Kabardian language

Kabardino-Cherkess, East Circassian
Адыгэбзэ (Къэбэрдейбзэ)
Native to Circassia (in parts of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia), Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Iraq
Region North Caucasus
Ethnicity Kabardians
Native speakers
ca. 1.6 million (2005–2010)[1]
Cyrillic script
Latin script
Arabic script
Official status
Official language in
Kabardino-Balkaria (Russia)
Karachay-Cherkessia (Russia)
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kbd
ISO 639-3 kbd
Glottolog kaba1278[2]

Kabardian (/kəˈbɑːrdiən/;[3] Kabardian: адыгэбзэ or къэбэрдей адыгэбзэ or къэбэрдейбзэ  qabardejbza ; Adyghe: адыгэбзэ or къэбэртай адыгабзэ or къэбэртайбзэ), also known as Kabardino-Cherkess (къэбэрдей-черкесыбзэ)[4] or East Circassian, is a Northwest Caucasian language, closely related to the Adyghe language. 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 this is contrasted with just three phonemic vowels. It is one of very few languages to possess a clear phonemic distinction between ejective affricates and ejective fricatives.

The Kabardian language has two major dialects, Kabardian and Besleney. Some linguists argue that Kabardian is only a dialect of an overarching Adyghe or Circassian language that consists of all of the dialects of Adyghe and Kabardian together, and the Kabardians themselves most often refer to their language using the Kabardian term Adighabze ("Adyghe language"). Several linguists, including Georges Dumézil, have used the terms eastern Circassian (Kabardian) and western Circassian (Adyghe) in order to avoid this 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 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 a dialect of Kabardian, but which also shares a large number of features with certain dialects of Adyghe.

Kabardian is written in a form of Cyrillic, and this 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 Northwest Caucasian languages, Kabardian is ergative and has an extremely complex verbal system.

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



The phoneme written Л л is pronounced as a voiced alveolar lateral fricative [ɮ] mostly by the Circassians of Kabardino and Cherkessia, but many Kabardians pronounce it as an alveolar lateral approximant [l] in diaspora.[5] 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 exist an alveolar lateral ejective affricate [t͡ɬʼ] which corresponds to [ɬʼ] in literary Kabardian.[6] The Turkish Kabardians (Uzunyayla) and Besleneys have a palatalized voiced velar stop [gʲ] and a palatalized velar ejective [kʲʼ] which corresponds to [d͡ʒ] and [t͡ʃʼ] in literary Kabardian.[5][7]


Labial Alveolar Post-
Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Central Lateral plain lab. pal. plain lab. plain lab.
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k2 q ʔ ʔʷ
voiced b d ɡ2 ɡʷ (ɡʲ)1
ejective kʷʼ (kʲʼ)1 () (qʷʼ)
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ q͡χ q͡χʷ
voiced d͡z d͡ʒ
ejective t͡sʼ t͡ʃʼ
Fricative voiceless f s ɬ ʃ ɕ x χ χʷ ħ
voiced v z n ʒ ʑ ɣ ʁ ʁʷ
ejective ɬʼ ɕʼ
Approximant ɬ 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.[8] 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.


Kabardian consists of a vertical vowel system. Although a large number of surface vowels appear, they can be analyzed as consisting of at most the following three phonemic vowels: /ə/, /a/ and /aː/.[9][10][11]

The following allophones of the short vowels /ǝ/, /a/ appear:[12][13]

Feature Description Not preceding labialized cons. Preceding labialized cons.
/ǝ/ /a/ /ǝ/ /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 [ǝ] [æ] ? ?

According to Kuipers,[14]

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:[9][11]

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:[15]

Halle finds Kuipers' analysis "exemplary".[16] Gordon and Applebaum note this analysis, but also note that some authors disagree, and as a result prefer to maintain a phoneme /aː/.[9]

In a later section of his monograph, Kuipers also attempts to analyze the two vowels phonemes /ǝ/ and /a/ out of existence. Halle, however,[10] 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/.

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

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


А а
Э э
Б б
В в
Г г
Гу гу
Гъ гъ
Гъу гъу
Д д
Дж дж
[d͡ʒ] or [ɡʲ]
Дз дз
Е е
Ё ё
Ж ж
Жь жь
З з
И и
Й й
К к
Ку ку
Къ къ
Къу къу
Кхъ кхъ
Кхъу кхъу
Кӏ кӏ
[t͡ʃʼ] or [kʲʼ]
Кӏу кӏу
Л л
[ɮ] or [l]
Лъ лъ
Лӏ лӏ
М м
Н н
О о
П п
Пӏ пӏ
Р р
С с
Т т
Тӏ тӏ
У у
Ф ф
Фӏ фӏ
Х х
Ху ху
Хъ хъ
Хъу хъу
Хь хь
Ц ц
Цӏ цӏ
Ч ч
Чӏ чӏ
Ш ш
Щ щ
Щӏ Щӏ
Ъ ъ
Ы ы
Ь ь
Ю ю
Я я


Main article: Kabardian grammar

Kabardian, like all Northwest Caucasian languages, has a basic agent–object–verb typology, and is characterized by an ergative construction of the sentence.


  1. Kabardian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kabardian". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. Например, в названии книги: Дзасэжь Хь. Э. Иджырей къэбэрдей-черкесыбзэ. Черкесск, 1964. p. 230. (Kabardian)
  5. 1 2 Phonetic Structures of Turkish Kabardian (page 3 and 4)
  6. UCLA Phonetics Lab Archive - Recording Details for Kabardian Baslanei dialect. In the first word list called kbd_word-list_1970_01.html The words "man" and "quarter" are pronounced as /t͡ɬʼə/ and /pt͡ɬʼaːna/ compare to Standard Kabardian /ɬʼə/ and /pɬʼaːna/
  7. A phonetic comparison of Kabardian spoken in the caucasus and Diaspora
  8. Консонантная система уляпского говора в сопоставлении с аналогами других диалектов адыгских языков (Russian)
  9. 1 2 3 Gordon, Matthew and Applebaum, Ayla. "Phonetic structures of Turkish Kabardian", 2006, Journal of the International Phonetic Association 36(2), 159-186.
  10. 1 2 Halle, Morris. "Is Kabardian a Vowel-Less Language?" Foundations of Language, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Feb., 1970), pp. 95-103.
  11. 1 2 Kuipers, Aert. "Phoneme and Morpheme in Kabardian", 1960, Janua Linguarum: Series Minor, Nos. 8–9. 's-Gravenhage: Mouton and Co.
  12. Kuipers, pp. 22–23.
  13. Halle, pp. 96–98.
  14. Kuipers, p. 23.
  15. Kuipers, pp. 32–39.
  16. Halle, p. 98.


Kabardian edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Louis Loewe (1854). A dictionary of the Circassian language. George Bell. Retrieved 25 August 2012. , Circassian, English, Turkish

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