Dagestan Languages

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Dagestan Languages


the largest branch of the Caucasian (Ibero-Caucasian) languages. The peoples who speak these languages live in the Dagestan ASSR, part of the northern regions of the Azerbaijan SSR, and isolated settlements in the Georgian SSR and the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. There are approximately 1 million speakers of the Dagestan languages.

The Dagestan languages are divided into the following language groups and individual languages: (1) the Avar-Andi-Tsez group, which consists of Avar, Andi (Andi, Botlikh, Karata, Akhvakh, Bagulal, Tindi, Chamalal, and Godoberi), and Tsez (Tsez [or Dido], Khvarshi, Ginukh, Bezhita [or Kapuchi], and Gunzib); (2) Lak; (3) Darghin, which is broken up into strongly divergent dialects (several of these, such as Kubachi and Kaitag, are sometimes regarded as separate languages); (4) the Lezgin group (Lezgin, Tabasaran, Agul, Rutul, Tsakhur, Kryz [or Dzhek], Budukh, Khinalug, Udi, and Archi).

The written Dagestan languages are Avar, Lak, Darghin, Lezgin, and Tabasaran. Writing systems for these languages appeared only after 1917, although the rudiments for a written language developed earlier. At first, the written language was based on Arabic script; a Roman alphabet was used between 1928 and 1938, and a Russian-based alphabet was introduced in 1938. Letters are combined with the symbols ъ, ь, and I to indicate certain special sounds.

The first materials on the Dagestan languages began to be published in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The works of P. K. Uslar, who described the languages of the largest Dagestan nationalities, appeared only in the second half of the 19th century. Several Dagestan languages were described by A. M. Dirr in the early 20th century. Only after the October Socialist Revolution, however, did the Dagestan languages become the object of multifaceted study (grammar, vocabulary, description of dialects, and comparative and historical research).

The phonetic and grammatical structure of the Dagestan languages is highly distinctive. Phonetically, the languages are characterized by particularly complex consonant systems —the presence of lateral, uvular, pharyngeal, laryngeal, and abruptive, or glottalized, consonants. Grammatically, they are typified by the ergative construction, the presence of a large number of locative cases and, in many languages, the presence of two to four noun classes.


Iazyki narodov SSSR. Vol. 4: Iberiisko-kavkazskie iazyki. Moscow, 1967. Pages 247–688.
Mikailov, Sh. I.“Literaturnye iazyki Dagestana.” Voprosy iazykoz- naniia, 1955, no. 6.
Bokarev, E. A. Vvedenie v sravnitel’no-istoricheskoe izuchenie dagestanskikh iazykov. Makhachkala, 1961.


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