Zaza Language

Zazaki language

Zazaki (or Dimli) is a language spoken by Zazas in eastern Anatolia (Turkey). According to Ethnologue, the Zazaki language is a part of the northwestern group of the Iranian section of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family.. Zazaki shares many features, structures, and vocabulary with Talysh, Semnani, and Caspian languages, spoken in northern Iran, along the southern Caspian coast. According to Ethnologue (which cites [Paul 1998]), the number of Zazaki speakers is between 1.5 and 2.5 million (including all dialects).

Zazaki dialects and regional variants

There are three main Zazaki dialects:

Its sub-dialects are:

*Border dialects like Sarız, Koçgiri (Giniyan-idiom)

  • Central Zazaki: It is spoken in Elazığ, Bingöl, Solhan, Girvas and Diyarbakır provinces.

Its sub-dialects are:

*Border dialects like Hani, Kulp, Lice, Ergani, Piran

Its sub-dialects are:

*Cermik, Gerger
*Border dialects like Mutki and Aksaray

Zazaki literature and broadcast programs

The first written statements in the Zazaki language were compiled by the linguist Peter Lerch in 1850. Two other important documents are the religious writings (Mewlıd) of Ehmedê Xasi of 1899, and of Usman Efendiyo Babıc (published in Damascus in 1933); both of these works were written in the Arabic alphabet.

The use of the Latin alphabet to write Zazaki became popular only in the diaspora in Sweden, France and Germany at the beginning of the 1980s. This was followed by the publication of magazines and books in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul. The efforts of Zaza intellectuals to advance the comprehensibility of their native language by alphabetizing were not fruitless: the number of publications in Zaza has multiplied. The rediscovery of the native culture by Zaza intellectuals not only caused a renaissance of Zaza language and culture, it also triggered feelings among younger generations of Zazas (who, however, rarely speak Zazaki as a mother tongue) in favor of this modern Western use of the Zaza language, rekindling their interest in their ancestral language. The diaspora, has also generated a limited amount of Zaza-language broadcasting. Moreover, after restrictions were removed on local languages in Turkey during their move toward accession to the European Union, the state-owned TRT television lanched a Zazaki TV program and a radio program on Fridays.

Phonological Correspondences of Zazaki and other Iranian Languages

"v" initial

Proto-Iranian initial "v" changes to a "b" or a "g" in Persian and Kurdish by the 10th century. Zazaki, like many Northwestern Iranian languages, keeps the original "v" initial. The origin of Proto-Iranian initial "v" is Proto-Indo-European "*w" sound.

Zazaki Persian Kurdi English
v b, g b, g -
va bad ba wind
varan baran baran rain
vac avaz* bêj sing, say
vaz- guriz- bez- run
velg berg belg leaf
veng bang bang, deng voice
ver ber ber front
verek berre berx sheep
vewr, vor berf berf snow
vên, vin bin- bin- see
vir bir bir memory
vist bist bist twenty
viya bive bi widow
viyal bid bi willow
vam, vum badam behıv almond
vic- biz- bêz- select, choose
veyşan gorosne bırsi hungry
veşn goşn beran ram
v giyah giya grass
vıl gol gul rose
velık gorda gurçık calf
verg gorg gurg wolf
vurayen gerdiden guherin change
avaz*: The word "avaz" in Persian is a borrowing from a Northwestern Iranian language, probably the Parthian language. Otherwise, it should have started with "b" like in Kurdish.

"z" sound

Proto-Iranian sounds "z" and "s" turns to a "d" and a "h" in Kurdish and Persian. However, the Zazaki language keeps the "z" and "s" sounds. The origin of Proto-Iranian "z" and "s" sounds are Proto-Indo-European "*k" and "*g" sound.

Indo-European Avesta Zazaki Kurdi Persian English
*k/*g z/s z/s z/s d/h -
*kerd- zerdeye- zerri dıl* dêl hearth
*ghol- zaranya- zerd zêr zer* gold
*gno- zan- zan- zan- dan- know
*groma zamat- zama zava damad groom
*egom ezēm ez ez* (min) edēm* (min) I
*bhrgh- berez- berz bılınd* boland tall
*dekm dese des deh* deh ten
zer*: The Old Persian word for "gold" was "daraniya-". It changes back to a "z" sound. Maybe it is a borrowing.
edēm*: The Modern Persian word for "I" is "men", which replaces "edēm*"
ez*: In southern Kurdish dialect of Sorani the word for "I" is "men", like in Persian. It replaced the word "ez".
dıl*, bılınd*, deh*: These Kurdish words shows a Southwestern Iranian development.

"c" sound

Proto-Iranian "c" and "ĉ" sounds is "c" in Zazaki. In Kurdish it changes to "j", and in Persian it changes "z". The origin of Proto-Iranian "c" and "ĉ" sounds are Proto-Indo-European "*gw" and "*k" sounds.
Zazaki Persian Kurdi English
ĵ ž z -
ceni zen jın woman
cın- zen- jen- playing music
cıwiyayış zisten jıyan live
cınde zende zındi* alive
cor zeber jor up
cêr zir jêr down
cı az jı
roc ruz roj day
vac avaz j say, sing
ercan arzan erzan* cheap
vic- biz- z-* select, choose
pewc- pez- j- cook

erzan*, bêz-*, zındi*: Kurdish "erzan", "bez", and "zindi" are borrowings from Persian.
Note: In some southern Zazaki dialects, "-c" endings like roc, vac, vic, and pewc becomes "j". This probably comes from another Northwestern Iranian language.

"b" initial

Proto-Iranian "d" sound turns to a "b" in Zazaki. Persian and Kurdish keep the original "d" sound. The origin of Proto-Iranian "d" sound is Proto-Indo-European "*d" sound.
Zazaki Persian Kurdi English
b d d -
ber der deri door
bin digar dın other
boçık dom d tail

"hr" initial

Proto-Iranian "hr" changes to an "s" in Kurdish and Persian. Proto-Iranian origin of "hr" is Proto-Indo-European "tr".

Zazaki Persian Kurdi English
hi(r) s s -
hirē se se three
hiris si si thirty

"w" sound

Proto-Iranian "w" sound changes to an "h" or a "k" in Persian and Kurdish. Zazaki maintains the original "w" sound. The origin of Proto Iranian "w" is Proto-Indo-European "tw" sound.

Zazaki Persian Kurdi English
w h h -
new noh neh nine
çewres çehel çıhıl forty
newe no* h* new
yew yek yek one
no*: Persian loses the "h" sound completely.
h*: In some Kurdish dialects "nûh" turns to "nû". Those dialects drop the last sound like in Persian.

"r" and "rd" sound

Proto-Iranian sounds "rd and "rz" are "r" and "rd" in Zazaki. It changes to an "l" sound in Persian and Kurdish.

Avesta Zazaki Persian Kurdi English
rd/rz r/rz l/i l/i -
berez- berz lınd boland borough, high
herez- erz l l release, throw
- wurz lo lo dash off, stand up
spērēz- serpez seporz* sıpıl spleen
sered-, yare serre sal sal year
zerd- zerre l l hearth
verd- l* gul gol rose
seporz*: In Persian, seporz is probably a borrowing from a Northwestern Iranian language.
l*: In Zazaki, the "l" ending in the word "vıl" was "rd"; however, it is lost probably through a Southwestern Iranian language.

"w" and "h" initials

Proto-Indo-European sound "sw" turns to an "hw" in Proto-Iranian. Zazaki drops "h" in some words, or it drops "w" sound. In Persian and Kurdish "h" turns to "x", however, Persian drops "w" sound while Kurdish keeps it. Proto-Iranian "hw" sound turns to an "hv" in Avesta.

Indo-European Avesta Zazaki Persian Kurdi English
*sw hv w, h x(u) x(w) -
*swepn- hvefne- hewn xab xew sleep
*swe- hvet ho xod xwe self
*swoid- hvaeda hiv* xoy* xwêdan sweat
- hvun gun* xun xwin blood
*swad hveş- w x xw sweet
*swenh- hven- wend- xand- xwend- read
*swesor hveher wa xaher xweh sister
*swer- hver- werd- xord- xward- swallow, eat
*wel- vas waşt- xast- xwast- want
hiv*: Arabic/Hebrew word for sweat "areq" is used in most of the Zazaki dialects instead of hiv.
xoy*: Arabic/Hebrew word for sweat "areq" is used in collegial Persian, instead of xoy.
gun*: Zazaki word "gun" should have an initial "w" or "h". However, it is lost.

"c" initial

Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Iranian sound "y" turns to a "c" in Zazaki language as well as in Persian and Kurdish. This is the only sound change where Zazaki has the same development at the same time with Persian and Kurdish together.
Avesta Zazaki Persian Kurdi English
y ĵ ĵ ĵ -
yeng ceng ceng ceng fight
yada ciya coda cuda separate
yaoşti- c c c gush
yeūe- cew cu ce barley
yawān cıwan cevan cıwan young
yāker ciger ciger ciger liver
yāme- cām cām cām glass
yātu- cāju cādū cāzū witch

"ew" sound

The Proto-Indo-European sound "p" turns to an "f" in Proto-Iranian. In Zazaki this "f" sound turns to "w". Kurdish and Persian keeps the original Proto-Iranian "f" sound.
Zazaki Persian Kurdi English
b d d -
hewt heft heft seven
kewt keft keft get in
grewt greft - buy, take
kew keft kef foam
vewre berf berf snow

Note: In Bingol dialect of Zazaki, "ew" further turns to an "o" sound, like hewt to hot, kewt to kot, grewt to grot, kew to ko, and vewr to wor.


Grammatical Gender

The Zazaki language distinguishes 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. This distinguishes Zazaki from many other Western Iranian languages that have lost this feature over time.

For example, the masculine preterite participle of the verb kerdene ("to make" or "to do") is kerde; the feminine preterite-participle is kerdiye. Both have the sense of the English "made" or "done". The grammatical gender of the preterite-participle would be determined by the grammatical gender of the noun representing the thing that was made or done.

The linguistic notion of grammatical gender is distinguished from the biological and social notion of gender, although they interact closely in many languages. Both grammatical and natural gender can have linguistic effects in a given language.


Words in Zazaki can be divided into five groups in respect to their origins. Mosts words in Zazaki are from Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Iranian origin. The forth group is consist of words that are developed when Zazaki speakers divided from the Proto-Iranian language. The fifth group consist of loan words. Loan words in Zazaki are chiefly from Arabic and Persian.

Controversy over classification

Zazaki is an Iranic language in the Indo-European family. From the point of view of the spoken language, its closest relatives are Mazandarani, Hewrami, Gilaki and other Caspian languages. However, the classification of Zazaki has been an issue of political discussion. Kurdish nationalist advocate that Zazaki is a Kurdish (another Iranic Language) dialect while Turkish nationalist advocate that Zazaki is Turkish (an Altaic language) dialect.

Ethnologue favors the following hierarchy:

The US State Department "Background Note" lists the Zazaki language as one of the major languages of Turkey, along with Turkish (official), Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, and Arabic. Despite the Ethnologue's classification, Kurdish Academy, which describes itself an "electronic non-governmental organization (e-NGO), lists Zazaki as a dialect of the Kurdish language. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes Zazaki to be a dialect of Kurdish. However, this classification is not supported by linguistics and regarded as political rather than scientific.

Linguists connect the word Dimli with the Daylamites in the Alborz Mountains near the shores of Caspian Sea in Iran and believe that the Zaza have immigrated from Deylaman towards the west. Zazaki shows many connections to the Iranian dialects of the Caspian region, especially the Gilaki language.

The Zazaki language shows similarities with (Hewrami or Gorani), Shabaki and Bajelani. Gorani, Bajelani, and Shabaki languages are spoken around Iran-Iraq border; however, it is believed that they are also immigrated from Northern Iran to their present homelands. These languages are sometimes put together in the Zaza-Gorani language group.

Some linguistic studies on Zazaki



  • Bozdağ, Cem and Üngör, Uğur. Zazas and Zazaki. (Zazaki Literature.)
  • Blau, Gurani et Zaza in R. Schmitt, ed., Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden, 1989, ISBN 3-88226-413-6, pp. 336-40 (About Daylamite origin of Zaza-Guranis)

See also

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