General Information About Azerbaijani

Classification: Altaic?, Turkic, Southwestern (Oghuz) branch, Western group. Azerbaijanian is a member of the Turkic family. The external classification of Turkic is disputed. Many consider it one of the three divisions of the Altaic phylum (the other two are Tungusic and Mongolic). However, the parallelisms between Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic are too few, according to others, to support the unity of Altaic. Azerbaijanian belongs to the western group of the Oghuz branch along with Turkish and Gagauz.

Overview.

Azerbaijanian is the descendant of the language of the Oghuz tribes that arrived in the area of Azerbaijan during the 10th-11th centuries, after the collapse of their empire in 744 CE. They had little contact with the Turks of Turkey, and from the end of the 14th century there is evidence that Azerbaijanian had diverged from Anatolian Turkish. It is still quite closely related to Turkish though it has been strongly influenced by Persian. For several centuries and until the early 20th century, it was employed as a lingua franca in the Transcaucasic region, eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran.

Distribution.

The majority of Azerbaijanian speakers live in the independent Republic of Azerbaijan and in northwestern Iran (province of Azerbaijan). Others inhabit eastern Turkey, several countries of the Caucasus region (Armenia, Georgia, Russia bordering Azerbaijan), the Middle East (northern Iraq, Syria) and central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan).

Status.

Azerbaijanian is the official language of the Republic of Azerbaijan where it is spoken by 80% of the population, half of them monolingual. In Iran it has been banned in public for a long time but recently restrictions have eased.

Varieties.

Azerbaijanian dialects can be divided into three groups: Northern Azerbaijanian (Republic of Azerbaijan), Southern Azerbaijanian (northwest Iran) and East Anatolian dialects (Turkey). The standard language is based on the dialect of Baku (the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan).

Phonology

Vowels.

The symmetry of the Turkic vowel system is broken by the existence of an additional front vowel ə [æ] which is lower than [e]. Standard Azerbaijanian does not have long vowels.

Vowel harmony.

It governs the distribution of vowels within a word opposing front versus back vowels, and rounded versus unrounded ones.

In the first syllable of a word all vowels can occur. If it is a front vowel all the subsequent vowels must be also of the front type. If it is a back vowel all the other vowels must be also of the back type. Thus, all the vowels of a word belong to the same class (back or front) and the vowels of suffixes vary according to the class of vowels in the primary stem. However, a number of suffixes are invariable and are not affected by vowel harmony. The vowels e, ö and o don't occur in suffixes.

If the first vowel of a word is rounded then the following high vowels should be also rounded. But if the following vowel is low there is no harmony because of the phonological constraint that low non-initial vowels must be always unrounded.

Consonants.

The consonantal system is distinguished by pairs of contrastive voiceless and voiced stops, affricates and fricatives. The voiceless stops (p, t, k) are frequently aspirated. [k] and [g] have palatalized forms.

Stress.

Azerbaijanian stress is similar to that of Turkish. It has a pitch accent (increase of the tone height) that usually falls on the last syllable of the word. It has also a stress accent (greater loudness) which tends to fall on the first syllable.