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[1]
Native speakers
3–4 million (2009)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2zza
ISO 639-3zza – inclusive code
Individual codes:
kiu – Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza)
diq – Dimli (Southern Zaza)
Iranian tongues de.svg
The position of Zazaki among Iranian languages[4]
Lang Status 80-VU.svg
Zaza is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO
Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Zaza or Zazaki[5] (Zazaki: Zazakî, Kirmanckî, Kirdkî, Dimilkî)[a][6] is an Northwestern Iranian language spoken primarily in eastern Turkey by the Zazas, who are commonly considered as Kurds, and in many cases identify as such.[7][8][9] 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[10] and many Zazas call their language Dimlî.[11]

According to Ethnologue, Zaza is spoken by around three to four million people.[1] Nevins, however, puts the number of Zaza speakers between two and three million.[12]

Relations to other languages[edit]

In terms of grammar, genetics, linguistics and vocabulary Zazaki is closely related to Talysh, Old Azeri, Tati, Sangsari, Semnani, Mazandarani and Gilaki languages spoken on the shores of the Caspian Sea and central Iran.[13][14] Ludwig Paul demonstrated that Zazaki is closely related to Old Azeri, Talysh and Parthian (an extinct northwestern Iranian language), shares many similarities with these languages[15] and does not have universal Kurdish vowel changes.[16] According to the head of the Paris Kurdish Institute, linguist Prof. Dr. Joyce Blau, Zazaki is a separate language and the history of Zazaki is older than that of Kurdish.[17][18] Zaza is linguistically more closely related to Gorani, Gilaki, Talysh, Tati, Mazandarani and the Semnani language.[13] Due to centuries of interaction, Kurmanji has had a impact on the language, which have blurred the boundaries between the two languages.[19] This and the fact that Zaza speakers are identified as ethnic Kurds by some scholars,[20][21] has encouraged some linguists to classify the language as a Kurdish dialect.[22][23]


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 a large part of the Republican period, no text was published in Zaza until 1963. That year saw the publication of two short texts by the Kurdish newspaper Roja Newe, but the newspaper was banned and no further publication in Zaza took place until 1976, when periodicals published a 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 next 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.[24]

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.[25]

In 2009, Zaza was classified as a vulnerable language by UNESCO.[26]

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.[27] TRT Kurdî also broadcast in the language.[28] Some TV channels which broadcast in Zaza were closed after the 2016 coup d'état attempt.[29]


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 other Northwestern Iranian languages:

  • Similar personal pronouns and use of these[31]
  • Enclitic use of the letter "u"[31]
  • Very similar ergative structure[32]
  • Masculine and feminine ezafe system[33]
  • 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 such 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.[34]


Pronoun Zaza Talysh [35] Tati[36][37] Semnani[38] Sangsari[39] Ossetian[40] Persian English
1th sing. ez āz āz ā ā æz (az) man I
2th te/ti ti ti ti dɨ (di) to you
3th o/ey ay u un no wuiy ū, ān he
3th a/ay
una na
1th plur. ma ama amā hamā max we
2th şıma shēma/shūma shūmā shūmā shūmā shimax shomā you
3th. ê, i, ina, ino ayēn ē e ey idon/widon ēnan, ishān, inhā they

As with a number of other Iranian languages like Talysh,[41] Tati,[14][42] central Iranian languages and dialects like Semnani, Kahangi, Vafsi,[43] Balochi[44] and Kurmanji, 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.[45]

Grammatical gender[edit]

Among all Western Iranian languages Zaza, Semnani,[46][47][48] Sangsari,[49] Tati,[50][51] central Iranian dialects like Cālī, Fārzāndī, Delījanī, Jowšaqanī, Abyāne'i[52] 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.[53]



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.[54][55]


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.[56]

Zaza alphabet
Upper case A B C Ç D E Ê F G Ğ H I[A] Î[A] 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 [A] î [A] 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 ɨ i ʒ k l m n o p q r, ɾ s ʃ t ʊ u v w x j z
  1. ^ a b c d Zaza Wikipedia uses ⟨I/ı⟩ and ⟨İ/i⟩ instead of both I's in the table.



  1. ^ a b c d e Zaza at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
    Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza) at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
    Dimli (Southern Zaza) at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
  2. ^ "Multitree | The LINGUIST List". Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  3. ^ "Glottolog 4.5 - Zaza". Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  4. ^ "worldhistory". Retrieved 20 February 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
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  6. ^ Lezgîn, Roşan (26 August 2009). "Kirmanckî, Kirdkî, Dimilkî, Zazakî". (in Zazaki). Archived from the original on 26 January 2021. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
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  11. ^ Asatrian, Garnik (1995). "DIMLĪ". Encyclopedia Iranica. VI. Archived from the original on 29 April 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
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  18. ^ "Zazaca Kürtçe'den çok daha eski bir dil". Retrieved 20 May 2023.
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  23. ^ T.C. Millî Eğitim Bakanlığı, Talim Ve Terbiye Kurulu Başkanlığı (2012). Ortaokul Ve İmam Hatip Ortaokulu Yaşayan Diller Ve Lehçeler Dersi (Kürtçe; 5. Sınıf) Öğretim Programı (PDF) (in Turkish). Ankara. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 October 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."
  24. ^ Malmîsanij (2021), pp. 675–676.
  25. ^ Malmîsanij (2021), pp. 676–677.
  26. ^ Malmîsanij (2021), p. 681.
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  1. ^ These exact names also appear in Northern Kurdish.


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]