Languages of Azerbaijan
Many different languages have dominated in the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
The primary and official language of Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani or Azeri,1 a Turkic language closely related to Modern Turkish and Turkmen. It is spoken as a mother tongue by roughly 96.6% of the population,citation needed while Russian and English play significant roles as languages of education and communication. The large Armenian-speaking population of Nagorno-Karabakh is no longer under government control. Lezgian, Talysh, Avar, Georgian, Budukh,2 Juhuri,2 Khinalug,2 Kryts,2 Rutul,2 Tsakhur,2 Tat,2 and Udi2 are all spoken by minorities.
All these3 (with the exception of Armenian, Lezgian, Talysh, Avar, and Georgian, which have much larger number of speakers outside Azerbaijan, but nevertheless are steadily declining within Azerbaijan) above mentioned languages are endangered languages which are threatened with extinction, as they are spoken by few (less than 10,000) or very few (less than 1,000) people and their usage is steadily declining with emigration and modernisation.
An entire issue of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language, edited by Jala Garibova, was devoted to the matter of languages and language choices in Azerbaijan, vol. 198 in 2009.
The medieval author Ibn al-Nadim, in his book Al-Fihrist, however, mentions that all the Median and Persian lands of antiquity (including what is today the Republic of Azerbaijan) spoke one language. There, he quotes the great scholar Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa as such:
- "The Iranian languages are Fahlavi (Pahlavi), Dari, Khuzi, Persian, and Seryani. But Fahlavi comes from the word Fahleh. And Fahleh is a name that refers to 5 regions: Isfahan, Ray, Hamedan, Mah-Nahavand, and Azerbaijan."
He then reports that Dari is the official language of the royal courts, and is from Khorasan and Balkh and eastern Iran; Parsi is the language of the Zoroastrian Moobeds, and is from Fars; Khuzi is the unofficial language of the royalty and is from Khuzestan; and Seryani originates from Mesopotamia.
This has also been reported by reputed medieval historians such as Al-Tabari, Ibn Hawqal, Istakhri, Moqaddasi, Yaghubi, Masudi, and Mostowfi Qazvini as well. Al-Khwarizmi also mentions this in chapter 6, vol 6, of his book Mafatih-ol-Olum.
Etymological studies also further indicate that current dialects spoken from Baku to Khalkhal to Semnan, all originated from a common source. In other words, the people of ancient Azerbaijan spoke the same language spoken by the Medes. (see Columbia University's distinguished professor Ehsan Yarshater's report in: Majjaleh-ye Daaneshkadehye Adabiyaat, 5, No 1-2, p35-37)
The medieval historian Yaqut al-Hamawi also used the phrase Al-ajam-ol-Azariyah ("The Azeri Iranian") in his books Mo'ajjem ol-Odabaa and Mo'jem ol Baladaan. In other sources such as Surat-ol-Arz by Ebne Hoghel, Ahsan ol-Taqaaseem by Moqaddasi, and Masaalik va Mamaalik by Istakhri, the people of Azerbaijan are recorded to be speaking Iranian languages. Obviously, this was before the Turkic cultural arrival. And Tabari in 235 A.H. also mentions that poets in Maragheh recited poetry in Pahlavi. Some Azerbaijani poets however, such as Qatran Tabrizi (d465 A.H.), used the word "Persian" and "Pahlavi" interchangeably to describe their native language.
The historian Hamdollah Mostowfi even goes as far as describing variants of "Pahlavi" spoken in different areas of Azerbaijan. In his book Tarikh Gozideh, he describes 8 poets from Azerbaijan, calling them "Ahl-ol She'r Men-al-Ajam" (Iranian poets), all Persian by tongue. By now of course, Dari and Pahlavi had merged into one, as successive dynasties moved from east to west, bringing with them the Dari version of the Iranian language.
Suffice to say that the number of records and documents from Azerbaijan in Pahlavi language are so numerous that it has left little doubt that this was indeed the native tongue of Azerbaijan before the arrival of the Turks. Many words in the current Azeri vocabulary in fact are of Pahlavi origin. (see studies in Nashriyeh Adabiyaat of Tabriz University, by Dr Mahyar Navabi, 5,6. Also see Farhang e Kamaleddin Teflisi, Ajayeb ol-Makhluqaat by Najibeddin Hamadani, and also the books: Majmal-ol-Tavarikh wa al-qasas, Iskandar-Nameh e Qadeem, and others for lists of words)
It is agreed that the current Turkic form of the Azeri language supplanted and replaced Pahlavi in Azerbaijan before the Safavid dynasty, perhaps starting with the arrival of Seljukian Turks, and during a gradual course. But some historians report of Pahlavi being spoken in Tabriz as late as the 17th century. (see Rowdhat ul-Jinan by Hafez Hosein Tabrizi (d997 A.H.), and Risaleh ye Anarjani written in 985 AH). Even the Ottoman Turkish explorer Evliya Celebi (1611-1682), mentions this in his Seyahatname. He also reports that the elite and learned people of Nakhichevan and Maragheh spoke Pahlavi, during his tours of the region.
- "Azerbaijan". www.ethnologue.com. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
- Published in: Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages. Edited by Christopher Moseley. London & New York: Routledge, 2007. 211–280.
- "Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger". UNESCO.