Azerbaijani is a member of the Western Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family spoken by about 32.2 million people mainly in Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia, Russia and Turkey, and also in Iraq, Syria and Turkmenistan.
There are two main varieties of the language: North Azerbaijani and South Azerbaijani, which are sometimes classified as separate languages, although there is a fair degree of mutually intelligibility between them.
North Azerbaijani is spoken in Azerbaijan, where is the official language, and also southern Dagestan, in the southern Caucasus Mountains and in parts of Central Asia. There are around 7.3 million native speakers, and other 8 million second language speakers.
Azerbaijani is closely related to Turkish, Qashqai, Turkmen and Crimean Tatar, and there is a degree of mutually intelligibility between Azerbaijani and Turkish.
The Arabic script was introduced to the Azerbaijan region in the 7th century and continued to be used to write Azerbaijani until the 1920s. Three different versions of the Arabic script were used during this period: the 28-letter Arabic script, the 32-letter Perso-Arabic script and the 33-letter Turkic Arabic script. None of these was ideal for writing Azerbaijani and various reforms were proposed, particularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
On independence in 1991, Azerbaijan switched back to the Latin alphabet, though a slightly different version to that of 1929-1939. This switch caused considerable confusion and there was a chronic shortage of typewriters and computers fonts which could be used to write the new alphabet. Fortunately the Latin alphabet as used to write Turkish is very similar to the Azerbaijani one, so Turkish typewriters were in great demand. The main difficulty with the new alphabet is the letter which looks like a upside-down lower case 'e' and is known as a schwa as no other language uses this letter.