Know You - Introductions in Azeri
Speaking Part 3
by Jala Garibova
and Betty Blair
(Go to Sociolinguistically
the TOPICS Section for more articles on language learning.)
Artist: Sakit Mammadov, "My World",
50 x 45 cm, oil on canvas, 1997. Contact in Baku: (99-412) 60-09-07.
This is the third part in our
linguistics series introducing language patterns to new language
learners of Azeri. The social context here describes patterns
practiced in the Azerbaijan Republic. Word choice and usage may
be somewhat different among Azerbaijanis living in Iran.
Though it's not unusual for
Azerbaijanis to initiate conversations spontaneously with strangers
in taxis, buses and at public events, introductions are more
likely to take place at ceremonies, parties and official or unofficial
gatherings. Both men or women initiate introductions, but there's
a greater tendency for men to take the first step.
People are somewhat reticent about telling their names unless
asked, except for official purposes. It would be rare to start
a conversation with a stranger by asking his or her name. After
some sort of rapport is established, then names may be exchanged.
People usually shake hands after telling their names.
First and Last
To the question "What
is your name?" Azerbaijanis usually reply by telling their
first names though the family name may be added. When asked for
their full names, Azerbaijanis (as well as other nationalities
of the former Soviet Union) will usually say their last name
first. This is a Soviet pattern. But there has always been a
tendency among certain strata of society, which were more sensitive
to national identity problems, to do exactly the opposite and
say their personal names first.
When addressing a person by his or her first name, follow it
with a title. For women, use the word "khanim" as in
"Vafa khanim" which serves much like American term,
"Ms", in that it does not distinguish the woman's marital
status. For men, there are two major choices. Still "muallim"
(teacher) is frequently used, as in "Fuad Muallim"
or "Rauf Muallim". This general usage of "Muallim"
for men, regardless of whether they are teachers by profession
is a remnant from the Soviet past.
A second choice which has gained popularity since independence
is the use of "bey" for "Mr." as in "Farid
Bey". "Khanum" as well as "bey" are
historical titles in Azerbaijan. "Bey" underwent certain
restrictions during the Soviet period as it usually identified
someone of wealth or high social standing which was counter to
socialist ideology. "Bey" was replaced by "muallim"
(teacher), while "khanim" (woman) has more or less
retained its same usage and meaning throughout the century. Today
"bey" carries with it simply the meaning of "Mr."
For Azerbaijanis living in Iran, "Agha" is used for
men and followed by the last name, not the first name as in "Agha-ye
Titles are rarely used for young people under the age of 20-22
except for dramatic effect. People tend to be modest and not
use academic or official titles, such as Professor, Academician,
Dr., etc. (In Iran, Azerbaijanis tend to do the opposite).
What's Your Name?
what's your name?
the choice of "your name" is the more polite form -
2nd person plural pronoun and verb ending
rather than the more familiar singular form which would be
A: Very nice. My name is Rauf.
B: Very glad (Glad to meet you).
A: Me, too.
C: Let me introduce myself. Mazahir Panahov. Azerbaijan International's
D: Very nice. Ulvi Khanbabayev. Chief Accountant of Ernst &
C: To make your acquaintance very glad.
D: Glad to meet you, too.
When introducing two
people to each other, follow these rules to show respect.
1. Younger person to older person.
2. Man to woman.
3. Relative to a non-relative.
When a person introduces his
wife, the word "my spouse" or "my lady" is
usually used, not "wife". Village people, especially
old men, who are sometimes very shy to introduce their wives
are likely to say "children's mother". And, likewise,
for women who may also use the word "spouse" for husband or "children's
father".If the introduced person has an official title,
be sure to mention it.
E: Meet, please. Naila - my sister, Rafig - my close friend.
F: Very nice.
E: I am very glad.
G: Meet please,
this is my wife (literally "lady") Gulnar.
(To the other party being introduced): Murad bey is the head
of our department. He is Professor.
H: Very nice. Glad to meet you.
G: Me, too.
themselves directly for official purposes. (Otherwise, as said
above, they either start a casual conversation before introducing
themselves, or wait or ask for the initiative of a third person).
Unlike Westerners who generally mention their names first, Azerbaijanis
are more likely to say the name of the organization they belong
to and then their name.
Introducing a Group
When introducing a group
of people to others, the host observes a certain hierarchy.
1. Older people are introduced first.
2. People with recognized social status, contribution or position
are introduced earlier.
3. Women are generally introduced before men.
someone, mention their special contributions, professional titles
and professional qualities.
This is my cousin.
Her name is Ayan.
She is a student of the Medical University.
She is also a talented artist.
Last year her exhibition was held at the gallery.
When introduced to a
child, you as the older person should continue to develop the
conversation with the child. If the child has not yet entered
school, compliments are given emphasizing how cute the child
looks or how pretty their clothing is. If the child is already
enrolled in school, questions about the child's studies and interests
(drawing, music, sports etc.) are asked.
J: What is your
J: How old are you?
J: Do you go to school?
J: Which grade (are you in)?
J: Second?! So you're a big boy. What grades do you get?
K: Excellent (5), sometimes "good" (4).
J: Bravo! What a clever boy you are! But try not to get 4. Always
Men are always shaking
hands with each other, though women are less likely to do so.
When being introduced to each other, men and women may choose
whether or not to shake hands. Sometimes they do, sometimes,
they don't. However, during formal introductions, women will
shake hands with other women or with men at the moment the names
are mentioned. Most foreigners are a bit surprised to discover
that Azerbaijani women offer a very limp handshake. This can
easily be explained because in Azerbaijani society, a woman's
handshake is supposed to show that she is demure and feminine.
From Azerbaijan International (7.2) Summer1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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AI 7.2 (Summer 99)
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