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By: Ludwig Paul

Zazaki is a West Iranian language spoken in Southeast Anatolia, northwest to the Kordi (Kurdish) speaking regions, by approx. 2 Mio. Since the beginning of the 20th century Zazaki has been accepted as a language of its own among linguists[1], and not any longer merely as a Kordi dialect. Nevertheless until recently the Zaza people were generally held to be Kurds speaking a special dialect of Kordi. Due to the oppressive minority and language policy of the Republic of Turkey, until 15 years ago there existed practically no indigenous Zazaki written literature, and so no means by which the Zaza people could find out anything about their own language and cultural identity[2].

Only after the military coup d‘ état of 1980 and the following emigration of Turkish leftists, many of them Kurds, to countries of Western Europe the publication in Zazaki started in the exile - then still under the label "Kordi dialect“. In 1984 AYRE („mill“), the first exclusive Zazaki journal, was published by the pioneer of Zaza nationalism Ebubekir Pamukçu (d. 1993). Considered an outsider among the Zaza, or even a „Turkish agent“ trying to split off the Zaza from their Kordi sister people, Pamukçu finally saw some fruits of his labour when in the early 90ies a stronger awareness of an own cultural identity started gaining a foothold among the speakers of Zazaki. At present the further development of Zazaki language and culture is endangered by the Turkish policy of „purifying“ Eastern Anatolia of its indigenous Kordi and Zaza population, as well as by the long-standing process of forced and unforced assimilation (to Turkish and Kordi). As moreover there is even religious and political discord among the Zaza, it is far from certain whether the „making of the Zaza nation“ will reach a successful conclusion.

Although the history of Zazaki studies is already 140 years old, we still lack a comprehensive grammar of even one of its dialects, and a reliable survey of its dialectology[3]. During the last four years I have, preparing my PhD thesis, which is intended to supply this want. In what follows, I will first give an outline of the historical phonology of Zazaki, and then sketch a couple of its morphological features –whith the aim, in both cases to determine more precisely than has been done hitherto the position of Zazaki among West Iranian languages and dialects. First attempts at achieving this aim have been made by Vahman and Asatrian recently[4].

The West Iranian languages and dialects are generally divided into a Southern and a Northern group. Already in the Old Iranian period the sound system of Old Persian (OP), the language of the Royal Achaemenian Court centered in Southern Iran, showed specific historical changes opposing it to the more conservative Avestan language (Av.) spoken at about the same time. In the Middle Iranian period this division became more distinct as Middle Persian (MP), the successor to Old Persian spoken in southern Iran, showed further sound changes not shared by the still more conservative northern Parthian (Pth.). Most of the dialectal distinctions attested in Old and Middle West Iranian, and some more in addition, are found in modern West Iranian languages and dialects as well. Although there are a couple of well-defined phonetic laws seperating the southwest from the northwest, it must be said that there is, in all historical stages, a varying amount of interdialectal borrowing whichs blurs the picture; furthermore, due to migrations in all periods, the SW/NW-distinction does not for all languages coincide with the geographical reality of today[5]. One major aim of this paper is to show that the NW/SW-distinction is not a clear-cut, but should rather be explained in terms of graduation, with each language attributed its position on a scale ranging from the „most north-western“ to the „most southwestern“. To facilitate comprehemsion of this study, a simplified list of the most important West Iranian languages and dialect groups is given below, together with the sketch of a map indicating their geographical location (fig. 1)[6]:



[1] See O. Mann, Mundarten der Zaza, hauptsächlich aus Siwerek und Kor (Kurdisch-Persische Forschungen, Abt. III, Bd. IV), ed. K. Hadank, Berlin 1932, p. 18.

[2] „Zaza“ denotes the people, „Zazaki“ their language. There are other names for this language used by its speakers, e.g. „Dimlî“ or „zon# mâ“ (lit. „our language“), but „Zazaki“ seems to have gained widest acceptance in scientific publications.

[3] The nearest thing to a comprehensive grammar of a single Zazaki dialect published so far is T. L. Todd‘s A Grammar of Dimilî (also known as Zaza), Ann Arbor (UMI) 1985.

[4] F. Vahman and G. S. Asatrian, Gleanings from Zâzâ vocabulary, Iranica Varia, Papers in honour of Ehsan Yarshater (= Acta Iranica 30), ed. J. Duchesne-Guillemin, Leiden 1990, pp. 267-275; and G. S. Asatrian, Ešçe raz o meste Zaza v sisteme iranskyx jazykov, Patma-banasirakan hand#s 1990/4, Erevan, pp. 154-163.

[5] E.g. „northwestern“ Balûòî is spoken in the SE, but „southwestern“ [N.]-Tâtî in the NW

[6] The NW/SW-dichotomy is also a simplification (and will be questioned below). The dialect grouping followed here corresponds in general to that proposed by P. Lecoq in his articles dealing with NWIr. dialects in R. Schmitt (ed..) Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (Wiesbaden 1989) (=CLI). Some of the dialects groups are more or less geographical and by no means uniform (esp. the CD), nevertheless this grouping seems to be a justifiable compromise for the moment.



The linguistic material concerning the modern dialects in this paper is mainly (unless otherwise stated) taken from the following sources. 


Caspian: M. Pâyande-Langerûdî, Farhang-e Gîl va Daylam (Teheran 1987); 

Semnânî: A. Christensen, Contributions à la dialectologie iranienne II (Copenhagen 1935); 

H Homâdoxt, Gûyeš-e Aftarî (Teheran 1992); Central D.: 

A. Christensen, Contributions à la dialectologie iranienne [I] (Copenhagen 1930); 

O. Mann, Die Mundarten von Khunsâr, Mahallât, Natänz, Nâyin, Sämnân, Sîvänd und Sô-Kohrûd (Kurdisch-Persische Forschungen, Abt. III, Bd. I, ed. K. Hadank Berlin 1926); 

M. Moqaddam, Gûyešhâ-ye Vafs va âštiyân va Tafreš (Teheran 1949); Tâlešî: B. V. Miller, Talyšskij jazyk (Moskau 1953); 

L. A. Pirejko, Talyšsko-russkij slovar’ (Moskau 1976);

G. Lazard, Le dialecte Tâlešî de Mâsûle (Gîlân)', Studia Iranica 7/2, 1978, pp. 251-268; 

Âzarî: E. Yarshater, A grammar of Southern Tati dialects (The Hague 1969); 

Y. Zokâ, Gûyeš-e Keringân (Teheran 1954), and Gûyeš-e Galîn-qaya („Harzandî“) (Teheran 1957); 

Zazaki: from my forthcoming PhD thesis; Gôrânî: D. N. MacKenzie, The dialect of Awroman (Kopenhagen 1966); 

Kurdish: D. N. MacKenzie, Kurdish dialect studies I (London 1961).




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