Caucasian languages

Caucasian languages,

family of languages spoken by about 7 million people in the CaucasusCaucasus
, Rus. Kavkaz, region and mountain system, SE European Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Armenia is not crossed by the Caucasus range but is considered part of the greater region. The mountain system extends c.
..... Click the link for more information.
 region of SE European Russia. The Caucasian languages take their name from the Caucasus Mountains, on the slopes of which their original homeland is believed to have been located. This linguistic family was once considerably more extensive; some 35 or so (depending on how the languages and dialects are classified) of its tongues have survived into modern times. There are two major subdivisions of the Caucasian family of languages, northern and southern. Whether or not these two branches are related linguistically is still disputed, but Georgian scholars since the 1930s have regarded as proved the kinship of all the Caucasian tongues.

The northern group consists of more than 30 languages native to more than2 million people. Its most important members are Chechen, Ingush, Avar, and Dargin in the Northeast grouping and Karbardian and Adyghe (often classified together as Circassian) and Abkhaz in the Northwest grouping; Circassian speakers are also found to some extent in Turkey and Syria. The southern group of Caucasian languages includes four tongues. Georgian, the leading member of the southern group, is the mother tongue of about 4 million people in Georgia and in neighboring areas of Turkey and Azerbaijan in Iran. It is a modern representative of the language of the ancient Colchians, of whom the celebrated mythological figure MedeaMedea
, in Greek mythology, princess of Colchis, skilled in magic and sorcery. She fell in love with Jason and helped him, against the will of her father, Aeëtes, to obtain the Golden Fleece.
..... Click the link for more information.
 was one (see also ColchisColchis
, ancient country on the eastern shore of the Black Sea and in the Caucasus region. Centered about the fertile valley of the Phasis River (the modern Rion), Colchis corresponds to the present-day region of Mingrelia in Georgia.
..... Click the link for more information.
). A literature in Georgian goes back to the 5th cent. A.D., and the language has two alphabets of its own, one of which is still in use, although increasingly the Cyrillic alphabet is being adopted.

In general, the Caucasian languages have inflection and tend to be agglutinative in that different linguistic elements, each of which exists separately and has a fixed meaning, are often joined to form one word. Phonetically, the Caucasian tongues are distinctive, combining simplicity of vowels with abundant richness of consonants. Many of the Caucasian languages are spoken by comparatively few people (that is, fewer than 100,000), and have gradually given ground to Russian. An exception is Georgian, which has a comparatively large number of speakers.


See B. Geiger et al., Peoples and Languages of the Caucasus (1959).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Caucasian Languages


(Ibero-Caucasian languages), the indigenous languages of the Caucasus, which are represented by three groups: Kartvelian, Abkhazo-Adyg and Nakho-Dagestan. Although there is no doubt concerning the genetic relationship of the Nakh and Dagestan languages, they are sometimes regarded as two different groups. The Abkhazo-Adyg and Nakho-Dagestan groups are often conventionally referred to as the Mountain Caucasian or North Caucasian languages. There are approximately 40 Caucasian languages, which are spoken by more than 4.5 million persons. Only Georgian has an ancient literary tradition (dating back to the fifth century). The Udi also apparently had a writing system between the fifth and eighth centuries. The Abkhaz, Abaza, Adygei, Kabardin-Cherkess, Chechen, Ingush, Avar, Lak, Darghin, Lezgin, and Tabasaran languages have only recently been put into writing, although individual records in some of them date as far back as the Middle Ages.

The Caucasian languages are characterized by substantial divergences, in addition to the existence of structural parallelisms. Phonetically, they share complex consonant systems, which include stops (voiced and voiceless aspirates, glottalized stops, and voiceless unaspirated stops) and uvular and pharyngeal consonants. Harmonic consonant clusters (complexes) are frequent, although poorly represented in the Nakho-Dagestan languages. There are sharp differences in the vowel systems of the Caucasian languages, which include from two or three phonemes in the Abkhazo-Adyg languages to 15 to 20 or more phonemes in a number of Nakho-Dagestan languages (in which long and short, pharyngealized, nasalized, and umlauted vowels occur). There is also considerable variation in the phonological structure of roots. Stress in the Caucasian languages is dynamic and, in general, weakly expressed.

Morphologically, the Caucasian languages tend to be agglutinative, although elements of fusion and, in particular, ablaut are to be found in them. The Abkhazo-Adyg languages have very complex conjugations and rather elementary declensions, whereas the reverse is true for the Nakho-Dagestan languages. Subject-object prefixation is typical for the verb. Syntactically, the Caucasian languages distinguish absolute (usually with intransitive verbs), ergative (with transitive verbs), and affective (with verbs of perception) sentence constructions. Sentences have free word order.

The vocabulary of the Caucasian languages is rich in onomatopoetic words. There are many common lexical borrowings from the Arabic, Persian, and Turkic languages.

The Kartvelian linguistic group is intermediate between the Abkhazo-Adyg and Nakho-Dagestan languages with respect to a whole range of features. The Abkhazo-Adyg and Kartvelian languages display more features in common, such as the following interesting lexical parallelisms: Kartvelian *mz1e “sun” ˜ Abkhazo-Adyg *maza “moon”; Kartvelian *gwl “heart” ˜ Abkhazo-Adyg *gwd “heart”; and Kartvelian *pxa “framework” ˜ Abkhazo-Adyg *pqa “framework.”

There is no unanimity among linguists on the question of Caucasian linguistic interrelationships. Their genetic unity is often postulated on the basis of the presence of a number of structural and typological parallelisms and a certain number of common material features. This supposition, however, cannot be regarded as proved, which allows some linguists to maintain that a linguistic union exists here. The problem of external Caucasian linguistic relationships is even less clear.


Klimov, G. A. Kavkazskie iazyki. Moscow, 1965.
Dirr, A. Einfuhrung in das Studium der kaukasischen Sprachen. Leipzig, 1928.
Deeters, G. “Die kaukasischen Sprachen.” In Handbuch der Orientalistik, vol. 7. Leiden-Cologne, 1963.
Javaxishvili, I. V. K’art’uli da kavkasiuri enebis t’avdapirveli buneba da nat’esaoba. Tiflis, 1937.
Ch’ik’obava, A. R. N. Iberiulkavkasiur enat’a shescavlis istoria. Tbilisi, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Followed in the category of accept response are the non-English Caucasian languages such as German (Golato, 2002) and Spanish (Lorenzo-Dus, 2001).
In fact, ergativity had only achieved recognition some fourteen years earlier, following the publication of Adolf Dirr's review of the Caucasian languages Einfuring in das Studium de kaukasichen Sprachen (1928).
Among the first-tier categories are general linguistics and related disciplines, inter-relationships between language families, Caucasian languages, and sign languages.
Our main goal in organizing the workshop and in editing the current issue is to bring together young linguists working on the relatively less studied Caucasian languages, and to offer them a forum for the exchange of ideas, for comparison of data and of different methods of analysis, as well as for potential future collaborations.
An ideal supplement to the catalogue is a chapter "Short biographies of collectors" as some of them are hardly known today, like Adolf Dirr (1867-1930), a major expert on Caucasian languages, who earned his living as a teacher in the Caucasus and later worked as an interpreter and staff member of the Munich Ethnological Museum, and Marie Du Bois-Reymond (1864-?), wife of Claude du Bois-Reymond, professor at the German Medical School in Shanghai.
I tree-OBL-FOOT is.lying 'I am lying at the foot of a tree.' It is common to East Caucasian languages that one of the localization markers expresses location in a space associated with a person.
Long-time colleague Sonja Fritz, who edited the manuscript for publication, calls it the first Ossetic grammar that systematically takes into account the results of modern research by specialists of Indo-European and Caucasian languages. Therefore he presents innovative theses and explanation on the history and dialectology of the Ossetic language, and on the areal role it played in past and recent periods.
Aparag entered Kabardin as abredzh, Abkhaz as abrag', ossetian as abireg, Mingrelian, Svan, and Georgian as abragi, and Ingush and Chechen as obarg, to cite merely a few Caucasian languages. Bobrovnikov points out that although in its original Persian meaning, aparak had negative connotations, the connotations changed when it adapted itself to the Caucasian lexicon; in its Caucasian variant, an abrek is "a prince or nobleman, exiled from society for a crime or other mistake.
11); the Urals mark the Eastern boundary; the South Eastern border is the frontier with Kazakhstan, but the gap in the South Eastern corner is defined in a linguistically inclusive way so as to allow an extensive entry on Caucasian languages (all forty of them pp.
Volume two includes articles on Asian Indo-European, Turkic, and Caucasian languages, and various unrelated languages.
By the same token, Circassian, Laz, and other Caucasian languages as well as Arabic, Syriac, and Assyrian would have cross-fertilized and enriched not only each other but also Turkish and Kurdish.
Among the topics are the interface between researchers and the native people as exemplified in the Trumai case, linguistic parameters of language endangerment in endangered Caucasian languages in Georgia, and a preliminary study of same-turn self-repair initiation in Wichita conversation.