Home Publications

Atlas of the Caucasian Languages
with Language Guide
In series: Linguarium - ATLAS of the LANGUAGES of the WORLD (ALW)

Linguarium publications ordering info sample maps Languages of the World series
contents genealogic chart introduction Overview

OVERVIEW

WHAT IS CAUCASIA?

The region of Caucasia (or Caucasus), on the border of Europe and Asia, is bisected by the towering Caucasus Mountains (up to 5,642 metres). The area to the north, known as the North Caucasus, is characterized by gently sloping plains ending in low, marshy steppes. The North Caucasus, historically called Ciscaucasia, is part of Russia. The southern and larger part of Caucasia, Transcaucasia, features a more rugged terrain crossed by chains of mountains running parallel to the central range of the Caucasus Mountains. This region includes such countries as Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan - formerly republics within the Soviet Union - and also the north-east part of Turkey.

Caucasian languages

Languages of CAUCASIA

There are many languages spoken in the region including Indo-European (Armenian, Ossetic, Russian, Tat, Kurdish, Greek), Altaic (Turkish, Karachay-Balkar, Kumyk, Azerbaijani, Nogai) and Afro-Asiatic (Neo-Aramaic). But there are also languages not included into the language families listed. Thus the term Caucasian languages as used here includes groups of languages indigenous to the Caucasus region, that have not been affiliated with any of the major language families (such as Indo-European, Altaic and Afro-Asiatic). The Caucasian languages are also referred to as Paleo-Caucasian languages.

INNER GROUPING

Within the Caucasian languages, most scholars accept the following grouping: South Caucasian (Kartvelian), Northwest Caucasian (Abkhaz-Adyghe), and Northeast Caucasian (Nakh-Dagestanic). Previously the point of view was popular (especially in Soviet linguistics) that all Caucasian languages are genetically related and form the so called Ibero-Caucasian family. But, recent comparative studies show that only genetic relationships between Northwest and Northeast Caucasian seem to be proved, and the interrelationship between North and South Caucasian is still uncertain because of the absence of any regular sound correspondences between them. At the present stage of comparative Caucasian linguistics, North Caucasian and South Caucasian should be definitely viewed as separate language families.

AFFILIATION

The genetic relationship between the Caucasian languages and any languages outside the Caucasus is hard to prove. Attempts have been made to relate Caucasian genetically with Semitic, Indo-European, Burushaski, Sumerian, Basque. A more promising relationship appears to be when comparing separate groups of Caucasian languages. Those are Abkhaz-Adyghe-Hattic and Nakh-Dagestanic-Hurrian hypotheses. Finally in modern macro-comparative theories North Caucasian is included in Sino-Caucasian (with Sino-Tibetan and Yenisei) or Dene-Caucasian (also Na-Dene) macrofamilies and Kartvelian is viewed as a part of Nostratic macrofamily within which it is possibly close to Indo-European.

Region of Caucasia

Administrative division of the region

Russian part of Caucasia is divided into 9 primary administrative units: 2 krays (territories, with a dominant Russian population): Krasnodar and Stavropol; and 7 republics (former autonomous republics & autonomous regions, with considerable proportion of non-Russian population): Adygea, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and North Ossetia. Each region is subdivided into rayons (districts, or sectors). Rayon is also a basic administrative division in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Though in the latter there are at least one (autonomous) republic Adjaria and two de facto independent republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see below). The primary administrative unit in Turkey is il (province; formerly vilayet), then the ilзe (sub-province; formerly kaza), then the bucak (district; formerly nahiye). Each il has its central (merkez) ilзe (the provincial capital and its surroundings) as well as each ilзe has its central bucak.

DISPUTED areas

The several regions in Caucasia are still of indefinite status. The principal areas are:

Abkhazia (Apsny). Formerly an autonomous republic within Georgian SSR, now de facto independent. When Georgia became independent in 1991 it abolished autonomy of Abkhazia. It led to a civil war after which Abkhazs controlled much of the territory except the Kodori gorge where Svan is spoken. In 1989, the population was 525,000, of which Abkhaz was spoken by 17.8%, Georgian, Megrelian and Svan 45.7%, and other languages (Russian, Armenian, Greek) 36.5%. Most Georgians and other non-Abkhaz fled after the war.

South Ossetia (Xussar Iryston). Formerly an autonomous region within Georgian SSR. When Georgia became independent in 1991 it abolished this autonomy too. Fights began and now Ossetes control much of the territory except Ksani (Akhalgori) rayon in south-east. Before the fights, the population was 99,000 of which Ossetic was spoken by 66% and Georgian by 28%. Many Georgians fled to Georgia and Ossetes to North Ossetia.

POPULATION, NATIONAL LANGUAGES AND BILINGUALISM

The following table gives population figures (in thousands) for the main regions where Caucasian languages are spoken, and also capitals and official languages of those regions. Figures in the first column (1989) are based on data of the last Soviet census in 1989. Figures in the next column are taken from the CIA World Factbook 2001.

Table 1. Population (in thousands), capitals and official languages of regions in Caucasia. 

Region

1989

2001

Capital

Official languages

Russia

148,041

145,470

(Moscow)

Russian

Krasnodar territory

4,621

 

Krasnodar

 

Stavropol territory

2,410

 

Stavropol

 

Adygea

432

 

Maykop

+W.Circassian

Chechnya

1,290

 

Groznyy

+Chechen

Ingushetia

 

Magas

+Ingush

Dagestan

1,823

 

Makhachkala

+13 written languages

Kabardino-Balkaria

768

 

Nalchik

+Kabardian, Balkar

Karachay-Cherkessia

417

 

Cherkessk

+Cherkes, Karachay, Abaza, Noghay

North Ossetia

768

 

Vladikavkaz

+Ossetic

Georgia

5,401

4,989

Tbilisi

Georgian

Abkhazia

   

Sukhumi

Abkhaz, Russian

Adjaria

   

Batumi

(Georgian)

South Ossetia

   

Tskhinvali

Ossetic

Azerbaijan

7,021

7,771

(Baku)

Azerbaijani

Turkey

 

66,494

(Ankara)

Turkish

 Bilingualism in national languages is not indicated in the Guide since almost all population of a country is bilingual in its national language. Russian is also a common lingua franca in the whole area except Turkey.

WRITING & TRANSCRIPTION

Until 2002, 20 Caucasian languages were currently written and 2 languages were written once in the past. Of those:

Table 2. Scripts used by Caucasian languages (year of introduction (or creating) of writing is given).

language

code

Arabic script

Roman script

Cyrillic script

Georgian script

old-written

Georgian

2-d

     

since 5 c.

Agvan

1BF-i

Agvan script 5-8 cc.

young-written

W.Circassian

1A-aa

1918 (spor. 19 c.)

1927 (att. 1980s)

1937 (spor. 19 c.)

 

Kabardian

1A-ab

1920

1923 (att. 1980s)

1936

 

Abaza

1A-cc

 

1926

1938

 

Abkhaz

1A-ca

 

1926

1862, 1954

1938

Chechen

1BA-ac

1918 (spor. 19 c.)

1925 (att. 1990s)

1938

 

Ingush

1BA-aa

1918 (spor. 19 c.)

1923

1938

 

Avar

1BB-a

1918 (spor. 15 c.)

1928 (att. 1990s)

1938

spor. 10-14cc.

Dargwa

1BE-a

1918 (spor. 16 c.)

1928

1938

 

Kaitak

1BE-h

(spor. 14 c.)

     

Lak

1BD-a

1918 (spor. 15 c.)

1928

1938

 

Lezgi

1BF-f

1918 (spor. 19 c.)

1928

1938

 

Tabasaran

1BF-e

 

1928

1938

 

transitional

Mingrelian

2-a

   

(spor. 1860s)

1920-33, (spor. 1990s)

Udi

1BF-j

 

(att. late 1990s)

1935-36, att. 1990s

 

Rutul

1BF-c

 

1928

1938-40, 1992

 

Tsakhur

1BF-b

 

1928 (att. 1990s)

1938-40, 1992

 

new-written

Agul

1BF-d

   

1992

 

Andi

1BB-b

   

att. 1992

 

Dido

1BC-b

   

att. 1993

 

Laz

2-b

 

1984

   

Abbreviations: att. - attempts in; spor. sporadically since.

 In table 3 examples of some alphabets and transcriptions for Caucasian languages are given.

Explanations of headers:

 Table 3. Comparative table of Caucasian alphabets and transcriptions. (in pdf format)

Bibliography

  1. Dalby, D. Linguasphere Register of the World's Languages and Speech Communities. Vol. 1-2. Hebron, 2000
  2. Jamoukha A. Latinized Circassian Alphabet. 2000. http://www.geocities.com/Eureka/Enterprises/2493/latkab.html
  3. Nikolaev, S.L., & Starostin S.A. A North Caucasian etymological dictionary. Moscow, 1994
  4. Starostin S.A. An International Etymological Database Project. 2002. http://starling.rinet.ru/

This page is a part of Lingvarium project website www.lingvarium.org

 

Supported by Linguistic Community Mastered by: Yuri Koryakov e-mail: lingvarium @ gmail.com

Created on January, 16, 2003 Last updated on Jan, 11, 2008 15:13