Northeast Caucasian languages
Main areas of Northeast Caucasian languages
Name of the family
Several names have been in use for this family. The most common term, Northeast Caucasian
, contrasts the three established families of the Caucasian languages: Northeast Caucasian
, Northwest Caucasian
(Abkhaz–Adyghean) and South Caucasian
). This may be shortened to East Caucasian
. The term Nakh(o)-Dagestanian
can be taken to reflect a primary division of the family into Nakh and Dagestanian branches, a view which is no longer widely accepted, or Dagestanian
can subsume the entire family. The rare term North Caspian
(as in bordering the Caspian Sea) is only used in opposition to the use of North Pontic
(as in bordering the Black Sea) for the Northwest Caucasian languages.
Historically, Northeast Caucasian phonemic inventories were thought to be significantly smaller than those of the neighboring Northwest Caucasian family
. However, more recent research has revealed that many Northeast Caucasian languages are much more phoneme-rich than previously believed, with some languages containing as many as 70 consonants.
In addition to numerous oral obstruents, many Northeast Caucasian languages also possess a number of back consonants, including uvulars
and glottal stops and fricatives. Northeast Caucasian phonology is also notable for its use of numerous secondary articulations
as contrastive features. Whereas English consonant classes are divided into voiced and voiceless phonemes, Northeast Caucasian languages are known to contrast phones into voiced, voiceless, ejective
variants, which contributes to their large phonemic inventories. Some languages also include palatalization and labialization as contrastive features.
Most languages in this family contrast tense and weak consonants. Tense consonants are characterized by the intensiveness of articulation, which naturally leads to a lengthening of these consonants.
In contrast to the generally large consonant inventories of Northeast Caucasian languages, most languages in the family have relatively few vowels, although more on average than the Northwest Caucasian languages.
However, there are some exceptions to this trend, such as Chechen
, which has at least twenty-eight vowels, diphthongs and triphthongs.
Percentage of Northeast Caucasian languages by speakers
Verbs do not agree with person
(except for Lak
is prominent, with reported, sensory and epistemic moods all appearing as a way of conveying the evidence. Epistemic modality is often tied to the tense.
Most Northeast Caucasian languages exhibit an ergative–absolutive morphology
This means that objects of transitive sentences and subjects of intransitive sentences both fall into a single grammatical case known as the absolutive. Subjects of transitive sentences, however, carry a different marking to indicate that they belong to a separate case, known as the ergative.
This distinction can be seen in the following two Archi sentences. Note that objects and subjects of intransitive sentences carry no suffix, which is represented by the null suffix, -∅. Meanwhile, agents of transitive sentences take the ergative suffix, -mu.
Northeast Caucasian languages have between two and eight noun classes.
In these languages, nouns are grouped into grammatical categories depending on certain semantic qualities, such as animacy and gender. Each noun class has a corresponding agreement prefix, which can attach to verbs or adjectives of that noun. Prefixes may also have plural forms, used in agreement with a plural noun.
The following table shows the noun–adjective agreement paradigm in the Tsez language.
A long-time classification divided the family into Nakh and Dagestanian branches, whence the term Nakho-Dagestanian.
However, attempts at reconstructing the protolanguage suggest that the Nakh languages are no more divergent from Dagestanian than the various branches of Dagestanian are from each other,
although this is still not universally accepted. The following outline, based on the work of linguist Bernard Comrie
and others, has been adopted by Ethnologue
. An Avar–Andi–Dido branch was abandoned, but has been resurrected as the "New Type" languages in Schulze (2009, 2013) and Lak–Dargwa has likewise returned.
One factor complicating internal classification within the family is that the diachronic development of its respective branches is marked both by an extreme degree of diffusion and divergence followed by secondary convergence
, which complicates the comparative method.
Population data is from Ethnologue 16th ed.
Spoken in the Northwest Dagestan highlands and western Dagestan. Avar is the lingua franca for these and the Tsezic languages
and is the only literary language. Schulze (2009)
gives the following family tree for the Avar–Andic languages:
Figures retrieved from Ethnologue.
These languages are spoken in the following rayons
rayon in Azerbaijan
Dargic (Dargin) dialect continuum
Spoken by 492,490 in Dagestan, as well as Azerbaijan, Central Asia and Ukraine.
Dargwa proper is a literary language.
Khinalug (Xinalug) isolate
Spoken in the Central Dagestan highlands. Lak is a literary language.
Spoken in the Southeast Dagestan
highlands and in Northern Azerbaijan
. The Lezgian language
or, as the Lezgian people
themselves call it, Лезги чlал (lezgi ch'al
), is the biggest in terms of the number of native speakers of all the languages of the Lezgic group (other languages from this group include Tabasaran, Udi, Tsakhur and Rutul). They are spoken in the following rayons of Dagestan
(Kvevar), Kasumxur, Kurakh
Tabasaran was once thought to be the language with the largest number of grammatical cases at 54, which could, depending on the analysis, instead be the Tsez language
Lezgian and Tabasaran are literary languages.
Lezgic family tree
- Peripheral: Archi (970 speakers)
- Samur (or Nuclear Lezgian)
- Eastern Samur
- Southern Samur
- Western Samur
All figures retrieved from Ethnologue.
Spoken mostly in Southwest Dagestan. None are literary languages. Formerly classified geographically as East Tsezic (Hinukh, Bezta) and West Tsezic (Tsez, Khwarshi, Hunzib), these languages may actually form different subgroupings[clarification needed]
according to the latest research by Schulze (2009)
All figures except for Khwarshi were retrieved from Ethnologue.
These languages are spoken in the Tsunta
and Bezhta areas of Dagestan
Disputed connections to other families
Connections to Hurrian and Urartian
Some linguists—notably Igor M. Diakonoff
and Starostin—see evidence of a genealogical connection between the Northeast Caucasian family and the extinct languages Hurrian
. Hurrian was spoken in various parts of the Fertile Crescent
in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. Urartian was the language of Urartu
, a powerful state that existed between 1000 BC or earlier and 585 BC in the area centered on Lake Van
in current Turkey
. The two languages are classified together as the Hurro-Urartian family
. Diakonoff proposed the name Alarodian
for the union of Hurro-Urartian and Northeast Caucasian.
Many scholars, however, doubt that the language families are related
or believe that, while a connection is possible, the evidence is far from conclusive.
Northeast Caucasian languages
Below are selected Proto-Northeast Caucasian reconstructions of basic vocabulary items by Johanna Nichols
, which she refers to as Proto-Nakh-Daghestanian
Notation: C = consonant; V = vowel; D = gender affix
Possible connections to the origin of agriculture
The Proto-Northeast Caucasian language had many terms for agriculture
and Johanna Nichols
has suggested that its speakers may have been involved in the development of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent
and only later moved north to the Caucasus.
Proto-NEC is reconstructed with words for concepts such as yoke
(*...ƛ / *...ƛƛ’), as well as fruit trees such as apple
(*hʕam(V)c / *hʕam(V)č) and pear
(*qur / *qar; *qʕur ?),
that suggest agriculture was well developed before the proto-language broke up.
- ^ Hewitt, George (2004). Introduction to the Study of the Languages of the Caucasus. Munich: Lincom Europaq. p. 49.
- ^ Hewitt, George (2004). Introduction to the Study of the Languages of the Caucasus. Munich: Lincom Europa. pp. 49–54.
- ^ a b Matthews, W.K. (1951). Languages of the U.S.S.R. New York: Russel & Russel. p. 88.
- ^ Hewitt, George (2004). Introduction to the Study of the Languages of the Caucasus. Lincom Europa. p. 58.
- ^ Hewitt, George (2004). Introduction to the Study of the Languages of the Caucasus. Munich: Lincom Europa. p. 80.
- ^ Hewitt, George (2004). Introduction to the Study of the Languages of the Caucasus. Munich: Lincom Europa. pp. 81–82.
- ^ Dixon, R.M.W. (1987). Studies in Ergativity. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. p. 133.
- ^ Van Valen, Robert D. (1981). "Grammatical Relations in Ergative Languages" (PDF). Studies in Language. 5 (3): 361–394. doi:10.1075/sl.5.3.05van. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
- ^ Van Valin Jr., Robert D. (1983). "Grammatical Relations in Ergative Languages" (PDF). Studies in Language. 5 (3): 361–394. doi:10.1075/sl.5.3.05van. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
- ^ a b Plaster, Keith; et al. "Noun classes grow on trees: noun classification in the North-East Caucasus". Language and Representations (Tentative). Retrieved 20 April 2013.
- ^ See Nichols (2003)
- ^ See Schulze (2009)
- ^ Wolfgang Schulze (2017). "11. The comparative method in Caucasian linguistics". In Joseph, Brian; Fritz, Mathias; Klein, Jared (eds.). Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics. De Gruyter Mouton. p. 106. ISBN 978-3-11-018614-7. The twenty-nine languages of East Caucasian are marked by both an extreme degree of diffusion/divergence and secondary convergence, which renders the application of the comparative method more difficult.
- ^ "Ethnologue". Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- ^ "Ethnologue report for Dargwa". Retrieved 18 April 2013.
- ^ "Ethnologue report for Khinalugh". Retrieved 18 April 2013.
- ^ "Ethnologue report for Lak". Retrieved 18 April 2013.
- ^ "Ethnologue". Retrieved 18 April 2013.
- ^ "Bats". Ethnologue. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- ^ "Chechen". Ethnologue. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- ^ "Ingush". Ethnologue. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- ^ Khalilova, Zaira (2009). A Grammar of Khwarshi (PDF). University of Leiden: LOT, Netherlands. ISBN 978-90-78328-93-3.[permanent dead link]
- ^ "Ethnologue".
- ^ Pereltsvaig, Asya (2012). Languages of the World: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 65.
- ^ a b Matthews, W.K. (1951). Languages of the U.S.S.R. New York: Russell & Russell. pp. 87–88.
- ^ Nichols, J. 1997 "Nikolaev and Starostin's North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary and the Methodology of Long-Range Comparison: an assessment". Paper presented at the 10th Biennial Non-Slavic Languages (NSL) Conference, Chicago, 8–10 May 1997.
- ^ Smeets, Rieks. "On Hurro-Urartian as an Eastern Caucasian language." Bibliotheca Orientalis XLVI (1989): 260-280.
- ^ Zimansky, Paul "Urartian and Urartians." The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia (2011): 556.
- ^ Thomas V. Gamkrelidze, T.E. Gudava "Caucasian Languages." Encyclopaedia Britannica (1998): 
- ^ a b Nichols, Johanna. 2003. The Nakh-Daghestanian consonant correspondences. In Dee Ann Holisky and Kevin Tuite (eds.), Current Trends in Caucasian, East European and Inner Asian Linguistics: Papers in honor of Howard I. Aronson, 207-264. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi:10.1075/cilt.246.14nic
- ^ See Wuethrich 2000
- NICHOLS, Johanna (2003), "The Nakh-Daghestanian Consonant Correspondences", in TUITE, Kevin; HOLISKY, Dee Ann (eds.), Current Trends in Caucasian, East European, and Inner Asian Linguistics: Papers in Honor of Howard I. Aronson, Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp. 207–251, ISBN 978-1-58811-461-7
- SCHULZE, Wolfgang (April 21, 2013), "The Languages of the Caucasus" (PDF), The Languages of the Caucasus, IATS University of Munich
- SCHULZE, Wolfgang (2007), "Personalität in den ostkaukasischen Sprachen" (PDF), Munich Working Papers in Cognitive Typology, IATS University of Munich, archived from the original(PDF) on 2012-02-21
- SCHULZE, Wolfgang (2001), "Die kaukasischen Sprachen", in M. Haspelmath; et al. (eds.), La typologie des langues et les universaux linguistiques, 2, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 1774–1796
- WUETHRICH, Bernice (19 May 2000), "Peering Into the Past, With Words", Science, 288 (5469): 1158, doi:10.1126/science.288.5469.1158, S2CID 82205296.
Last edited on 3 May 2021, at 07:53
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