Spring 2000 (8.1)
Speaking - Part 6
Jala Garibova and Betty Blair
You are welcome to reproduce these Sociolinguistic articles
for individual or educational study.
All societies have verbal
formulas and patterns to express regret and apology, but it seems
Azerbaijanis often apologize on occasions when people in other
cultures, especially Westerners, wouldn't consider it necessary.
Of course, as with any tradition anywhere in the world, you'll
discover variations in speech patterns and practices based on
a number of factors including status, gender, age, education
and geographic location.
Photo: The wealth of friendship,
Sabirabad Refugee Camp
For example, Azerbaijanis often apologize for using words or
expressions that denigrate another person or are considered taboo.
For example, if during a normal conversation, they feel the need
to use harsh or rude words to describe a person or situation,
they may apologize before pronouncing the questionable word:
"He is such a - excuse me - bastard."
Azerbaijanis also apologize when they mention certain parts of
their body such as feet, legs or back, especially in conversations
with people who are outside their close circle of friends and
relatives. It sometimes will even occur in conversations with
their doctors: "I have a sharp pain - excuse me - in my
In rural areas of Azerbaijan where more traditional practices
are followed, men may apologize when they refer to their spouse:
"My wife - excuse me - does not work."
Again, people from very traditional backgrounds may apologize
when they mention their bedroom, shower room, toilet or refer
to a person taking a shower. For example, "The water faucet
is not working - excuse me - in the bathroom."
However, it should be noted that younger people these days, especially
in Baku, are not likely to observe such rules.
It's common for women to apologize if they put on make-up in
front of others, especially in front of men and older people.
And men may apologize if they smoke in front of women and older
If a man has taken a seat on public transportation and can't,
for some reason, offer it to an elderly person or a woman who
is standing nearby, he's likely to apologize and offer a reason.
For example, "So sorry I can't offer you my seat, I'm holding
very heavy stuff."
The usual words for "Sorry", "I beg your pardon",
"Excuse me", "I apologize" are
and. The expression
literally means "Forgive
me" and is the more formal expression.
is more informal and literally means "I want an excuse."
Regret about what has been done or said is also expressed through
the following words and phrases:
I didn't mean that (literally, I did not know).
I didn't expect it would turn out so.
I should not let it be so (literally, it should not have been
It's my mistake/fault.
It's my guilt.
We will correct our mistake ("we" really meaning "I").
We will never let such things happen (Again, "we" really
Now let's do what you tell us to.
We will arrange everything (literally, we will put everything
in its place).
expressions are used without the word ,
as some people have difficulty directly admitting fault and it's
difficult for them to say
Azerbaijanis have an expression that comes from Persian: meaning, "Apology is worse
than the fault". There is a very clever anecdote from the
ancient sage, Molla Nasraddin, that illustrates its meaning.
Here Teymur refers to Tamerlane or "Timur, the Great",
who conquered much of the region from Mongolia to the Mediterranean
in the 14th century. Molla is the great legendary comic sage
who always made astute, often humorous, observations about human
behavior. As the story goes:
Once Teymur asks Molla: "What does
Molla replies: It means that "an apology may be worse than
the original fault".
Teymur asks: "What do you mean? I don't understand."
Molla replies: "Assume you do something wrong and then apologize.
But your explanation is even worse than your fault."
Teymur still doesn't understand. Molla tries very hard but Teymur
can't comprehend what he means.
So Molla comes up to Teymur and pinches him in the buttocks.
Teymur yells back: "Are you crazy? What are you doing?"
Molla replies: "Oh, sorry, your Majesty. I thought I was
at home and you were my wife."
This makes Teymur even more furious: "You must be out of
your mind. Do you understand what kind of things you are telling
Molla explains: "Don't get angry, my Lord. I was just trying
to show you what means.
Despite the fact that this anecdote is well known, Azerbaijanis
consider it appropriate to offer an explanation why some mistake
or inconvenience has occurred. To explain the true reason is
considered the polite thing to do so that the other party doesn't
get hurt. So it's quite usual for Azerbaijanis to provide explanations
why they are late or why they missed a meeting or a party.
I'm sorry I couldn't come to your party because...
Response to an apology usually is directed at easing the discomfort
of the person who has apologized.
May God forgive you.
Such things happen.
That's OK (Literally, "May you be healthy and sound"
meaning, whatever has happened is nothing to me in comparison
to your health).
Take it easy (Literally, don't take it to your heart).
It doesn't matter (That's OK).
People make mistakes.
Not all apologies signify that an error has been made. People
also apologize when they think that what they are going to say
or do will inconvenience another person. These situations occur
when Azerbaijanis interrupt a private conversation, stop someone
in the street to ask something, or enter somebody's private room
- even after knocking. Again, they use the phrase, "Forgive
me" or "Excuse me".
Excuse me, how can I get to the Opera Theater?
In such situations,
the word expressing an apology is sometimes followed by the expression:
Sorry for disturbing you, do you know...
In such situations
is the more
informal expression and is
the more formal expression.
Sorry that I'm interrupting you, do you know if...
If the interruption occurs in a formal meeting,
is the more common expression:
I beg your pardon, I have one thing to add.
Certain situations - such as turning one's back on someone or
forgetting someone's name - also require an apology:
me, I turned my back on you.
B. That's OK. Don't worry / Sit comfortably.
when they have to inquire about someone's name that they feel
they should already know. They will also apologize the first
time that they ask someone's name.
Excuse me, what is / was your name?
For the sake
of politeness, Azerbaijanis often apologize when no apology is
needed. For example, they may even apologize when they ask a
shop assistant about the price of goods.
Excuse me, how much is this coat?
Refusing an Offer
Azerbaijanis have a proverb:
"The one who requests gets ashamed once, the one who rejects
- twice [ashamed]."
find it difficult to give a direct "no" to any request.
To ease the psychological discomfort, they are likely to apologize
for the refusal or rejection and add an explanation:
Sorry, I can't come, because...
Sorry, right now it is impossible, because...
(Note that is more formal than .)
are followed by the confirmation of the impossibility used in
the conditional or subjunctive:
I wish it were possible.
If it were possible, I would do it.
To leave some
hope for the person who has made the original request or offer,
Azerbaijanis tend to reply by making some vague promise:
In the future, it may be possible.
If God wills, next time.
It is not unusual
for Azerbaijanis to invent excuses for refusal or rejection rather
than offer the true reasons that might offend.
Children and Apologies
When adults hurt or cause inconvenience to a child, they apologize,
but the apology is usually followed by expressions of care, for
Did I hurt you?
Where does it hurt? (Literally, "did").
almost always try to help the child out of the inconvenient situation
(for example, if they have accidentally spilled water on their
toys, they will dry them.)
If children do something wrong, they are expected to apologize,
especially to grown-ups. If they don't, their parents make them
do so. Of course, parents also try to make their children apologize
to peers as well. But they consider it unacceptable for their
child to wrong an older person. They'll try to help their child
understand the situation by saying, "How can you say this
to someone who is older than you? You must apologize" or
"How can you behave like this to someone older than you?
Azerbaijanis apologize for damage or inconvenience caused by
someone for whom they feel responsibility. If something goes
wrong between two kids, the parents of the child at fault may
initiate an apology to ease the fractured relationship.
Apologies are very important in Azerbaijani society. Psychologically,
Azerbaijanis are sensitive about offending or hurting someone.
Culturally, they don't like to have to say "no" to
any request. A popular Azerbaijani proverb says:
enemy treats you with stones, you treat your enemy with pilaf."
In other words,
even if your enemy attacks you, you should extend hospitality
Azerbaijanis depend upon long-term relationships for mere physical
survival. It's for this reason that apologies have become such
an integral part of social behavior, and why they are so important
in fostering and maintaining friendships. In Azerbaijani society,
you can't go wrong by saying, "I'm sorry."
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