Laz (ISO 639-3: lzz) is an endangered Caucasian language spoken in the Black Sea region in north-eastern Turkey. The region where Laz is spoken encompasses the districts Pazar (Atina), Ardeşen, Çamlıhemşin (Vica) and Fındıklı (Vitze) within the borders of the city Rize, as well as Borçka, Hopa and Arhavi districts in the city called Artvin. There is also a Laz speaking minority in Batumi in Georgia. Furthermore, during the 1877-78 war between the Ottomans and Russians, thousands of Laz families had to migrate to the Marmara region of Turkey and had settled there.
Laz is classified as a South Caucasian Language. The South Caucasian branch also encompasses Georgian, Svan and Mingrelian (Megrelian). Mingrelian is the closest relative of Laz and is mainly spoken by the Christian Laz minority living in Georgia. Today, given the lack of demographic data in Turkey, it is hard to estimate the number of speakers of Laz, but it is assumed to range between 250.000 to 500.000 including the Laz speakers in the Marmara region.
Laz is underdescribed. There is extensive dialectal variation, only very little of it is documented and there are very limited teaching materials to help maintain/revitalize the language. In 1929 in the Soviet Union, a Laz intellectual, Iskender Tzitashi prepared the very first Laz alphabet based on the Latin alphabet. Following that, reading materials and text books for mathematics were prepared and Laz was used as the language of instruction at primary schools. However, after Iskender Tzitaşi got executed in 1938, it was impossible to continue such endeavours for Laz.
Among the major studies done on Laz, which include grammatical descriptions, dictionaries, as well as text collections we can cite Rosen 1844, Marr 1910, Čikobava 1936, Dumézil 1937, Anderson 1963, K’art’ozia 1972, Asatiani 1974, Kutelia 1979, 1980, 1985, Holisky 1991, Bucak’lişi and Uzunhasanoğlu 1999, Kutscher et al. 1995, Gürpınar 2000, Kutscher 2001, 2005, Kojima and Bucak’lişi 2003, Amse-de Jong 2004, Abasisi 2005, Bucak’lişi, Uzunhasanoğlu and Aleksiva 2007, Emgin 2009, Lacroix 2009, Öztürk and Pöchtrager 2011 and Demirok 2013.
The studies done on Laz in Turkey, unfortunately, only date back to 1990s. The first journal on Laz called OGNI (hear/understand) got published in 1993. This was a cornerstone for the studies on Laz in Turkey. Following that in 1999, the very first dictionary of Laz dictionary (Lazuri-Turkuri Nenapuna) was published. It was a Laz-Turkish bilingual dictionary. Also in mid 1990s, the first radio program in Laz got broadcasted in Turkey. Starting from 2000s, more and more studies have done on Laz language. Grammar books, folk stories, poems, novels and new dictionaries in Laz have been published. In 2010, a publishing house called Lazika got founded to publish works in Laz and within two years it has published more than 20 books in Laz and a journal called Tanura.
Currently, all Laz speakers living in Turkey are proficient speakers of Turkish. The elder generation (people older than 40) are mostly Turkish-Laz bilinguals, however, the number of proficient Laz speakers is very low and continues to decrease (Kutscher 2008:85). Most Laz parents intentionally deprive their children of the opportunity to learn Laz to avoid the Laz accent children might have when speaking Turkish so that they can blend into the Turkish society more easily. Furthermore, in Turkey, the official language of instruction is Turkish at state schools and the main stream media broadcasts only in Turkish, which also negatively effects the maintenance of the language. Recently, however, it has become possible to offer elective courses in minority languages spoken in Turkey at the primary and secondary school levels and the Laz Institute is currently taking the initiative for preparing the materials to offer elective courses in Laz. Since 2011, at Boğaziçi University – one of the leading state universities in Turkey, Laz is being offered at three different levels (beginner-intermediate-advanced) as a foreign language. Furthermore, in the linguistics program at Boğaziçi University, since 2000 research projects on different aspects of Laz language funded by Boğaziçi University Scientific Research Fund are being carried out by Turkish linguists.
[Description delivered by the Laz community for the Language Fair]