Northwest Caucasian Languages: Adyghe

West Adyghe (Circassian)

Adyghe is spoken by approximately 300.000 people. 125.000 live in southern Russia, chiefly in the Adygea Republic. Significant numbers of Adyghe speakers reside in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Israel.

Adyghe together with Kabardian is a member of the Circassian subgroup of the Northwest Caucasian language family.

Adyghe is also called Lower Circassian or Western Circassian.

Main dialects are Temirgoj (or Chemgui), Bezhedukh, Abadzex, Shapsug.

The written standard of Adyghe was created after the October revolution in 1923. First it was written with Latin script. Since 1936 a Cyrillic based alphabet is in use. The literary language is derived from the Temirgoj dialect.

Adyghe and Kabardian have a very long oral literary tradition. The so called 'Nart' sagas are well known.

The Adyghe sound system is characterised by a great number of consonant distinctions (but fewer than in Abkhaz-Abazin and Ubykh!) and a small number of vowel distinctions: Adyghe has about 50 consonant phonemes and two vowel phonemes, that are distinguished by the opposition 'open-closed'. This opposition however is restricted in position. Some scholars tried to prove that Kabardian and Adyghe don't have phonemic vowels at all. But more recent analyses have shown that there are at least two vowel phonemes.

Lexical accent is dynamic and free.

Adyghe has two cases: The ergative case is marked by -n, while the absolutive case is unmarked. 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 Adyghe 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.

Adyghe 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, the language has postpositions rather than prepositions.

Possession is marked by prefixed pronouns on the possessed noun. The prefix pronouns agree with the possessor in person. Adyghe distinguishes between organic possession (body parts, relatives etc.) and non-organic possession.