Zazaki language

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Native to Turkey
Region Main in Tunceli, Bingol, Erzincan, Sivas, Elazig, Erzurum, Malatya Gümüşhane Province, Şanlıurfa Province, and Adıyaman Province; diasporic in Mutki, Sarız, Aksaray, and Taraz
Ethnicity Zaza
Native speakers
1.6 million  (1998)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2 zza
ISO 639-3 zzainclusive code
Individual codes:
kiu – Kirmanjki (Northern Zazaki)
diq – Dimli (Southern Zazaki)
Glottolog zaza1246[2]
Linguasphere 58-AAA-ba
The regions where Zazaki is spoken in Turkey, with the three main dialect areas: Dersim, Palu-Bingöl, and Siverek (and diasporic in Kars, Sarız, Aksaray, and Taraz).

Zazaki, also called Zaza, Kirmanjki, Kirdki and Dimli, is an Indo-European language spoken primarily in eastern Turkey by the Zaza people. The language is a part of the northwestern group of the Iranian section of the Indo-European family, and belongs to the Zaza-Gorani and Caspian dialect group.[3] Zazaki shares many features, structures, and vocabulary with Gorani. Zazaki also has some similarities with Talyshi and other Caspian languages.[4] According to Ethnologue (which cites [Paul 1998][4]), the number of speakers is between 1.5 and 2.5 million (including all dialects). According to Nevins, the number of Zazaki speakers is between 2 and 4 million.[5]


Family tree of Iranian languages

Zazaki is an Iranian language in the Indo-European family. From the point of view of the spoken language, its closest relatives are Mazandarani, Hewrami, Gilaki and other Caspian languages. However, the classification of Zazaki has been an issue of political discussion. It is sometimes classified as a subdialect of the Kurdish.[6][7][8][9] The majority of Zazaki-speakers in Turkey, North Kurdistan identify themselves as ethnic Kurds.[10][11]

The US State Department "Background Note" lists the Zazaki language as one of the major languages of Turkey, along with Turkish (official), Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, and Arabic.[12] Linguists connect the word Dimli with the Daylamites in the Alborz Mountains near the shores of the Caspian Sea in Iran and believe that the Zaza have immigrated from Deylaman towards the west. Zazaki shows many connections to the Iranian languages of the Caspian region, especially the Gilaki language.

The Zazaki language shows similarities with (Hewrami or Gorani), Shabaki and Bajelani. The Gorani, Bajelani, and Shabaki languages are spoken around the Iran-Iraq border; however, it is believed that speakers of these languages also migrated from Northern Iran to their present homelands. These languages are sometimes classified together in the Zaza-Gorani language group.

Phonological correspondences of Zazaki and other Iranian languages[edit]

PIE. Old Persian Pahlavi Persian Avestan Parthian Zazaki Kurdish dialects English
*ḱ θ h h s s s s -
hīg hi masya syāg sa sî fish
*ǵ(h) d d d z z z z -
ǵno- dān- dān- dān- zān- zān- zān- zān- know
*kʷ č z z č ž j, ž, z ž -
*leuk- raučah z ruz raočah ž roje, rož day
*gʷ j z z j ž j ž -
zan zan jaini žan jani žin woman
*d(h)w- duv- d- d- dv- b- b- d- -
*d(h)war- d u var- dar dar d var- bar -bar darî door
*sw- (h)uv- xw- x- xv- wx- w- xw- -
*s wesor
x wāhar xāhar xvahar w xar wā x weh sister
*-rd(h),*-ld(h) -rd -l -l -rd -r(δ) -r̄ uncertain -
*ḱered θar(a)d- sal l sarəδ-
sar ri l year
*-rǵ(h),*-lǵ(h) -rd -l -l -rz -rz -rz uncertain -
hil- hel- harəz- hir z- ar z- (change of meaning) l- let
*-m -m -m -m -m -m -m -v/w -
nom man- m m man- m me v, nāw name
*w- v- w- b- v- w- v- b- -
wīst bist vīsiti- wīst vist bîst twenty


There are three main Zaza dialects:

Its sub-dialects are:

  • West-Dersim[14]
  • East-Dersim
  • Varto
  • Border dialects like Sarız, Koçgiri (Giniyan-idiom)

Its sub-dialects are:

Its sub-dialects are:

  • Siverek
  • Cermik, Gerger
  • Border dialects like Mutki and Aksaray

Literature and broadcast programs[edit]

The first written statements in Zazaki were compiled by the linguist Peter Lerch in 1850. Two other important documents are the religious writings of Ehmedê Xasi of 1899,[16] and of Usman Efendiyo Babıc (published in Damascus in 1933 by Celadet Bedir Khan[17]); both of these works were written in the Arabic script.

The use of the Latin script to write Zazaki became popular only in the diaspora in Sweden, France and Germany at the beginning of the 1980s. This was followed by the publication of magazines and books in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul. The efforts of Zaza intellectuals to advance the comprehensibility of their native language by using that alphabet helped the number of publications in Zaza multiply. This rediscovery of the native culture by Zaza intellectuals not only caused a renaissance of Zaza language and culture but it also triggered feelings among younger generations of Zazas (who, however, rarely speak Zazaki as a mother tongue) in favor of this modern Western use of Zazaki, rekindling their interest in their ancestral language.

The diaspora has also generated a limited amount of Zazaki language broadcasting. Moreover, after restrictions were removed on local languages in Turkey during their move toward an eventual accession to the European Union, Turkish state-owned TRT television launched a Zazaki TV program and a radio program on Fridays.


As with a number of other Indo-Iranian languages like Kurmanji and Sorani, Zazaki features split ergativity in its morphology, demonstrating ergative marking in past and perfective contexts, and nominative-accusative alignment otherwise. Syntactically it is nominative-accusative.[18]

Grammatical gender[edit]

Among all Western Iranian languages only Zazaki and Kurmanji distinguish between masculine and feminine grammatical gender. Each noun belongs to one of those two genders. In order to correctly decline any noun and any modifier or other type of word affecting that noun, one must identify whether the noun is feminine or masculine. This distinguishes Zazaki from many other Western Iranian languages that have lost this feature over time.

For example, the masculine preterite participle of the verb kerdene ("to make" or "to do") is kerde; the feminine preterite-participle is kerdiye. Both have the sense of the English "made" or "done". The grammatical gender of the preterite-participle would be determined by the grammatical gender of the noun representing the thing that was made or done.

The linguistic notion of grammatical gender is distinguished from the biological and social notion of gender, although they interact closely in many languages. Both grammatical and natural gender can have linguistic effects in a given language.


Words in Zazaki can be divided into five groups in respect to their origins. Most words in Zazaki are Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Iranian in origin. The fourth group consists of words that developed when Zazaki speakers divided from the Proto-Iranian language. The fifth group consists of loan words. Loan words in Zazaki are chiefly from Arabic and Persian.


The Zazaki alphabet contains 31 letters:[19]

Letter A
Name a be ce çe de e ê fe ge he i î je ke le me ne o pe qe re se şe te u û ve we xe ye ze
Pronunciation /a/ /b/ /dz/[a] /ts/[b] /d/ /ɛ/ /e/ /f/ /ɡ/ /h/ /ɪ/ /i/ /ʒ/ /k/ /l/ /m/ /n/ /o/ /p/ /q/ /r/ /s/ /ʃ/ /t/ /y/ /u/ /v/ /w/ /x/ /j/ /z/


  1. ^ /dʒ/ before /e i y/
  2. ^ /tʃ/ before /e i y/


  1. ^ Zazaki at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Kirmanjki (Northern Zazaki) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Dimli (Southern Zazaki) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Zaza". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Iranica Nevertheless, their language has preserved numerous isoglosses with the dialects of the southern Caspian region, and its place in the Caspian dialect group of Northwest Iranian is clear.
  4. ^ a b "The Position of Zazaki Among West Iranian languages by Paul Ludwig" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ "Kurdish language – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  7. ^ According to the linguist Jacques Leclerc of Canadian "Laval University of Quebec, Zazaki is a part of kurdish languages, Zaza are Kurdes, he also enclude Goura/Gorani as Kurds
  8. ^ T.C. Millî Eğitim Bakanlığı, Talim Ve Terbiye Kurulu Başkanlığı, Ortaokul Ve İmam Hatip Ortaokulu Yaşayan Diller Ve Lehçeler Dersi (Kürtçe; 5. Sınıf) Öğretim Programı, Ankara 2012, "Bu program ortaokul 5, 6, 7, ve 8. sınıflar seçmeli Kürtçe dersinin ve Kürtçe’nin iki lehçesi Kurmancca ve Zazaca için müşterek olarak hazırlanmıştır. Program metninde geçen “Kürtçe” kelimesi Kurmancca ve Zazaca lehçelerine birlikte işaret etmektedir."
  9. ^ Prof. Dr. Kadrî Yildirim & Yrd. Doç. Dr. Abdurrahman Adak & Yrd. Doç. Dr. Hayrullah Acar & Zülküf Ergün & Îbrahîm Bîngol & Ramazan Pertev, Kurdî 5 – Zazakî, Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, 2012
  10. ^[tt_news]=34423&tx_ttnews[backPid]=458&no_cache=1
  11. ^ Kaya, Mehmed S. (2011). The Zaza Kurds of Turkey: A Middle Eastern Minority in a Globalised Society. London: Tauris Academic Studies. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-84511-875-4. 
  12. ^ "The US State Department "Background Note" on Turkey". Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  13. ^ Zazaki language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  14. ^ Prothero, W. G. (1920). Armenia and Kurdistan. London: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 19. 
  15. ^ Zazaki language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  16. ^ Xasi, Ehmedê (1899) Mewlude nebi, reprinted in 1994 in Istambul OCLC 68619349, (Poems about the birth of Mohammed and songs praising Allah.)
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Alignment in Kurdish: a diachronic perspective". 2004. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  19. ^ "Zazaki alphabet". Retrieved 2013-12-24. 


External links[edit]