Monday, August 5, 2013

Language Profile: Azerbaijani

This week we're heading to the Caucasus region, the border between Europe and Asia which is home to the country of Azerbaijan. It should come as no surprise that the official language of this country is Azerbaijani, also known as Azeri. In Russia, it is an official regional language of the Republic of Dagestan. The language is also spoken in Turkey, Georgia, and northwestern Iran. 

The Azerbaijani village of Buduq.
Azerbaijani is a Turkic language, and is quite closely related to Turkish with some mutual intelligibility between speakers. Throughout history, it has been influenced both lexically and syntactically by Persian and Arabic.

Between the 16th and 20th centuries, Azerbaijani was used as a lingua franca in the South Caucasus region. Despite its widespread use in the area, it did not gain official language status in Azerbaijan until 1956.

The language has two main varieties, known as Northern Azerbaijani and Southern Azerbaijani. Within each variety there exist many other regional dialects as well. The two varieties are sometimes considered to be two distinct languages, but there is a good degree of mutual intelligibility between them. Most of their differences are phonological or lexical. 

It was once written using a Perso-Arabic script, though it was converted into Cyrillic script when the region was under Soviet rule. After Azerbaijan gained its independence, it was finally decided that the language would convert to a Latin-based script, which it uses to this day.