Archi language

аршаттен чIат
Native to Russia
Region Archib, Dagestan
Native speakers
970 (2010 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 aqc
Glottolog arch1244[3]
Map of where Archi is spoken (pink area)

Archi /ɑːrˈ/[4] is a Northeast Caucasian language spoken by the Archis in the village of Archib, southern Dagestan, Russia, and the six surrounding smaller villages.

It is unusual for its many phonemes and for its contrast between several voiceless velar lateral fricatives and voiceless and ejective velar lateral affricates and a voiced velar lateral fricative. It is an ergative–absolutive language with four noun classes[5] and has a remarkable morphological system with huge paradigms and irregularities on all levels.[6] Mathematically, there are 1,502,839 possible forms that can be derived from a single verb root.[7]


The classification of the Archi language has not been definitively established. Peter von Uslar felt it should be considered a variant of Avar, but Roderich von Erckert saw it as closer to Lak. The language has also been considered as a separate entity that could be placed somewhere between Avar and Lak. The Italian linguist Alfredo Trombetti placed Archi within an Avar–Ando–Dido group, but today the most widely recognized opinion follows that of the Soviet scholar Bokarev, who regards Archi as one of the Lezgian–Samur group of the Dagestan languages. Schulze places it in the Lezgian branch with all other Lezgian languages belonging to the Samur group.[2]


Archi has, like its Northeast Caucasian relatives, a very complicated phonological system, with Archi being an extreme example. It has 26 vowel phonemes and, depending on analysis, between 74 and 82 consonant phonemes.


Archi has a symmetric six-vowel system (/i e ə a o u/).[5] All except /ə/ can occur in five varieties: short, pharyngealized, high tone, long (with high tone), and pharyngealized with high tone (e.g. /a/, /aˤ/, /á/, /áː/, and /áˤ/). Of all these, only /ə/ and /íˤ/ do not occur word-initially.[8] Examples of non-initial /íˤ/ are /díˤt͡ʃa/ ('to be fat')[9] and /iˤntíˤmmaj/ ('brain').[10]


Of the languages without click consonants, Archi has one of the largest consonant inventories, with the recently extinct Ubykh of the Northwest Caucasian languages having a few more. The table below shows all consonants that can be found in the Archi Language Tutorial[5] and the Archi Dictionary.[8]

Consonant phonemes of Archi
Labial Dental (Post)-
Palatal (Pre-)velar Uvular Epiglottal Glottal
lenis fortis lenis fortis lenis fortis lenis fortis lenis fortis
pl. lab. pl. lab. pl. lab. pl. lab. pl. lab. pl. lab. pl. lab. phar. phar.+lab. pl. lab. phar. phar.+lab
Nasal m n
Plosive voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ
voiceless p t k kːʷ q qˤʷ ʡ ʔ
ejective kʷʼ qʷʼ qˤʼ qˤʷʼ qːʼ qːˤʼ
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡sʷ t͡sː t͡ʃ t͡ʃʷ k͡ʟ̝̊ k͡ʟ̝̊ʷ
ejective t͡sʼ t͡sʷʼ t͡sːʼ t͡ʃʼ t͡ʃʷʼ t͡ʃːʼ k͡ʟ̝̊ʼ k͡ʟ̝̊ʷʼ
Fricative voiceless s sːʷ ʃ ʃʷ ʃː ʃːʷ ʟ̝̊ ʟ̝̊ʷ ʟ̝̊ː ʟ̝̊ːʷ χ χʷ χˤ χˤʷ χː χːʷ χːˤ χːˤʷ ʜ h
voiced z ʒ ʒʷ ʟ̝ ʁ ʁʷ ʁˤ ʁˤʷ
Trill r
Approximant w l j

Of the consonants listed above, the ones in orange have no word-initial dictionary entries (even though /pː/, /tː/, and /kː/ are relatively common), the one in green does not appear in the Tutorial but does have a word-internal dictionary entry (in /mot͡sːór/, 'alpine pasture used in summer'),[11] and the ones in blue appear in the Tutorial but have no dictionary entries.

Some of these sounds are very rare. For example, /ʁˤʷ/ has only one dictionary entry word-internally (in /íʁˤʷdut/, 'heavy')[12] and two entries word-initially. Likewise, /ʟ̝/ has only two dictionary entries: /náʟ̝dut/ ('blue; unripe')[13] and /k͡ʟ̝̊ʼéʟ̝dut/ ('crooked, curved').[14]

The fortis consonants are not simply two instances of the same consonant, though they do appear largely complementary, with the double instances /mm/, /ll/, and /nn/ being the most common and /zz/ less so. That said, /pp/ can still be found in /ʟ̝̊íppu/ ('three').[15] This is also noted by Kodzasov (1977),[16] who describes the fortis consonants as follows:

"Strong phonemes are characterized by the intensiveness (tension) of the articulation. The intensity of the pronunciation leads to a natural lengthening of the duration of the sound, and that is why strong [consonants] differ from weak ones by greater length. [However,] the adjoining of two single weak sounds does not produce a strong one […] Thus, the gemination of a sound does not by itself create its tension."

The voiceless velar lateral fricative /ʟ̝̊/, the voiced velar lateral fricative /ʟ̝/, and the corresponding voiceless and ejective affricates /k͡ʟ̝̊/, /k͡ʟ̝̊ʼ/ are extremely unusual speech sounds among the languages of the world, because velar fricatives are usually central rather than lateral. The velar laterals are further forward than velars in most languages and could better be called prevelar, like the Tutorial does.[5]


Until recently Archi did not have a written form, except in studies by specialists who used the Latin script. In 2006, the Surrey Morphology Group developed a Cyrillic alphabet for Archi based on the Avar alphabet, which is used in the Archi–Russian–English Dictionary alongside an IPA transcription.[7]

Practical orthography of Archi by SMG[8]
Base letter Derived letters and their pronunciation in IPA
а А а /a/ Аӏ аӏ /aˤ/ А́ а́ /á/ А́а а́а /áː/ А́ӏ а́ӏ /áˤ/
б Б б /b/
в В в /w/ various others, see below
г Г г /ɡ/ Гв гв /ɡʷ/ Гь гь /h/ Гъ гъ /ʁ/ Гъв гъв /ʁʷ/ Гъӏ гъӏ /ʁˤ/ Гъӏв гъӏв /ʁˤʷ/ Гӏ гӏ /ʡ/
д Д д /d/ Дв дв /dʷ/
е Е е /e/ Еӏ еӏ /eˤ/ Е́ е́ /é/ Е́е е́е /éː/ Е́ӏ е́ӏ /éˤ/
ж Ж ж /ʒ/ Жв жв /ʒʷ/
з З з /z/ Зв зв /zʷ/
и И и /i/ Иӏ иӏ /iˤ/ И́ и́ /í/ И́и и́и /íː/ и́ӏ /íˤ/
й Й й /j/
к К к /k/ кк /kː/ Кв кв /kʷ/ ккв /kːʷ/ Кӏ кӏ /kʼ/ Кӏв кӏв /kʷʼ/ Къ къ /qʼ/ Къв къв /qʷʼ/
ккъ /qːʼ/ Къӏ къӏ /qˤʼ/ Ккъӏ ккъӏ /qːˤʼ/ Къӏв къӏв /qˤʷʼ/ Кь кь /k͡ʟ̝̊ʼ/, /ʟ̝/ Кьв кьв /k͡ʟ̝̊ʷʼ/
л Л л /l/ Лъ лъ /ʟ̝̊/ Ллъ ллъ /ʟ̝̊ː/ Лъв лъв /ʟ̝̊ʷ/ Ллъв ллъв /ʟ̝̊ːʷ/ Лӏ лӏ /k͡ʟ̝̊/ Лӏв лӏв /k͡ʟ̝̊ʷ/
м М м /m/
н Н н /n/
о О о /o/ Оӏ оӏ /oˤ/ О́ о́ /ó/ О́о о́о /óː/ О́ӏ о́ӏ /óˤ/
п П п /p/ пп /pː/ Пӏ пӏ /pʼ/
р Р р /r/
с С с /s/ Сс сс /sː/ Св св /sʷ/ Ссв ссв /sːʷ/
т Т т /t/ тт /tː/ Тӏ тӏ /tʼ/ Тв тв /tʷ/
у У у /u/ Уӏ уӏ /uˤ/ У́ у́ /ú/ У́у у́у /úː/ У́ӏ у́ӏ /úˤ/
х Х х /χ/ Хх хх /χː/ Хв хв /χʷ/ Ххв ххв /χːʷ/ Хӏ хӏ /ʜ/ Хьӏ хьӏ /χˤ/ Ххьӏ ххьӏ /χːˤ/ Хьӏв хьӏв /χˤʷ/
Ххьӏв ххьӏв /χːˤʷ/ Хъ хъ /q/ Хъв хъв /qʷ/ Хъӏ хъӏ /qˤ/ Хъӏв хъӏв /qˤʷ/
ц Ц ц /t͡s/ Цв цв /t͡sʷ/ Цӏ цӏ /t͡sʼ/ Цӏв цӏв /t͡sʷʼ/ Цц цц /t͡sː/ Ццӏ ццӏ /t͡sːʼ/
ч Ч ч /t͡ʃ/ Чв чв /t͡ʃʷ/ Чӏ чӏ /t͡ʃʼ/ Чӏв чӏв /t͡ʃʷʼ/ Ччӏ ччӏ /t͡ʃːʼ/
ш Ш ш /ʃ/ Щ щ /ʃː/ Шв шв /ʃʷ/ Щв щв /ʃːʷ/
ы ы /ə/
ъ ъ /ʔ/ various others, see above



Archi nouns inflect for number (singular or plural) and for one of 10 regular cases and 5 locative cases that can all take one of 6 directional suffixes.[5] There are four noun classes, which are only evident from verbal agreement.[5]


Case Marker Sg. 'ram' Pl. 'rams'
Absolutive -∅ baˁkʼ baˁkʼ-ur
Ergative -∅ beˁkʼ-iri baˁkʼ-ur-čaj
Genitive -n beˁkʼ-iri-n baˁkʼ-ur-če-n
Dative -s, -sː beˁkʼ-iri-s baˁkʼ-ur-če-s
Comitative -ʟ̝̊ːu beˁkʼ-iri-ʟ̝̊ːu baˁkʼ-ur-če-ʟ̝̊ːu
Similative -qˁdi beˁkʼ-iri-qˁdi baˁkʼ-ur-če-qˁdi
Causal -šːi beˁkʼ-iri-šːi baˁkʼ-ur-če-šːi
Comparative -χur beˁkʼ-iri-χur baˁkʼ-ur-če-χur
Partitive -qˁiš beˁkʼ-iri-qˁiš baˁkʼ-ur-če-qˁiš
Substitutive -k͡ʟ̝̊ʼəna beˁkʼ-iri-k͡ʟ̝̊ʼəna baˁkʼ-ur-če-k͡ʟ̝̊ʼəna

Depending on the specifics of the analysis, neither the ergative nor absolutive cases are necessarily marked by a specific suffix. Rather, they are marked by the use of the basic (for the absolutive) and oblique (for the ergative) stems in the absence of other markers. There is also a locative-case series, where 6 directional-case suffixes are combined with 5 spatial cases to produce a total of 30 case-localization combinations. However, these do not constitute 30 distinct case forms, because they are easily derivable from a pair of morphemes.

Spatial case Marker Directional case Marker
Inessive ("in") -aj / -a Essive ("As") -∅
Intrative ("between") - qˁ(a-) Elative ("Out of")
Superessive ("above") -tːi- / -t Lative ("To"/"Into") -k
Subessive ("below") -k͡ʟ̝̊ʼ(a-) Allative ("Onto") -ši
Pertingent ("against") -ra- Terminative (Specifies a limit) -kena
Translative (Indicates change) -χutː

Noun classes

The four noun classes of Archi are only evident from verbal inflection. The table below summarizes these noun classes and their associated verbal morphology.

Class Description Singular Plural
Prefix Infix Prefix
I Male human w- -w- b-
II Female human d- -r-
III All insects, some animates,
some inanimates
b- -b- ∅-
IV Abstracts, some animates,
some inanimates
∅- -∅-

Example phrases

The following phrases were phonetically transcribed from Archi:[17]

Archi transcription English
x́it barḳur The ladle breaks.
x́it ax̄u The spoon (literally: little ladle) became dirty.
k̂ut̄ali berx̄ur The bag stays.
k̂ut̄ali eku The little bag fell.
č̣ut abḳu The jug broke.
č̣ut aḳu The little jug broke.
ḳunḳum barx̄ur The kettle becomes dirty.
ḳunḳum oq̄́u The little kettle sank (literally: drowned).
motol orq̄́ur The young goat drowns.
uri arč̣ur The young horse hides itself.
biš ač̣u The young cow hid itself.
ḳêrt erkur The young donkey falls.
dogi ebku The donkey fell.
q̇on abč̣u The goat hid itself.
nôiš ebx̄u The horse stayed.


The inclusions of "little" and "young" in the phrases above refer to a diminutive form of the verb, which in Archi language commonly refers either to a smaller or younger version of the subject. While nouns pertaining to smaller objects such as items stay the same regardless of whether it is a diminutive or not (e.g. x́it for both "ladle" and "spoon", k̂ut̄ali for both "bag" and "little bag" etc.), nouns pertaining to younger animals change into entirely different words (e.g. dogi "donkey" but ḳêrt "young donkey", nôiš "horse" but uri "young horse" etc.). The verb changes to fit the diminutive regardless of whether the noun changes or not. In the past tense this is done by removing the -b- in front of the -x̄u/-č̣u/-ku inflection. In the present tense this is done by removing the b- as the first letter of the verb.


  1. Archi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. 1 2 Schulze's classification schemata of the Caucasian languages
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Archi". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 The Archi language tutorial, presenting an overview of the grammar of Archi
  6. "Archi language home page of the Surrey Morphology Group". Archived from the original on 1 March 2015. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  7. 1 2 Kibrik, A. E. (2001). "Archi (Caucasian—Daghestanian)", The Handbook of Morphology, Blackwell, pg. 468
  8. 1 2 3 "Archi Dictionary". Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  9. "Archi - 1083 - диIча". Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  10. "Archi - 1420 - иIнтиIммай". Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  11. "Archi - 2101 - моццор". Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  12. "Archi - 1387 - игъIвдут". Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  13. "Archi - 2213 - наIкьдут". Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  14. "Archi - 1838 - кьекьдут". Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  15. "Archi - 3833 - лъибтIу". Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  16. translated in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:97–98)
  17. Lubotsky, Alexander (2010). Van Sanskriet tot Spijkerschrift: Breinbrekers uit alle talen [From Sanskrit to Cuneiform: Brain teasers from all languages] (in Dutch). Amsterdam University Press. pp. 17, 68–69. ISBN 9089641793. Retrieved 30 April 2016.


Further reading

External links

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