Northwest Caucasian Languages: Ubykh

Extinct. The last Ubykh speaker, Tevfik Esenç, died in Istanbul at the age of 88 in 1992.

Ubykh is member of the Northwest Caucasian language family.

Until 1864 the Ubykh people lived along the eastern shore of the Black Sea in the area of Sochi (Russia, Krasnodarskiy Kray, northwest of Abkhazia). The entire Ubykh population left its homeland when Russia conquered the Muslim northern Caucasus in the 1860s. Most of the people migrated to Turkey.

The sound system is characterised by a large consonant inventory. Ubykh has more than 80 consonant phonemes. The basic set-up of the system is the phonological opposition between voiced vs. voiceless aspirate vs. voiceless ejective obstruents. The widespread use of secondary articulatory features multiplies the number of consonant phonemes. There are only two vowel phonemes: an open /a/ and a closed central vowel /ə/.

Ubykh has two formally marked cases: The ergative case is marked by -m and the absolutive case by -r. The ergative case is used with the subject of transitive ('agentive') verbs. The absolutive case is used with subjects of intransitive ('factitive') verbs and with objects of transitive ('agentive') verbs.

The Ubykh verb is polysynthetic and has an intricate morphology. The verb is the absolute center of the sentence and mirrors the syntactic structure of the sentence by means of incorporation. The conjugation is characterised by a split into transitive ('agentive') and intransitive ('factitive') verbs. The grammatical categories person, number, tense, mood, version, potentiality, comitativity, sociativity, reciprocity, and inferenciality are expressed on the verb. Agreement is marked by cross-referencing pronominal affixes. The verb can agree with subject, direct object, and indirect object at the same time.

Ubykh is an ergative language: intransitive subjects and direct objects are marked in the same way on the participants of the verb and on the verb, transitive subjects are treated differently.

Word-order is predominantly SOV, the possessor precedes the possessed, the adjective usually follows the head noun, relative sentences precede the head and the language has postpositions rather than prepositions.

George Hewitt's Ubykh Recordings from Turkey (1974)

In the course of 6 weeks spent in Turkey in 1974, Prof. George Hewitt made recordings of Circassian (mostly the Abzakh dialect but also some Shapsugh) in the Anatolian village of Demir Kapı and of Ubykh (mostly with Tevfik Esenç in Istanbul but also with some other elderly speakers in the village of Haci Osman Köyü). 

If you are having difficulty accessing the sound files, please use this link:

See also:

Tevfik Esenc George Hewitt Istanbul
Tevfik Esenc and George Hewitt, Istanbul, Turkey []