Ossetian Language
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Ossetian Language
? (iron ævzag)
? (digoron ævzag)
Pronunciation[i'?on ?v'za?]
[digo'?on ?v'za?]
Native toNorth Ossetia-Alania, South Ossetia
RegionNorth Caucasus
Native speakers
597,450 (2010)[1]
Early forms
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
Oseta latina skribo.jpg
Ossetian text from a book published in 1935. Part of an alphabetic list of proverbs. Latin script.
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.
Ethnolinguistic groups in the Caucasus region. Ossetian-speaking regions are shaded gold.

Ossetian (, , ),[3][4] more commonly called Ossetic and rarely Ossete[note 1][11] (Ossetian: ? , romanized: iron ?vzag), is an Eastern Iranian language spoken in Ossetia, a region on the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. It is a relative and possibly a descendant of the extinct Scythian, Sarmatian, and Alanic languages.[12]

The Ossete area in Russia is known as North Ossetia-Alania, while the area south of the border is referred to as South Ossetia. Ossetian speakers number about 614,350, with 451,000 speakers in the Russian Federation recorded in the 2010 census.[9]

History and classification

Ossetian is the spoken and literary language of the Ossetes, a people living in the central part of the Caucasus and constituting the basic population of the republic of North Ossetia-Alania, which belongs to the Russian Federation, and of South Ossetia, which is de facto occupied by Russia (but is de jure part of the Georgian Republic according to most other states). Ossetian belongs to the Iranian group of the Indo-European family of languages (as hinted by its endonym, ?). Within Iranian it is placed in an Eastern subgroup and further to a Northeastern sub-subgroup, but these are areal rather than genetic groups. The other Eastern Iranian languages such as Pashto and Yaghnobi show certain commonalities but also deep-reaching divergences from Ossetic.

From deep Antiquity (since the 7th-8th centuries BC), the languages of the Iranian group were distributed in a vast territory including present-day Iran (Persia), Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Ossetian is the sole survivor of the branch of Iranian languages known as Scythian. The Scythian group included numerous tribes, known in ancient sources as the Scythians, Massagetae, Saka, Sarmatians, Alans and Roxolans. The more easterly Khorezmians and the Sogdians were also closely affiliated, in linguistic terms.

Ossetian, together with Kurdish, Tati and Talyshi, is one of the main Iranian languages with a sizable community of speakers in the Caucasus. It is descended from Alanic, the language of the Alans, medieval tribes emerging from the earlier Sarmatians. It is believed to be the only surviving descendant of a Sarmatian language. The closest genetically related language may be the Yaghnobi language of Tajikistan, the only other living Northeastern Iranian language.[13][14] Ossetian has a plural formed by the suffix -ta, a feature it shares with Yaghnobi, Sarmatian and the now-extinct Sogdian; this is taken as evidence of a formerly wide-ranging Iranian-language dialect continuum on the Central Asian steppe. The names of ancient Iranian tribes (as transmitted through Ancient Greek) in fact reflect this pluralization, e.g. Saromatae () and Masagetae ().[15]:69

Evidence for Medieval Ossetian

The earliest known written sample of Ossetian is an inscription which dates from the 10th to 12th centuries and was found near the River Bolshoi Zelenchuk at Arkhyz. The text is written in the Greek alphabet, with special digraphs.

Inscription Transliteration Translation
-- ?

--Saxiri Furt Xovs
Istori Furt B?q?tar
B?q?tari Furt Æmbalan
Æmbalani Furt Lak
Ani ?irt?
"K., son of S., son of I., son of B., son of A.; [this is] their monument."[15]:55-56 The original, following Zgusta, translates only initials; presumably this is because although the uninflected forms may be inferred, no written records of them have been found to date.

The only other extant record of Proto-Ossetic are the two lines of "Alanic" phrases appearing in the Theogony of John Tzetzes, a 12th century Byzantine poet and grammarian:

? ? ? ? ?
? ? ?
? ?'?
? ?
? ? ? ?

The portions in bold face above are Ossetian. Going beyond a direct transliteration of the Greek text, scholars have attempted a phonological reconstruction using the Greek as clues, thus, while ? (tau) would usually be given the value "t", it instead is "d", which is thought to be the way the early Ossetes would have pronounced it. The scholarly transliteration of the Alanic phrases is: "d? ban xrz, m? sfili, (?)xsinj? kur?i k?nd?" and "du farnitz, kintz? m? sfili, kajci f? wa sawgin?"; equivalents in modern Ossetian would be "D? bon xwarz, me'f?ini 'x?in?, kurdig?j d" and "(De') f(s)arm ne?(ij), kin?i ?f?ini x?cc(?) (ku) f?wwa sawgin".[17] The passage translates as:

The Alans I greet in their language:
"Good day to you my lord's lady, where are you from?"
"Good day to you my lord's lady, where are you from?" and other things:
When an Alan woman takes a priest as a lover, you might hear this:
"Aren't you ashamed, my lordly lady, that your c*nt is being f**ked by a priest?" [sic]
"Aren't you ashamed, my lady, to have a love affair with the priest?"[16][17]

Marginalia of Greek religious books, with some parts (such as headlines) of the book translated into Old Ossetic, have been recently found.[18]

It is theorized that during the Proto-Ossetic phase, Ossetian underwent a process of phonological change conditioned by a Rhythmusgesetz or "Rhythm-law" whereby nouns were divided into two classes, those heavily or lightly stressed. "Heavy-stem" nouns possessed a "heavy" long vowel or diphthong, and were stressed on the first-occurring syllable of this type; "light-stem" nouns were stressed on their final syllable. This is precisely the situation observed in the earliest (though admittedly scanty) records of Ossetian presented above.[15]:47 This situation also obtains in Modern Ossetian, although the emphasis in Digor is also affected by the "openness" of the vowel.[19] The trend is also found in a glossary of the Jassic dialect dating from 1422.[20]


There are two important dialects: Digor (distributed in the west of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and Kabardino-Balkaria) and Iron (in the rest of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and in South Ossetia and Karachay-Cherkessia),[12] spoken by one-sixth and five-sixths of the population, respectively. A third dialect of Ossetian, Jassic, was formerly spoken in Hungary.


The Iron dialect of Ossetic has 7 vowels:

Front Central Back
Close ? /i/ ? /u/
Close-mid ? /?/
Mid ? /e/ ? /o/
Near-open ? /?/
Open ? /a/

The Ossetian researcher V. I. Abayev distinguishes 26 consonants, to which five labialized consonants and two semivowels may be added. Unusually for an Indo-European language, there is a series of glottalized (ejective) stops and affricates. This can be considered an areal feature of languages of the Caucasus.

Labial Dental/
Velar[21] Uvular[21]
plain labialized plain labialized
Stops voiced ? /b/ ? /d/ ? /?/ //
voiceless ? /p?/~/p/ ? /t?/~/t/ ? /k?/~/k/ /k/~/k?/ /q/ /q?/
ejective /p'/ /t'/ /k'/ /k'?/
Affricates voiced /z/~/d?z/ /d/
voiceless ? /s/~/t?s/ ? /t/
ejective /t?s'/ /t'/
Fricatives voiced ? /v/ ? /?/~/z/ /?/ //
voiceless ? /f/ ? /?/~/s/ ? /?/ //
Nasals ? /m/ ? /n/
Lateral ? /?/~/l/
Rhotic ? /r/
Approximants ? /j/ ? /w/

Voiceless consonants become voiced word-medially (this is reflected in the orthography as well). /t/, /d/, and /t'/ were originally allophones of /k/, /?/, and /k'/ when followed by /e/, /i/ and /?/; this alternation is still retained to a large extent.

Stress normally falls on the first syllable, unless it has a "weak" vowel (/?/ or /?/), in which case it falls on the second syllable: thus, súdzag 'burning', but sæn?fsyr 'grapes'. In the Iron dialect, definiteness is expressed in post-initially stressed words by shifting the stress to the initial syllable. This reflects the fact that historically they received a syllabic definite article (as they still do in the Digor dialect), and the addition of the syllable caused the stress to shift.[13] In addition, proper names are usually stressed on the second syllable regardless of their vowels, and recent Russian loanwords retain the stress they have in the source language.[22] The above rules apply not just within the content word, but also to entire groups of words, because several content words are often joined into a single prosodic group with only one stress. Not only compound verbs, but also every noun phrase constitutes such a group containing only one stressed syllable, regardless of its length (e.g. m? cínyg 'my book', ? mæguýr zærond læg 'a poor old man'. Since an initial particle and a conjunction are also included in the prosodic group, the single stress of the group may fall on them, too? fæl? uyj 'but he'.[22]

Some common morphophonemic alternations are:

1. the replacement of the 'strong' vowels ? a and ? o with the 'weak' vowel ? æ and of the 'strong' vowels ? i and ? u with the 'weak' vowel ? y when a stem has a suffix added to it or becomes the first member of a compound: avd 'seven' - ævdæm 'seventh'.

2. coalescence of the sequences ? æ + ? i, ? æ + ? yand ? æ + ? æ produce the vowel ? e.[23]

3. the palatalisation of the velars ? k, ? g, kh to ? ?, d? and ?h before the (currently or historically) front vowels, namely ? e, ? i and ? y (? kark 'hen' - kar?y 'hen (genitive)')

4. the voicing of voiceless consonants in voiced environments: tyx 'strength' - æmdyx 'of equal strength'.

5. consonant gemination in certain grammatical forms, such as after the prefix ny- and before the suffixes -ag and -on.[24]


According to V.I. Abaev,[13]

In the course of centuries-long propinquity to and intercourse with Caucasian languages, Ossetian became similar to them in some features, particularly in phonetics and lexicon. However, it retained its grammatical structure and basic lexical stock; its relationship with the Iranian family, despite considerable individual traits, does not arouse any doubt.


Ossetic has lost the grammatical category of gender which many Indo-European languages have preserved until today.[13] According to the Encyclop?dia Britannica 2006[25] Ossetian preserves many archaic features of Old Iranian, such as eight cases and verbal prefixes. It is debated how many of these cases are actually inherited from Indo-Iranian case morphemes and how many have re-developed, after the loss of the original case forms, through cliticization of adverbs or re-interpretations of derivational suffixes: the number of "inherited" cases according to different scholars ranges from as few as three (nominative, genitive and inessive) to as many as six (nominative, dative, ablative, directive, inessive). Some (the comitative, equative, and adessive) are secondary beyond any doubt.[26]


Definiteness in the Iron dialect is, according to Abaev, only expressed by shift of word accent from the second to the first syllable (which is not possible in all nouns):

  • f?r?t "an axe"
  • f?r?t "the axe"


There is only one plural suffix for the nominal parts of speech, -?(?) -t(?), with the vowel ? ? occurring in the nominative case (see Cases below): e.g. s?r 'head' - s?rt? 'heads'. Nevertheless, the complexity of the system is increased to some extent by the fact that this suffixation may be accompanied by a number of morphophonemic alternations. A svarabhakti vowel ? y is normally inserted after stems ending in a cluster (? c?st 'flower' - ? c?styt? 'flowers'), but there are also numerous exceptions from this. This insertion of ? y regularly palatalises preceding velars to affricates in Iron ?yzg 'girl' - ?yzd?yt? 'girls'. In words ending in - ?g, the vowel is usually elided in the plural, making the stem eligible for the above-mentioned svarabhakti insertion? bar?g 'rider' - bard?yt? 'riders'. The same happens in words ending in - -yg, but the consonant is also labialised there? m?syg - m?sguyt?. The vowels ? a and ? o in closed syllables are weakened to ? ? before the suffix - ? fars 'side' - f?rst? 'sides'; this happens regularly in polysyllabic words, but with many exceptions in monosyllabic ones. Finally, the suffix consonant is geminated after sonorants: x?dzar 'house' - x?dz?rtt? 'houses'.[27]


Nouns and adjectives share the same morphology and distinguish two numbers (singular and plural) and nine cases: nominative, genitive, dative, directive, ablative, inessive, adessive, equative, and comitative. The nominal morphology is agglutinative: the case suffixes and the number suffix are separate, the case suffixes are the same for both numbers and the number suffix is the same for all cases (illustrated here for the Iron dialect with the noun s?r "head"):[13]

Singular romanization Plural romanization
Nominative s?r ?? s?rt?
Genitive ? s?ry ?? s?rty
Dative s?r?n ? s?rt?n
Allative s?rm? ? s?rt?m
Ablative s?r?y ? s?rt?j
Inessive ? s?ry ?? s?rty
Adessive s?ryl ? s?rtyl
Equative s?rau ? s?rtau
Comitative s?rim? ? s?rtim?

Since inessive and genitive show the same forms in both numbers, it is sometimes debated whether Ossetian might possess eight case forms for each number instead of nine. If the addition of the case suffix would result in hiatus, the consonant ? y is usually inserted between them?-?- zærdæ-j-æn 'heart (dative)'.


There is no morphological distinction between adjectives and nouns in Ossetian.[28] The suffix - -dær can express the meaning of a comparative degree ræsuhddær 'more beautiful'. It, too, can be added to typical nouns: læg 'man' - lægdær 'more of a man, more manly'.[29]


Pronoun stems
1st person singular 2nd person singular 3rd person singular 1st person plural 2nd person plural 3rd person plural
nominative ?z dy uyj max / ? symax / smax uydon
oblique stem - m?n- - d?u- - uy-
enclitic genitive m? d? j?,


n? u? s?

The personal pronouns mostly take the same endings as the nouns. The 1st and 2nd person singular exhibit suppletion between the stem used in the nominative case and the stem used in the other (oblique) cases; the oblique stem without other endings is the genitive case form. The 1st and 2nd persons plural have only one stem each, functioning as both nominative and genitive. The third person pronoun coincides with the demonstrative 'that'. In addition, there are enclitic non-nominative forms of the pronouns of all three persons, which are somewhat deviant. Their genitive ends in -? -?; not only the inessive, but also the ablative coincides with the genitive; the allative ends in -? -m and the dative has the vowel -?- -y- before the ending (e.g. myn); and the comitative has the vowel -?- -e- (e.g. ? mem?). The 3rd singular stem has the doublet forms ?V- jV- and ?V- everywhere outside of the ablative and inessive, which appears as dzy, and the comitative, which can only have ?V- jV-.[30]

Reflexive forms are constructed from the enclitic forms of the personal pronouns and the reflexive pronoun x?d?g 'self' (with the oblique forms - xic- in the dative and ablative, - xiu- in the adessive and xi in the other cases).

There are two demonstratives - aj (stem ?- a-, pl. ? adon) 'this' and uyj (stem - uy-, pl. uydon) 'that'. The interrogative pronouns are ?i (oblique stem - k?-) 'who' and cy (oblique stem - c?-). Indefinite pronouns meaning any- and some- are formed from the interrogatives by means of the prefix - is- and the suffix - -d?r, respectively. Negatives are formed similarly, but with the prefix - ni-; the totality prefix ('every-') is - al-, and ?ly is used adjectivally. Other pronouns meaning 'all' are ? ?gas and ?pp?t. There are two pronouns meaning 'other' inn? for 'another of two, a definite other one' and '?nd?r' for 'some other, an indefinite other one'.[31]


Verbs distinguish six persons (1st, 2nd and 3rd, singular and plural), three tenses (present, past and future, all expressed synthetically), three moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative), and belong to one of two grammatical aspects (perfective and imperfective). The person, tense and mood morphemes are mostly fused. The following description is of Iron.


Each verb has a present stem and a past stem (similar in practice to Persian), the latter normally being identical to the past participle. The past stem commonly differs from the present stem by adding ? t or ? d (e.g. - dar- - dard- 'to hold'; ?- warz ? warzt 'to love'), or, more rarely, - -st (e.g. - bar ?- barst 'weigh') or - yd (- zar- ?- zaryd- 'sing'; nonetheless, the past participle of this type is still formed with -?/? t/d- zard-). However, there are usually various other vowel and consonant changes as well. Some of the most common vowel alternations are ? ?  a (e.g. - k?s - kast- 'look'), ? i  y (e.g. - riz- - ryzt- 'tremble'), and ? u  y (e.g. ?- dzur- ?- dzyrd- 'speak'); some other alternations are a a  ? (mostly in bisyllabic stems, e.g. ?- araz- - ar?z- 'make'), au  y, ?u  y, and ? o  y. Frequent consonant changes are -? d, -? t, - tt, - nd, - nt > - st (e.g. ?- k?rd- ? karst 'cut'), - dz, -? -c, - -ndz, - -nc > - hd (?- lidz- ?- lyhd- 'run away'), elision of a final ? n or ? m (e.g. n?m : nad). Suppletion is found in the stem pair d?ttyn : l?v?rd 'give'.[32] It is also seen in the copula, whose past stem is - uyd-, whereas the present forms are highly irregular and begin in ?- d-, - st- ?r in a vowel (see below).

There are also many related transitive-intransitive verb pairs, which also differ by means of a vowel alternation (commonly ? a  ?, e.g. safyn 'lose' ? s?fyn 'be lost', and ? u ? uy, e.g. qusyn 'hear'  quysyn 'be heard') and sometimes by the addition of the consonant -? s ( tavyn 'to warm' : t?fsyn 'to be warm').[33]

Tense and mood conjugation

The present and future tense forms use the present stem.

The indicative present endings are as follows:

singular plural
1st person - -yn - -?m
2nd person - -ys - -ut
3rd person -? -y - -ync

Only the copula uyn 'be' is conjugated differently:

singular plural
1st person d?n ? st?m
2nd person d? ? stut
3rd person -?(?) i(s), -? u sty

The copula also has a special iterative stem ?- v?jj-, which is conjugated regularly.

The future tense forms consist of the present stem, the element -(?)- ~ -?- -dzy(n)- ~ -dz?n- (originally a separate root meaning 'wish' according to Fredrik Thordarson) and endings which appear to derive from encliticised copula uyn 'be' (see above table) used as an auxiliary. Thus, the resulting composite endings are:[34]

singular plural
1st person -?- -dzyn-?n --? -dzy-st?m
2nd person -?-? -dzyn-? --? -dzy-stut
3rd person -?-() -dz?n-(is) -- -dzy-sty

The past tense uses the past stem. The endings, however, are different for intransitive and transitive verbs. The intransitive endings are:

singular plural
1st person -(?) -(t)?n - -yst?m
2nd person -(?)? -(t)? - -ystut
3rd person -(?(?)) -(i(s)) -? -ysty

The construction appears to be, in origin, a periphrastic combination of the past passive participle and the copula; that is why the endings are similar to the ones added to -(?)- -dzy(n)- in the future tense.

The transitive endings, on the other hand, are:

singular plural
1st person -(?) -(t)on -(?) -(t)am
2nd person -(?) -(t)aj -(?) -(t)at
3rd person -? -a -(?) -(t)oj

Remarkably, these forms actually derive from the old past subjunctive rather than the indicative (which is why the endings still almost entirely coincide with those of the future subjunctive, apart from the initial consonant ? t).[35] The variable -?- -t of the transitive as well as the intransitive past endings appears in verbs whose present stem ends in vowels and sonorants (? j, ? u, ? r, ? l, ? m, ? n), since only these consonants are phonotactically compatible with a following sequence -- dt, which would normally arise from the combinations of the dentals of the stem and the ending: e.g. -?-?- kal-d-t-on 'I poured', but -?- saf-t-on 'I lost'.[36]

The subjunctive mood has its own forms for each tense. The endings are as follows:

present-future past future
singular plural singular plural singular plural
1st person - -in - -ikkam - -ain - -aikkam - -on - -?m
2nd person - is - -ikkat - -ais - -aikkat - -aj - -at
3rd person - -id - -ikkoj - -aid -aikkoj -? -a - -oj

In addition, a ? t is added before the ending in transitive verbs. The future forms derive from the historical subjunctive and the others from the historical optative. In spite of some nuances and tendencies reflecting from their historical functions, there is a lot of overlap between the uses of the 'present-future' and the 'future' subjunctive (desire, possibility etc.), but a clear contrast between the two is found in conditional clauses, where the former expresses unreal conditions and the latter - real ones).

The imperative consists of the present stem and the following endings:[37]

singular plural
2nd person -? - -ut
3rd person - -?d - -?nt

A special future imperative form can be formed by the addition of the independent particle iu.


Passive voice is expressed periphrastically with the past passive participle and an auxiliary verb c?uyn 'to go': arazyn 'build' - ar?zt c?uyn 'be built'; causative meaning is also expressed periphrastically by combining the infinitive and the verb k?nyn 'to do': e.g. badyn 'to sit' - badyn k?nyn 'to seat'. Reflexive meaning is expressed by adding the reflexive pronoun xi? dasyn 'to shave (something, somebody)' - xi dasyn 'shave oneself'.[38]


Somewhat similarly to the Slavic languages, verbs belong to one of two lexical aspects: perfective vs. imperfective, and the aspects are most commonly expressed by prefixes of prepositional origin, which simultaneously express direction or other abstract meanings? c?uyn 'go (imperf.)' - ? rac?uyn 'go out (perf.). The directional prefixes simultaneously express ventive or andative direction:

'out' 'in' 'down' 'up' neutral
away from the speaker ?- a- - ba- 'in' - ny- ?- s- - f?-
towards the speaker - ra- ?- arba- - ?r- NA

In addition, these prefixes may express small aspectual nuances- a- is used for rapid, brief and superficial motion, ?- arba- also for rapid and sudden action, - ba- for more substantial action, - ny- for especially intensive action, while - f?- can express habituality in the present and either repetition or rapidity and brevity in the past.[39] A morphophonological peculiarity of the prefixes is that when they are added to roots beginning in the vowel ? a, as well as to the copula's form is, the consonant ? c is epenthesised?-?- f?-c-is 'became (3rd person)'.[40] The prefix ny also causes gemination of the following consonant? k?lyn 'pour' - nykk?lyn 'spill'.[41]

Iterativity or habituality may be expressed with the separate particle iu. To make a prefixed form receive imperfective meaning, the article c?j is inserted: rac?jcydy 'he was going out'.[42]

Non-finite verb forms

There is an infinitive, four participles (present and past active, past passive, and future), and a gerund.

past present future
active - -?g -? -inag
passive -? t / -? d (- -?n)
gerund - -g?
infinitive - -yn

The infinitive is formed from the present stem with the ending - -yn, which phonologically coincides with the 1st person singular? c?uyn 'to go' (and 'I go').

The past passive participle in -? t or -? d coincides with the past stem ( fyssyn 'write' - ? fyst 'written'); it is often nominalised to a verbal noun. All the other participles, as well as the gerund, are formed from the present stem. The future participle in -? -inag may have either active or passive meaning? fyssinag 'who will write / will be written'. Together with the copula used as an auxiliary, it forms a periphrastic immediate future tense. The dedicated active participles in - -?g and receive 'present' or 'past', or more accurately, imperfective or perfective meaning depending on the aspect of the stem: fyss?g 'writing' - nyfyss?g 'having written'. The participle-gerund form ending in - -g? ( badg? '(while) sitting'), can be used adverbially, as a gerund, but also attributively like a participle with absolutive voice: k?rdg? may mean '(which has been) cut', sudzg? may mean '(which is) burning', etc. To receive an unambiguously adverbial, i.e. gerundial interpretation, it needs to be declined in the ablative case, as does an adjective badg?j? '(while) sitting'.[43] There are also verbal nouns: one derived from the present stem with the suffix - -?n with the meaning 'fit to be X-ed' - e.g. zyn ssar?n 'hard to find' - and one in - -ag denoting permanent quality - e.g. nuazag 'drunkard'.[44]


Ossetic uses mostly postpositions (derived from nouns), although two prepositions exist in the language. Noun modifiers precede nouns. The word order is not rigid, but tends towards SOV. Wackernagel's law applies. The morphosyntactic alignment is nominative-accusative, although there is no accusative case: rather, the direct object is in the nominative (typically if inanimate or indefinite) or in the genitive (typically if animate or definite).[13]


For numerals above 20, two systems are in use - a decimal one used officially, and a vigesimal one used colloquially. The vigesimal system was predominant in traditional usage. The decimal one is said to have been used in pre-modern times by shepherds who had borrowed it from the Balkars, but it came into more general use only after its introduction in Ossetian schools in 1925 to facilitate the teaching of arithmetic.[45] For example, 40 is cyppor (from cyppar 'four') and 60 is æxsaj (from æxsæz 'six') in the decimal system, whereas the vigesimal designations are dywwissædzy (from dywwæ 'two' and ssædz 'twenty') and ? ærtissædzy (from ? ærtæ 'three' and ssædz 'twenty'). In the same way, the inherited decimal ? sædæ 'one hundred' has the vigesimal equivalent fondzyssædzy ('5 times twenty'). An additional difference is that the decimal system places tens before units (35 is ærtyn fondz '30 + 5'), whereas the vigesimal uses the opposite order (35 is ? fynddæs æmæ ssædz '15 + 20'). Ordinal numbers are formed with the suffix - -æm, or, for the first three numbers, - -ag.[46]

  • 1 iu
  • 2 dywwæ
  • 3 ? ærtæ
  • 4 cyppar
  • 5 fondz
  • 6 æxsæz
  • 7 avd
  • 8 ast
  • 9 farast
  • 10 dæs
  • 11 ææ? iuændæs
  • 12 æ? dyuuadæs
  • 13 ææ? ærtyndæs
  • 14 ?ææ? cyppærdæs
  • 15 ? fynddæs
  • 16 æææ? æxsærdæs
  • 17 ææ? ævddæs
  • 18 ææ? æstdæs
  • 19 æ? nudæs
  • 20 ssædz
number new (decimal) system old (vigesimal) system
21 ssædz iu ('twenty one') iu æmæ ssædz ('one and twenty')
30 ærtyn ('3 X 10') dæs æmæ ssædz ('10 + 20')
35 ærtyn fondz ('30 + 5') ? fynddæs æmæ ssædz ('15 + 20')
40 cyppor ('4 X 10') dywwissædzy ('2 X 20')
50 fændzaj ('5 X 10') dæs æmæ dyuuissædzy ('10 + 2 X 20')
60 æxsaj ('6 X 10') ? ærtissædzy ('3 X 20')
70 æ? ævdaj ('7 X 10') ? dæs æmæ ærtissædzy ('10 + 2 X 30')
80 æ? æstaj ('8 X 10') æ cypparyssædzy ('4 X 20')
90 ?æ?æ næuædz ('9 X 10') ? dæs æmæ ærtissædzy ('10 + 4 X 20')
100 ? sædæ fondzyssædzy ('5 X 20')
120 ? sædæ ssædz ('100 + 20') æxsæzyssædzy ('6 X 20')
140 ? sædæ cyppor ('100 + 40') ? avdyssædzy ('7 X 20')
160 ? sædæ æxsaj ('100 + 60') ? æstyssædzy ('8 X 20')
180 ? æ? sædæ æstaj ('100 + 80') ? farastyss?dzy ('9 X 20')
200 ? dyuuæ sædæ ('2 X 100') dyuu? fondzyssædzy ('2 X 5 X 20'),

? dæsyssædzy ('10 X 20')

220 ? dyuuæ sædæ ssædz ('2 X 100 + 20') dyuu? fondzyssædzy ?m? ss?dz ('2 X 5 X 20 + 20')

ææ iuændæsyssædzy ('11 X 20')

  • 1000 min, ? ærzæ
  • 1100 ? min sædæ ('1000 + 100'), ææ? iuændæs fondzyssædzy ('11 X 100')
  • 2000 ? dyuuæ miny ('2 X 1000')
  • 1 000 000 miluan

Writing system

Ossetic text written with Georgian script, from a book on Ossetian folklore published in 1940 in South Ossetia

Written Ossetian may be immediately recognized by its use of the Cyrillic letter Ae (? ?), a letter to be found in no other language using Cyrillic script. The father of the modern Ossetian literary language is the national poet Kosta Khetagurov (1859-1906).[13]

An Iron literary language was established in the 18th century, written using the Cyrillic script in Russia and the Georgian script in Georgia. The first Ossetian book was published in Cyrillic in 1798, and in 1844 the alphabet was revised by a Russian scientist of Finnish-Swedish origin, Andreas Sjögren. A new alphabet based on the Latin script was made official in the 1920s, but in 1937 a revised Cyrillic alphabet was introduced, with digraphs replacing most diacritics of the 1844 alphabet.

In 1820, I. Yalguzidze published a Georgian-script alphabetic primer, adding three letters to the Georgian alphabet.[47] The Georgian orthography receded in the 19th century, but was made official with Georgian autonomy in 1937. The "one nation - two alphabets" issue caused discontent in South Ossetia in the year 1951 demanding reunification of the script, and in 1954 Georgian was replaced with the 1937 Cyrillic alphabet.

The table below shows the modern Cyrillic alphabet, used since 1937, with phonetic values for the Iron dialect in the IPA. Di- and tri-graphs in parentheses are not officially letters of the alphabet, but are listed here to represent phonemically distinctive sounds:

Modern Cyrillic alphabet
Letter ? ? ? ? ? () () ? ? ? ? ? ? () () ?
? ? ? ? ? () () ? ? ? ? ? ? () () ?
IPA ä ? b v ? ? d d z~d?z e ?~z i j k k? k' k'? ?
Letter ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? () () ? ? ?
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? () () ? ? ?
IPA m n o p p' r ?~s t t' u, w f ? q q? s~t?s t?s' t t' ?

In addition, the letters ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, and ⟨?⟩ are used to transcribe Russian loans. The Ossetian popflock.com resource uses the Latin 'æ' instead of the Cyrillic '?'.

The Latin alphabet (used 1923-1938)
Letter A Æ B C Ch ? ?h D Dz D? E F G Gu H Hu I J K Ku
a ? b c ch ? ?h d dz d? e f g gu h hu i j k ku
IPA ä ? b s~t?s t?s' t t' d z~d?z d e f ? ? i j k k?
Letter Kh Khu L M N O P Ph Q Qu R S T Th U V X Xu Y Z
kh khu l m n o p ph q qu r s t th u v x xu y z
IPA k' k?' ? m n o p p' q q? r ?~s t t' u, w v ? ? ?~z

In addition, the letters ⟨?⟩ and ⟨?⟩ were used to transcribe Russian words. The "weak" vowels ⟨?⟩ [?] and ⟨?⟩ [?] are extremely common in the language.

Language usage

The first page of the first issue of the Ossetian newspaper Rastdzinâd. Sjögren's Cyrillic alphabet. 1923

The first printed book in Ossetian appeared in 1798. The first newspaper, Iron Gâ?êt, appeared on July 23, 1906 in Vladikavkaz.

While Ossetian is the official language in both South and North Ossetia (along with Russian), its official use is limited to publishing new laws in Ossetian newspapers. There are two daily newspapers in Ossetian: Ræstdzinad (? / , "Truth") in the North and Xurzærin (, "The Sun") in the South. Some smaller newspapers, such as district newspapers, use Ossetian for some articles. There is a monthly magazine Max dug ( , "Our era"), mostly devoted to contemporary Ossetian fiction and poetry.

Ossetian is taught in secondary schools for all pupils.[] Native Ossetian speakers also take courses in Ossetian literature.

The first Ossetian language Bible was published in 2010.[9][failed verification] It is currently the only full version of the Bible in the Ossetian language.[48] In May, 2021, the Russian Bible Society announced the completion of a Bible translation into Ossetian; fundraising continues in order to have it printed.[49][50]

Sample text

Cyrillic text[51] Romanisation Translation
?æ? ?æ? ?æ ?æ? ?ææ? . Nartæn uæd sæ xistær Uærxæg uydis. At that time, the most senior of the Narts was Uærxæg.
?ææ?æ? ? ?æ ?æ, ?ææ. Uærxægæn rajguyrdis dyuuæ læppujy, fazzættæ. Two boys were born to Uærxæg, twins.
? ?ææ, æ ? ?ææ, ?æ æ. Iu dzy rajguyrdis fyccag kærkuasæny, innæ ta rajguyrdis dykkag kærkuasæny, Bonværnony skastmæ. One of them was born at the first crowing of the rooster, and the other was born at the second crowing of the rooster, before the rising of Bonværnon (the Morning Star).
? ? ?æ ?æææ, ?, æ ? ?, . Ruxs xury tyntæ nykkastis Uarxægmæ, bazydta, qæbul kuyd add?yn u, uyj. The bright rays of the sun glanced down at Uærxæg - he knew how dear the child was to him.
?ææ? ?æ ?æ ? ?æ? ?æ? æ?. Uærxæg jæ læpputy rajguyrdy bony farnæn skodta nærton kuyvd syrdy fydæj. To (bring) good fortune for the day of his boys' birth, Uærxæg made a Nartic feast of game meat.
Æ? ?æ?æ? ?æ?, ?æ? - ?, ?æ? - æ æ?æ ææ. Ærxuydta uælarvæj Kuyrdalægony, furdæj - Donbettyry, Nartæj ta - Boræjy æmæ ændærty. From the sky he invited Kuyrdalægon (the smith god), from the sea - Donbettyr (the sea god), and of the Narts - Boræ and others.
?ææ ?æ ?ææ ?æ?æ? ?æ? ?ææ - , ?ææ - ææ?. Uærxæd?y uarzon læpputyl buc næmttæ sæværdta uælarv Kuyrdalægon: xistæryl - Axsar, kæstæryl - Axsærtæg. Celestial Kuyrdalægon bestowed special names on Uærxæg's beloved boys: on the elder one - Axsar, and on the younger one - Axsærtæg.
æ?æ?æ ?ææ? ?æ ?ææ?æ? æ ?æ ?ææ?, æ?æ? æ. Nomæværæd?y lævaræn Kuyrdalægon radta Uærxægæn udævdz jæ kuyrdadzy fætygæj, bolat ændonæj aræzt. As a godfather's ('name-giver's') present, Kuyrdalægon gave Uærxæg a magic flute (udævdz) made of fætyg, the bulat steel of his forge.
æ? ? ?æ?æ ?æ , æ?æ æ? ? æ?æ?æ?: Udævdzy Nart sæværdtoj sæ fyngyl, æmæ syn kodta dissad?y zaræg uadyndz qælæsæj: The Narts put the magic flute on their table, and it sang to them a marvellous song with the voice of a flute:
« æ?, ? æ? ? ?ææ?,

æ?, ? æ? - ?æ?!»

«Ajs æj, anaz æj Xuycauy xælaræj,

Ajs æj, anaz æj - rond?y nuazæn!»

'Take it, drink it to Xuycau's (the supreme deity's) health,

take it, drink it - the cup of rong (magical drink)!'

See also


  1. ^ The expressions "Ossetic language" and "Ossetian language" are about equally common in books,[5] but dictionaries show that there are differences between British and North American usage. The Collins English Dictionary mentions only "Ossetic" for American usage and lists it first for British usage,[6] and the US dictionaries Merriam-Webster,[7] Random House,[8] and American Heritage[3] don't even mention the language as a meaning of "Ossetian", whereas the Oxford University Press (as quoted in the Lexico.com entries for Ossetic and Ossete) clearly considers "Ossetian" more common than "Ossetic" for the language. So US dictionaries agree on "Ossetic" for the language, whereas UK dictionaries don't agree on whether it or "Ossetian" are more common. "Ossetic" is apparently preferred in scientific use (linguistics), as shown by this article's references, including the entries in Ethnologue[9] and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.[10]


  1. ^ Ossetian at Ethnologue (23rd ed., 2020)
  2. ^ Windfuhr 2013.
  3. ^ a b AHD:Ossetian
  4. ^ OED:Ossetian.
  5. ^ Ngram Viewer
  6. ^ Collins English Dictionary
  7. ^ Merriam-Webster.com
  8. ^ Random House Dictionary
  9. ^ a b c "Ossetic". Ethnologue. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica
  11. ^ Dalby 1998.
  12. ^ a b Lubotsky, Alexander (2010). Van Sanskriet tot Spijkerschrift Breinbrekers uit alle talen. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. p. 34. ISBN 9089641793.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Abaev, V. I. A Grammatical Sketch of Ossetian. Translated by Stephen P. Hill and edited by Herbert H. Paper, 1964 [1]
  14. ^ Thordarson, Fridrik. 1989. Ossetic. Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, ed. by Rudiger Schmitt, 456-479. Wiesbaden: Reichert. [2]
  15. ^ a b c d Kim, Ronald (2003). "On the Historical Phonology of Ossetic: The Origin of the Oblique Case Suffix". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 123 (1): 43-72. doi:10.2307/3217844.
  16. ^ a b Zgusta 1987.
  17. ^ a b Kambolov, Tamerlan (10 May 2007). Some New Observations on the Zelenchuk Inscription and Tzetzes' Alanic Phrases (PDF). Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans - Iranian-Speaking Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes. Barcelona. pp. 21-22. Retrieved 2015.
  18. ^ Ivanov 2010.
  19. ^ Zgusta 1987, p. 51.
  20. ^ Zgusta 1987, p. 55.
  21. ^ a b Despite the transcription used here, Abaev refers to /k/ and /?/ as "postpalatal" rather than velar, and to /q/, /?/ and /?/ as velar rather than uvular.
  22. ^ a b Thordarson, p.466
  23. ^ Abaev, p. 5
  24. ^ Abaev, p. 8-10
  25. ^ Ossetic language. (2006). In Encyclop?dia Britannica. Retrieved August 26, 2006, from Encyclop?dia Britannica Premium Service: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ossetic-language
  26. ^ ?.?. . 2006 ? . p.330-339
  27. ^ Abaev, p. 12-16
  28. ^ Abaev 1964, p. 12.
  29. ^ Thordarson, p. 471.
  30. ^ Abaev 1964, p. 22-26
  31. ^ Abaev 1964, p. 26-31
  32. ^ Abaev 1964, p.35-42.
  33. ^ Abaev 1964, p.42-43.
  34. ^ Abaev 1964, p.51.
  35. ^ Abaev 1964, p.59.
  36. ^ Abaev 1964, p.51.
  37. ^ Abaev 1964, p.52-53.
  38. ^ Abaev 1964, p. 44.
  39. ^ Abaev 1964, p. 76-79
  40. ^ Abaev 1964, p. 10.
  41. ^ Abaev 1964, p. 11
  42. ^ Abaev 1964, p. 45-47
  43. ^ Abaev 1964, p. 47-50
  44. ^ Thordarson, p.474
  45. ^ , ?.?. 1963. ? ?, ?. 1. , -? ? , . 211-212
  46. ^ Abaev, p. 20-21
  47. ^ Correspondence table between the Georgian based and the modern script with examples of use (in Russian)
  48. ^ "Russian Censorship: Ossetian & Russian Bibles, Bible Literature". JW.ORG. Retrieved .
  49. ^ "? ? ? ? ? ? ?". https://blagos.ru. Russian orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate. May 29, 2021. Translatio of the Bible into Ossetian is Completed: Fundraising for Publication Announced (Russian) External link in |website= (help)
  50. ^ "Holy Scripture Fully Translated into Ossetian Language, Completing 19-Year Project". http://orthochristian.ru. May 31, 2021. External link in |website= (help)
  51. ^ Beginning of the Nart sagas in Dzhanayev's 1946 collection


External links

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