A short overall description of the Lezgi language

The Lezgi language or, as the Lezgis call it themselves - Лезги чIал (lezgi ch'al - don't have any idea how to read the darn word ? - see my alphabet and pronunciation guide) is the biggest, in terms of the number of native speakers, of all the languages of the Lezgic group (if you were interested what other languages form this group, here are some names - Tabasaran, Udi, Tsakhur, Aghul, Rutul... Tabasaran was once thought to be the language with the largest number of grammatical cases - 54 of them they had counted). The Lezgic group along with a couple of other groups (Avaro-Ando-Tsez, Lak, Dargin) forms the Daghestanian part of the Nakh-Daghestanian language family (the Nakh part is constituted by Chechen, Ingush and related small languages)

The number of speakers of Lezgi is as hard to estimate, as is the number of the Lezgis themselves... or even harder, because we have to think about the possible second-language speakers of Lezgi (bilingualism, or better yet, multilingualism is common to the Caucasus area, and especially Daghestan, in particular, many Aghuls, Rutuls and Tabasarans speak Lezgi as a second or third language). Anyways, we can assume that there are at least several hundreds of thousands of fluent Lezgi speakers, which makes it one of the biggest languages of the area. Unfortunately the language transfer to the younger generations is not working as well as it should. Some young Lezgis, particularly those with an urban upbringing, are not fluent in their heritage language. Another related issue is relative weakness of the Lezgi as a mean of instruction or vehicle of culture. The educational system is dominated by Russian and Azeri languages and so is the cultural world. As a result the "high brow" vocabulary in Lezgi is either missing or borrowed from Azeri/Russian.

Foreign influences. These cover well over half of all the Lezgi vocabulary and come from various sources. Most important and high in number are loans from the following languages - Arabic (sometimes via Persian), Persian, various Turkish languages (not necessarily Azeri, various Turkmen dialects have also contributed) and in more recent times, Russian (also in the field of syntax).

Dialects. Lezgi language is not a uniform one. There are several dialects, some of them are said to be mutually unintelligible. Some speakers of Lezgi, however, perceive the dialectal differences (which are mainly lexical not grammatical ie. some words can be different, grammar isn't) as negligible. The main dialect groups are three: Kyre ( incl. Gyne dialect - the base for the literary language) and Akhty spoken in Daghestan, and Quba spoken in Azerbaijan.

Phonetics. Lezgi vowel system is quite simple with only six vowel phonemes (а, э. о, и, у, уь - a, e, o, i, u and ü/y respectively), one of them (the 'o') occuring only in loanwords. The consonant inventory, on the other hand, as typical for the Daghestani languages, is fairly complex. The guttural (ie. throaty) sounds are abundant, and glottalized (ie. pronounced with 'tense' articulation) consonants exist. And yes, there is a glottalized guttural one too.

Nominal morphology. Good news is that Lezgi has no gramatical gender, no noun classes and no articles. The (not that) bad news is that it's got cases (that is Lezgi nouns take different endings according to their role in the sentence). 18 of them - quite impressive, huh ? The cases are however very easily formed (see my paradigm chart) and not that hard to master. Another quirk of Lezgi is ergativity - a weird concept according to which instead of saying "I hit him" you say "Me hit he". Details to come.

Verbal morphology. The Lezgi verbs don't inflect for number (never ever) and person (save the imperative mood) which means that for each tense there is ONE and only ONE verb form you have to learn. Moreover, those tense forms are usually quite regularly constructed. What may seem strange is heavy usage of the plethora of participal forms.

That would be it for a short description. If you still want more, go back to the main language page and pick your choice.

I owe this page, as I owe everything, to K.D. , whose smile makes the impossible happen