Azerbaijan’s rich cultural history, poetry and heritage are distinctively visible in its official language. Over 30 million Azerbaijanis speak the Azerbaijan-Turkic language, popularly known as Azeri, in the Republic of Azerbaijan, Northern Iran, parts of Northern Iraq and Eastern Turkey. Azeri, primarily a Turkish language, received its Turkish influence during the early first millennium, when Azerbaijan was largely occupied by the Turkish tribes and its political, economic and cultural influence.

Origin and evolution of Azeri

What began in the early 14th century as primarily a literary language, Azeri passed through several stages of development before becoming the communicative language that it is today. The evolution of the language can primarily be divided into two stages: the first stage dates between the 13th and 18th century and the second stage dates from the 18th century to the present. Following the Turkish migration and the introduction of Oghuz-Turkic dialects (6-11th centuries), the 14th century prompted the development of the literary and poetic influences in the language of Azerbaijan. During this period of the early stage, many words of Persian and Arabic origin were introduced into the Azerbaijani vocabulary by notable poets and writers such as Imadaddin Nasimi, Muhammad Fuzuli, and Khatai. Post-18th century, the modern stage, Azeri transitioned from a mere creative and poetic medium to a more scientific, journalistic and colloquial language. The literary Persian and Arabic words that were used extensively before the 18th century were either unified with the modern version or simplified. These changes occurred because a majority of Azerbaijani people found it difficult to understand the overuse of Persian, Arabic and Turkish influences in their language.

A few dates to remember

  • 6-11th centuries–Turkic migrations and the introduction of Oghuz Turkic dialects.
  • 14th century – Origin of classical literature in Azerbaijan using Shirvan and Tabriz dialects.
  • 16th-20th centuries – Azerbaijani served as the lingua franca throughout the Caucasus
  • 16th-18th centuries – Development of early Azerbaijani literary styles
  • 18th-20th centuries – Development of Modern Azerbaijani
  • 1828 – The Treaty of Turkmenchay split Azerbaijan between Russia and Iran, widening the split between the North and South Azerbaijani dialects.
  • 1918-1920 – Azerbaijani becomes the official language of Azerbaijan before the Soviet invasion. The government adopts the Latin alphabet in this brief period of time. In 1940, the alphabet is changed to Cyrillic.
  • 1991 – With the formation of an independent Azerbaijani republic, Azerbaijani once again becomes the official language of Azerbaijan and the alphabet is changed to Latin.

A few notable Azeri Literary Figures

  • Imadaddin Nasimi
  • Muhammed Fuzuli
  • Khatai
  • Molla Panah Vagif
  • Khurshidbanu Natavan
  • Mirza Fatali Akhundov
  • Jalil Mammadguluzadeh
  • Mirza Alakbar Sabir
  • Huseyn Javid
  • Jafar Jabbarly
  • Samad Vurghun
  • Mikayil Mushfig
  • Mammed Said Ordubadi
  • Mohammad Hossein Shahriar

Scripts and dialects

From 1826-28, the Russo-Persian war initiated the split of Azerbaijan into two empires, thus creating two types of dialects between the two empires. An easy way to distinguish between the two is that in more northern areas where Azerbaijani is spoken, a Latin alphabet is used, while in southern countries, a Perso-Arabic script in incorporated into the language. Two main differences exist between the dialects: certain words are very distinctive to each region and the regions utilize different alphabets. Though the Russian and Persian influences are visible in the dialects of North and South Azerbaijan today, people in both regions can understand each other with little difficulty.

Azerbaijani Alphabet:

Until 1918, all major poetry and literary works in Azeri were written using the Arabic alphabet. In 1991, the Azerbaijani government adopted the Roman alphabet to replace the existing Cyrillic alphabet. This marked the fourth time this century it had been changed. Latin replaced Arabic in 1928, followed by Stalin’s imposition of Cyrillic in 1938, which remained until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Arabic Alphabet:

During the short period of 1918-1920 when Republic of Azerbaijan was established, the script was changed to Latin. Aforementioned, the alphabet was changed to Cyrillic under Soviet rule before converting back to Latin after the fall of Soviet Union and the reassertion of Azerbaijani independence.

Modern Alphabet:

Azerbaijani Phrases:

Travelling to Azerbaijan? Here are a few words that are sure to come in handy and please the locals.

Xoş gəlmişsiniz! (Khosh Gelmishsiniz)                        Welcome!
Haralısan?                                                                            Where are you from?
Sabahınız xeyir (sabahiniz khayir)                               Good Morning
Yaxşı günlər! (yakhshi joonlar)                                      Have a nice day!
Ad günün mübarək! (ad joonoon moobarak)              Happy Birthday!