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Zaza, also called Zazaki, Kirmanjki, Kirdki and Dimli,[6] is an Indo-European language spoken primarily in Eastern Turkey by the Zazas. The language is a part of the northwestern group of the Iranian section of the Indo-European family and belongs to the Zaza–Gorani (with Gorani) and Caspian dialect group. The glossonym Zaza originated as a pejorative[7] and many Zazas call their language Dimlî.[8]

Native toEastern Turkey
RegionProvinces of Sivas, Tunceli, Bingöl, Erzurum, Erzincan, Elazığ, Muş, Malatya,[1] Adıyaman and Diyarbakır[2]
Native speakers
1.6 million (1998)[3]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2zza
ISO 639-3zza – inclusive code
Individual codes:
kiu – Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza)
diq – Dimli (Southern Zaza)
Geographic distribution of Kurdish and Zaza–Gorani[5]

While Zazaki is linguistically closer related to Gorani, Gilaki, Talysh, Tati, Mazandarani and the Semnani language,[9] Kurdish has had a profound impact on the language due to centuries of interaction, which have blurred the boundaries between the two languages.[10] This and the fact that a majority of Zaza-speakers identify themselves as ethnic Kurds,[11][12] have encouraged linguists to classify the language as a Kurdish dialect.[13][14][15][16]

According to Ethnologue (which cites [Paul 1998]),[17] the number of speakers is between 1.5 and 2.5 million (including all dialects). According to Nevins, the number of Zaza speakers is between 2 and 4 million.[18]

Disputed originEdit

While the origin of the Zaza is disputed, one theory claims that the word Dimlî derives from the ancient name Daylam and that Zazas are remnants of the Daylamites who migrated westwards from the 10th century on.[19]


There are three main Zaza dialects:

Its subdialects are:

Its subdialects are:

  • Sivereki, Kori, Hazzu, Motki, Dumbuli, Eastern/Central Zazaki, Dersimki.

Zaza shows many similarities with Kurmanji Kurdish, which it does not share with Caspian languages:

  • Similar personal pronouns and use of these[23]
  • Enclitic use of the letter "u"[23]
  • Very similar ergative structure[24]
  • Masculine and feminine ezafe system[25]
  • Both languages have nominative and oblique cases that differs by masculine -î and feminine -ê
  • Both languages have forgotten possesive enclitics, while it exists in other languages as Persian, Sorani, Gorani, Hewrami or Shabaki.
  • Both languages distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops.
  • Similar vowel phonemes

Literature and broadcast programsEdit

The first written statements in Zaza were compiled by the linguist Peter Lerch in 1850. Two other important documents are the religious writings of Ehmedê Xasî of 1899,[26] and of Osman Efendîyo Babij[27] (published in Damascus in 1933 by Celadet Bedir Khan[28]); both of these works were written in the Arabic script.

The use of the Latin script to write Zaza 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 using that alphabet helped the number of publications in Zaza multiply. This rediscovery of the native culture by Zaza intellectuals not only caused a renaissance of Zaza language and culture but it also triggered feelings among younger generations of Zazas (who, however, rarely speak Zaza as a mother tongue) in favor of this modern Western use of Zaza, 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 in 2003 during their move toward an eventual accession to the European Union, Turkish state-owned TRT Kurdî television launched several Zaza programs[29] and a radio program on certain days.


As with a number of other Indo-Iranian languages like Kurdish, 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.[30]

Grammatical genderEdit

Among all Western Iranian languages only Zaza 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.[31] This distinguishes Zaza 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.



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

A vowel /e/ may also be realized as /ɛ/ when occurring before a consonant. /ɨ/ may become lowered to an /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/, or /ə̃/.


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

/n/ becomes a velar /ŋ/ when following a velar consonant.[32][33]


The Zazaki alphabet is an extension of the Latin alphabet used for writing the Zaza language, consisting of 32 letters, seven of which (ç, ğ, î, û, ş, and ê) have been modified from their Latin originals for the phonetic requirements of the language.[34]

Zazaki alphabet
Upper case A B C Ç D E Ê F G Ğ H I Î 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 i î 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 ɪ i ʒ k l m n o p q r, ɾ s


t y u v w x j z


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

Phonological correspondences of Zaza and other Iranian languagesEdit

PIE. Old Persian Pahlavi Persian Avestan Parthian Zaza Kurdish dialects English
*ḱ θ h h s s s s -
hīg hi masya syāg sa sî fish
*ǵ(h) d d d z z z z -
ǵno- dān- dān- dān- zān- zān- zān- zān- know
*kʷ č z z č ž j, ž, z ž -
*leuk- raučah z ruz raočah ž roje, rož day
*gʷ j z z j ž j ž -
zan zan jaini žan jani žin woman
*d(h)w- duv- d- d- dv- b- b- d- -
*d(h)war- d u var- dar dar d var- bar -bar darî door
*sw- (h)uv- xw- x- xv- wx- w- xw- -
*s wesor
x wāhar xāhar xvahar w xar wā x weh sister
*-rd(h),*-ld(h) -rd -l -l -rd -r(δ) -r̄ uncertain -
*ḱered θar(a)d- sal l sarəδ-
sar ri l year
*-rǵ(h),*-lǵ(h) -rd -l -l -rz -rz -rz uncertain -
hil- hel- harəz- hir z- ar z- (change of meaning) l- let
*-m -m -m -m -m -m -m -v/w -
nom man- m m man- m me v, nāw name
*w- v- w- b- v- w- v- b- -
wīst bist vīsiti- wīst vist bîst twenty


  1. ^ "Ethnologue - Zazaki, Northern". Ethnologue. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Ethnologue - Zazaki, Southern". Ethnologue. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  3. ^ Zaza at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Dimli (Southern Zaza) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Zaza". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. ^ The map shown is based on a map published by Le Monde Diplomatique in 2007.
  6. ^ Levin, Lori; Dyer, Chris; Goyal, Kartik; Mortensen, David R.; Littell, Patrick (2016). "Bridge-Language Capitalization Inference in Western Iranian: Sorani, Kurmanji, Zazaki, and Tajik". pp. 3318–3324. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  7. ^ Arakelova, Victoria (1999). "The Zaza People as a New Ethno-Political Factor in the Region". Iran & the Caucasus. 3/4: 397–408. JSTOR 4030804.
  8. ^ "Dimli". Iranica Online. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  9. ^ Ehsan Yar-Shater (1990). Iranica varia. University of Michigan: Brill. p. 267. ISBN 9789068312263.
  10. ^ Jane Garry, Carl R. Galvez Rubino (2001). acts about the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present. p. 398. ISBN 9780824209704.
  11. ^ "Is Ankara Promoting Zaza Nationalism to Divide the Kurds?". The Jamestown Foundation.
  12. ^ Kaya, Mehmed S. (2011). The Zaza Kurds of Turkey: A Middle Eastern Minority in a Globalised Society. London: Tauris Academic Studies. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-84511-875-4.
  13. ^ "Kurdish language – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  14. ^ According to the linguist Jacques Leclerc of Canadian "Laval University of Quebec, Zazaki is a part of Kurdish languages, Zaza are Kurds, he also included Goura/Gorani as Kurds
  15. ^ T.C. Millî Eğitim Bakanlığı, Talim Ve Terbiye Kurulu Başkanlığı, Ortaokul Ve İmam Hatip Ortaokulu Yaşayan Diller Ve Lehçeler Dersi (Kürtçe; 5. Sınıf) Öğretim Programı, Ankara 2012, "Bu program ortaokul 5, 6, 7, ve 8. sınıflar seçmeli Kürtçe dersinin ve Kürtçe’nin iki lehçesi Kurmancca ve Zazaca için müşterek olarak hazırlanmıştır. Program metninde geçen “Kürtçe” kelimesi Kurmancca ve Zazaca lehçelerine birlikte işaret etmektedir."
  16. ^ Prof. Dr. Kadrî Yildirim & Yrd. Doç. Dr. Abdurrahman Adak & Yrd. Doç. Dr. Hayrullah Acar & Zülküf Ergün & Îbrahîm Bîngol & Ramazan Pertev, Kurdî 5 – Zazakî, Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, 2012
  17. ^ "The Position of Zazaki Among West Iranian languages by Paul Ludwig" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  18. ^ Anand, Pranav; Nevins, Andrew. "Shifty Operators in Changing Contexts" (PDF). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. p. 17. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 May 2005.
  19. ^ ACTA Iranica: Encyclopedie Permanente Des Etudes Iraniennes. Brill. 1988. p. 500. ISBN 9068310941.
  20. ^ kiu
  21. ^ Prothero, W. G. (1920). Armenia and Kurdistan. London: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 19.
  22. ^ diq
  23. ^ a b Lars Johanson, Christiane Bulut (2006). Turkic-Iranian Contact Areas: Historical and Linguistic Aspects. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 293. ISBN 3447052767.
  24. ^ Ludwig Windfuhr, Gernot (2012), The Iranian Languages, Routledge, p. 32, ISBN 978-0-7007-1131-4
  25. ^ Arsalan Kahnemuyipour (7 October 2016). "The Ezafe Construction: Persian and Beyond" (PDF). The Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region. Indiana University, University of Toronto. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  26. ^ Xasi, Ehmedê (1899) Mewludê nebi, reprinted in 1994 in Istambul OCLC 68619349, (Poems about the birth of Mohammed and songs praising Allah.)
  27. ^ Osman Efendîyo Babij kamo? (Who is the Osman Efendîyo Babij?)
  28. ^ "Kırmancca (Zazaca) Kürtçesinde Öykücülüğün Gelişimi".
  29. ^ Tabak, Husrev (2016-11-30). The Kosovar Turks and Post-Kemalist Turkey: Foreign Policy, Socialization and Resistance. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 35. ISBN 9781786730558.
  30. ^ "Alignment in Kurdish: a diachronic perspective" (PDF). 2004. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  31. ^ Todd, Terry Lynn (2008). A Grammar of Dimili (also Known as Zaza) (PDF). Electronic Publication. p. 33.
  32. ^ Ludwig, Paul (2009). Zazaki. The Iranian Languages: London & New York: Routledge. pp. 545–586.
  33. ^ Todd, Terry Lynn (2008). A Grammar of Dimili also known as Zaza. Stockholm: Iremet.
  34. ^ Çeko Kocadag (2010). Ferheng Kirmanckî (zazakî - Kurmancî) - Kurmancî - Kirmanckî (zazakî). Berlin: Weşanên Komkar. ISBN 9783927213401.


External linksEdit