Azeri, The Language of the Azerbaijani

Azeri is a language spoken by 8 million people in the country of Azerbaijan, where Russian and Persian influences have had a tremendous impact on the language.

In other words, I always disappoint! They also always seem to assume I work in one of the major European languages, like French or Italian, or sometimes Russian or Chinese - whoever is more in the news. I always take pains to tell them that a lot of high quality translation work involves smaller, more obscure languages - like, for example, Azeri.

The Language of the Azerbaijani

Azerbaijan is a small country sandwiched between Iran and Russia, and bordered by Georgia, Armenia, and the Caspian Sea. It's a largely Muslim country (about 5% of the population are either some form of Orthodox Christian or some other religion) and has about 8 million people living within its borders.

Azerbaijan has been dominated by Russia for centuries, and was part of the Soviet Union from 1920 to 1991. About 40% of the Azerbaijanis (or Azeris, as they refer to themselves) speak Russian fluently as a result. Northern Azerbaijan is heavily influenced by Russia, while southern Azerbaijan takes more cultural influence from Iran.

The Azeri Language is part of the Turkic language group, which includes, naturally, Turkish in several varieties. In fact, Azeri and Anatolian Turkish (the Turkish spoken in Asia Minor, in the country of Turkey) are somewhat mutually intelligible if the speakers go slow and listen carefully. The Azeri language has been borrowing heavily from Russian (in the north) and Persian (in the south), including not just loanwords but phrase structures and other grammar, and as a result there are several sustained dialects of Azerbaijani in active use. All are mutually intelligible, however, and the difference amount to a different "flavour."

Azerbaijani History

Azerbaijani developed out of the same soup of languages that produced Turkish and others, and slowly came to dominate the region that is now Azerbaijan, northern Iran, and parts of Armenia. Until the 18th century it was purely a language of epic poetry and lyrical applications, and then slowly began to be used in everyday life.

In the early 20th century, Azerbaijan was one of the many nations that sought to unify and streamline the language. This movement had two main features: One, a goal of making Azeri a language that illiterate and semi-literate people could learn and use, and two, the reduction or elimination of loan words and other elements taken from other languages. This sort of 'purification' movement was not unusual at the time and had about the same level of success as elsewhere, which is to say very little.

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