Thursday, 30 May 2013

Introduction to Zazaki

Zazaki has one of the most beautiful sounding names that I know of. It is an Iranian language found in Central Turkey, often considered to be related to Kurdish and thus included in maps of an independent Kurdistan, but it is actually from a completely different branch of Iranian languages. As can be seen in this image, both Zazaki and the Kurdish languages are part of the North-Western group -unlike Persian-, but Zazaki splits from Kurdish along with the extinct Parthian and Median.

Zazas are generally considered to be part of the Kurdish ethno-cultural group and Zazai nationalism has been accused of being part of the Turkish attack on Kurdish nationalism in an attempt to separate the Zazas from the Kurdish movement. I don't know if or to what extent this is true.

Map of Iranian languages (Zaza(ki) in dark green in central Anatolia)

Grammatically Zazaki has some aspects in common with Kurmanji, such as genders (not found in Sorani or Persian) and the use of the ergative in the past tenses. However, it goes further than Kurmanji in that the verbs take gender agreement, compare for example:

bıray           mın  şı
brother-of   me   went

way         mın   şi
sister-of  me     went

So the verb 'went' changes to agree with the gender of the subject, here the feminine form is an ablaut of the masculine.
Now looking at a past tense, we can see that the verb agrees with the object due to the ergativity. The ergative basically means that the verb agrees with the object which takes the nominative case and the subject takes the oblique case so that it looks a little like a passive tense, but without any passive meaning. In English it would look something like: me has kicked the ball - here 'has' agrees with 'ball' even though the sentence means 'I kicked the ball'. The ergative is used in a few languages, Hindi/Urdu and Basque probably being the most prominent. In Zazaki, as in Kurmanji, the ergative is only applied to transitive verbs in the past tense, thus the examples above are not ergative since 'go' is intransitive.

So we can see:

mı  dikê     da     to
me rooster gave you
I gave you the rooster

Here 'da' agrees with the masculine rooster which is the direct object of the action; the indirect object is simply placed after the verb. Compare this with:

mı   kergê  dê    to
me  hen      gave you
I gave you the hen

Again here the verb 'dê' agrees with the object which is now feminine and again the verb changes through ablaut of the masculine form.

Here is an extract from the Little Prince in Zazaki, "Şazadeo Qıckek".

Ez ke şeş serri debiyan; rocê, yew kitabo be namey "Heykatê ke vêniyaê", gemê ke torzên cı nêkewtê, inan sero nusiyao, mi tede resmê do zaf rındek di bi. Resmê bi, sero marê boa heywanê dê yabani qult kerdêne. Kopya xo naya ita.

I can't gloss this text, but a few snippets aren't too difficult to figure out.

ez ke     şeş serri debiyan

I    when six   year  was-being

rocê,              yew   kitabo be    namey...

one-day(OBL), a     book    with  (the?)name

resmê  do zaf  rındek

picture ??  very nice-a

resmê bi,    sero       marê  boa heywanê      dê       yabani   qult       kerdenê

picture was, in-which snake  boa animal(OBL) gave? ???        swallow  did?

As you can see, this barely shows us anything, but it gives you a chance to see what the language looks like and, to a very small extent, how it works. Unfortunately there is very little in the way of resources for Zazaki, although the causes for this are quite obvious considering the Turkish states dislike of minority languages.

Nevertheless, this is the language and culture of a couple of million people and so, despite the relative lack of information in this post, I don't think it is worthless since it is always worthwhile extending our knowledge a little on matters of such importance.

A Grammar of Zazaki/Dimli -
Paper on Zazaki by an old professor of mine -
A good Wikipedia article -

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