1923 it became the only official school language. After World War II and at the beginning of the Soviet campaign against pan Turkism, Azerbaijani's influence began to wane.

Azerbaijani is the least russified of all the Turkic languages spoken in the former USSR, and since 1970 there has been a slow campaign to purge it of Russian words.

Akiner, S. 1986. Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union. London: KPI.

Bennigsen, A. and S. E. Wimbush. 1985. Muslims of the Soviet Empire. London: C. Hurst and Co.

Bright, W., ed. 1992. International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Vols. 1-4. New York: Oxford University Press.

Campbell, G. L. 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, Vol. 1 2. London: Routledge.

Comrie, B. 1981. The Languages of the Soviet Union. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D. 1987. The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Europa Publications. 1993. Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1993. London: Europa Publications Limited.

Grimes, B. F., ed. 1992. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas, Texas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Householder, F., and M. Lotfi. 1965. Basic Course in Azerbaijani. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Publications.

Linguistic Society of America. 1992. Directory of Programs in Linguistics in the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Linguistic Society of America.

Muller, S. H. 1964. The World's Living Languages. New York: Frederic Ungar Publishing Co.

Simpson, C. G. 1957. The Turkish Language of Soviet Azerbaijan. London: Central Asian Research Centre.

Voegelin, C. F. and F. M. Voegelin. 1977. Classification and Index of the World's Languages. New York: Elsevier North Holland.

Ruhlen, M. 1987. A Guide to the World's Languages, Vol. 1: Classification. London: Edward Arnold.

Return to the list of language portals


 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

  • You may use and modify the material for any non-commercial purpose.
  • You must credit the UCLA Language Materials Project as the source.
  • If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.

Creative Commons License