Lazuri, ლაზური
Native to
Native speakers
22,000 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3lzz
Kartvelian Languages
Laz is classified as Definitely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
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The Laz language or Lazuri (Laz: ლაზური ნენა, romanized: lazuri nena) is a Kartvelian language spoken by the Laz people on the southeastern shore of the Black Sea.[2] In 2007, it was estimated that there were around 20,000 native speakers in Turkey, in a strip of land extending from Melyat to the Georgian border (officially called Lazistan until 1925), and around 1,000 native speakers around Adjara in Georgia. There are also around 1,000 native speakers of Laz in Germany.[1]

Laz is not historically a written language or literary language. As of 1989, Benninghaus could write that the Laz themselves had no interest in writing in Laz.[3]


Laz is one of the four Kartvelian languages also known as South Caucasian languages. Along with Mingrelian, it forms the Zan branch of this Kartvelian language family. The two languages are very closely related, to the extent that some linguists refer to Mingrelian and Laz as dialects or regional variants of a single Zan language, a view held officially in the Soviet era and still so in Georgia today. In general, however, Mingrelian and Laz are considered as separate languages, due both to the long-standing separation of their communities of speakers (500 years) and to a lack of mutual intelligibility.


Although the Laz people are recorded in written sources repeatedly from antiquity onwards, the earliest written evidence of their language is from 1787. There is a poem in Evliya Çelebi's Seyahatnâme (17th century) that has been interpreted as Laz, but it is more likely to represent Pontic Greek. The first definite record of Laz in 1787 was produced by the Spanish Jesuit linguist Lorenzo Hervás. It was largely ignored because Hervás conflated the name of the language with that of the Lezgian language, calling it lingua Lasga, detta ancora Laza, e Lassa. In 1823, Julius Heinrich von Klaproth published a list of 67 Laz words with German translations in his Asia Polyglotta. He identified three dialects. In 1844, Georg Rosen published in German the first monograph on Laz, Über die Sprache der Lazen. In 1887, the British diplomat Demetrius Rudolph Peacock included Laz among five languages of the western Caucasus in a paper designed for the use of English-speaking diplomats.[4]

Geographical distribution

Laz-speaking population in Turkey according to the 1965 census

The Georgian language, along with its relatives Mingrelian, Laz, and Svan, comprise the Kartvelian language family. The initial breakup of Proto-Kartvelian is estimated to have been around 2500–2000 B.C., with the divergence of Svan from Proto-Kartvelian (Nichols, 1998). Assyrian, Urartian, Greek, and Roman documents reveal that in early historical times (2nd–1st millennia B.C.), the numerous Kartvelian tribes were in the process of migrating into the Caucasus from the southwest. The northern coast and coastal mountains of Asia Minor were dominated by Kartvelian peoples at least as far west as Samsun. Their eastward migration may have been set in motion by the fall of Troy (dated by Eratosthenes to 1183 B.C.). It thus appears that the Kartvelians represent an intrusion into the Georgian plain from northeastern Anatolia, displacing their predecessors, the unrelated Northwest Caucasian and Vainakh peoples, into the Caucasian highlands (Tuite, 1996; Nichols, 2004).[5]

The oldest known settlement of the Lazoi is the town of Lazos or "old Lazik" which Arrian puts 680 stadia (about 80 miles) south of the Sacred Port (Novorossiisk) and 1,020 stadia (100 miles) north of Pityus, i.e.somewhere in the neighborhood of Tuapse. Kiessling sees in the Lazoi a section of the Kerketai, who in the first centuries of the Christian era had to migrate southwards under pressure from the Zygoi. The same author regards the Kerketai as a "Georgian" tribe. The fact is that at the time of Arrian (2nd century A.D.), the Lazoi were already living to the south of Um. The order of the peoples living along the coast to the east of Trebizond was as follows: Colchi (and Sanni); Machelones; Heniochi; Zydritae; Lazai, subjects of King Malassus, who owned the suzerainty of Rome; Apsilae; Abacsi; Sanigae near Sebastopolis.[6]

Social and cultural status

A Laz book "Mothertongue"
A Laz newspaper in 1928

Laz has no official status in either Turkey or Georgia, and no written standard. It is presently used only for familiar and casual interaction; for literary, business, and other purposes, Laz speakers use their country's official language (Turkish or Georgian).

Laz is unique among the Kartvelian languages in that most of its speakers live in Turkey rather than Georgia. While the differences between the various dialects are minor, their speakers feel that their level of mutual intelligibility is low. Given that there is no common standard form of Laz, speakers of its different dialects use Turkish to communicate with each other.

Between 1930 and 1938, Zan (Laz and Mingrelian) enjoyed cultural autonomy in Georgia and was used as a literary language, but an official standard form of the language was never established. Since then, all attempts to create a written tradition in Zan have failed, despite the fact that most intellectuals use it as a literary language.

In Turkey, Laz has been a written language since 1984, when an alphabet based on the Turkish alphabet was created. Since then, this system has been used in most of the handful of publications that have appeared in Laz. Developed specifically for the Kartvelian languages, the Georgian alphabet is better suited to the sounds of Laz, but the fact that most of the language's speakers live in Turkey, where the Latin alphabet is used, has rendered the adoption of the former impossible. Nonetheless, 1991 saw the publication of a textbook called Nana-nena ('Mother tongue'), which was aimed at all Laz speakers and used both the Latin and Georgian alphabets. The first Laz–Turkish dictionary was published in 1999.

Speaking Laz was forbidden in Turkey between 1980 and 1991 because this was seen as a political threat to unity of the country. During this era, some of the academicians regret the existence of the Laz ethnic group. Because speaking Laz was banned in public areas, many children lost their mother tongue as a result of not communicating with their parents. Most Laz people have a heavy Turkish accent because they can not practice their mother tongue.[7]

Statistics in Turkey (1935–2007)

Year Laz speakers % notes
1935[8] 63,253 (first language)

5,061 (second language)

0.42% Census
1945[8] 39,232 (first language)

4,956 (second language)

1950[8] 70,423 (total) 0.34%
1955[8] 30,566 (first language)

19,144 (second language)

1960[8] 21,703 (first language)

38,275 (second language)

1965[8] 26,007 (first language)

55,158 (second language)

1980[9] 30,000 (first language) 0.07% Estimate
2007[1] 20,000 (total) 0.03%

Writing system

Laz is written in Mkhedruli script and in an extension of the Turkish alphabet.[10] For the Laz letters written in the Latin script, the first is a letter from the writing system introduced in Turkey in 1984 that was developed by Fahri Lazoğlu and Wolfgang Feurstein and the second is the transcription system used by Caucasianists.[10]

(Used in Turkey)[11]
(Used in Georgia)
of Mkhedruli
A a a /ɑ/
B b b /b/
C c j /d͡ʒ/
Ç ç ch /t͡ʃ/
Ç̌ ç̌ Ç̆ ç̆ Ç' ç' chʼ /t͡ʃʼ/
D d d /d/
E e e /ɛ/
F f f /f/
G g g /ɡ/
Ǧ ǧ Ğ ğ gh /ɣ/
H h h /h/
I i i /i/
J j zh /ʒ/
K k k /k/
Ǩ ǩ K̆ k̆ K' k' //
L l l /l/
M m m /m/
N n n /n/
O o o /ɔ/
P p p /p/
P̌ p̌ P̆ p̆ P' p' //
Q q //
R r r /r/
S s s /s/
Ş ş sh /ʃ/
T t t /t/
Ť t‌̌ T̆ t̆ T' t' //
U u u /u/
V v v /v/
X x kh /x/
Y y y /j/
Z z z /z/
Ž ž Z̆ z̆ Z' z' dz /d͡z/
Ʒ ʒ 3 Ts ts ts /t͡s/
Ǯ ǯ Ʒ̆ ʒ̆ 3' Ts' ts' tsʼ /t͡sʼ/

Linguistic features

Like many languages of the Caucasus, Laz has a rich consonantal system but only five vowels (a, e, i, o, u). The nouns are inflected with agglutinative suffixes to indicate grammatical function (four to seven cases, depending on the dialect) and number (singular or plural), but not by gender. The Laz verb is inflected with suffixes according to person and number, and also for grammatical tense, aspect, mood, and (in some dialects) evidentiality. Up to 50 verbal prefixes are used to indicate spatial orientation/direction. Person and number suffixes provided for the subject as well as for one or two objects involved in the action, e.g. gimpulam = "I hide it from you".


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stop plain p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate plain t͡s t͡ʃ
voiced d͡z d͡ʒ
ejective t͡sʼ t͡ʃʼ
Fricative plain f s ʃ x h
voiced v z ʒ ɣ
Nasal m n
Approximant l j
Trill r
Front Back
Close i u
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open ɑ


Main article: Laz grammar

Some distinctive features of Laz among its family are:

See also


  1. ^ a b c Laz at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936, Volume 5, p. 21, at Google Books
  3. ^ Benninghaus, Rüdiger (1989). "The Laz: Example of Multiple Identification". In Peter Alfred, Andrews; Benninghaus, Rüdiger (eds.). Ethnic Groups in the Republic of Turkey. p. 498.
  4. ^ Zaal Kikvidze and Levan Pachulia, "A Spotlight on the 'Lazian' Lexis: Evidence from a 19th-Century Lexicographica Resource", in Züleyha Ünlü and Brian George Hewitt (eds.), Lazuri: An Endangered Language from the Black Sea (Vernon Press, 2023), pp. 63–84.
  5. ^ Grove, T. (2012). Materials for a Comprehensive History of the Caucasus, with an Emphasis on Greco-Roman Sources.
  6. ^ V. Minorsky. "Laz" (PDF). Encyclopaedia of Islam (1st ed.). doi:10.1163/2214-871X_ei1_SIM_3337. ISBN 9789004082656.
  7. ^ Ozfidan, Burhan (2017). "Historical Background of Laz Language in Turkey". The development of a bilingual education cirriculum in Turkey: A mixed method study (PhD). Texas A&M University. pp. 49–55.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Fuat, Dündar (2000). Türkiye Nüfus Sayımlarında Azınlıklar (in Turkish) (2 ed.). Civiyazilari. p. 117. ISBN 975-8086-77-4.
  9. ^ Laz language at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009) Closed access icon
  10. ^ a b Kutscher, Silvia (2008). "The language of the Laz in Turkey: Contact-induced change or gradual language loss?" (PDF). Turkic Languages. 12: 83. Retrieved 10 August 2020. Laz data are written in the Lazoglu & Feurstein-alphabet introduced to the Laz community in Turkey in 1984. It deviates from the Caucasianists' transcription in the following graphemes (<Laz = Caucasianist>): <ç = č>, <c = j [j breve]>, <ǩ = kʼ>, <p̌ = p'>, <ş = š>, , <ʒ = c>, <ǯ =c'>.
  11. ^ Özüm Ak 2018