Spring 2000 (8.1)

Language Shifts
Gamburger* Becomes Hamburger

Evidence of shifts in public attitudes towards Azeri is emerging these days. Gradually, it is becoming more prestigious even in traditional Russian-speaking Azerbaijani families to reclaim Azeri as the native language.

As poet Vagif Samadoghlu observed, "The use of a State language is equal only to the strength of that nation. The stronger the State, the stronger its language will be."

We cannot prove the shift statistically but most people acknowledge it existence; there is enormous anecdotal evidence to support it. Here are a few examples:

  • During the Soviet era, announcements on television were always first made in Russian and then followed by Azeri (but not always). Today Azeri claims the spotlight. Most programs are in Azeri except for movies. Azeri Latin is standard for TV messages and advertisements.
  • You hear more Azeri on the streets these days.
  • All major international public forums are conducted in Azeri, with translations in Russian if deemed necessary.
  • Doctors are writing prescriptions in Azeri.
  • Foreign companies are hiring translators that are fluent in Azeri and Russian, not just Russian.
  • Traditional Russian-speaking families are sending their children to Azeri kindergartens where their kids are growing up to speak Russian with an Azeri accent. Unfortunately, many more educational resources are still available in Russian than in Azeri.
  • CD and cassette labels are printed in Azeri Latin with Azeri lyrics.
  • Signage of government buildings, institutes, schools and metro stations have been changed to Azeri Latin. Russian signs are disappearing.
  • More newspapers are being printed in Azeri than in Russian - a reversal of the Soviet period.

The Russian language still has strong roots in powerful places despite the fact that Azeri has been declared the State Language in Azerbaijan's Constitution in 1995.

  • Still a number of foreign embassies in Baku have not acknowledged Azerbaijan's national language by providing visa applications in Azeri. They offer forms in their own language and Russian, but where's the Azeri?
  • Still many government offices, including Azerbaijani Embassies, use the Russian language in everyday discourse, not Azeri.
  • Still when Azerbaijani native speakers call many foreign companies and international humanitarian organizations and open the conversation in Azeri, they are "politely" urged to switch to Russian.

* "Gamburger" is Russian pronounciation; "hamburger" is Azeri.

Azerbaijan International (8.1) Spring 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.

Home | About Azeri |