« back
Description

Northeast Caucasian Languages

The Northeast Caucasian or Nakho-Dagestanian language family comprises several subgroups: the Nakh subgroup, the Lezgian subgroup, the Lak-Dargwa subgroup, the Avaro-Andi-Dido subgroup, and Khinalugh, which is isolated within the language family. The extinct Albanian language might be an ancestor of present-day Udi in the Lezgian subgroup. Altogether there are 29 Northeast Caucasian languages spoken today.
Some linguists regard the three Nakh languages Chechen, Ingush, and Bats as a separate language family. In fact, the Nakh languages are in some respects quite distinct from the rest of the Northeast Caucasian laguages, i.e. the Dagestanian languages. Nevertheless, they also have very much in common, which indicates that they constitute a genetical language family.

The Northeast Caucasian languages are spoken by less than 3.000.000 people. The majority of the speakers live in southwestern Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, or in exiled communities throughout western and central Asia.

The earliest attested writtings of a Northeast Caucasian language are the Albanian inscriptions, that were produced from the 7th to the 9th century AD. These inscriptions use a special 'Albanian script'. Various present-day Northeast Caucasian languages in the Russian empire and later in the Soviet Union became written languages in the beginning of the 20th century. First an Arabic based alphabet was employed. In 1928 it was replaced by a latinised writing system. In the late thirties the Cyrillic script was adopted and is still in use today. Seven members of this language family have attained the status of written languages: Chechen, Ingush, Avar, Lak, Dargwa, Lezgi, and Tabassaran.

In general the Northeast Caucasian languages have a rich consonantal inventory and a relatively poor vocalism. In some groups, however, - especially in the Nakh and Avaro-Andi-Dido groups - the vowel system is more elaborate. Chechen has 33 vowel phonemes, Ingush 28, Hunzib 24, and Bezhta 18. On an average Northeast Caucasian languages have 10-15 vowel phonemes. Some languages have oppositions of long vs. short vowels, nasalised vs. non-nasalised vowels, pharyngealised vs. non-pharyngealised vowels, and labialised vs. non-labialised vowels.
The consonantism of the Northeast Caucasian languages makes use of a wide range of places of articulation, for instance there are lateral, uvular, pharyngeal, and laryngeal consonants. In addition the number of consonants is multiplied by the opposition of labialised vs. non-labialised consonants. The Nakh languages have a less intricate consonantal system than the other Northeast Caucasian languages.

The Northeast Caucasian Languages are characterised by a complex morphological system. The noun is inflected for the categories number, case and in most languages for noun class. The noun morphology is prevalently agglutinative with some fusional properties: Ablaut (i.e. the substitution of the stem vowel) is sometimes used to express plural or oblique case.
There are two kinds of cases: On the one hand there are 'grammatical cases' that indicate grammatical relations, for instance the absolutive, ergative, dative, genitive cases; on the other hand there are 'local cases' that express various adverbial relations, e.g. ablative, allative, inessive cases. The case systems of the Northeast Caucasian languages are very rich because of the quantity of locative cases. Some languages have more than 40 cases.
The Northeast Caucasian case system is ergative. Intransitive subjects and direct objects are marked in the same way on the participants of the verb. Transitive subjects are treated differently, however: The ergative case is used with the subject of transitive ('agentive') verbs, while the absolutive case is used with subjects of intransitive ('factitive') verbs and with objects of transitive ('agentive') verbs.
Only three languages do not have noun classes: Lezgi, Udi, and Aghul. The most widespread system has four classes: male, female, animate beings and certain objects, and finally a class for the remaining nouns. Class is not marked on the noun itself but on the dependent verbs, adjectives, and pronouns. The class systems vary from two classes up to eight classes (Bats).

In the bulk of the Northeast Caucasian languages the verbs agree with the class of the noun. Only the Udi verb has personal agreement. The verb in Lezgi and in Agul has neither personal nor class agreement.
The agreement of the verb follows an ergative pattern: intransitive ('factitive') verbs agree with the subject, transitive ('agentive') verbs agree with the direct object.

Word order in the Northeast Caucasian languages is relatively free. However, there exists a tendency for SOV.

« back



languageserver@uni-graz.at