Identification and Location. The Tats live in the Caucasus: in the Azerbaijan Republic and in Daghestan. The Tats of Azerbaijan dwell on the Apsheron Peninsula (where the city of Baku is located) and in the Kubinsky, Konakhkendsky, Shemakhinsky, Divichinsky, and Ismailinsky regions—in terms of the pre-Revolutionary administrative divisions, the Bakinsky, Kubinsky, Geokchaysky, and Shemakhinsky districts ( uezd ) of Baku Province (Bakinskaia Guberniia) and the Kazakhsky and Zangezursky districts of Elisavetpol Province. In Daghestan the Tats live in seven settlements in the vicinity of Derbent (the former Kaitag-Tabasaran District). "Tat" is the self-designation of the Tats. In the past it was also a social term, reflecting the form of life and the status of certain groups of the population. The Turks use the name "Tat" for agriculturists, the settled inhabitants of Central Asia, the Crimea, and the Caucasus. The Tats dwell in three natural climatic zones: a mountain zone with an extended winter and a short summer; a foothill zone with a warm, quite capricious climate (a garden zone); and a zone on the plain (the Apsheron Peninsula) with an arid climate, strong winds, and sandy, saline soil.
Demography. In the nineteenth century the Tats were settled in large homogeneous groups. The intensive processes of assimilation by the Turkic-speaking Azerbaijanis cut back the territory and numbers of the Tats. In 1886 they numbered more than 120,000 in Azerbaijan and 3,600 in Daghestan. According to the census of 1926 the number of Tats in Azerbaijan (despite the effect of natural increase) had dropped to 28,500, although there were also 38,300 "Azerbaijanis" with Tat as their native language. According to the census of 1989 the number of Tats in Azerbaijan was 10,200, with around 13,000 in Daghestan. Here their number had grown to a large degree at the expense of the Mountain Jewish community (whose native language is Tat), who had registered as Tats. The Tats have not only been assimilated by the Azerbaijanis. The inhabitants of the settlements Kilvar and Matrasa (Christians belonging to the Armeno-Gregorian church) have lost their native Tat language over the course of the past fifty years and regard themselves as Armenians. This process was furthered by an Armenian-language school created here in the 1920s, the continual migrations of Armenians (bearing with them the Armenian language, culture, and self-consciousness), and marriages between Tats and Armenians.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Tat language belongs to the Southwest Iranian Group of the Indo-European Language Family. Aside from the Tats proper, the Mountain Jews who live in Azerbaijan, Daghestan, and, in small groups, in Kabardino-Balkaria and Georgia also speak Tat. The Tat language comprises two basic dialects, "Muslim Tat" (including the speech of the Armeno-Tats) and "Jewish Tat." The majority of Tats also know Russian, as well as the Azerbaijani language, the interethnic language of Azerbaijan and lower Daghestan. Before the October Revolution the written and literary language of the Tats was Persian, in which they studied in the Muslim schools and conducted official correspondence and, in part, clerical work (along with Russian). In the 1920s a writing system was created for the Tat language (for the Jewish Tat dialect only) on the basis of the Latin alphabet. In Daghestan this script was used for instruction in elementary school and the publication of newspapers, magazines, works on folklore, and the writings of Tat (Mountain Jewish) authors, starting in 1929. Since 1938 Tat has been written with the Cyrillic alphabet. The Tat language in Azerbaijan (the Muslim Tat dialect) is unwritten. Here the Azerbaijani language serves as the written and literary language as well as language of instruction.