Azerbaijani for beginners – Lesson 1

22 Sen


Like other Turkic languages in the former USSR, Azeri has gone through several changes of alphabet over the past century. Until the 1920s it was written in the Arabic alphabet, from 1928 to 1938 it, along with the other Turkic languages, was switched to Latin. From then on it was written in a modified Cyrillic script, and in 1992 it switched to a Latin alphabet, this time based on the one used in Turkey. In South Azerbaijan (Iran) Azeri is still written with the Arabic script.

The latin alphabet:

a b c ç d e ə f g ğ h x ı i j k q l m n o ö p r s ş t u ü v y z

and the cyrillic:

а б в г ғ д е ә ж з и ы ј к ҝ л м н о ө п р с т у ү ф х һ ч ҹ ш ‘

While the Cyrillic is being phased out and is hardly ever seen on the internet, it is still used in printing. since we’ll be using the Latin in this course these are only included for completeness’ sake.

 Latin  Cyrillic  Arabic  IPA  Approx. English sound
 A a  А а  آ ا  [ ɑ ]  as a in English “father”
 B b  Б б  ب  [ b ]  as b in English “beet”
 C c  Ҹ ҹ  ج  [ ʤ ]  as j in English “jam”
 Ç ç  Ч ч  چ  [ ʧ ]  as ch in English “chair”
 D d  Д д  د  [ d ]  as d in English “dart”
 E e  Е е  ائ  [ e ]  as e in English “end”
 Ə ə  Ә ә  اَ  [ æ ]  as a in English “ant”
 F f  Ф ф  ف  [ f ]  as f in English “fire”
 G g  Ҝ ҝ  گ  [ gʲ ]  as g in English “gear”
 Ğ ğ  Ғ ғ  غ  [ ɣ ]  No exact equivalent; like Arabic ghayn
 H h  Һ һ  *(ه (ح  [ h ]  as h in English “hat”
 X x  Х х  خ  [ x ]  No exact equivalent; like Scottish loch
 I ı  Ы ы  ای  [ ɯ ]  as e in English “happen”
 İ i  И и  ای  [ ɪ ]  as i in English “pin”
 J j  Ж ж  ژ  [ ʒ ]  as g in English “massage”
 K k  К к  ک  [ kʲ ]  as k in English “keel”
 Q q  Г г  ق  [g/x/k]  as g in English “go”
 L l  Л л  ل  [ l/ɫ ]  as l in English “lard”
 Mm  М м  م  [ m ]  as m in English “man”
 N n  Н н  ن  [ n ]  as n in English “need”
 O o  О о  او  [ ɔ ]  as o in English “pore”
 Ö ö  Ө ө  اؤ  [ ø ]  as e in English “herd”
 P p  П п  پ  [ p ]  as p in English “pear”
 R r  Р р  ر  [ r ]  as r in English “row”
 S s  С с  (س (ث ص  [ s ]  as s in English “soot”
 Ş ş  Ш ш  ش  [ ʃ ]  as sh in English “shield”
 T t  Т т  ت ط  [ t ]  as t in English “toad”
 U u  У у  او  [ ʊ ]  as oo in English “hood”
 Ü ü  Ү ү  او  [ y ]  as u in English “abuse”
 V v  В в  و  [ v ]  as v in English “vase”
 Y y  Ј ј  ی  [ j ]  as y in English “yard”
 Z z  З з  (ز (ذ ض ظ  [ z ]  as z in English “zoo”


• a (а), e (е), i (и), o (о), u (у). these are more or less the same as the ‘pure’ vowels of Spanish, and don’t have any traces of diphthongization like in English.

• ә (ә), ö (ө), ü (ү). these are pronounced more or less like the German umlaut vowels ä, ö, and ü.

• ı (ы) is the same as its Turkish counterpart.

• Most of these vowels have long equivalents but this is not phonemic, i.e. it does not change the meaning of words. they mainly occur in loan words from Persian/Arabic, so if you know either of these languages it can help you figure out where the long vowels are.

• In Russian loan words, an unstressed o gets pronounced a – avtomat (автомат) gets pronounced aftamát. Again, knowing Russian will help you figure out the proper pronunciation of such words.


• b (б), f (ф), h (һ), l (л), m (м), p (п), s (с) , y (ј), z (з) are pronounced more or less as in English. l (л) has the same dark/light contrast it has in North American English – with back vowels it sounds like the ll in wall, with front vowels like the l in leaf.

• Voiceless stops are pronounced aspirated unless they are doubled.

• r (р) – not pronounced as breathily as in Istanbul Turkish, but still very weak, not rolled.

• v (в) – is the same as in many European languages (other than English) a sound sort of in between w and v, but tending towards v with front vowels and closer to w with back vowels. At the ends of (back vowel) syllables it gets pronounced w – dovşan (rabbit) → dowşan.
Coming before voiceless stops in Russian loans it can be pronounced like f – avtobus – aftobus

• dentals d (д), t (т), n (н) are just that, dental (like in French, Spanish, etc) and not alveolar as they are in English and German.

• k (к), – like English k, but it tends to get palatized near front vowels and even in some back vowel words (example – bakı ‘baku’, which sounds almost like bakyı)

• g (ҝ), q (г) – both are pronounced more or less like g, but g is associated with front-vowel words and is more palatized, while q is associated with back vowel words and (in theory at least) does not palatalize even with front vowels. q corresponds to the Arabic letter ق in loan words from that language.
At the ends of syllables in words of Turkic origin, it gets pronounced like x. When it’s found in the same position in Arabic loans, it tends to get pronounced like a k.

• ‘ – marks an ع in loan words from Arabic. in Azeri, it has no pronunciation of its own, but it does make preceding vowels longer. While it officially has been removed from the Latin alphabet you will still meet it occasionally.

• voiced stops b, c, d, get pronounced (but not written) like their voiceless equivalents p, ç, t at the end of a word.

There are some other minor details of pronunciation, which we will not concern ourselves with here.

Vowel Harmony

Those of you who know Turkish or another Turkic language will be familiar with these rules.

Front vowels: e ə i ü ö
Back vowels: a ı u o

Words of Turkic origin can contain only front or only back vowels (exceptions are words like iraq, irmaq – ı can never begin a word in Azeri). When adding suffixes any vowels contained in the suffixes have to match the vowels in the root:

də/da (“in”)
vağzalda (back vowel) – in the train station
məktəbdə (front vowel) – in the school

There are two kinds of vowel harmony, 2-way and 4-way.
2-way has only two alternatives, a/ə.
4-way is a bit more complicated, because the choice depends not only on whether a vowel is front or back, but also whether it’s rounded or not.

Roots ending in a/ı get the suffix vowel ı.
Roots ending in e/ə/i get the suffix vowel i.
Roots ending in o/u get the suffix vowel u.
Roots ending in ö/ü get the suffix vowel ü.

When harmonizing suffixes, there is also a kind of ‘consonant harmony’ involving the letters k/q y/ğ.
• Words ending in q turn this into ğ when followed by a vowel initial suffix: bıçaq (knife) – bıçağı (his knife)
• Words ending in k turn this into y: ürək (heart) – ürəyi (his heart).
• There is no change when adding consonant-initial suffixes: bıçaq → bıçaqlar (knives)

In suffixes containing one of these consonants, however, all four variations are possible:
• çatacaq – he will arrive (-caq – future tense forming suffix)
• çatacağam – I will arrive (-am first person ending)
• gələcək – he will come
• gələcəyəm – I will come


Exercise A: Read aloud:

1 ) bibi
2 ) göy
3 ) ingiliscə
4 ) almanca
5 ) əmi
6 ) portuqalqa
7 ) ispanca
8 ) qohum
9 ) uşaq
10 ) xala
11 ) qardaş
12 ) bəlkə
13 ) rusca
14 ) mavi
15 ) boz
16 ) çəhrayı
17 ) qırmızı
18 ) fransızca
19 ) yaxşi
20 ) bacı
21 )
22 ) bəli
23 ) kitab
24 ) pis

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