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  • Writer's pictureLeon Aslanov

Languages in close proximity: Armenian & Azerbaijani

From the perspective of somebody who is new to the Armenian and Azerbaijani languages, they seem to be completely different: they use different alphabets, they possess different formal phonologies, and they belong to different language families. For any lay person, this may be reason enough to view the two languages as completely separate in nature. However, a closer inspection conjures a very different image, one that may be surprising both to those foreign to the region, but also to local speakers of the languages.

It’s not all about “language families”

The theory of language families does a good job of assisting linguists to paint a picture of links between languages that share common linguistic ancestry in terms of vocabulary and grammar. However, it also does a good job of denying languages much of their historical experiences with other languages (and, in extension, other cultures and societies) with whom they have intermingled. According to standard language family theory, Armenian constitutes its own branch of the Indo-European language family, while Azerbaijani is considered to be part of the Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family. These “facts” both say a lot about these languages, but also miss out a whole lot of historical experience. It omits the influence of other linguistic concepts that are also extremely important when approaching a language analytically - for instance Wellentheorie (lit. “Wave Theory” in German) in historical linguistics, which has been suggested as a substitute for the tree model (i.e. language families) and takes into account innovations in languages as a result of contact with neighbouring languages, as well as the concept of Sprachbund (lit. “language federation” in German).

Sprachbund denotes the idea that languages in close geographical proximity to one another influence each other over time and begin to converge in certain aspects (whether in terms of vocabulary or grammar or both). This includes languages that may not be “genetically related” (a problematic expression that harks back to positivist European philosophy of the 19th century). The term Sprachbund is commonly used in reference to “unrelated” languages that have mutually influenced one another in the Balkans and also has been used as a concept to disprove the Altaic language family theory (which has instead been accepted as a case of Sprachbund between Mongolic, Turkic, Tungusic and other languages in north-eastern Asia). The mutual influence of Armenian and Azerbaijani, as well as other languages in the region, mainly including Iranian, Semitic and Caucasian languages, becomes evident when we take a look at shared vocabulary and even common grammatical aspects. Note: Armenian in this article refers to Eastern Armenian as spoken in the Republic of Armenia.

Commonalities in grammar

Before discussing and providing a list of shared vocabulary, I will expound a little on common grammar points, which may come as a surprise to anybody who sees languages as essentially belonging to their assigned language families. Despite Armenian and Azerbaijani belonging to the Indo-European and Turkic language families respectively, they express elements that demonstrate influence from other language families, even in grammar.

Azerbaijani, the optative mood and relative clauses

Here are a couple of examples where Azerbaijani expresses Indo-European linguistic characteristics:

There is an Azerbaijani song called istəyirəm görəm səni (translation: I want to see you). Let us parse this sentence in Azerbaijani and translate it to Armenian:

istəyirəm görəm səni

(present tense optative mood object pronoun)

If we were to literally translate this sentence into English, it would look something like this:

I want I may see you

Which makes no sense. The proper translation in English would require the infinitive (to see) instead of the optative (may see). Standard Armenian would actually follow the English pattern and use the infinitive in the follow way:

ուզում եմ տեսնել քեզ

uzum em tesnel k’ez

present tense infinitive object pronoun

However, in spoken Armenian it is very common, even if considered "incorrect" according to standard grammar, to come across the structure that we saw in the Azerbaijani sentence (note the optative tesnem instead of the infinitive tesnel):

ուզում եմ տեսնեմ քեզ

uzum em tesnem k’ez

present tense optative mood object pronoun

This sentence structure is rare in other Indo-European languages and is non-existent in other Turkic languages. For instance, it is very uncommon to reconstruct this sentence in the same way in standard Turkish:

istiyorum göreyim seni

present tense optative mood object pronoun

The above sentence is not common in Turkish and it would prefer to use the infinitive görmek (to see) to make any sense.

A similar instance can be found in the way that Azerbaijani has the potential to make relative clauses in a similar way to Armenian (but wildly differently from other Turkic languages, many of which either do not have a relative pronoun at all or avoid using it at all costs). The relative pronoun (i.e. ‘that’ or ‘which’ in English) in Azerbaijani is ki (which is from the Persian که [ki] and sounds like the French qui or the Spanish que respectively). The word ki is used much more frequently in Azerbaijani than in other Turkic-labelled languages that use the same word (e.g. Turkish, Uzbek and Uyghur, among others). It is also used in Azerbaijani in ways that one would not come across in other Turkic languages and instead is more similar (or exactly the same) as sentence structures in Armenian or Persian. Here is an example of its use as a subordinating conjunction:

istəyirəm ki, o yaşasın

present tense relative pronoun subject pronoun optative mood

In English, this would be translated in the following way:

I want him to live

present tense object pronoun infinitive

While Armenian expresses this sentence with the same pattern as the Azerbaijani:

ուզում եմ, որ նա ապրի

present tense relative pronoun subject pronoun optative mood

This pattern is also common in other Indo-European languages, for example in French it would be:

je veux qu'il vive

present tense relative pronoun subject pronoun subjunctive mood [closely related to the optative mood]

This feature is also exhibited in its use for restrictive relative clauses in the following way:

O elə adamdır ki, heç kimə zərər verməz

personal pronoun pronoun noun + copula relative pronoun, dative, hypothetical future

Նա այնպիսի մարդ է, որ ոչ մեկին վնաս չի տա։

personal pronoun pronoun noun + copula relative pronoun, dative, hypothetical future

A very literal translation of this into English would look like this:

He/she such person is that to nobody harm will not give

The correct translation of this sentence into English would be:

He/she is someone who wouldn’t harm anybody

The sentence structure in English is very different, while the Armenian and Azerbaijani sentences have exactly the same word order and grammatical features, which would not be the case in most other Indo-European and Turkic languages.

This demonstrates that Azerbaijani either has a strong substratum of Indo-European characteristics (i.e. a base of Indo-European speakers [e.g. Armenian] and specifically Iranian speakers [e.g. Kurdish, Tat, Talysh] whose linguistic characteristics have survived following the Turkification of their language) or heavy influence of nearby Indo-European languages, or a mixture of both.

Armenian and agglutination

Now I will present an aspect of modern Armenian that diverges from the modern norm of Indo-European grammar - its agglutinative nature. Agglutination is far from common in modern Indo-European languages and it is a core element of Turkic languages (as well as Caucasian languages like Georgian). Agglutination involves the sticking together of morphemes (the smallest meaningful unit of speech) that only have one primary meaning each stuck ('glued') one after another in inflectional and derivational processes. Classical Armenian had a slight tendency to agglutination, however this phenomenon in Armenian began to appear frequently in the modern language and it is said that this may be a result of influences from neighbouring agglutinative languages (whether Caucasian or Turkic). Here is an example using the word Turkic word ocaq which means hearth or family in Azerbaijani, Georgian and Armenian:

These Modern Armenian suffixes differ from how they would have appeared in Classical Armenian, which used a different plural affix (k’) at the end of the word, instead of -(ն)եր ([n]er) in the middle, the latter of which is like in Azerbaijani and Georgian.

Modern Armenian also has a developed agglutinative system for verbs, much like in Azerbaijani (and Georgian). Let’s compare the word for “not agreed upon” in both languages:

չհամաձայնեցված (chhamadzaynets’vats)

negative particle ‘agree’ causative passive past participle


‘agree’ causative passive negative particle past participle

Shared vocabulary & expressions

The list presented below shows words and expressions that are shared between Armenian and Azerbaijani. Many of the words noted in Armenian are used only in spoken dialects and I have focused primarily on the standard spoken dialect (known as the Yerevan or Ararat dialect), while the words noted in Azerbaijani exist both in the formal and spoken languages. This is far from being an exhaustive list of shared words (there are far more than what has been noted), and it also does not include any Russian or European words. It is simply a list that gives a flavour of the extent to which vocabulary and expressions have been passed on mutually from one group of languages to another. Due to the more dominant social and political status of Azerbaijani in the region over the past few centuries (especially in the period before Russian colonisation), recent borrowings lean more heavily on Azerbaijani words.

The ‘Iranian’ label in the list below denotes Iranian words that exist in Armenian and Azerbaijani from multiple sources. In the Armenian case, many of the Iranian words have existed in Classical Armenian and were mainly borrowings from the Parthian language (a north-western Iranian language) and also some from Middle Persian (a south-western Iranian language). Several other modern Iranian words have entered Armenian through Azerbaijani as well as modern Persian itself.

‘Perso-Arabic’ words originally Arabic words that have been Persified and have become an integral part of the Azerbaijani languages. Most of these words entered Armenian through Azerbaijani. It is particularly difficult to separate Iranian and Perso-Arabic words from the Azerbaijani and calling such words ‘borrowings’ may not reflect the essence of Azerbaijani, which, as mentioned before, contains Iranian substrata.

‘Mongolian’ words are likely to have entered the Turkic languages that spread to western Asia and have thus been borrowed into Armenian and other languages in the region through the medium of Turkic.

‘Armenian’ words are simply Armenian words that have entered Azerbaijani.


զանգ - zəng (Iranian) = ring/bell

զմրուխթ - zümrüd (Perso-Arabic) = emerald

գոհար - gövhər (Iranian) = gem

խաբար - xəbər (Perso-Arabic) = news

ազիզ - əziz (Perso-Arabic) = dear

նախիր - naxır (Armenian) = herd

քոք - kok (Turkic) = root

թել - tel (Armenian) = string

դարդ - dərd (Iranian) = pain

վախտ - vaxt (Perso-Arabic) = time

խեր - xeyir (Perso-Arabic) = goodness

օրինակ - örnək (Armenian) = example

քյորփա - körpə (Turkic) = kid

խաչ - xaç (Armenian) = cross

ադաթ - adət (Perso-Arabic) = custom

լաքա - ləkə (Iranian) = stain

գերանդի - kərənti (Armenian) = scythe

զիբիլ - zibil (Perso-Arabic) = rubbish

մարալ - maral (Mongolian) = deer

ջեյրան - ceyran (Mongolian) = gazelle

քաչալ - keçəl (Iranian) = bald

չոբան - çoban (Iranian) = shepherd

ջանդամ - cəhənnəm (Perso-Arabic) = hell

չափալախ - şapalaq (Turkic) - slap

ղոնաղ - qonaq (Turkic) = guest

մեխ - mıx (Iranian) = nail

թալան(չի) - talan(çı) (Mongolian) = stealing

չոլ - çöl (Mongolian) = wasteland

չափ - çap (Iranian) = Armenian: measure; Azerbaijani: print

քեֆ(չի) - kef(çi) (Perso-Arabic) = fun

հավես - həvəs (Perso-Arabic) = enthusiasm

փափախ - papaq (Turkic) = woolen hat

մարդ - mərd (Iranian) = Armenian: person/man; Azerbaijani: brave

քոչվոր - köçəri (Turkic) = nomad

ջան - can (Iranian) = dear/soul

նամուս - namus (Arabic/Greek) = virtue

բալա - bala (Turkic) = child

փիսիկ - pişik (Iranian) = cat

փեթակ - pətək (Iranian) = hive

բաջի - bacı = sister (Mongolian)

դերձակ - dərzi (Iranian) = tailor

սուփրա - süfrə (Perso-Arabic) = tablecloth

չամադան - çamadan (Iranian) = suitcase

ուստա - usta (Iranian) = master

oյին - oyun (Turkic) = game

օջախ - ocaq (Turkic) = hearth

քուչա - küçə (Iranian) = neighbourhood/road

շալվար - şalvar (Iranian) = trousers

նշան - nişan (Iranian) = sign հալ - hal (Perso-Arabic) = physical or emotional state բամբակ - pambıq (Iranian) = cotton դարպաս - darvaza (Iranian) = gate

թիքա - tikə (Iranian) = small piece

hարիֆ - hərif (Perso-Arabic) = idiot

ղուբան - qurban (Perso-Arabic) = sacrifice բուդ - bud (Turkic) = thigh

դոշակ - döşək (Turkic) = mattress թավա - tava (Iranian) = pan

փիլաքյան - pilləkən (Iranian) = stairs

բաղ - bağ (Iranian) = garden

բախչա - bağça (Iranian) = small garden

դիլիմ - dilim (Turkic) = slice


ազատ - azad (Iranian) = free

փնթի - pinti (Armenian) = unclean

դինջ - dinc (Turkic) = calm

սաղ - sağ (Turkic) = alive

ղոչաղ - qoçaq (Turkic) = brave

թամբալ - tənbəl (Iranian) = lazy

դիք - dik (Turkic) = steep

ալվան - əlvan (Perso-Arabic) - colourful

փիս - pis (Iranian) = bad

թազա - təzə (Iranian) = new

բոլ - bol (Turkic) = abundant

քյասիբ - kasıb (Perso-Arabic) = poor

բեխաբար - bixəbər (Perso-Arabic) = uninformed/unaware

արխային - arxayın (Turkic) = freely

ախմախ - axmaq (Perso-Arabic) = stupid

գիժ - gic (Iranian) - crazy

ինադու - inad (Perso-Arabic) = stubborn

գյորմամիշ - görməmiş (Turkic) = greedy

չփլախ - çılpaq (Turkic) = naked


հըլը - hələ (Iranian) = still

բալքի - bəlkə (Iranian) = maybe

հեչ - heç (Iranian) = not at all


քյալամ - kələm (Iranian) = cabbage

բալ - albalı (Iranian) = cherry

գիլաս - gilas (Iranian) = sweet cherry

փախլավա - paxlava (Perso-Arabic) = sweet pastry

մուրաբբա - mürəbbə (Perso-Arabic) = fruit preserve

զեյթուն - zeytun (Perso-Arabic) = olive

արաղ - araq (Perso-Arabic) = vodka

շիրա - şirə (Iranian) = juice extract

թութ - tut (Iranian/Aramaic) = mulberry

բիբար - bibər (Greek) = pepper

Verbs & Expressions

ցավդ տանեմ - qadan alım = expression of endearment (lit. I take your pain)

սաղ-սալամաթ - sağ-salamat = safe and sound

ջան ու ջիգյար - can-ciyər = warm-hearted

գլխի ընկնել - başa düşmək = to understand (lit. to fall on head)

ռաստ գալ - rast gəlmək = to come across

զահլա գնալ - zəhləsi getmək = to be disgusted by

յոլա գնալ - yola getmək = to get on with

նշանվել - nişanlanmaq = to get engaged

բարիշել - barışmaq = to make peace

ռադ լինել - rədd olmaq - to go away

թարգել - tərgimək = to give something up

շախով-շուխով - şax-şux = used in Armenian to describe dancing energetically - from the Azerbaijani (and originally Persian) words şax (upright) and şux (cheerful)

գյոռբագյոռ - gorbagor = to die ignominiously

զահրմար - zəhrmar = expression of annoyance

ախր - axı = but!/in the end

շան օրի - it günündə = feeling awful (lit. on a dog's day)

տեսնես - görəsən = I wonder...

եքա մարդ ես - yekə kişisən = you’re a grown man

այ... - ay… = used as an exclamation before a person or name


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