Zaza language

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Native toAnatolia
RegionMain in Tunceli, Bingöl, Erzincan, Sivas, Elazığ, Erzurum, Malatya Gümüşhane Province, Şanlıurfa Province, and Varto, Adıyaman Province; diasporic in Mutki, Sarız, Aksaray, and Taraz
Native speakers
1.6 million (1998)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2zza
ISO 639-3zzainclusive code
Individual codes:
kiu – Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza)
diq – Dimli (Southern Zaza)
The regions where Zaza is spoken in Turkey, with the three main dialect areas: Tunceli, Palu-Bingöl, Varto and Siverek (and diasporic in Kars, Sarız, Aksaray, and Taraz).
Geographic distribution of Kurdish and Zaza–Gorani[3]

Zaza language, also called Zazaki, Kirmanjki and Dimli, is an Indo-European language spoken primarily in eastern Turkey by the Zazas. 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.[4] Zaza shares many features, structures, and vocabulary with Gorani (Hawrami), Shabaki, Bajelani and Sarli, because all these languages belongs to the subgroup Zaza-Gorani.[5][6] Zaza also has some similarities with Talyshi and other Caspian languages.[7] According to Ethnologue (which cites [Paul 1998]),[7] the number of speakers is between 1.5 and 2.5 million (including all dialects). According to Nevins, the number of Zaza speakers is between 2 and 4 million.[8]


Zaza belongs to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. From the point of view of the spoken language, its closest relatives are Gilaki, Mazandarani, Hewrami and other Caspian languages[citation needed]. The closest languages are genetically Hewrami and due to long-lasting influence Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish). However, the classification of Zaza has been an issue of political discussion. It is sometimes classified as a subdialect of Kurdish.[9][10][11][12] The majority of Zaza-speakers in Turkey identify themselves as ethnic Kurds.[13][14]

Zaza appears to be a pejorative name designating the language as a form of jibberish evident that[clarification needed] its speakers designate their language as Dimlī or Kirmānd̲j̲kī.[better source needed][15]

The US State Department "Background Note" lists the Zaza language as one of the major languages of Turkey, along with Turkish (official), Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, and Arabic.[16] Linguists[Like whom?] connect the word Dimli with the Daylamites in the Alborz Mountains near the shores of the Caspian Sea in Iran and believe that the Zazas have immigrated[when?] from Deylaman towards the west. Zaza shows many connections to the Iranian languages of the Caspian region, especially the Gilaki language.

The Zaza language shows similarities with Gorani (or Hawrami), Shabaki, Bajelani and Sarli. However, it also shows many similarities with Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish), which it does not share with Caspian languages, Hewrami or other Kurdish languages:

  • Similar personal pronouns
  • Very similar ergative structure
  • Masculine and feminine ezafe system
  • Both languages have nominative and oblique cases that differs by masculine -î and feminine -ê
  • Both languages have forgotten possesive enclitics, while it exists in other languages as Persian, Sorani, Gorani, Hewrami or Shabaki.
  • Both languages distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops.
  • Similar vowel phonology

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.[citation needed][when?] These languages are classified together in the Zaza–Gorani language group.


There are three main Zaza dialects:

Its subdialects are:

  • West-Dersim[18]
  • East-Dersim
  • Varto
  • Border dialects like Sarız, Koçgiri (Giniyan-idiom)

Its subdialects are:

Its subdialects are:

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

Literature and broadcast programs[edit]

The first written statements in Zaza were compiled by the linguist Peter Lerch in 1850. Two other important documents are the religious writings of Ehmedê Xasî of 1899,[20] and of Osman Efendîyo Babij[21] (published in Damascus in 1933 by Celadet Bedir Khan[22]); both of these works were written in the Arabic script.

The use of the Latin script to write Zaza 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 Zaza as a mother tongue) in favor of this modern Western use of Zaza, rekindling their interest in their ancestral language.

The diaspora has also generated a limited amount of Zaza 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 Kurdî television launched several Zaza programs and a radio program on certain days.


As with a number of other Indo-Iranian languages like Kurmanji and Sorani, Zaza features split ergativity in its morphology, demonstrating ergative marking in past and perfective contexts, and nominative-accusative alignment otherwise. Syntactically it is nominative-accusative.[23]

Example of ergativity in zazaki and kurmanji
English Zazaki Kurmanji
I see you Ez to vênenan Ez te dibînim
I saw you Min ti dîyî Min tu dîtî
You see me Ti min vênenê Tu min dibînî
You saw me To ez dîyan Te ez dîtim
Azad sees me Azado min vêneno Azad min dibîne
Azad saw me Azadî ez dîyan Azadî ez dîtim
I see Azad Ez Azadî vênenan Ez Azadî dibînim
I saw Azad Min Azad dîyo Min Azad dît

Grammatical gender[edit]

Among all Western Iranian languages only Zaza 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. Most nouns have inherent gender. However, some nominal roots have variable gender, i.e. they may function as either masculine or feminine nouns.[24] This distinguishes Zaza 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.



Front Central Back
Close i ɨ u
Mid e ə o
Open ɑ

A vowel /e/ may also be realized as /ɛ/ when occurring before a consonant. /ɨ/ may become lowered to an /ɪ/ when occurring before a velarized nasal /n/; [ŋ], or occurring between a palatal approximant /j/ and a palato-alveolar fricative /ʃ/. Vowels /ɑ/, /ɨ/, or /ə/ become nasalized when occurring before /n/, as /ɑ̃/, /ɨ̃/, or /ə̃/.


Bilabial Labio-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain phar.
Stop voiceless p t k q
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless t͡ʃ
voiced d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ x ħ h
voiced v z ʒ ɣ ʕ
Nasal m n (ŋ)
Rhotic tap/flap ɾ
trill r
Lateral central l
velarized ɫ
Approximant w j

/n/ becomes a velar /ŋ/ when following a velar consonant.[25][26]


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

Phonological correspondences of Zaza and other Iranian languages[edit]

PIE. Old Persian Pahlavi Persian Avestan Parthian Zaza 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


  1. ^ Zaza at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Dimli (Southern Zaza) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Zaza". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ The map shown is based on a map published by Le Monde Diplomatique in 2007.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Zaza-Gorani". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-10-28.
  6. ^ Hulst, Harry van der; Goedemans, Rob; Zanten, Ellen van (2010). A Survey of Word Accentual Patterns in the Languages of the World. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9783110196313.
  7. ^ a b "The Position of Zazaki Among West Iranian languages by Paul Ludwig" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  8. ^ Anand, Pranav; Nevins, Andrew. "Shifty Operators in Changing Contexts" (PDF). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. p. 17. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 May 2005.
  9. ^ "Kurdish language – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  10. ^ According to the linguist Jacques Leclerc of Canadian "Laval University of Quebec, Zazaki is a part of Kurdish languages, Zaza are Kurds, he also included Goura/Gorani as Kurds
  11. ^ 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."
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ "Is Ankara Promoting Zaza Nationalism to Divide the Kurds?". The Jamestown Foundation.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Paul, L. "Zaza". Retrieved 2018-02-09.
  16. ^ "The US State Department "Background Note" on Turkey". Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  17. ^ kiu
  18. ^ Prothero, W. G. (1920). Armenia and Kurdistan. London: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 19.
  19. ^ diq
  20. ^ Xasi, Ehmedê (1899) Mewludê nebi, reprinted in 1994 in Istambul OCLC 68619349, (Poems about the birth of Mohammed and songs praising Allah.)
  21. ^ Osman Efendîyo Babij kamo? (Who is the Osman Efendîyo Babij?)
  22. ^ "Kırmancca (Zazaca) Kürtçesinde Öykücülüğün Gelişimi".
  23. ^ "Alignment in Kurdish: a diachronic perspective" (PDF). 2004. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  24. ^ Todd, Terry Lynn (2008). A Grammar of Dimili (also Known as Zaza) (PDF). Electronic Publication. p. 33.
  25. ^ Ludwig, Paul (2009). Zazaki. The Iranian Languages: London & New York: Routledge. pp. 545–586.
  26. ^ Todd, Terry Lynn (2008). A Grammar of Dimili also known as Zaza. Stockholm: Iremet.


External links[edit]