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Mâ-htáeme hva-éve.

Kabardian (/kəˈbɑːrdiən/) also known as East Circassian, is a Northwest Caucasian language, that is considered to be the east dialect of Adyghe language. Circassians reject west and east dialects to be different languages and refer to them both as "Circassian".

It is spoken mainly in parts of the North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia (Eastern Circassia), and in Turkey, Jordan and Syria (the extensive post-war diaspora). It has 47 or 48 consonant phonemes, of which 22 or 23 are fricatives, depending upon whether one counts [h] as phonemic, but it has only 3 phonemic vowels. It is one of very few languages to possess a clear phonemic distinction between ejective affricates and ejective fricatives.

Some linguists argue that Kabardian is only one dialect of an overarching Adyghe or Circassian language, which consists of all of the dialects of Adyghe and Kabardian together, and the Kabardians themselves most often refer to their language using the Circassian term Adighabze ("Adyghe language"). Several linguists, including Georges Dumézil, have used the terms "eastern Circassian" (Kabardian) and "western Circassian" (Adyghe) to avoid that confusion, but both "Circassian" and "Kabardian" may still be found in linguistic literature. There are several key phonetic and lexical differences that create a reasonably well-defined separation between the eastern and the western Circassian dialects, but the degree to which the two are mutually intelligible has not yet been determined. The matter is also complicated somewhat by the existence of Besleney, which is usually considered [by whom?] a dialect of Kabardian but also shares many features with certain[which?] dialects of Adyghe.

Kabardian is written in a form of Cyrillic and serves as the literary language for Circassians in both Kabardino-Balkaria (where it is usually called the "Kabardian language") and Karachay-Cherkessia (where it is called the "Cherkess language").

Like all other Northwest Caucasian languages, Kabardian is ergative and has an extremely complex verbal system.

Since 2004, the Turkish broadcasting corporation TRT has maintained a half-an-hour programme a week in the Terek dialect of Kabardian.

East Circassian dialects/sub-dialects[edit][edit | edit source]

  • East Circassian
    • Kabardian
      • West Kabardian
        • Kuban
        • Kuban-Zelenchuk (Cherkess)
      • Central Kabardian
        • Baksan (basis for the literary language)
        • Malka
      • Eastern Kabardian
        • Terek
        • Mozdok
      • North Kabardian
        • Mulka
        • Zabardiqa (1925 until 1991 Soviet Zaparika)
    • Baslaney dialect (Adyghe: Бэслъыныйбзэ)

Phonology[edit][edit | edit source]

The phoneme written Л л is pronounced as a voiced alveolar lateral fricative [ɮ] mostly by the Circassians of Kabarda and Cherkessia, but many Kabardians pronounce it as an alveolar lateral approximant [l] in diaspora. The series of labialized alveolar sibilant affricates and fricatives that exist in Adyghe /ʃʷʼ/ /ʒʷ/ /ʃʷ/ /t͡sʷ/ became labiodental consonants /fʼ/ /v/ /f/ /v/ in Kabardian, for example the Kabardian words мафӏэ [maːfʼa] "fire", зэвы [zavə] "narrow", фыз [fəz] "wife" and вакъэ [vaːqa] "shoe" are pronounced as машӏо [maːʃʷʼa], зэжъу [zaʒʷə], шъуз /ʃʷəz/ and цуакъэ [t͡sʷaːqa] in Adyghe. Kabardian has a labialized voiceless velar fricative [xʷ] which correspond to Adyghe [f], for example the Adyghe word "тфы" ([tfə] "five" is тху ([txʷə]) in Kabardian. In the Beslenei dialect, there exists an alveolar lateral ejective affricate [t͡ɬʼ] which corresponds to [ɬʼ] in literary Kabardian. The Turkish Kabardians (Uzunyayla) and Besleneys have a palatalized voiced velar stop [ɡʲ] and a palatalized velar ejective [kʲʼ] which corresponds to [d͡ʒ] and [t͡ʃʼ] in literary Kabardian.

Consonants[edit][edit | edit source]

Labial Alveolar Post-




Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Central Lateral plain lab. pal. plain lab. plain lab.
Nasal m n
Plosive ejective kʷʼ (kʲʼ)1
voiceless p t k2 q ʔ ʔʷ
voiced b d ɡ2 ɡʷ (ɡʲ)1
Affricate ejective t͡sʼ t͡ʃʼ
voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ q͡χ q͡χʷ
voiced d͡z d͡ʒ
Fricative ejective ɬʼ ɕʼ
voiceless f s ɬ ʃ ɕ x χ χʷ ħ
voiced v z ɮ ʒ ʑ ɣ ʁ ʁʷ
Approximant l j w
Trill r
  1. In some Kabardian dialects (e.g. Baslaney dialect, Uzunyayla dialect), there is a palatalized voiced velar stop [ɡʲ] and a palatalized velar ejective [kʲʼ] that were merged with [d͡ʒ] and [t͡ʃʼ] in most Kabardian dialects. For example, the Baslaney words "гьанэ" [ɡʲaːna] "shirt" and "кӏьапсэ" [kʲʼaːpsa] "rope" are pronounced in other Kabardian dialects as "джанэ" [d͡ʒaːna] and кӏапсэ [t͡ʃʼaːpsa].
  2. Consonants that exist only in borrowed words.

The glottalization of the ejective stops (but not fricatives) can be quite weak, and has been reported to often be creaky voice, that is, to have laryngealized voicing. Something similar seems to have happened historically in the Veinakh languages.

Vowels[edit][edit | edit source]

Kabardian has a vertical vowel system. Although many surface vowels appear, they can be analyzed as consisting of at most the following three phonemic vowels: /ə/, /a/ and /aː/.

The following allophones of the short vowels /ə/, /a/ appear:

Feature Description Not preceding labialized cons. Preceding labialized cons.
/ə/ /a/ /ə/ /a/
[+high, -back] After laterals, palatalized palatovelars and /j/ [i] [e] [y] [ø]
[-round, +back] After plain velars, pharyngeals, /h/, /ʔ/ [ɨ] [ɑ] [ʉ] [ɒ]
[+round, +back] After labialized palatovelars, uvulars and laryngeals [u] [o] [u] [o]
[-high, -back] After other consonants [ə] [æ] ? ?

According to Kuipers,

These symbols must be understood as each covering a wide range of sub-variants. For example, i stands for a sound close to cardinal [i] in 'ji' "eight", for a sound close to English [ɪ] in "kit" in the word x'i "sea", etc. In fact, the short vowels, which are found only after consonants, have different variants after practically every series defined as to point of articulation and presence or absence of labialization or palatalization, and the number of variants is multiplied by the influence of the consonant (or zero) that follows.

Most of the long vowels appear as automatic variants of a sequence of short vowel and glide, when it occurs in a single syllable:

  • [uː] = /əw/
  • [oː] = /aw/
  • [iː] = /əj/
  • [eː] = /aj/

This leaves only the vowel [aː]. Kuipers claims that this can be analyzed as underlying /ha/ when word-initial, and underlying /ah/ elsewhere, based on the following facts:

  • /h/ occurs only in the plural suffix [ha], which does not occur word-initially.
  • [aː] is the only word-initial vowel; analyzing it as /ha/ makes the language underlyingly universally consonant-initial.
  • Certain complications involving stress and morphophonemic alternations are dramatically simplified by these assumptions.

Halle finds Kuipers' analysis "exemplary". Gordon and Applebaum note this analysis, but also note that some authors disagree, and as a result prefer to maintain a phoneme /aː/.

In a later section of his monograph, Kuipers also attempts to analyze the two vowels phonemes /ə/ and /a/ out of existence. Halle, however, shows that this analysis is flawed, as it requires the introduction of multiple new phonemes to carry the information formerly encoded by the two vowel phonemes.

The vowel /o/ appears in some loan words; it is often pronounced /aw/.[citation needed]

The diphthong /aw/ is pronounced /oː/ in some dialects. /jə/ may be realised as /iː/, /wə/ as /uː/ and /aj/ as /eː/. This monophthongisation does not occur in all dialects.[citation needed]

The vowels /a, aː/ can have the semi-vowel /j/ in front of it.[citation needed]

Orthography[edit][edit | edit source]

The official alphabet used for writing Kabardian, is Cyrillic alphabet, including additional letters, totalling 59 letters. Digraphs, trigraphs, and one tetragraph, are counted as independent letters on their own. The Cyrillic alphabet in its current form has been the official alphabet since 1938. Kabardian alphabet, while having minor differences reflecting dialectical variations, is very similar to orthography of the Adyghe language, the other prominent Circassian language.

Kabardian is also unofficially written and taught in Latin, in some diaspora communities, especially in Turkey where government-backing of a Latin-based script has been a cause for controversy and opposition among Kabardians who still overwhelmingly favor Cyrillic.

History[edit][edit | edit source]

Prior to the 19th century, Kabardian did not have a literary tradition yet, and it did not have a native orthography. At the time, Ottoman Turkish was used as the literary language by Circassians. Starting in the 1820s, efforts at compiling and standardizing Arabic-based scripts were undertaken by various Kabardian literaturists, and by the early 1920s, an officially-adopted Arabic-based script was in widespread educational and literary use. However, in 1924, Kabardian Arabic alphabet was discarded and replaced with Latin.. A second version of Latin script was adopted in 1930. This lasted for another 6 years, and in 1936, Latin alphabet was discarded in favour of Cyrillic. Kabardian Cyrillic alphabet underwent an iteration of modification in 1938, and the 1938 version has been in popular and official use eversince.

First ever notable attempt at compiling an orthography for Kabardian was conducted by famous Kabardian poet, Sh. Nogma, in 1825. His alphabet consisted of 42 letters, including 15 letters introduced by him, some of which had unusual forms, diverging from the conventional rasm (base of letters which are then used for addition of dots and diacritics). His alphabet thus didn't take hold.

In 1830, in collaboration with Russian philologist and orientalist, Gratsilevsky, Nogma developed a Cyrillic-based script for Kabardian.

Over the decades, the popularity in use of Arabic-derived script increased. In 1881, the poet Bekmurza Pachev compiled a standardized Arabic script for Kabardian consisting of 39 letters. He published various literature and wrote poetry in this version of the alphabet. The Arabic alphabet was gaining universal acceptance and increasing usage among Kabardian Circassians.

In 1908, Nuri Tsagov compiled another iteration of the Arabic alphabet, better suited for all consonant and vowel phonemes of Kabardian. This version of the alphabet was widely accepted, with many authors utilizing it to publish books and literature, including a primer. The alphabet gained official status in education and later also inspired the standardization of Arabic-based orthography for Adyghe language by Akhmetov Bekukh.

In line with the general linguistic policy of the Soviet Union at the time, the existing Arabic script was replaced with a newly developed Kabardian Latin alphabet in 1924. Khuranov is credited for first compiling the first version of Latin alphabet in May 1923. This version closely resembled the Latin alphabet adopted for Adyghe language in 1927. This alphabet consisted of many newly created letters, some even borrowed from Cyrillic. Another interesting feature of this iteration of Adyghe Latin Alphabet was that there was no distinction between lower case and upper case letters. Each letter only had one single case. The alphabet consisted of а b w d g ꜧ  е ӡ z ž ⱬ i j k ⱪ q qh l  lh m n o p ph r s š ş t th v f fh x х̌ ɦ c ç ch y h u è ù â ỳ.

Kabardian Latin alphabet underwent another update in 1925. In this version, many of the newly created letters were removed in favour of introduction of accents and diacritics over base Latin letters. In this version, upper-case/lower-case distinction was reintroduced. The alphabet consisted of the following letters: A a, B b, V v, D d, E e, G g, Gu gu, Z z, Ž ž, Z̧ z̧, Ӡ ӡ, Ꜧ ꜧ, Ꜧu ꜧu, I i, J j, K k, Ku ku, Ⱪ ⱪ, Ⱪu ⱪu, Q q, Qu qu, Qh qh, Qhu qhu, L l, , Lh lh, M m, N n, O o, P p, Ph ph, R r, S s, Š š, Ş ş, T t, Th th, U u, F f, Fh fh, X x, Xu xu, X̌ x̌, X̌u x̌u, ɦ, C c, Ç ç, Ch ch, Y y, H h, ', Ù ù, Je je, Jo jo, Ju ju, Ja ja.

In 1930, Kabardian Latin alphabet was replaced by a new version derived from the nationally-adopted new standard, Yañalif.

In 1936, Kabardian was one of the languages in the Soviet Union to switch to Cyrillic alphabet. Tuta Borukaev, Kabardian public figure and linguist is credited with the compilation of the first official Cyrillic alphabet for Kabardian. They consisted of the following: А а, ’А ’а, Б б, В в, Г г, Гъ гъ, Д д, Е е, Ж ж, Жь жь, З з, И и, Й й, К к, К’ к’, Л л, Ль ль, Л’ л’, М м, Н н, О о, П п, П’ п’, Р р, С с, Т т, Т’ т’, У у, ’У ’у, Ф ф, Ф’ ф’, Х х, Хь хь, Хъ хъ, Ц ц, Ц’ ц’, Ч ч, Ш ш, Щ щ, Щ’ щ’, Ъ ъ, Ы ы, Ь ь, Э э, Ю ю, Я я. The extensive reliance on use of apostrophes made the alphabet inconvenient to learn and use. Thus two year later, in 1938, N.F. Yakovlev led a commission that reformed the Cyrillic alphabet to its present form.

Among the diasporic Circassian communities, the situation with respect to orthography has been more complex. Some groups have advocated for use of Latin or Arabic in line with the language of the larger society in which Circassian communities reside. On the other hand, since the adoption of Cyrillic in Circassia others have advocated for continued use of Cyrillic as it helps maintain contact with the Circassian homeland and the literary tradition there. This divergence goes back to the early 20th century, when in 1909, Muhammad Pchegatlukov developed a new and independent Arabic-based writing system in the Ottoman Empire. His proposed script didn't manage to displace the main orthography of the time in the Circassian homeland, i.e. Nuri Tsagov's script.

More recently, there has been developments in Turkey. In the 2000s, the Konya-based Adyghe Language Teaching Association (ADDER) has compiled a Latin alphabet for Kabardian. While many in the Circassian community have opposed the move, the endorsement of the project by Turkey's ruling party, AK Party, has resulted in the boosting of ADDER script and its usage in development of new educational material. The alphabet consists of the following letters:A a, B b, C c, Ç ç, Ć ć, D d, E e, É é, F f, Ḟ ḟ, G g, Ǵ ǵ, Ğ ğ, H h, Ḣ ḣ, I ı, İ i, J j, Ĵ ĵ, K k, Ḱ ḱ, Ǩ ǩ, L l, Ĺ ĺ, M m, N n, O o, Ö ö, P p, Ṕ ṕ, Q q, R r, S s, Ś ś, Š š, Ş ş, Ṩ ṩ, T t, Ṫ ṫ, U u, Ü ü, W w, V v, X x, Y y, Z z, Ź ź, '

Kabardian Cyrillic Alphabet[edit][edit | edit source]

Table below lists the 59-letter Kabardian Cyrillic Alphabet. Dighraphs, trigraphs, and a tetragraph are counted as independent letters.

Cyrillic IPA Arabic (before 1924) Scholarly transliteration ADDER transliteration BGN/PCGN transliteration
А а [aː] ا Ā ā A a

Á á

A a
Э э [a] ئە / ە Ă ă E e Ä ä
Б б [b] ب ‌B b B b B b
В в [v] ۋ ‌V v V v V v
Г г [ɣ] گ ‌G g Ǵ ǵ G g
Гу гу [ɡʷ] گو ‌G˚ g˚ Gu gu Gw gw
Гъ гъ [ʁ] غ ‌Ġ ġ Ğ ğ Gh gh
Гъу гъу [ʁʷ]