Evolution of the Turkish Language and Identity

Javad Heyet - Paper Presented to: The Symposium on Turkish Language and Idendity
University of Malmoe

The Turkish language of Azerbaijan or Turkish language belongs to the Oghuz group, and is spoken in Iran as well as the republic of Azerbaijan, eastern Anatolia and Kerkuk region in Iraq. The formation of Azerbaijani language as a nationwide language is related to the immigration of the Turkic tribes and peoples to Azerbainan, though not exactly synchronous with it. There is difference of opinion among the linguists as to when exactly this language developed into a folks‐scale language.

Western turcologists believe that the language took the form of a nationwide language simultaneously with the immigration of the Oghuz Turks at the beginning of the 11th century from the central Asia to Azerbaijan through Iran. The literary works began to emerge from the 13th century. The scholars of North Azerbaijan and ex‐Soviet authors date this evolution back to the 7‐8th centuries (A. Demirchizade etc.). Even some scholars consider Azerbaijan to be the original homeland of the Turks.

According to my own research, the northern part of Azerbaijan was subjected to Turkish elements beginning the 7th century B.C., by the immigration of various Turkic tribes from the central Asia, such as Schythes, Bulqars, Huns, Sabirs, Agajeris, Pecheneks, Kengerlus, On‐Oghurs, Sari‐Oghurs, Khazars, and finally Qipchaqs, thus the turkicisation process was completed in the north as early as the 7th century A.D., whereas in the south, this process still waited to be intensified by the immigration of Oghuz‐Qipchaq and Uyghur elements in the 11‐13th centuries. In these centuries the territories of southern Azerbaijan were conquered and settled by Seljuk Turks (Oghuz), whose settlement was later intensified by the Uyghur (who accompanied Mongols), Ag‐Qoyunlu, Qara‐Qoyunlu, Turks arriving with Tamerlane from Central Asia, and later by the Qizilbash (Oghuz) tribes arriving in the 16th century and joining Shah Ismail Safavi. The language of all the native inhabitants including the Tats and the immigrating Mongols was converted to the Turkish language due to their melting within these Turkish elements.

The establishment of Oghuz dialect as the dominant language of Azerbaijan was made possible only after domination of the Oghuz element in the ethnic make‐up of the population of Azerbaijan, i.e. after the 11th century, though other Turkic dialects such as Qipchaq and Uyghur and even the Tat and other Azeri dialects had played a certain role in this evolution, and Arabic and Persian words entered the language due to the Islamic and the Iranian influence.

The Turkish of Azerbaijan contains a written literary language and many oral dialects. Early literary works in the Azerbaijani language include Izziddin Hasan Oghlu, Nessir Bakui and Hindu Shah Nakhchivani, who wrote his famous lexicological and grammatical work called Sahah‐al‐ajem in the 13th century. The oral tradition is older and dates back to Dede Qorqud legend. The literary style of Dede Qorqud marks the early phases of the Oghuz language, when the differentiation between the Azerbaijani and Anatolian dialects had not set in yet.

The evolution of Turkish language of Azerbaijan has been divided into 3 periods by A. Demirchizadeh as follows:

1 – The formation and evolution of the Azerbaijani on the basis of a comprehensive ethnic language (Umumxalq Dil), 11th century up to the end of 18th century.

2 – The stabilization of the literary language as a national language, 18th century up to early 20th century.

3 – The contemporary period, early 20th century up to present.

The first period can be divided into 3 stages as follows:

1 – The beginning stage (11‐15th centuries). In this period the Oghuz dialect was dominant and certain language elements from Qipchaq‐ Uyghur and sometimes synonyms (qosha sözler, paired words) are present in parallel, as for example Yaxshi and Eyu, ben and men, qilmaq and etmek, ayitmaq and soylemek and demek, ol and shol and o, varmaq and getmek, tamu and cehennem, uçmaq and behisht etc. The U phoneme was dominant in the second syllable of the words and also in the suffixes, as for example eyu, altun, qamu (hami), versun (versin). This situation had persisted until the end of the 18th century and had taken its final, present day form after the emergence of the poet Vaqif. The most notable figure belonging to this period was Nassimi (14th century).

2 – Khatai and Fuzuli stages (16‐17th centuries). In this period the Turkish language was developing in parallel to the Persian language, and was the official language used in the Safavi court and the military establishments as well as the administrative circles. In this period the Turkish language influenced the Persian language strongly by providing many loan words and military terms to it, and paved the way for a unification, and the difference between the written and the oral language almost disappeared. The qoshma poetical form was introduced to the classical literature by the poetry of Shah Ismail Khatai.

Fuzuli was the most notable Ghazal (lyric) poet of the period, who wrote lyric4 divans in Turkish, Persian and Arabic. His Leyla and Medjnun is considered to be the most burning and aestethic example of mathnavi of this kind. The school of Fuzuli is continued at contemporary times. Most Azerbaijani poets wrote their divans under his literary influence.

3 – Vaqif stage (18th century). Vaqif was a realist poet who introduced many innovations in the form and content of the Azerbaijani language and literature. He chose qoshma as the formal basis of his poetry, and used a relatively pure linguistic style, reflecting the traditions and life styles of the Turkish people.

In this period the literary language took a unique and general form, and qoshma was effectively introduced into the literary tradition.

The phonological and grammatical elements of the language acquired unity and were stabilized, and new words replaced the older ones, and the language acquired its present day characteristics. In the 19th century (1812) the northern part of Azerbaijan was separated from Iran and annexed to the Russian Empire, but the linguistic process continued in the northern part, and the morphology acquired its present day, uniform characteristics. In the new period the emergence of journals like Ekinchi, Fiyuzat, and Molla Nassreddin helped stabilize the prose. School books and grammatical books were edited in the mother language, which helped stabilize the orthography and pronunciation of the language, and the standard style replaced the former complicated scientic prose styles.

In the year 1918 the literary language was declared as the official language, and after 1920 this situation continued under the Soviet rule.

In the 19th century the Marthia literature (poetry dedicated to the tragedy of Imams) enjoyed extensive development in the Iranian section of Azerbaijan, but during the 20th century the written language was banned under the Pahlavi regime. This situation continued up until the onset of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, with the exception of a single year (1945‐46) during which the government of the Democrat Party of Azerbaijan was in charge in Tabriz.

After 1979 with the settlement of the Islamic regime a new period began in the history of language and literature of the Iranian Azerbaijan. Many journals and publications appeared in the Turkish language alone or mixed Turkish and Persian languages. Today, there are more than 50 regular journals, although certain of the journals had a relatively short lifetime.

Varliq journal started to be published early 1979, and continued regularly up to now, both in Turkish and Persian, presenting essays on linguistics, as well as literature, history, folklore and some polemical issues. This journal has now acquired the status of a school, where the most learned Turkish scholars publish their articles. The Varliq journal was pioneer in stabilizing the orthographic styles as well as the stabilization of the written language norms in the Iranian Azerbaijan.

Hundreds of books and journals have been published in Iran in the past 24 years, which contribute effectively to the promotion of linguistic features in the Turkish language. The language of Varliq is based on the common Turkish literary language, except that the Russian and Latin words are used with much less frequency in comparison to the literary styles of the northern part of Azerbaijan.

Malmoe, 15 April 2003