Azeri / Azerbaijani

Submitted by Kurtulus Öztopcu

Azerbaijani is spoken by about 8 million people in the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as by about 25 million in Iran, Iraq and Turkey. Azerbaijani is one of the Western (Oghuz) Turkic languages. Turkish and Turkmen are the closest relatives of the Azerbaijani language.

After the foundation of the independent state of Azerbaijan, a modified Latin script has been in use to write Azerbaijani (1992). This alphabet, which was largely based on the Modern Turkish alphabet, contains 32 letters, 9 of which are vowels. Before that, three different alphabets were used: the Arabic alphabet (from the eleventh century to 1929), a modified Latin script (from 1929 to 1940) and a modified Cyrillic script (from 1940 to 1992). In Iran, the Arabic script is still the only alphabet used to write Azerbaijani.

Azerbaijani has the following linguistic features in common with all other Turkic languages:

  • It is an agglutinating language, with exclusive suffixation.
  • Absence of gender and definite and indefinite articles.
  • Instead of prepositions, it uses postpositions.
  • Nouns are inflected for case, such as dative, genitive, ablative, and so on.
  • Modifiers precede the modified head nouns.
  • It is a subject-object-verb language.
  • Instead of a relative clause structure, various participles and gerunds are used.
  • Structures, such as passive, causative, reflexive, reciprocal, abilitative, necessitative, conditional and negative are formed by suffixes that are added to the verb.
  • Absence of duality in nouns and verbal forms.
  • It has a vowel harmony.

Literary Azerbaijani did not separate itself from the literary language used in Anatolia before or during the Ottoman Empire. However, Azerbaijani poets and writers introduced into this language certain grammatical forms and structures which can clearly be identified as Azerbaijani. The earliest examples of this Azerbaijani literature date from the end of the thirteenth century. Some of the important writers and poets of the Azerbaijani literature are as follows: Hesenoghlu, Qazi Burhaneddin, and Nesimi in the fourteenth century; Shah Ismayil Xetai in the fifteenth century; Fuzuli in the sixteenth century; Molla Penah Vaqif in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, Azerbaijani literature began to feel the influence of Western literatures, and modern schools and institutions were opened. Playright and reformist Mirze Feteli Axundov was an important literary figure in the nineteenth century. The first Azerbaijani newspaper Ekinchi was published in 1875 by Hesen bey Zerdabi. Sabir, Celil Memmedquluzade, Semed Vurghun, Huseyn Cavid, and Bextiyar Vahabzade are considered the important writers in the twentieth century. Shehriyar is the most well-known Azerbaijani poet among those who lived and wrote in Iran. It can confidently be said the Azerbaijani literary language was firmly established by the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century.

Azerbaijani, because of its closeness to Turkish from a linguistic point of view, did not get the attention it deserves at U.S. universities. University of Indiana-Bloomington and periodically UCLA and the University of Texas-Austin are offering Azerbaijani as part of their summer language programs. It is currently offered as part of the regular academic program only at UCLA.

There is a small but growing number of language learning resources for Azerbaijani. Many of the existing linguistic and literary materials to teach/learn Azerbaijani can be found at the following web address: There are also some important web sites offering very useful information on the country, language, and culture of Azerbaijan.

Language learning resources:


Öztopcu, Kurtuluş: Elementary Azerbaijani. Turk Dilleri Arastirmalari Dizisi: 33, Istanbul: 2000. (2nd printing: 2003)

Musayev, O.I.: Azerbaijani-English Dictionary. Azerbaijan State Institute of Languages, Baku: 1998.
Musayev, O.I.: English- Azerbaijani Dictionary. Qismet Printing House, Baku: 2003.

Oztopcu, Kurtulus: Colloquial Azerbaijani: A Mini Course. AudioForum, Guilford, Connecticut: 1994.
Qarayev, Abdulla: Azerbaijan-English English-Azerbaijan Phrase and Conversational Book. Maarif Publishing House, Baku:2002.

Web sites: