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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(self-designation, Chuvash), a nationality in the USSR, numbering 1,751,400 persons (1979 census), of whom 887,700 live in the Chuvash ASSR. Large groups of Chuvash also inhabit the Tatar and Bashkir ASSR’s and Ul’ianovsk, Kuibyshev, and Saratov oblasts, where they migrated in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Chuvash living in Siberia and Middle Asia settled there in the 19th and 20th centuries. Anthropologically, the Chuvash combine Europeoid and Mongoloid elements. They speak Chuvash, and the believers among them are Orthodox. Prior to their conversion to Christianity in the mid-18th century, the Chuvash adhered to tribal religions.

In the opinion of most scholars, the major role in the ethno-genesis of the Chuvash was played by the Turkic-speaking Volga-Kama Bulgars, who in the last quarter of the first millennium A.D. moved into the forest-steppe regions on the right bank of the Volga, where they mixed with local Finno-Ugric tribes. After the destruction of Bulgaria on the Volga by the Mongol-Tatars, the mass migration of Bulgar Suvars (or Suvaz, from whom the name “Chuvash” is derived) to the right bank of the Volga in the 13th and 14th centuries intensified the turkization of the local tribes. The Chuvash lands were annexed by the Kazan Khanate in the second quarter of the 15th century.

The Chuvash nationality, which essentially evolved in the 15th century, comprises two basic ethnographic groups: the upstream Chuvash, or Vir’ial, in northwestern Chuvashia and the downstream Chuvash, or Anatri, in northeastern and southern Chuvashia. The area between them is inhabited by a transitional group, the middle-downstream Chuvash (Anat Enchi), who are linguistically close to the Vir’ial but whose mores are similar to those of the Anatri. The overwhelming majority of the Chuvash who live outside the Chuvash ASSR belong to the downstream group. The Chuvash inherited from their Bulgar ancestors farming techniques, handicrafts, and many other aspects of material and spiritual culture.

The inclusion of Chuvashia in the Russian state in 1551, freeing the Chuvash from the oppression of the Kazan Khanate, was of great importance for the subsequent development of the Chuvash people. The Chuvash adopted from the Russians more advanced implements, architectural and clothing styles, and other elements of culture. Despite the national oppression of the tsarist government and local bourgeoisie and the forcible Christianization, the Chuvash kept alive their language, indigenous culture, rich folklore, music, and applied art, and they created their own written literature. Before the establishment of Soviet power the Chuvash lived in rural communes, preserving vestiges of the patriarchal system in their social and family life.

In the Soviet period the Chuvash have made great strides in economic and cultural development. The Chuvash ASSR has become one of the country’s most important industrial areas and a region with an advanced socialist agriculture. The Chuvash have developed into a socialist nation as a result of the victory of socialism. A national intelligentsia has emerged. Among the traditional folk arts that continue to flourish are choral singing, embroidery, artistic weaving, and wood carving. (For more information on the history, economy, and culture of the Chuvash seeCHUVASH ASSR.)


Chuvashi: Etnograficheskoe issledovanie, parts 1–2. Cheboksary, 1956–70.
Denisov, P. V. Religioznye verovaniia chuvash. Cheboksary, 1959.
Narody Evropeiskoi chasti SSSR, vol. 2. Moscow, 1964. (With bibliography.)
Kakhovskii, V. F. Proiskhozhdenie chuvashskogo naroda. Cheboksary, 1965.




the language of the Chuvash, spoken in the Chuvash ASSR and, beyond its borders, mainly in the Tatar and Bashkir ASSR’s and in Ul’ianovsk, Kuibyshev, Orenburg, Saratov, and Penza oblasts of the RSFSR. According to the 1970 census the language is spoken by 1,694,000 people.

Chuvash is a Turkic language with two dialects: the Upstream, or Vir’ial, dialect (“o” dialect) and the Downstream, or Anatri, dialect (“u” dialect), which are divided into subdialects. Distinctive phonetic features include the relatively long vowels a, e, ï, i, u, ü, which contrast with the short vowels ä and ĕ. The consonants r and l correspond to Turkic z and sh. Morphological characteristics include the plural affix -sem instead of the -lar or -ler typical of most Turkic languages; the presence of the demonstrative pronouns ku (this) and leshĕ (that); and the past tense verb form ending in - or -. The predominant Common Turkic and native Chuvash vocabulary has been enriched by borrowings from other Turkic languages and also from Arabic, Iranian, Mongolian, Russian, and the Finno-Ugric languages.

The literary language is based on the Downstream dialect. The first printed grammar and translations into Chuvash appeared in the 18th century. The writing system, based on the Russian alphabet, was not widely accepted, however. In 1871–72,1. Ia. Iakovlev created a new Russian-based Chuvash alphabet that played an important role in the development of the Chuvash written language.


Ashmarin, N. I. Materialy dlia issledovaniia chuvashskogo iazyka, parts 1–2. Kazan, 1898.
Ashmarin, N. I. Opyt issledovaniia chuvashskogo sintaksisa, parts 1–2. Kazan-Simbirsk, 1903–23.
Ashmarin, N. I. Slovar’ chuvashskogo iazyka, fascs. 1–17. Kazan-Cheboksary, 1928–50.
Egorov, V. G. Sovremennyi chuvashskii literaturnyi iazyk v sravnitel’no-istoricheskom osveshchenii, part 1, 2nd ed. Cheboksary, 1971.
Egorov, V. G. Etimologicheskii slovar’ chuvashskogo iazyka. Cheboksary, 1964.
Materialy po grammatike sovremennogo chuvashskogo iazyka, part 1. Cheboksary, 1957.
Ramstedt, G. J. “Zur Frage nach der Stellung des Tschuwassischen.” In Journal de la Société Finno-Ougrienne, 1922–23, vol. 38.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.