Zaza language

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Zazakî / Kirmanckî / Kirdkî / Dimilkî
Native toTurkey
RegionProvinces of Sivas, Tunceli, Bingöl, Erzurum, Erzincan, Elazığ, Muş, Malatya,[1] Adıyaman and Diyarbakır[2]
Native speakers
1.334 million[3]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2zza
ISO 639-3zza – inclusive code
Individual codes:
kiu – Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza)
diq – Dimli (Southern Zaza)
Kurdish languages map.svg
Geographic distribution of the Kurdish languages and Zaza–Gorani languages

Zaza (Zazaki: Zazakî / Kirmanckî / Kirdkî / Dimilkî)[4] is an Indo-European language spoken primarily in eastern Turkey by the Zazas. The language is a part of the Zaza–Gorani language group of the northwestern group of the Iranian branch. The glossonym Zaza originated as a pejorative[5] and many Zazas call their language Dimlî.[6]

While Zaza is linguistically closer related to Gorani, Gilaki, Talysh, Tati, Mazandarani and the Semnani language,[7] Kurdish has had a profound impact on the language due to centuries of interaction, which have blurred the boundaries between the two languages.[8] This and the fact that a majority of Zaza speakers identify themselves as ethnic Kurds,[9][10] have encouraged linguists to classify the language as a Kurdish dialect.[11][12][13]

According to Ethnologue (which cites [Paul 1998]),[14] 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.[15]


Writing in Zaza is a recent phenomenon. The first literary work in Zaza is Mewlîdu'n-Nebîyyî'l-Qureyşîyyî by Ehmedê Xasi in 1899, followed by the work Mawlûd by Osman Efendîyo Babij in 1903. As the Kurdish language was banned in Turkey during large part of the Republican period, no Zaza texts were published until 1963. That year saw the publication of two short texts by the Kurdish newspaper Roja Newe, but the newspaper was banned and no publication in Zaza took place until 1976, when periodicals published few Zaza texts. Modern Zaza literature appeared for the first time in the journal Tîrêj in 1979 but the journal had to close as a result of the 1980 coup d'état. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, most Zaza literature was published in Germany, France and especially Sweden until the ban on the Kurdish language was lifted in Turkey in 1991. This meant that newspapers and journals began publishing in Zaza again. The only book to be published in Zaza after Mawlûd in 1903 was in 1977, and two more books were published in 1981 and 1986. From 1987 to 1990, five books were published in Zaza. The publication of books in Zaza increased after the ban on the Kurdish language was lifted and a total of 43 books were published from 1991 to 2000. As of 2018, at least 332 books have been published in Zaza.[16]

Due to the above-mentioned obstacles, the standardization of Zaza could not have taken place and authors chose to write in their local or regional Zaza variety. In 1996, however, a group of Zaza-speaking authors gathered in Stockholm and established a common alphabet and orthographic rules which they published. Some authors nonetheless do not abide by these rules as they do not apply the orthographic rules in their oeuvres.[17]

In 2009, Zaza was classified as a vulnerable language by UNESCO.[18]

The institution of Higher Education of Turkey approved the opening of the Zaza Language and Literature Department in Munzur University in 2011 and began accepting students in 2012 for the department. In the following year, Bingöl University established the same department.[19] TRT Kurdî also broadcast in the language.[20] Some TV channels which broadcast in Zaza were closed after the 2016 coup d'état attempt.[21]


There are two main Zaza dialects:

Its subdialects are:

Its subdialects are:

  • Sivereki, Kori, Hazzu, Motki, Dumbuli, Eastern/Central Zazaki, Dersimki.

Zaza shows many similarities with Kurmanji Kurdish:

  • Similar personal pronouns and use of these[25]
  • Enclitic use of the letter "u"[25]
  • Very similar ergative structure[26]
  • Masculine and feminine ezafe system[27]
  • Both languages have nominative and oblique cases that differs by masculine -î and feminine -ê
  • Both languages have forgotten possessive enclitics, while it exists in other languages as Persian, Sorani, Gorani, Hewrami or Shabaki
  • Both languages distinguish between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops
  • Similar vowel phonemes

Ludwig Paul divides Zaza into three main dialects. In addition, there are transitions and edge accents that have a special position and cannot be fully included in any dialect group.[28]


As with a number of other Indo-Iranian languages like the Kurdish languages, 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.[29]

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.[30]



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].


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

/n/ becomes a velar /ŋ/ when following a velar consonant.[31][32]


The Zaza alphabet is an extension of the Latin alphabet used for writing the Zaza language, consisting of 32 letters, six of which (ç, ğ, î, û, ş, and ê) have been modified from their Latin originals for the phonetic requirements of the language.[33]

Zaza alphabet
Upper case A B C Ç D E Ê F G Ğ H I * Î * J K L M N O P Q R S Ş T U Û V W X Y Z
Lower case a b c ç d e ê f g ğ h i * î * j k l m n o p q r s ş t u û v w x y z
IPA phonemes a b d͡ʒ t͡ʃ d ɛ e f g ɣ h ɪ i ʒ k l m n o p q r, ɾ s


t y u v w x j z

* Zaza Wikipedia uses ⟨I/ı⟩ and ⟨İ/i⟩ instead of both I's in the table.


  1. ^ "Ethnologue - Zazaki, Northern". Ethnologue. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Ethnologue - Zazaki, Southern". Ethnologue. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  3. ^ Zaza at Ethnologue (23rd ed., 2020)
    Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza) at Ethnologue (23rd ed., 2020)
    Dimli (Southern Zaza) at Ethnologue (23rd ed., 2020)
  4. ^ Lezgîn, Roşan (26 August 2009). "Kirmanckî, Kirdkî, Dimilkî, Zazakî". (in Zazaki). Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  5. ^ Arakelova, Victoria (1999). "The Zaza People as a New Ethno-Political Factor in the Region". Iran & the Caucasus. 3/4: 397–408. doi:10.1163/157338499X00335. JSTOR 4030804.
  6. ^ Asatrian, Garnik (1995). "DIMLĪ". Encyclopedia Iranica. VI.
  7. ^ Ehsan Yar-Shater (1990). Iranica varia. University of Michigan: Brill. p. 267. ISBN 9789068312263.
  8. ^ Jane Garry, Carl R. Galvez Rubino (2001). acts about the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present. p. 398. ISBN 9780824209704.
  9. ^ "Is Ankara Promoting Zaza Nationalism to Divide the Kurds?". The Jamestown Foundation.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ 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."
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ "The Position of Zazaki Among West Iranian languages by Paul Ludwig" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Malmîsanij (2021), pp. 675–676.
  17. ^ Malmîsanij (2021), pp. 676–677.
  18. ^ Malmîsanij (2021), p. 681.
  19. ^ Bingöl ve Munzur Üniversitesinde Açılan Zaza Dili ve Edebiyatı Bölümleri ve Bu Bölümlerin Üniversitelerine Katkıları 164 Journal of Urban Academy | Volume: 11 Issue: 1
  20. ^ Tabak, Husrev (2016-11-30). The Kosovar Turks and Post-Kemalist Turkey: Foreign Policy, Socialization and Resistance. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 35. ISBN 9781786730558.
  21. ^ Malmîsanij (2021), p. 679.
  22. ^ kiu
  23. ^ Prothero, W. G. (1920). Armenia and Kurdistan. London: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 19.
  24. ^ diq
  25. ^ a b Lars Johanson, Christiane Bulut (2006). Turkic-Iranian Contact Areas: Historical and Linguistic Aspects. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 293. ISBN 3447052767.
  26. ^ Ludwig Windfuhr, Gernot (2012), The Iranian Languages, Routledge, p. 32, ISBN 978-0-7007-1131-4
  27. ^ Arsalan Kahnemuyipour (7 October 2016). "The Ezafe Construction: Persian and Beyond" (PDF). The Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region. Indiana University, University of Toronto. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  28. ^ Paul, Ludwig: Zazaki - Versuch einer Dialektologie. Reichert Verlag, 1998, Wiesbaden.
  29. ^ "Alignment in Kurdish: a diachronic perspective" (PDF). 2004. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  30. ^ Todd, Terry Lynn (2008). A Grammar of Dimili (also Known as Zaza) (PDF). Electronic Publication. p. 33.
  31. ^ Ludwig, Paul (2009). Zazaki. The Iranian Languages: London & New York: Routledge. pp. 545–586.
  32. ^ Todd, Terry Lynn (2008). A Grammar of Dimili also known as Zaza. Stockholm: Iremet.
  33. ^ Çeko Kocadag (2010). Ferheng Kirmanckî (zazakî - Kurmancî) - Kurmancî - Kirmanckî (zazakî). Berlin: Weşanên Komkar. ISBN 9783927213401.


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