Azerbaijanis refer to their language as Türki meaning "Turkish" or Azərbaycan Türkcəsi meaning "Azerbaijani Turkish" and scholars such as Vladimir Minorsky used this definition in their works, distinguishing it from İstanbul Türkçesi ("Istanbul Turkish"), the official language of Turkey.
In 1945-1946, when the Azerbaijan People's Government was in power in Iranian Azerbaijan, the language of Iranian Azerbaijan was officially announced by the parliament as Türk dili meaning "Turkish". Varlıq, the most important literary Azerbaijani magazine published in Iran, uses the term Türki to refer to the language.
In 1992–1993, when the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party was in power in the Republic of Azerbaijan, the official language of Azerbaijan was officially announced by the parliament as Türk dili ("Turkish"). However, since 1994 the Soviet-era name of the language, Azərbaycan dili ("Azerbaijani"), has been reestablished and reflected in the constitution of Azerbaijan because of political reasons such as cutting Azerbaijan–Turkey relations. Modern literature in Azerbaijan is based on the Shirvani dialect mainly, while in Iran it is based on the Tabrizi one.
Azerbaijani evolved from the Eastern branch of Oghuz Turkic ("Western Turkic") which spread to the Caucasus, in Eastern Europe, and northern Iran, in Western Asia, during the medieval Turkic migrations. Persian and Arabic influenced the language, but Arabic words were mainly transmitted through the intermediary of literary Persian.
Turkic language of Azerbaijan gradually supplanted the Iranian languages in what is now northern Iran, and a variety of languages of the Caucasus and Iranian languages spoken in the Caucasus, particularly Udi and Old Azeri. By the beginning of the 16th century, it had become the dominant language of the region, and was a spoken language in the court of the Safavids and Afsharids.
The historical development of Azerbaijani can be divided into two major periods: early (c. 16th to 18th century) and modern (18th century to present). Early Azerbaijani differs from its descendant in that it contained a much larger number of Persian, and Arabic loanwords, phrases and syntactic elements. Early writings in Azerbaijani also demonstrate linguistic interchangeability between Oghuz and Kypchak elements in many aspects (such as pronouns, case endings, participles, etc.). As Azerbaijani gradually moved from being merely a language of epic and lyric poetry to being also a language of journalism and scientific research, its literary version has become more or less unified and simplified with the loss of many archaic Turkic elements, stilted Iranisms and Ottomanisms, and other words, expressions, and rules that failed to gain popularity among the Azerbaijani masses.
Between c. 1900 and 1930, there were several competing approaches to the unification of the national language in Azerbaijan popularized by the scholars, such as Hasan bey Zardabi and Mammad agha Shahtakhtinski. Despite major differences, they all aimed primarily at making it easy for semi-literate masses to read and understand literature. They all criticized the overuse of Persian, Arabic, and European elements in both colloquial and literary language and called for a simpler and more popular style.
The Russian conquest of Transcaucasia in the 19th century split the language community across two states; the Soviet Union promoted development of the language, but set it back considerably with two successive script changes – from the Persian to Latin and then to the Cyrillic script – while Iranian Azerbaijanis continued to use the Persian as they always had. Despite the wide use of Azerbaijani in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, it became the official language of Azerbaijan only in 1956. After independence, Azerbaijan republic decided to switch back to the Latin script.
The first examples of Azerbaijani literature date to the late 1200s following the Mongol conquest and were written in Arabic script. In the 1300s Kadi Burhan al-Din, Hesenoghlu, and Imadaddin Nasimi helped to establish Azerbaiijani as a language through poetry and other literary works. The ruler and poet Ismail I wrote under the pen name Khatā'ī (which means "sinner" in Persian) during the fifteenth century During the 16th century, the poet, writer and thinker Fuzûlî wrote mainly in Azerbaijani but also translated his poems into Arabic and Persian.
In 1875 Akinchi (Əkinçi / اکينچی ) ("The Ploughman") became the first Azerbaijani newspaper to be published in the Russian Empire. It was started by Hasan bey Zardabi, a journalist and education advocate. Starting in the 1830s several newspapers were published in Iran during the reign of the Azerbaijani speaking Qajar dynasty but it is unknown whether any of these newspapers were written in Azerbaijani.
Following the rule of the Qajar dynasty Iran was ruled by Reza Shah who banned the publication of texts in Azerbaijani. Modern literature in the Republic of Azerbaijan is based on the Shirvani dialect mainly, while in Iranian Azerbaijan it is based on the Tabrizi dialect.
Mohammad-Hossein Shahriar is an important figure in Azerbaijani poetry. His most important work is Heydar Babaya Salam and it is considered to be a pinnacle of Azerbaijani literature and gained popularity in the Turkic-speaking world. It was translated into more than 30 languages.
In the mid-19th century Azerbaijani literature was taught at schools in Baku, Ganja, Shaki, Tbilisi, and Yerevan. Since 1845, it has also been taught in the Saint Petersburg State University in Russia. Today Azerbaijani language and literature programs are offered in the United States at several universities, including: Indiana University, UCLA, University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Azerbaijani served as a lingua franca throughout most parts of Transcaucasia except the Black Sea coast, in southern Dagestan, the Eastern Anatolia Region and Iranian Azerbaijan from the 16th to the early 20th centuries, alongside the cultural, administrative, court literature, and most importantly official language of all these regions, namely Persian. From the early 16th century up to the course of the 19th century, these regions and territories were all ruled by the Iranian Safavids, Afsharids and Qajars until the cession of Transcaucasia proper and Dagestan by Qajar Iran to the Russian Empire per the 1813 Treaty of Gulistan and the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay. Per the 1829 Caucasus School Statute, Azerbaijani was to be taught in all district schools of Ganja, Shusha, Nukha (present-day Shaki), Shamakhi, Quba, Baku, Derbent, Yerevan, Nakhchivan, Akhaltsikhe, and Lankaran. Beginning in 1834, it was introduced as a language of study in Kutaisi instead of Armenian. In 1853, Azerbaijani became a compulsory language for students of all backgrounds in all of Transcaucasia with the exception of the Tiflis Governorate.
Azerbaijani is one of the Oghuz languages within the Turkic language family. Azerbaijani is classified by Ethnologue as a "macrolanguage and North Azerbaijani (spoken mainly in the Republic of Azerbaijan and Russia) and South Azerbaijani (spoken in Iran, Iraq and Syria) are each classified as separate languages with "significant differences in phonology, lexicon, morphology, syntax, and loanwords." The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) encodes North Azerbaijani and South Azerbaijani as distinct languages. Both languages also have dialects, with 21 North Azerbaijani dialects and 11 South Azerbaijani dialects.
Although there is a very high degree of mutual intelligibility between both forms of Azerbaijani, there are also morphological and phonological differences. Four varieties have been accorded ISO 639-3 codes: North Azerbaijani, South Azerbaijani, Salchuq, and Qashqai. Glottolog, based on Johanson (2006) and Pakendorf (2007), classifies North Azerbaijani with Salchuq in one branch of the Oghuz languages and South Azerbaijani with Qashqai in another.
According to the Linguasphere Observatory, all Oghuz languages form part of a single "outer language" of which North and South Azerbaijani are "inner languages".
North Azerbaijani, or North Azerbaijani, is the official language of Azerbaijan. It is closely related to the modern day Istanbul Turkish, the official language of Turkey. It is also spoken in southern Dagestan, along the Caspian coast in the southern Caucasus Mountains and in scattered regions throughout Central Asia. There are some 7.3 million first language speakers and about eight million second-language speakers.
The Shirvan dialect is the basis of standard Azerbaijani. Since 1992, it has been officially written with a Latin script in Azerbaijan, but the older Cyrillic script was still widely used in the late 1990s.
Ethnologue lists 21 North Azerbaijani dialects: Quba, Derbend, Baku, Shamakhi, Salyan, Lenkaran, Qazakh, Airym, Borcala, Terekeme, Qyzylbash, Nukha, Zaqatala (Mugaly), Qabala, Yerevan, Nakhchivan, Ordubad, Ganja, Shusha (Karabakh), Karapapak.
South Azerbaijani or Iranian Turkic, is widely spoken in Iranian Azerbaijan and, to a lesser extent, in neighboring regions of Iraq and Turkey, with smaller communities in Syria. In Iran, the Farsi word for Azerbaijani Turkic is borrowed as Torki "Turkic". In Iran, it is spoken in East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, and parts of Kurdistan, Hamadan, Markazi, Qazvin and Gilan. It is also widely spoken in Tehran and across Tehran Province, as Turks form by far the largest minority in the city and the wider province, comprising about 25% to 1/3, of its total population. The CIA World Factbook reports in 2010 the percentage of South Azerbaijani speakers at around 16 percent of the Iranian population, or approximately 13 million people worldwide, and ethnic Turks form by far the second largest ethnic group in Iran, thus making the language also the second most spoken language in the nation.
Dialects of South Azerbaijani include: Aynallu (Inallu, Inanlu), Qarapapaq, Tabrizi, Qashqai, Afshari (Afsar, Afshar), Shahsavani (Shahseven), Muqaddam, Baharlu (Kamesh), Nafar, Qaragözlü, Pishaqchi, Bayatlu, Qajar.
Historically, Azerbaijani and Turkish speakers have been able to communicate with relative ease. One example of this is when Reza Pahlavi of Iran (who spoke Azerbaijani) met with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk of Turkey (who spoke Turkish) in 1934.
Speakers of Turkish and Azerbaijani can communicate with each other but both languages have substantial variation and mutual intelligibility is enhanced when Azerbaijani speakers have been exposed to Turkish television (e.g. Turkish soap operas) or when Turkish speakers have been exposed to Azerbaijani pop music. Most Azerbaijanis, however, are exposed to Turkish television, and, therefore, they tend to be better able to understand Turkish than vice versa. There are also numerous Turkish schools in the Republic of Azerbaijan that give students more exposure to Turkish than the average Turkish-speaker has to Azerbaijani.
Here are some words with a different pronunciation in Turkic and Turkish that mean the same in both languages:
- /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/ are realised as [t͡s] and [d͡z] respectively in the areas around Tabriz and to the west, south and southwest of Tabriz (including Kirkuk in Iraq); in the Nakhchivan and Ayrum dialects, in Cəbrayil and some Caspian coastal dialects;
- In most dialects of Azerbaijani, /c/ is realized as [ç] when it is found in the syllabic coda or is preceded by a voiceless consonant (as in čöräk [t͡ʃøˈɾæç] – "bread"; säksän [sæçˈsæn] – "eighty").
- /k/ appears only in words borrowed from Russian or French (spelled, as with /c/, with a k).
- /w/ exists in the Kirkuk dialect as an allophone of /v/ in Arabic loanwords.
- In the Baku dialect, /ov/ may be realised as [oʊ], and /ev/ and /øv/ as [œy], e.g. /ɡovurˈmɑ/ → [ɡoʊrˈmɑ], /sevˈdɑ/ → [sœyˈdɑ], /dœvˈrɑn/ → [dœyˈrɑn], as well as with surnames ending in -ov/-ev (borrowed from Russian).
- In colloquial speech, /x/ is usually pronounced as [χ]
The vowels of the Azerbaijani are, in their alphabetical order, a [ɑ], ä [æ], e [e], i [i], o [o], ö [ø], u [u], ü [y], y [ɯ]. There are no diphthongs in Azerbaijani when two vowels come together; when that occurs in some Arabic loanwords, each vowel retains its individual sound.
Before 1929, Azerbaijani was written only in the Persian version of the Arabic alphabet. In 1929–1938 a Latin alphabet was in use for North Azerbaijani (although it was different from the one used now), from 1938 to 1991 the Cyrillic script was used, and in 1991 the current Latin alphabet was introduced, although the transition to it has been rather slow. In Iran, Azerbaijani is still written in the Persian alphabet, and in Dagestan, in Cyrillic script.
The Perso-Arabic Azerbaijani alphabet is an abjad; that is, it does not represent vowels. Also, some consonants can be represented by more than one letter. The Azerbaijani Latin alphabet is based on the Turkish Latin alphabet because of their linguistic connections and mutual intelligibility. The letters Әə, Xx, and Qq are available only in Azerbaijani for sounds which do not exist as separate phonemes in Turkish.
Azerbaijani Turkic also uses a, e, i, o and u with the macron:ā for /ɑː/
ē for /eː/
ī for /iː/
ō for /oː/
ū for /uː/
In the case of length distinction, these letters are used for Arabic and Persian borrowings from the Islamic period, most of which have been eliminated from the language. Native Turkic words have no vowel length distinction, and for them the macron is used solely to indicate palatalization.
The Azerbaijani Turkic, when written in the Latin or Cyrillic script, transcribes any foreign names into Azerbaijani spelling, e.g. Bush becomes Buş and Schröder becomes Şröder.
Some samples include:
Tez Ol "Come on": Tez olun qızlar mədrəsəyə "Girls to school!" (slogan for an education campaign in Azerbaijan);
invoking the Deity:
Çox şükür "Much thanks";
Allah Allah (pronounced as Allahallah) "Goodness gracious";
Hay Allah; Vallah "By God [I swear it]".
Çox şükür allahım "Much thanks my god".
Notice that Azerbaijani has informal and formal ways of saying things. This is because there is more than one meaning to "you" in Turkic languages like Azerbaijani and Turkish (as well as in many other languages). The informal you is used when talking to close friends, relatives, animals or children. The formal you is used when talking to someone who is older than you or someone for whom you would like to show respect (a professor, for example). As in many Romance languages, personal pronouns can be omitted, and they are only added for emphasis. Azerbaijani is a very phonetic language, so pronunciation is very easy. Most words are pronounced exactly as they are spelled in modern Azerbaijani alphabet.
For numbers 11–19, the numbers literally mean "10 one, 10 two" and so on.