Caucasus (CAU)
Geographic location: Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan
Number of Languages: 52
Number of Genetic Units: 13
Genetic Index: .250
Mean Level of Endangerment: 3.3
Mean Documentation Status:
Threat Level: low
map of CAU hotspot

Description:

The Caucasus mountains hold a large number of languages, from a few main genetic units. Three genetic units in this Hotspot (Kartvelian, Northwest Caucasian and Daghestanian) have no related languages outside of the Caucasus. Despite Soviet attempts to force residents of the Caucasus to speak Russian, many Caucasian languages are quite robust today.

A language we plan to investigate during our expedition to the Caucasus is Balkar, a Turkic language. Balkar is spoken in the highlands of the North Caucasus in the republic of Karachai-Cherkessia, a part of Russia. In 1944, the Balkar and many other non-Russian speaking groups in the USSR, were deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia, losing up to half of their population. After returning to their land in 1957, the Balkar have maintained their language and identity successfully, with 97% of the 87,126 ethnic Balkars speaking Balkar.

Genetic Units found in Hotspot (13):

  1. Avar-Andic
  2. Dargi
  3. Iranian
  4. Kartvelian
  5. Lak
  6. Lezgic
  7. Nakh
  8. Northwest Caucasian
  9. Semitic
  10. Slavic
  11. Tsezic
  12. Turkic
  13. Mixed (Lomavren)

Hotspots Formula:

List of Languages:

  1. Abaza
  2. Abkhaz
  3. Adyghe
  4. Aghul
  5. Aisor
  6. Akhvakh
  7. Andi
  8. Archi
  9. Avar
  10. Bagvalal
  11. Balkar
  12. Bats[bi]
  13. Bezhta
  14. Bohtan Neo-Aramaic
  15. Botlikh
  16. Budukh
  17. Chamalal
  18. Chechen
  19. Dargwa
  20. Georgian
  21. Ghodoberi
  22. Hinukh
  23. Hunzib
  24. Ingush
  25. Judeo Tat
  26. Judeo-Georgian
  27. Kabardian-Cherkess
  28. Karachay
  29. Karata
  30. Khinalug
  31. Khvarshi
  32. Kryts
  33. Kumyk
  34. Lak
  35. Laz
  36. Lezgi
  37. Lomavren
  38. Mingrelian
  39. Muslim Tat
  40. Nogay
  41. Northern Azeri
  42. Northern Kurdish
  43. Osetin
  44. Svan
  45. Tabassaran
  46. Talysh
  47. Tindi
  48. Tsakhur
  49. Tsez
  50. Udi
  51. Urum
  52. Russian

Endangered Languages include:

  • Archi (< 1,000, Lezgic, spoken in Russia)
  • Bagvalal (< 2,000, Avar-Andic, spoken in Russia)
  • Bohtan Neo-Aramaic (1,000 speakers, Semitic, spoken in Georgia and Russia)
  • Budukh (1,000 speakers, Lezgic, spoken in Azerbaijan)
  • Hinukh (< 200, Tsezic, spoken in Russia)
  • Khinalug (1,500 speakers, Lezgic, spoken in Azerbaijan)
  • Khvarshi (500 speakers, Tsezic, spoken in Russia)
  • Laz (2,000 speakers, Kartvelian, spoken in Georgia)

Some Features of Languages in Hotspot include:

  • Complex consonant systems, including ejectives and pharyngeals
  • Complex morphology
  • Ergativity

Trivia:

  • Gvprtskvni means 'you peel us' in Georgian (Georgia, 4.2 million speakers)

  • Ingush (230,000 speakers, Ingushetia (Russia)) has 40 consonants, including seven ejectives (consonants produced by closing and raising the vocal cords to compress air inside the pharnyx, then releasing the pressure suddenly to create a popping sound along with the consonant).

  • A noun in Tabassaran (95,000 speakers, Dagestan (Russia)) may have up to 53 distinct forms, using suffixes that describe the location and movement of objects in relation to that noun.

Media:

Sources:

Comrie, Bernard and Maria Polinsky. 1998. The great Daghestanian case hoax. In Siewierska and Song, eds.

Nichols, Johanna. 1998. An Overview of languages of the Caucasus. http://popgen.well.ox.ac.uk/eurasia/htdocs/nichols/nichols.html