Laz language

Laz language
Lazuri, ლაზური
Spoken in  Turkey
Native speakers unknown (33,000 cited 1980)
Language family
South Caucasian (Kartvelian)
  • Karto-Zan
Writing system Latin, Georgian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 lzz

The Laz language (ლაზური ნენა, lazuri nena; Georgian: ლაზური ენა, lazuri ena, or ჭანური ენა, č'anuri ena, also chanuri ena; Turkish: Lazca) is a South Caucasian language (also known as Kartvelian language) spoken by the Laz people on the Southeast shore of the Black Sea. It is estimated that there are around 30,000[1] native speakers of Laz in Turkey, in a strip of land extending from Melyat to the Georgian border (officially called Lazistan until 1925), and about 2,000 in Georgia.[1]



Laz is one of the four South Caucasian languages. Along with Mingrelian, it forms the Zan branch of this language family. The two languages are very closely related, to the extent that some linguists refer to Mingrelian and Laz as dialects or regional variants of a single Zan language, a view held officially in the Soviet era and still so in Georgia today. In general, however, Laz and Mingrelian are classed as separate languages, due both to the long-standing separation of their communities of speakers (500 years) and to a lack of mutual intelligibility.

Geographical distribution

The ancient kingdom of Colchis was located in the same region the Laz speakers are found in today, and its inhabitants probably spoke an ancestral version of the language. Colchis was the setting for the famous Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts.

Today most Laz speakers live in Northeast Turkey, in a strip of land along the shore of the Black Sea: in the Pazar (Atina), Ardeşen (Art'aşeni), Çamlıhemşin (Vijadibi) and Fındıklı (Vitze) districts of Rize, and in the Arhavi (Ark'abi), Hopa (Xopa) and Borçka districts of Artvin. There are also communities in northwestern Anatolia (Akçakoca in Düzce, Sapanca in Sakarya, Karamürsel and Gölcük in Kocaeli, Bartın, and Yalova) where many immigrants settled since the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) and now also in Istanbul and Ankara. Only a few Laz live in Georgia, chiefly in Ajaria. Laz are also present in Germany where they have migrated from Turkey since the 1960s.

Social and cultural status

A Laz book "Mothertongue"
A Laz newspaper in 1928

Laz has no official status in either Turkey or Georgia, and no written standard. It is presently used only for familiar and casual interaction; for literary, business, and other purposes, Laz speakers use their country's official language (Turkish or Georgian).

Laz is unique among the South Caucasian languages in that most of its speakers live in Turkey rather than Georgia. While the differences between the various dialects are minor, their speakers feel that their level of mutual intelligibility is low. Given that there is no common standard form of Laz, speakers of its different dialects use Turkish to communicate with each other.

Between 1930 and 1938, Zan (Laz and Mingrelian) enjoyed cultural autonomy in Georgia and was used as a literary language, but an official standard form of the tongue was never established. Since then, all attempts to create a written tradition in Zan have failed, despite the fact that most intellectuals use it as a literary language.

In Turkey, Laz has been a written language since 1984, when an alphabet based on Turkish script with Latin alphabet was created. Since then, this system has been used in most of the handful of publications that have appeared in Laz. Developed specifically for the South Caucasian languages, the Georgian alphabet is better suited to the sounds of Laz, but the fact that most of the tongue's speakers live in Turkey, where the Latin alphabet is used, has rendered the adoption of the former impossible. Nonetheless, 1991 saw the publication of a textbook called Nana-nena ('Mother tongue'), which was aimed at all Laz speakers and used both the Latin and Georgian alphabets. The first Laz–Turkish dictionary was published in 1999.

The only languages in which the Laz receive an education are Turkish (in Turkey) and Georgian (in Georgia). Virtually all the Laz are bilingual in Turkish and Laz or in Georgian and Laz. Even in villages inhabited exclusively by Laz people, it is common to hear conversations in Turkish or Georgian. Turkish has had a notable influence on the vocabulary of Laz.

Laz speakers themselves basically regard the language as a means of oral communication. The families that still speak Laz only do so among adults in informal situations, with Turkish or Georgian being used in all other contexts. This means that the younger generations fail to fully acquire the language and only gain a passive knowledge of it.

In recent times, the Laz folk musician Birol Topaloğlu has achieved a certain degree of international success with his albums Heyamo (1997, the first album ever sung entirely in the Laz language) and Aravani (2000). The Laz rock and roll musician Kazım Koyuncu performed rock and roll arrangements of Laz traditional music from 1995 until his death in 2005.

In 2004, Dr. Mehmet Bekâroğlu, the deputy chairman of Felicity Party in Turkey, sent a notice to the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) declaring that his mother tongue is Laz and demanding broadcasts in Laz. The same year, a group of Laz intellectuals issued a petition and held a meeting with TRT officials for the implementation of Laz broadcasts. However, as of 2008, these requests have been ignored by authorities.

Laz Dialects

Laz has five major dialects:

  • Xopuri, spoken in Hopa and Ajaria;
  • Vitzur-Ark'abuli, spoken in Arhavi and Fındıklı;
  • Çxala, spoken in Düzköy (Çxala) village in Borçka;
  • Atinuri, spoken in Pazar (former Atina);
  • Art'aşenuri, spoken in Ardeşen.

The last two are often treated as a single Atinan dialect. Speakers of different Laz dialects have trouble understanding each other, and often prefer to communicate in the local official language.

English Atina Art'aşeni Arkabi Xopa–Batumi
I love malimben maoropen p’orom p’qorop
You love galimben gaoropen orom qorop
S/he-It loves alimben aropen oroms qorops
We love malimberan maoropenan p’oromt p’qorot
You love galimberan gaoropenan oromt qoropt
They love alimberan aoropenan oroman qoropan

Writing system

A Laz newspaper in 1928

Laz is written in Georgian alphabet or in the modified Latin alphabet (as used in Turkish, but with specific Laz extensions).

Georgian (Mkhedruli) Latin (common) Latin (rare) IPA
Orthographic alphabets Transcriptions
a a ɑ
b b b
g g ɡ
d d d
e e ɛ
v v v
z z z
t t t
i i i
l l l
m m m
n n n
y y j
o o ɔ
j ž ʒ
r r r
s s s
u u u
p p p
k k k
ǧ ɣ ɣ
q q’
ş š ʃ
ç č t͡ʃ
ts, or з [2] c t͡s
z’ ʒ d͡z
ts’, or з’ [2] ċ t͡sʼ
ç’ č’ t͡ʃʼ
x x x
c ǯ d͡ʒ
h h h
f f f

Linguistic features

Like many languages of the Caucasus, Laz has a rich consonantal system (in fact, the richest among the South Caucasian family) but only five vowels (a,e,i,o,u). The nouns are inflected with agglutinative suffixes to indicate grammatical function (4 to 7 cases, depending on the dialect) and number (singular or plural), but not by gender.

The Laz verb is inflected with suffixes according to person and number, and also for Grammatical tense, aspect, mood, and (in some dialects) evidentiality. Up to 50 verbal prefixes are used to indicate spatial orientation/direction. Person and number suffixes provided for the subject as well as for one or two objects involved in the action, e.g. gimpulam = "I hide it from you".


Some distinctive features of Laz among its family are:

  • Two additional consonants, /f/ and /h/;
  • All nouns end with a vowel.
  • More extensive verb inflection, using directional prefixes.
  • Substantial lexical borrowings from Greek and Turkic languages.


  • Ho (ჰო) – yes
  • Va (ვა), Var (ვარ) – no
  • Ma (მა) – I
  • Si (სი) – you
  • Skani (სქანი) – your
  • Çkimi (ჩქიმი), Şk’imi (შკიმი) – my
  • Gegacginas / Xela do k’aobate (გეგაჯგინას/ხელა დო კაობათე) – Hello
  • K’ai serepe (კაი სერეფე) – Good night
  • K’ai moxtit (კაი მოხთით) – Welcome
  • Didi mardi (დიდი მარდი) – Thanks
  • Muç’ore? (მუჭორე?) – How are you?
  • K’ai vore (კაი ვორე), Vrosi vore (ვროსი ვორე) – I'm fine
  • Dido xelabas vore (დიდო ხელაბას ვორე) – I'm very happy
  • Ma vulur (მა ვულურ) – I'm going
  • Ma gamavulur (მა გამავულურ) – I'm going outside
  • Gale (გალე) – Outside
  • Ma amavulur (მა ამავულურ) – I'm going inside
  • Doloxe (დოლოხე) – Inside
  • Ma gevulur (მა გევულურ) – I'm going down
  • Tude (თუდე) – Down, under
  • Ma eşevulur (მა ეშევულურ) – I'm going up
  • Jin (ჟინ) – Up
  • Sonuri re? (სონური რე?) – Where are you from?
  • T’rapuzani (ტრაფუზანი) – Trabzon
  • Turkona (თურქონა), Turkie (თურქიე) – Turkey
  • Ruseti (რუსეთი) – Russia
  • Giurcistani (გიურჯისთანი), Giurci-msva (გიურჯი-მსვა) – Georgia, Place of Georgian
  • Oxorca (ოხორჯა) – woman
  • K’oçi (კოჩი) – man
  • Bozo (ბოზო), k’ulani (კულანი) – girl
  • Biç’i (ბიჭი) – boy
  • Sup’ara (სუპარა) – book
  • Megabre (მეგაბრე) – friend
  • Qoropa (ყოროფა) – love
  • Mu dulia ikip? (მუ დულია იქიფ?) – What is your job?
  • Lazuri giçkini? (ლაზური გიჩქინი?) – Do you know Laz?
  • Mu gcoxons? (მუ გჯოხონს?), – What is your name?
  • Ma si kqorop (Hopa dialect) (მა სი ქყოროფ) – I love you

See also


  1. ^ a b "Laz". Ethnologue. 
  2. ^ a b Extension consonnant for the Latin version of the Latin alphabet, often represented with the digit three (3) (currently missing from Unicode ?) ; the Cyrillic letter ze (З/з) has been borrowed in newspapers published in the Socialist Republic of Georgia (within USSR) to write the missing Latin letter ; modern orthographies used today also use the Latin digraphs Ts/ts for З/з and Ts’/ts’ for(З’/з’


  • Kojima, Gôichi (2003) Lazuri grameri Chiviyazıları, Kadıköy, İstanbul, ISBN 975-8663-55-0 (notes in English and Turkish)

External links

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