Zazakî / Kirmanckî / Kirdkî / Dimilkî
Native toTurkey
RegionProvinces of Sivas, Tunceli, Bingöl, Erzurum, Erzincan, Elazığ, Muş, Malatya,[1] Adıyaman and Diyarbakır[1]
Native speakers
3–4 million (2009)[1]
  • Tunceli
  • Ovacik
  • Hozat
  • Varto
  • Sivereki
  • Kori
  • Hazo
  • Motki (Moti)
  • Dumbeli
  • Central Zazaki
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2zza
ISO 639-3zza – inclusive code
Individual codes:
kiu – Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza)
diq – Dimli (Southern Zaza)
The position of Zazaki among Iranian languages[4]
Zaza is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO
Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Zaza or Zazaki[5] (Zazaki: Zazakî, Kirmanckî, Kirdkî, Dimilkî)[a][6] is a Northwestern Iranian language spoken primarily in eastern Turkey by the Zazas, who are commonly considered as Kurds, and in many cases identify as such.[7][8][9] The language is a part of the Zaza–Gorani language group of the northwestern group of the Iranian branch. The glossonym Zaza originated as a pejorative[10] and many Zazas call their language Dimlî.[11]

According to Ethnologue, Zaza is spoken by around three to four million people.[1] Nevins, however, puts the number of Zaza speakers between two and three million.[12] Ethnologue also states that Zaza is threatened as the language is decreasing due to losing speakers, and that many are shifting to Turkish, as well as mentioning that there are a few monolingual speakers mostly the elderly. This is causing a decline as the language is increasingly not being passed down to younger generations, with most choosing to speak Turkish. Some also speak Kurmanji.[1]


Zaza language is classified by SIL International as a macrolanguage, including the varieties of Southern Zaza (diq) and Northern Zazaki (kiu).[13] Other international linguistic authorities, the Ethnologue and the Glottolog, also classify the Zaza language as a macrolanguage composed of two distinct languages: Southern Zaza and Northern Zaza.[1][14]

Relations to other languages

In terms of grammar, genetics, linguistics and vocabulary Zazaki is closely related to Talysh, Old Azeri, Tati, Sangsari, Semnani, Mazandarani and Gilaki languages spoken on the shores of the Caspian Sea and central Iran.[15][16][17] Prof. Dr. Ludwig Paul demonstrated that Zazaki is closely related to Old Azeri, Talysh and Parthian (an extinct northwestern Iranian language), shares many similarities with these languages[18] and does not have universal Kurdish vowel changes.[19] According to linguist Prof. Dr. Joyce Blau, Zazaki is a separate language and the history of Zazaki is older than that of Kurdish, some of the Zazaki and Gorani speakers have been assimilated by the Kurds, but not all.[20][21][22]

The German linguist Jost Gippert has demonstrated that the Zaza language is very closely related to the Parthian language in terms of phonetics, morphology, syntax and lexicon and that it has many words in common with the Parthian language. According to him, the Zaza language may be a residual dialect of the Parthian language that has survived to the present day.[23]

While Zaza is linguistically more closely related to Talysh, Tati, Semnani, Sangesari, Gilaki and the Mazandarani[24][16] due to centuries of interaction, Kurmanji has had an impact on the language, which have blurred the boundaries between the two languages.[25] This and the fact that Zaza speakers are identified as ethnic Kurds by some scholars,[26][27] has encouraged some linguists to classify the language as a Kurdish dialect.[28][29] However, it has been demonstrared that mutual intelligibility between Zaza and Kurdish speakers is rather low and two languages are not mutually intelligible.[30]

The formation of these consonants, which form the basis of the historical evolution of languages and the classification in language groups, is almost the same in Zazaki as in Talysh, Tati (Harzandi), Sangesari, Vafsi, and some central Iranian languages. Zazaki, here, forms a belt of northwestern Iranian languages with Talysh, Tati, central Iranian dialects and Semnani, Semnani and the Gilaki. This belt is geographically divided by speakers of Persian, Azerbaijani and Kurdish into Zazaki, Talyshi, Tati in the western part and Semnani, Sangesari, Gilaki and other Caspian/Central dialects in the eastern part. Like most other languages of the belt, Zazaki shows a two-case system in the nouns, with an oblique ending generally going back to the Old Iranian genitive ending *-ahya. Zazaki, Talyshi, Azeri, Semnani, Gilaki and some other Caspian/Central dialects derive their present stem from the same old present participle ending in *ant:[31][32][33][34]

English Zazaki Semnani Gilaki Tati Talyshi
"to go" šin- šenn- šun- šend- šed-
"to come" yen- ānn- ān- āmānd- omed-
"to say" vān- vān- gān- otn- voted-
"to see" vīnen- ? īn- vīnn- vīnd-
"to do" ken- ken- kun- könd- kerded-
"I go" ez šina e šeni men šunem men šenden/ez mešem ez šedam

Zazaki, along with Tati, Talysh, and some northwestern dialects, has strongly preserved its West Iranian Proto-Indo-European consonant roots and is quite distant from Persian and Kurdish. While Zazaki, along with Talysh and Tati, remain at the westernmost part of the western Iranian languages, Persian and Kurdish are positioned at the easternmost part:[35]

Proto Indo-European Part Azeri/Tati[b] Zazaki Talysh Semnani Caspian lang./dial. Central dia. Balochi Kurdish Persian
*ḱ/ĝ s/z s/z s/z s/z s/z s/z s/z s/z s/z h/d
*kue -ž- -ž- -ĵ- -ĵ, ž- -ĵ- -ĵ-, ž, z -ĵ- -ž- -z-
*gue ž ž (y-) ĵ ž ĵ,ž ĵ ĵ, ž, z ĵ ž z
*kw29 ? isb esb asb esp s esb ? s s
*tr/tl hr (h)r (hi)r (h)*r (h)r r r s s s
*d(h)w b b b b b b b d d d
*rd/*rz r/rz r/rz r/rz rz l/l(rz) l/l l/l(rz) l/l l/l l/l
*sw wx h w h x(u) x(u) x(u), f v x(w) x(u)
*tw f u w h h h h(u) h h h
*y- y y ĵ ĵ ĵ ĵ ĵ (y) ĵ ĵ ĵ


Writing in Zaza is a recent phenomenon. The first literary work in Zaza is Mewlîdu'n-Nebîyyî'l-Qureyşîyyî by Ehmedê Xasi in 1899, followed by the work Mawlûd by Osman Efendîyo Babij in 1903. As the Kurdish language was banned in Turkey during a large part of the Republican period, no text was published in Zaza until 1963. That year saw the publication of two short texts by the Kurdish newspaper Roja Newe, but the newspaper was banned and no further publication in Zaza took place until 1976, when periodicals published a few Zaza texts. Modern Zaza literature appeared for the first time in the journal Tîrêj in 1979 but the journal had to close as a result of the 1980 coup d'état. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, most Zaza literature was published in Germany, France and especially Sweden until the ban on the Kurdish language was lifted in Turkey in 1991. This meant that newspapers and journals began publishing in Zaza again. The next book to be published in Zaza (after Mawlûd in 1903) was in 1977, and two more books were published in 1981 and 1986. From 1987 to 1990, five books were published in Zaza. The publication of books in Zaza increased after the ban on the Kurdish language was lifted and a total of 43 books were published from 1991 to 2000. As of 2018, at least 332 books have been published in Zaza.[36]

Due to the above-mentioned obstacles, the standardization of Zaza could not have taken place and authors chose to write in their local or regional Zaza variety. In 1996, however, a group of Zaza-speaking authors gathered in Stockholm and established a common alphabet and orthographic rules which they published. Some authors nonetheless do not abide by these rules as they do not apply the orthographic rules in their oeuvres.[37]

In 2009, Zaza was classified as a vulnerable language by UNESCO.[38]

The institution of Higher Education of Turkey approved the opening of the Zaza Language and Literature Department in Munzur University in 2011 and began accepting students in 2012 for the department. In the following year, Bingöl University established the same department.[39] TRT Kurdî also broadcast in the language.[40] Some TV channels which broadcast in Zaza were closed after the 2016 coup d'état attempt.[41]


There are two main Zaza dialects:

Its subdialects are:

Its subdialects are:

Zaza shows many similarities with other Northwestern Iranian languages:

Ludwig Paul divides Zaza into three main dialects. In addition, there are transitions and edge accents that have a special position and cannot be fully included in any dialect group.[46]


Pronoun Zaza Talysh [47] Tati[48][49] Semnani[50] Sangsari[51] Ossetian[52] Persian English
1st sing. ez əz/āz āz ā ā æz (az) man I
2nd ti ti ti dɨ (di) to you
3rd o/ey əv/ay u un no wuiy ū, ān he
3rd a/ay
una na
1st plur. ma ama amā hamā max we
2nd şıma şımə shūmā shūmā shūmā shimax shomā you
3rd. ê, i, ina, ino əvon/ayēn ē e ey idon/widon ēnan, ishān, inhā they

As with a number of other Iranian languages like Talysh,[53] Tati,[17][54] central Iranian languages and dialects like Semnani, Kahangi, Vafsi,[55] Balochi[56] and Kurmanji, Zaza features split ergativity in its morphology, demonstrating ergative marking in past and perfective contexts, and nominative-accusative alignment otherwise. Syntactically it is nominative-accusative.[57]

Grammatical gender

Among all Western Iranian languages Zaza, Semnani,[58][59][60] Sangsari,[61] Tati,[62][63] central Iranian dialects like Cālī, Fārzāndī, Delījanī, Jowšaqanī, Abyāne'i[64] and Kurmanji distinguish 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. Most nouns have inherent gender. However, some nominal roots have variable gender, i.e. they may function as either masculine or feminine nouns.[65]



Front Central Back
Close i ɨ u
Mid e ə o
Open ɑ

The vowel /e/ may also be realized as [ɛ] when occurring before a consonant. /ɨ/ may become lowered to [ɪ] when occurring before a velarized nasal /n/ [ŋ], or occurring between a palatal approximant /j/ and a palato-alveolar fricative /ʃ/. Vowels /ɑ/, /ɨ/, or /ə/ become nasalized when occurring before /n/, as [ɑ̃], [ɨ̃], and [ə̃], respectively.


Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain phar.
Nasal m n (ŋ)
voiceless p t t͡ʃ k q
voiced b d d͡ʒ ɡ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ x ħ h
voiced v z ʒ ɣ ʕ
Rhotic tap/flap ɾ
trill r
Lateral central l
velarized ɫ
Approximant w j

/n/ becomes a velar [ŋ] when following a velar consonant.[66][67]


Zaza text in Arabic letters, written in 1891 and printed in 1899.

Zaza texts written during the Ottoman era were written in Arabic letters. The works of this era had religious content. The first Zaza text, written by Sultan Efendi, in 1798, was written in Arabic letters in the Nesih font, which was also used in Ottoman Turkish.[68] Following this work, the first Zaza language Mawlid, written by the Ottoman-Zaza cleric, writer and poet Ahmed el-Hassi in 1891-1892, was also written in Arabic letters and published in 1899.[69][70] Another Mawlid in Zaza language, written by another Ottoman-Zaza cleric Osman Esad Efendi between 1903-1906, was also written in Arabic letters.[71] After the Republic, Zazaki works began to be written in Latin letters, abandoning the Arabic alphabet. However, today Zazaki does not have a common alphabet used by all Zazas. An alphabet called the Jacabson alphabet was developed with the contributions of the American linguist C. M Jacobson and is used by the Zaza Language Institute in Frankfurt, which works on the standardization of Zaza language.[72] The Zaza alphabet, prepared by Zülfü Selcan and started to be used at Munzur University as of 2012, is another writing system developed for Zazaki, consisting of 32 letters, 8 of which are vowels and 24 of which are consonants.[73] Another alphabet used for the language is the Bedirxan alphabet. The Zaza alphabet is an extension of the Latin alphabet used for writing the Zaza language, consisting of 32 letters, six of which (ç, ğ, î, û, ş, and ê) have been modified from their Latin originals for the phonetic requirements of the language.[74]

Zaza alphabet
Upper case A B C Ç D E Ê F G Ğ H I[A] İ/Î[A] J K L M N O P Q R S Ş T U Û V W X Y Z
Lower case a b c ç d e ê f g ğ h ı/i [A] i/î [A] j k l m n o p q r s ş t u û v w x y z
IPA phonemes a b d͡ʒ t͡ʃ d ɛ e f g ɣ h ɨ i ʒ k l m n o p q r, ɾ s ʃ t ʊ u v w x j z
  1. ^ a b c d Zaza Wikipedia uses ⟨I/ı⟩ and ⟨İ/i⟩ instead of both I's in the table.

Zaza literature

Zaza literature consists of oral and written texts produced in the Zaza language. Zaza literature, consisting of oral and written works, progressed mainly through oral literature types until the Zaza language was written down. In this respect, Zaza literature is very rich in terms of oral works. The language has many oral literary products such as deyr (folk song), kilam (song), dêse (hymn), şanıke (fable), hêkati (story), qesê werênan (proverbs and idioms). Written works began to appear during the Ottoman Empire, and the early works had a religious/doctrinal nature. After the Republic, long-term language and cultural bans caused the revival of Zaza literature, which developed in two centers, Turkey and Europe, mainly in Europe. After the loosened bans, Zaza literature developed in Turkey.[75]

Zaza literature in the Ottoman period

The first known written works of Zaza literature were written during the Ottoman period. Written works in the Zaza language produced during the Ottoman period were written in Arabic letters and had a religious nature. The first written work in Zazaki during this period was written in the late 1700s. This first written text of the Zaza language was written by İsa Beg bin Ali, nicknamed Sultan Efendi, an Islamic history writer, in 1212 Hijri (1798). The work was written in Arabic letters and in the Naskh script, which is also used in Ottoman Turkish. The work consists of two parts III. It includes the Eastern Anatolia region during the reign of Selim III, the life of Ali (caliph), Alevi doctrine and history, the translation of some parts of Nahj al-balagha into Zaza language, apocalyptic subjects and poetic texts.[76] About a hundred years after this work, another work in the Zaza language, Mevlit (Mewlid-i Nebi), was written by the Ottoman-Zaza cleric, writer and poet Ahmed el-Hassi (1867-1951) in 1891-1892. The first Mevlit work in the Zaza language was written in Arabic letters and published in 1899.[77][34] The mawlid, written using the Arabic prosody (aruz), resembles the mawlid of Süleyman Çelebi and the introduction includes the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the details of Allah, tawhid, munacaat, ascension, birth, birth and creation, etc. It includes religious topics and consists of 14 chapters and 366 couplets.[77][34] Another written work written during this period is another Mevlit written by Siverek mufti Osman Esad Efendi (1852-1929). The work called Biyişa Pexemberi (Birth of the Prophet) consists of chapters on the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the Islamic religion and was written in Zaza language in Arabic letters in 1901 (1903 according to some sources). The work was published in 1933, after the author's death.[78] Apart from Zaza writers, non-Zaza/Ottoman writers/researchers such as Peter Ivanovich Lerch (1827-1884),[79][80] Robert Gordon Latham (1812-1888) Dr. Humphry Sandwith (1822-1881),[81][82] Wilhelm Strecker (1830-1890), Otto Blau (1828-1879),[83] Friedrich Müller (1864) and Oskar Mann (1867-1917)[84] included Zaza content (story, fairy tales dictionary) in their works in the pre-Republican period.[34]

Post-Republic Zaza literature

Post-Republican Zaza literature developed through two branches, Turkey-centered and Europe-centered. During this period, the development of Zaza literature stagnated in Turkey due to long-term language and cultural bans. Zaza migration to European countries in the 1980s and the relatively free environment enabled the revival of Zaza literature in Europe. One of the works in the Zaza language written in post-Republican Turkey are two verse works written in the field of belief and fiqh in the 1940s. Following this work, another Mevlit containing religious subjects and stories was written by Mehamed Eli Hun in 1971. Zaza Divan, a 300-page manuscript consisting of Zazaki poems and odes, started to be written by Mehmet Demirbaş in 1975 and completed in 2005, is another literary work in the divan genre written in this period.[85] Mevlids and sirahs of Abdulkadir Arslan (1992-1995),[86] Kamil Pueği (1999), Muhammed Muradan (1999-2000) and Cuma Özusan (2009) are other literary works with religious content.[77] Written Zaza literature is rich in mawlid and religious works, and the first written works of the language are given in these genres.[77] The development of Zaza literature through magazine publishing took place through magazines published by Zazas who immigrated to Europe after 1980 and published exclusively in the Zaza language, magazines that were predominantly in the Zaza language but published multilingually, and magazines that were not in the Zaza language but included works in the Zaza language. Kormışkan, Tija Sodıri, Vate are magazines published entirely in Zaza language. Apart from these, Ayre (1985-1987), Piya (1988-1992) and Raa Zazaistani (1991), which were published as language, culture, literature and history magazines by Ebubekir Pamukçu, the leading name of Zaza nationalism, are important magazines in this period that were predominantly Zaza and published multilingually. Ware, ZazaPress, Pir, Raştiye, Vengê Zazaistani, Zazaki, Zerq, Desmala Sure, Waxt, Çıme are other magazines that are Zazaki-based and multilingual. In addition to these magazines published in European countries, Vatı (1997-1998), which is the first magazine published entirely in Zaza language and published in Turkey, and Miraz (2006) and Veng u Vaj (2008) are other important magazines published in Zaza language in Turkey. Magazines that are mainly published in other languages but also include works in Zaza language are magazines published in Kurdish and Turkish languages. Roja Newé (1963), Riya Azadi (1976), Tirêj (1979) and War (1997) are in the Kurdish language; Ermin (1991), Ateş Hırsızı (1992), Ütopya, Işkın, Munzur (2000), Bezuvar (2009) are magazines in Turkish language that include texts in Zaza language.[87] Today, works in different literary genres such as poetry, stories and novels in Zaza language are published by different publishing houses in Turkey and European countries.



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  1. ^ These exact names also appear in Northern Kurdish.
  2. ^ Harzandi


See also

Further reading