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|Аԥсуа бызшәа; аԥсшәа
Apsua byzshwa; apsshwa
|Native to||Abkhazia and Abkhaz diaspora|
|190,110 (129,000 in Georgia) (2014–2015)|
|Cyrillic (Abkhaz alphabet) Historically: Arabic, Latin, Georgian|
Official language in
|Republic of Abkhazia[a]|
Abkhaz (//; //; sometimes spelled Abxaz; Аԥсуа бызшәа IPA: [apʰswa bɨzʃʷa]), also known as Abkhazian, is a Northwest Caucasian language most closely related to Abaza. It is spoken mostly by the Abkhaz people. It is one of the official languages of Abkhazia,[a] where around 100,000 people speak it. Furthermore, it is spoken by thousands of members of the Abkhazian diaspora in Turkey, Georgia's autonomous republic of Adjara, Syria, Jordan, and several Western countries. October 27 is the day of the Abkhazian language in Georgia.
Abkhaz is a Northwest Caucasian language and is thus related to Adyghe. It is especially close to Abaza, and they are sometimes considered dialects of the same language, Abazgi, of which the literary dialects of Abkhaz and Abaza are simply two ends of a dialect continuum. Grammatically, the two are very similar; however, the differences in phonology are substantial, it also contains elements characteristic of Kabardian; these are the main reasons for many others to prefer keeping the two separate, while others still refer to it as the Tapanta dialect of Abkhaz. Chirikba mentions that there are possible indications that proto-Northwest Caucasian, could have divided firstly into proto-Circassian and to proto-Ubykh-Abkhaz; Ubykh then being the closest relative to Abkhaz, with it only later on being influenced by Circassian.
There is not an agreed number of speakers of Abkhaz, and there are widely different numbers. It is agreed that today most of the Abkhaz people do not live in Abkhazia. In the census conducted by the Republic of Abkhazia in 2011, Abkhazians comprised 50.8% of the population, around 122,175 people; of these 92,838 speaking it natively. Only two of the original dialects are still spoken in Abkhazia. The Bzyp dialect is still spoken in its homeland northwest of Sukhumi, stretching from the Bzyp River to the western environs of Sukhumi and the Psyrtskha valley, whereas the Abzhywa dialect is spoken south-east of Sukhumi. The rest of the Abkhaz speaking population inhabits other neighbouring areas.
It is not clear the number of Abkhazians and Abkhaz speakers in Turkey. The census gives 13.951, but these numbers are doubtful, since the numbers of Abkhazians that came from the beginning of 19th century to the middle of the 20th was around 30 thousand. The Ethnologue gives 39,000 Abkhazians living in Turkey, of these only 4,000 still speak the language. The Joshua Project says there are 166,000 ethnic Abkhazians in Turkey, and the head of the Abkhaz federation says there are in between 500-700 thousand Abkhazians in Turkey. In general, Abkhaz seems to have been lost by most of the decedents, and bilingualism being low except in some specific areas, although there seems to be an effort for the new generation to learn the language with public schools being able to teach Abkhaz and together with 7,836 second language speakers. Abkhazian villages are concentrated around the cities of Adapazan, Düzce, Sinop, Hendek and Sansum in the northern part, and in the west around cities such as Bilecik, Inegöl and Eskişehir; they are mainly found in the provinces of Sakarya and Bolu in the western part, and near the Çoruh river in the north-east.
Historically the dialects of Sadz, Ahchypsy and Tsabal were located in Abkhazia; Sadz being spoken from the Bzyp river to the Matsesta River, and further to the north-west bordering the Sochypsta River. Today they are exclusively spoken in the northwestern part of Turkey, specially in the Sakarya province, it being spoken in 14 villages.
The other major place where Abkhaz is spoken is in Karachay-Cherkessia, where the Northern dialects are spoken, although there they are considered as a separate language and form the literary Abaza language. They are spoken by 37,831 people in Russia, mostly in the south of Stavropol Krai in the area around Kislovodsk, and in the upper Kuma river area.
Abkhaz is also spoken as a minority language around the world. There is a considerable number of Abkhaz speakers in Adjara in southern Georgia, with the diaspora concentrating itself around the capital Batumi, with about 982 people considering Abkhaz their first language. In the Russian census of 2010, 6,786 speakers of Abkhaz were reported in Russia. In Ukraine there are around 1,458 according to the 2001 census, but of these only 317 speak Abkhazian. There were also communities in Syria, Jordan and Iraq with around 5,000 Abkhazians, although this number could reach 10,000 according to the Abkhazia's Foreign Ministry. The biggest western diaspora is in Germany, with around 5,000 speakers, but other communities are found in countries such as the USA, United Kingdom, Austria, France, Belgium and so on.
The earliest indisputable extant written records of the Abkhaz language are in the Arabic script, recorded by the Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi in the 17th century. Abkhaz has been used as a literary language for only about 100 years.
It was suggested that certain inscriptions on Ancient Greek pottery which had been considered nonsense are in fact written in Abkhaz-Adydge languages. The methodology of the research was criticised and the results called improbable.
In 1918, Tbilisi State University became the first institution of higher education to teach Abkhazian language. The founders of the university began to take care of the development and scientific study of the Abkhazian language. At the meeting of the Council of Professors held at Tbilisi State University in 1918, Ivane Javakhishvili noted the scientific importance of studying Caucasian languages. In 1918, by the decision of the Council of Professors, Petre Charaia was invited to teach the Abkhazian language, and from 1925, this mission was continued by great scientists Dimitri Gulia and Simon Janashia.
Abkhaz is generally viewed as having three major dialects:
- Abzhywa, spoken in the Caucasus, and named after the historical area of Abzhywa (Абжьыуа), sometimes referred to as Abzhui, the Russified form of the name (Abzhuiski dialekt, derived from the Russian form of the name for the area, Абжуа).
- Bzyb or Bzyp, spoken in the Caucasus and in Turkey, and named after the Bzyb (Abkhazian: Бзыԥ) area.
- Sadz, nowadays spoken only in Turkey, formerly also spoken between the rivers Bzyp and Khosta.
- Common Abkhaz (Proto-Abkhaz)
- North Abkhaz
- South Abkhaz
- Ahchypsy, Bzyp
- Tsabal, Abzhywa
- North Abkhaz
In some form or the other, all dialects are richer in phonemes than the standard Abzhywa dialect. The only dialects spoken in Abkhazia are Abzhywa and Bzyp. Northern dialects which are the basis for literary Abaza are spoken in Karachay-Cherkessia, while the other dialects such as Sadz are spoken in Turkey due to Russian invasions in the 19th century. While most differences are phonetic, differences in the lexicon are present, although mostly due to exterior contact. Bzyp contains the most preserved lexicon, with few borrowings. Abzhywa has adopted many loans from Kartvelian, specially Megrelian; Sadz on the other hand has more words from Circassian. Northern dialects in general have more loanwords from Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Circassian.
Abkhaz has a very large number of consonants (58 in the literary dialect), with three-way voiced/voiceless/ejective and palatalized/labialized/plain distinctions. By contrast, the language has only two phonemically distinct vowels, which have several allophones depending on the palatal and/or labial quality of adjacent consonants.
Labialised alveolo-palatal fricatives (highlighted in green in the table below) are found in the Bzyp and Sadz dialects of Abkhaz, but not in Abzhywa. Plain alveolo-palatal consonants and the pharyngealised and labialised-pharyngealised uvular fricatives (highlighed in blue) are unique to the Bzyp dialect.
The consonants highlighted in red, are the 4 kinds of labialisation described by Chirikba.
|plain||lab.||plain||lab.||plain||lab.||pal.||plain||lab.||pal.||plain||lab.||phar.||lab. + phar.||plain||lab.|
The nature of the vowels of Abkhaz are not clear. Some linguists, characterise the vowel system as a 2 degree vertical vowel system; with the two vowels being distinguished by height, 'ә' being the high/close vowel, and 'а' being the low/open. This system would very closely resemble the one found in Adyghe. The quality of 'ә' in this case, is usually represented as [ɨ] if the vowel is in a stressed position, and being unaffected by its neighbouring consonants.
Other linguists however, mainly Russian ones, describe the vowels differently. They describe the sound of 'ә' being completely different from [ɨ], and by their descriptions being closer to [ɘ]. The 'а' is described as being particularly back, likely [ɑ].
Typical of Northwest Caucasian languages, Abkhaz is an agglutinative language that relies heavily on affixation. It has an ergative-absolutive typology, such that the subject of an intransitive verb functions identically to the object of a transitive verb. Notably, Abkhaz expresses ergativity entirely through the ordering of subjects and objects within verb constructions rather than through overt case marking as most other ergative languages do.
Abkhaz morphology features a highly complex verb system that could be called a “sentence in miniature.” Chirikba (2003) describes Abkhaz as a “verbocentric” language wherein verbs occupy the “central part of the morphology.” However, despite its complexity, Abkhaz verbal morphology is highly regular.
Abkhaz, being an ergative language, makes a strong distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs, as well as dynamic and stative.
Stative verbs describe states of being, roughly analogous to copular phrases in English, as in дхәыҷуп (dx˚əčә́wəp - “she is a child”). Dynamic verbs express direct actions, functioning more closely to standard English verbs. Dynamic verbs possess the full range of aspect, mood and tense forms, in contrast to statives, which do not.
Some verbs, called inversives, combine certain features of both stative and dynamic verbs.
Another important verbal distinction in Abkhaz is finite versus non-finite, referring to the duration of the action. Finite verbs usually contain enough information to form a complete sentence, whereas non-finite verbs typically form dependent clauses.
|Finite||дызбеит||“I saw him/her”|
|Non-Finite||избаз||”whom I saw”|
Roughly equivalent to the infinitive, or to a so-called “verbal noun,” the Masdar form of the verb resembles the English gerund. It is formed by the addition of a specific suffix to a bare verb stem, -ра (-ra) for a dynamic verb and -заара (-zaara) for a stative.
- “to read/ be reading”
Various prefixes can be added to the Masdar to form entire dependent clauses, as in:
- “breaking each other”
However, the fully conjugated personal Abkhaz verb forms are “templatic,” with each grammatical distinction occupying a specific “slot” or “position” within the broader verb template. Verbs are thus formed by the addition of various affixes to the verb stem; these affixes express such distinctions as transitivity, person and stative/dynamic quality, occupying rigid positions within the overall verb structure. There is a high degree of agreement between verbs and other parts of speech. Overall, the Abkhaz verb is constructed as follows:
- [First Position]+[Second Position]+[Third Position]+[Indirect Object]+[Reflexive]+[Free Preverb]+[Stem Preverb]+[Agent]+[Negation]+[Causative]+STEM+[Extension]+[Number]+[Aspect]+[Tense]+[Negation]+[Ending Suffixes]
Not all of these elements will necessarily co-occur in every verb. The individual parts of verb morphology are addressed below.
The first prefixing element of the verb complex expresses either the subject of an intransitive verb in the absolutive construction, or the direct object of a transitive verb in an ergative construction. The following table illustrates the various agreement markers which can occupy the first position. These prefixes can either be in their long forms, containing the letters inside the parenthesis, or in the short forms that don't contain them. The rules for using them are the following:
- If the prefix is proceeded by a consonant cluster, the long form shall be used.
- If the stress falls on the prefix, the long form shall be used
- If the prefix is not proceeded by a consonant cluster, the short form shall be used.
- If the stress doesn't fall on the prefix, the short form shall be used.
|1st||с(ы)-||ҳ(а)-||с(ы)-||ҳ(а)-||с(ы)- / з(ы)-||ҳ(а)- / аа-|
|2nd||H||M||у(ы)-||шә(ы)-||у(ы)-||шә(ы)-||у(ы)-||шә(ы)- / жә(ы)-|
|3rd||H||M||д(ы)-||и(ы)-||и(ы)-||р(ы)- / д(ы)-||и(ы)-||р(ы)- / д(ы)-|
This position accommodates a number of prefixes that express causative information.
Any indirect object occurring after the one in the second position occupies this position instead; a possessive prefix of stative verbs can also be placed here.
- “She kills herself.”
Where a possessive prefix exists in the first position, the reflexive prefix л- is placed here.
- “She kills herself.”
This position is occupied by preverbal elements which are not an explicit part of the verb stem.
- “She sat down.”
Preverbal elements that are explicitly attached to the verb stem take this position.
- “I am doing it.”
The agreement marker corresponding to the agent (the subject of a transitive verb) takes this position.
The negation prefix m- occupies this position in a dynamic verb construction.
- “I did not do it.”
The causative prefix r- takes the final position before the verb stem.
- “I did not manage to make it better.”
The first of the suffixing elements expresses adverbial information relating to “inside” (-la) or “outside” (-aa).
- “He brought it inside.”
The suffix -kºá pluralizes a stative verb.
- “those who were sitting”
Several aspect markers occupy this position as suffixes.
Several tense markers occupy this position, dependent upon whether the verb in question is stative or dynamic. Dynamic verbs have a richly developed tense paradigm incorporating tense and aspect distinctions. The table below illustrates these various dynamic tense forms using the verb агара (agara – “to take”).
|Present||-уа-ит(-wá-jt’)||-уа(-wa)||дыргоит (dərgawájt’)||“They are taking him.”|
|Aorist||-ит(-jt’)||-∅||дырге́ит (dərgájt’)||“They took him.”|
|Future 1||-п (-p’)||-ра (-ra)||дыргап (dərgáp’)||“They will take him.”|
|Future 2||-шт (-št’)||-ша (-ša)||дыргашт (dərgášt’)||“They will probably take him.”|
|Perfect||-ҳьа-ит (-x’ájt’)||-хьоу (-x’áw)||дыргахьеит (dərgax’ájt’)||“They have taken him.”|
|Imperfect||-уан (-wán)||-уаз (-wáz)||дыргон (dərgawán)||“They took him.”|
|Past Indefinite||-н (-n)||-з (-z)||дырган (dərgán)||“They took him and then...”|
|Future Conditional 1||-рын (-rә́n)||-рыз (-rəz)||дыргарын (dərgarә́n)||“They would take him.”|
|Future Conditional 2||-шан (-šan)||-шаз (-šaz)||дыргашан (dərgášan)||“They had to take him.”|
|Pluperfect||-хьан (-x’án)||-хьаз (-x’az)||дыргахьан (dərgax’án)||“They had taken him.”|
Stative verbs, by contrast, lack this rich tense system, as illustrated below using the verb а́цәара (ácºara - “to be sleeping”).
|Past||-н||-з||дыцәан (dә́cºan)||“he was sleeping.”|
|Present||-уп||-у||дыцәоуп (dә́cºawp)||“which is sleeping”|
The negation prefix m- occupies this position in a stative verb construction.
- “She is not sitting.”
The final position in the verb complex can accommodate any one of several mixed purpose markers.
The imperative takes a few possible forms, depending upon the type of verb. Dynamic verbs form the imperative by the addition of agreement suffixes to a bare verb stem; intransitives include the subject and indirect object makers, whereas transitives include the direct object and absolutive. Thus:
- “(you pl) look at him!”
Stative verbs form the imperative simply by adding the durative suffix -z to the verb stem. Thus:
Like verbs, Abkhaz nouns are formed by the addition of various prefixes and suffixes to a static noun stem. Noun stems can be derived according to several different processes, including compounding, reduplication, or the addition of a derivational affix.
- [Definite Article]+[Inflectional Prefix]+[Quantity]+STEM+[Inflectional Suffix]+[Indefinite Article]+[Clitic]
As with verbs, not all of these elements can occur at the same time. The individual parts of noun morphology are addressed below.
|а-||Generic||ауаҩы́ (awajºә́ - “person”)|
|а́-||Specific||уи а́уаҩы (wә́j áwajºә́ - “this person”)|
|-к||Indefinite||уаҩы́к (wajºә́k - “some person”)|
The absence of either article affix implies a zero reference implying universal quantifiers, or to express the total lack of a referent.
- Уаҩы дсымбеит
- wajºә́ dsəmbáøjt
- “I saw nobody.”
Definite and indefinite affixes may appear together in the same noun, implying that the referents are meant as a group or body.
- “one of the horses.”
There are some semantic differences in article usage between the different dialects of Abkhaz.
These are possessive prefixes which express grammatical person and noun class. They come in two forms, the full and short ones. The full ones contain the vowels inside the parenthesis, whereas the short ones don't.
These few prefixes add numeric information to the noun complex. Often, this takes the form of a numeral.
- “their three (HC) sons”
Inflectional Suffixes These suffixes convey either plural number or case-like adverbial information. Plural markers are addressed further below; the other possible inflectional suffixes are the following:
- The third-person singular non-human possessive marker, attached to a locative or directional postposition
- Locative -ҿы́ (-č’ә́) or directional -ҳы́ (-x’ә́) postpositions
- Instrumental suffix -ла (-la)
- Adverbial suffix -с (-s), as in: иашьас (jaš’ás - “as a brother”)
- Comparative suffix -ҵас (-c’as), as in: ҩнҵа́с (jºənc’ás - “like a house”)
- Privative suffix -да (-da), as in: ҩны́да (jºnә́da - “without a house”)
- Various coordinating suffixes
Inflectional suffixes can follow each other sequentially.
- аҷкәы́нцәеи аҭы́ԥҳацәеи
- áč’k’ºəncºaj atә́phacºaj
- “boys and girls”
Abkhaz distinguishes singular and plural; the singular is unmarked, whereas the plural is indicated by noun class-dependent suffixes. There are several pluralizing suffixes, but the two most commonly used refer generally to the human and non-human noun classes. There are instances where explicitly human nouns take non-human plural markers.
|-цәа (-cºa)||Human||а́бацәа (ábacºa – “fathers”)|
|-қәа (-kºa)||Non-Human||аҽқәа́ (ačkºa - “horses”)|
There are also several plural endings that are of much narrower use.
|-аа||а́ԥсуаа (ápswaa - “Abkhazians”)||Collective, referring to ethnicities, groups|
|-(а)ра (-(a)ra)||аса́ра (asára - “lambs”)||Collective, with the added meaning of animal young (in some nouns with -s ending)|
|-рaa (-raa)||а́браа (ábraa - “parents of the sister-in-law”)||Delineating a group associated with the referent|
- сангьы сабгьы
- sáng’ə sábg’ə
- “my mother and my father”
Nouns in Abkhaz are classified broadly according to a human/non-human paradigm, with the human class itself further subdivided into masculine and feminine gender. Gender is a fairly weak concept in Abkhaz grammar, and gender distinctions undergo a fair degree of neutralization in several contexts, including personal pronouns, verb agreement and possession marking. This class and gender system distinguishes Abkhaz from the other Northwest Caucasian languages.
Although there is no special vocative declension, the prefix уа- (wa-), when attached to a noun stem, can express a vocative form.
- “Oh Lord!”
Similarly, the suffix -a can be added to a proper noun ending in a consonant to communicate respect and endearment.
- “Dear Zurab” (given name)
It is common in everyday speech to use a short version of the pronoun which omits the suffix -рá (-rá), although this is done less frequently with third-person pronouns.
In addition to noun-marking, possession can be indicated by adding the suffix -тәы́ (-t’˚ә́) to the short version of a personal pronoun. Thus:
- стәы́ (st’˚ә́ - “mine”)
- лтәы́ (lt’˚ә́ - “hers”)
Intensive pronouns are derived from short-form personal pronouns combined with the suffix -хаҭá (-xatá). These have a roughly reflexive meaning.
- сарá (sará - “I”)
- схаҭá (sxatá - “I myself”)
Morphologically, adjectives are very similar to nouns, differing only in their syntactic function. Similarly to nouns, adjective stems can be derived by compounding, reduplication and affixation. When used attributively, adjectives follow the noun that they modify. Predicative adjectives, or those derived by suffixation, precede the noun. Adjectives are formed according to the following paradigm:
- [Definite Article]+[Inflectional Prefix]+STEM+[Inflectional Suffix]+[Indefinite Article]+[Adverbial Suffix]
The possessive prefix r- is used to show possessive agreement.
- рҭоурыхтә ҭагылазаашьа
- rtawrә́xt’º tagә́lazaaš’a
- “their historical situation”
These suffixes are added to the adjective stem to show agreement with the noun being modified.
The comparative form of an adjective is formed using the comparative particle аиҳá (ajhá - “more”), which precedes the adjective. The superlative form is indicated by the intensifier suffix -ӡа. Thus:
- аиҳа ибзиоу аҩны
- ajhá jəbzә́jaw ajºnә́ (“a better house”)
- jəq’apšʒá (“reddest”)
Abkhaz has used the Cyrillic script since 1862. The first alphabet was a 37-character Cyrillic alphabet invented by Baron Peter von Uslar. In 1909 a 55-letter Cyrillic alphabet was used. A 75-letter Latin script devised by a Russian/Georgian linguist Nikolai Marr lasted for 2 years 1926–1928 (during the Latinization campaign). The Georgian script was adopted and used in 1938–54 years, after that was restored the initial Cyrillic alphabet designed in 1892 by Dmitry Gulia together with Konstantin Machavariani and modified in 1909 by Aleksey Chochua.
[ɣ ~ ʁ]
[ɣʲ ~ ʁʲ]
[ɣʷ ~ ʁʷ]
[iː, j, jə]
[w, wə, uː]
[xʲ ~ χʲ]
[[[xʷ ~ χʷ]]]
[[[ɥ (< ʕʷ)]]]
The Latin alphabet in Abkhaz is currently not in Unicode. Its inclusion was proposed in 2011. See also:
Both Georgian and Abkhaz law enshrines an official status of the Abkhaz language in Abkhazia.
In November 2007, the de facto authorities of Abkhazia adopted a new law "on the state language of the Republic of Abkhazia" that mandates Abkhaz as the language of official communication. According to the law, all meetings held by the president, parliament, and government must be conducted in Abkhaz (instead of Russian, which is currently a de facto administrative language) from 2010, and all state officials will be obliged to use Abkhaz as their language of everyday business from 2015. Some, however, have considered the implementation of this law unrealistic and concerns have been made that it will drive people away from Abkhazia and hurt the independent press due to a significant share of non-Abkhaz speakers among ethnic minorities as well as Abkhaz themselves, and a shortage of teachers of Abkhaz. The law is an attempt to amend a situation where up to a third of the ethnic Abkhaz population are no longer capable of speaking their ethnic language, and even more are unable to read or write it; instead, Russian is the language most commonly used in public life at present.
Abkhazian: Дарбанзаалак ауаҩы дшоуп ихы дақәиҭны. Ауаа зегь зинлеи патулеи еиҟароуп. Урҭ ирымоуп ахшыҩи аламыси, дара дарагь аешьеи аешьеи реиԥш еизыҟазароуп.
- Darbanzaalak auaɥy dshoup ihy daqwithny. Auaa zegj zinlei patulei eiqaroup. Urth irymoup ahshyɥi alamysi, dara daragj aesjei aesjei reiphsh eizyqazaroup.
ISO 9 Romanization
Darbanzaalak auaòy dšoup ihy dak̦a̋ițny. Auaa zegʹ zinlei patulei eik̄aroup. Urț irymoup ahšyòi alamysi, dara daragʹ aešʹei aešʹei reip̀š eizyk̄azaroup.
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
/darbanza:lakʼ awaɥɨ tʂawpʼ jiχɨ dakʷʰitʰnɨ ǁ awaː zagʲ zjinlaj pʼatʼwɨlaj ajqʼarawpʼ ǁ wartʰ jirɨmawpʼ aχʂɨɥij alamɨsij ǀ dara daragʲ ajaʃaj rajpʰʂ ajzɨqʼazarawpʼ/[needs IPA]
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