Zaza language

Native to Anatolia
Region Main in Tunceli, Bingöl, Erzincan, Sivas, Elazığ, Erzurum, Malatya Gümüşhane Province, Şanlıurfa Province, and Varto, Adıyaman Province; diasporic in Mutki, Sarız, Aksaray, and Taraz
Ethnicity Zaza
Native speakers
1.6 million (1998)[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2 zza
ISO 639-3 zzainclusive code
Individual codes:
kiu  Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza)
diq  Dimli (Southern Zaza)
Glottolog zaza1246[2]
Linguasphere 58-AAA-ba
The regions where Zaza is spoken in Turkey, with the three main dialect areas: Tunceli, Palu-Bingöl, Varto and Siverek (and diasporic in Kars, Sarız, Aksaray, and Taraz).

Zaza language, also called Zazaki, Kirmanjki and Dimli, 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 and Caspian dialect group.[3] Zaza shares many features, structures, and vocabulary with Gorani. Zaza also has some similarities with Talyshi and other Caspian languages.[4] According to Ethnologue (which cites [Paul 1998]),[4] 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.[5]


Geographic distribution of Kurdish and Zaza–Gorani[6]

  mixed areas

Family tree of Iranian languages

Zaza belongs to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language 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 Zaza has been an issue of political discussion. It is sometimes classified as a subdialect of Kurdish.[7][8][9][10] The majority of Zaza-speakers in Turkey identify themselves as ethnic Kurds.[11][12]

The US State Department "Background Note" lists the Zaza language as one of the major languages of Turkey, along with Turkish (official), Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, and Arabic.[13] Linguists connect the word Dimli with the Daylamites in the Alborz Mountains near the shores of the Caspian Sea in Iran and believe that the Zazas have immigrated from Deylaman towards the west. Zaza shows many connections to the Iranian languages of the Caspian region, especially the Gilaki language.

The Zaza language shows similarities with Hewrami or Gorani, Shabaki and Bajelani. The Gorani, Bajelani, and Shabaki languages are spoken around the Iran-Iraq border; however, it is believed that speakers of these languages also migrated from Northern Iran to their present homelands. These languages are classified together in the Zaza–Gorani language group.


There are three main Zaza dialects:

Its subdialects are:

  • West-Dersim[15]
  • East-Dersim
  • Varto
  • Border dialects like Sarız, Koçgiri (Giniyan-idiom)

Its subdialects are:

  • Bingol
  • Palu
  • Border dialects like Hani, Kulp, Lice, Ergani, Piran

Its subdialects are:

  • Siverek
  • Cermik, Gerger
  • Border dialects like Mutki and Aksaray

Literature and broadcast programs

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,[17] and of Osman Efendîyo Babij[18] (published in Damascus in 1933 by Celadet Bedir Khan[19]); 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 during their move toward an eventual accession to the European Union, Turkish state-owned TRT Kurdî television launched several Zaza programs and a radio program on certain days.


As with a number of other Indo-Iranian languages like Kurmanji and Sorani, 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.[20]

Grammatical gender

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. 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.


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 languages

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 wāx 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


The Zazaki alphabet contains 31 letters:[21]

Letter A
Name a be ce çe de e ê fe ge he i î je ke le me ne o pe qe re se şe te u û ve we xe ye ze
Pronunciation /a/ /b/ /dz/[lower-alpha 1] /ts/[lower-alpha 2] /d/ /ɛ/ /e/ /f/ /a/ /h/ /ɪ/ /i/ /ʒ/ /k/ /l/ /m/ /n/ /o/ /p/ /q/ /r/ /s/ /ʃ/ /t/ /y/ /u/ /v/ /w/ /x/ /ɪ/ /z/


  1. /dʒ/ before /e i y/
  2. /tʃ/ before /e i y/


  1. Zaza at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Kirmanjki (Northern Zaza) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Dimli (Southern Zaza) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Zaza". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Encyclopædia Iranica Nevertheless, their language has preserved numerous isoglosses with the dialects of the southern Caspian region, and its place in the Caspian dialect group of Northwest Iranian is clear.
  4. 1 2 "The Position of Zazaki Among West Iranian languages by Paul Ludwig" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  5. 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.
  6. The map shown is based on a map published by Le Monde Diplomatique in 2007. A similar map was made in 1998 by Mehrdad Izady (and labelled "for class use only"). The map is based on a twofold "North Kurdish" vs. "South Kurdish" division, and apparently conflates Central and Southern dialects. The area marked "Gorani" significantly overlaps with the areal of Southern Kurdish.
  7. "Kurdish language – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  8. According to the linguist Jacques Leclerc of Canadian "Laval University of Quebec, Zazaki is a part of kurdish languages, Zaza are Kurdes, he also enclude Goura/Gorani as Kurds
  9. 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."
  10. 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
  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. "The US State Department "Background Note" on Turkey". Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  14. kiu
  15. Prothero, W. G. (1920). Armenia and Kurdistan. London: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 19.
  16. diq
  17. Xasi, Ehmedê (1899) Mewlude nebi, reprinted in 1994 in Istambul OCLC 68619349, (Poems about the birth of Mohammed and songs praising Allah.)
  18. Osman Efendîyo Babij kamo? (Who is the Osman Efendîyo Babij?)
  19. "Kırmancca (Zazaca) Kürtçesinde Öykücülüğün Gelişimi".
  20. "Alignment in Kurdish: a diachronic perspective" (PDF). 2004. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  21. "Zazaki alphabet". Retrieved 2013-12-24.


Zazaki edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Zaza language test of Wiktionary at Wikimedia Incubator
Kirmanjki test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Zaza language.
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