Kabardian Language
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Kabardian Language
East Circassian
Native toRussia (in parts of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia), Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Iraq
RegionNorth Caucasus (Circassia)
Native speakers
516,000 in Russian Federation (2010 census), 36,700 monolinguals (2002 census). Ethnic population: 590,000 (2010 census). Total users in all countries: 1,712,000 (2002-2010)[1]
Cyrillic script
Latin script
Arabic script
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Yinal speaking Kabardian.

Kabardian (;[3]Kabardian: , , About this soundqabardejbza ; Adyghe?, , ), also known as Kabardino-Cherkess (-?)[4] or , 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 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.

The Kabardian language has two major dialects: Kabardian and Besleney. 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 Kabardian 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 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 state broadcasting corporation TRT has maintained a half-an-hour programme a week in the Terek dialect of Kabardian.


  • East Circassian
    • Kabardian
      • West Kabardian
      • 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: )


The phoneme written ? ? is pronounced as a voiced alveolar lateral fricative mostly by the Circassians of Kabardino and Cherkessia, but many Kabardians pronounce it as an alveolar lateral approximant in diaspora.[5] The series of labialized alveolar sibilant affricates and fricatives that exist in Adyghe /'/ // // /t?s?/ became labiodental consonants /f'/ /v/ /f/ /v/ in Kabardian, for example the Kabardian words [ma:f'a] "fire", ? [zav?] "narrow", [f?z] "wife" and [va:qa] "shoe" are pronounced as [ma:'a], [za], ? /z/ and [t?s?a:qa] in Adyghe. Kabardian has a labialized voiceless velar fricative [x?] which correspond to Adyghe [f], for example the Adyghe word "" ( "five" is in Kabardian. In the Beslenei dialect, there exists an alveolar lateral ejective affricate [t'] which corresponds to in literary Kabardian.[6] The Turkish Kabardians (Uzunyayla) and Besleneys have a palatalized voiced velar stop [] and a palatalized velar ejective [k?'] which corresponds to and 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 k? q q? ?
voiced b d ?2 ()1
ejective p' t' k?' (k?')1
Affricate voiceless t?s t q q
voiced d?z d
ejective t?s' t'
Fricative voiceless f s ? ? ? x x? ? ?
voiced v z ? ? ? ? ?
ejective f' ?' ?'
Approximant l j w
Trill r
  1. In some Kabardian dialects (e.g. Baslaney dialect, Uzunyayla dialect), there is a palatalized voiced velar stop and a palatalized velar ejective that were merged with and in most Kabardian dialects.[8] For example, the Baslaney words "" [a:na] "shirt" and "?" [k?'a:psa] "rope" are pronounced in other Kabardian dialects as "" [da:na] and [t'a:psa].
  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 has a vertical vowel system. Although many surface vowels appear, they can be analyzed as consisting of at most the following three phonemic vowels: /?/, /a/ and /a:/.[9][10][11]

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

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

  • [u:] = /?w/
  • [o:] = /aw/
  • [i:] = /?j/
  • [e:] = /aj/

This leaves only the vowel [a:]. Kuipers claims that this can be analyzed as underlying /ha/ when word-initial, and underlying /ah/ elsewhere, based on the following facts:[15]

  • /h/ occurs only in the plural suffix [ha], which does not occur word-initially.
  • [a:] 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".[16] Gordon and Applebaum note this analysis, but also note that some authors disagree, and as a result prefer to maintain a phoneme /a:/.[9]

In a later section of his monograph, Kuipers also attempts to analyze the two vowels phonemes /?/ 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 /o:/ in some dialects. /j?/ may be realised as /i:/, /w?/ as /u:/ and /aj/ as /e:/. This monophthongisation does not occur in all dialects.[]

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


? ?
? ?
? ?
? ?
? ?

? ?


? ?
? ?
? ?

? ?
? ?
? ?
? ?

? ?


? ?

? ?
? ?
? ?
? ?

? ?
? ?
? ?

? ?
? ?

? ?

? ?

? ?

? ?
? ?

? ?
? ?
? ?
? ?
? ?


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


The following texts are excerpts from the official translations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Kabardian and Adyghe, along with the original declaration in English.

English[17] Kabardian[18] Adyghe[19]
Universal Declaration of Human Rights ? ? ?
Article 1 1-? ? 1-
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. , ? ? . ? , ? ? ?. ? ? ?, ? ? ?. ? , ? .

Kabardian transliteration

C?yhu Huèfa?èhèm Teuhua Dunejpso D?èpsal?è

1-nè py?yg?uè

C?yhu psori ?h?èhuitu, â yh?ymrè â huèfa?èhèmrèk?è zèhuèdèu k?al?hur. Ak?ylrè zèhèyk? g?uazèrè â?è?i, zyr zym zèk?uè? zèhaè âku dèl?u zèhu?ytyn huejhè?.

Adyghe transliteration

C?yf Fèua?èhèm Afèg?èh?yg?è Dunèepstèu D?èpsal?

1-nèrè py?yg?u

C?yf pstèuri h?èfitèu, âl?ytènyg?èrè âfèua?èhèmrèk?è zèfèdèu k?al?fy. Ak?ylrè zèhèyk? g?uazèrè â?èy, zyr zym zèk?o? zèhaè azfagu dèl?èu zèfy?ytynhè fae.


  1. ^ Kabardian at Ethnologue (23nd ed., 2020)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kabardian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^ , ? . ?. ? -?. , 1964. p. 230. (in Kabardian)
  5. ^ a b "Phonetic Structures of Turkish Kabardian (page 3 and 4)" (PDF). Retrieved 2020.
  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 /t'?/ and /pt'a:na/ compare to Standard Kabardian /?'?/ and /p?'a:na/
  7. ^ "A phonetic comparison of Kabardian spoken in the caucasus and Diaspora" (PDF). Retrieved 2020.
  8. ^ Moroz, George. " ? ? ? ? ". Retrieved 2020 – via www.academia.edu. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ a b c "Gordon, Matthew and Applebaum, Ayla. "Phonetic structures of Turkish Kabardian", 2006, Journal of the International Phonetic Association 36(2), 159-186" (PDF). Retrieved 2020.
  10. ^ a b Halle, Morris. "Is Kabardian a Vowel-Less Language?" Foundations of Language, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Feb., 1970), pp. 95-103.
  11. ^ a b 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.
  17. ^ "OHCHR |". www.ohchr.org. Retrieved 2020.
  18. ^ "OHCHR |". www.ohchr.org. Retrieved 2020.
  19. ^ "OHCHR |". www.ohchr.org. Retrieved 2020.


External links

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