A Short Grammar of East Circassian (Kabardian) by Ranko Matasović

Ranko Matasović
Croatian linguist, Indo-Europeanist and Celticist.

Translated from Croatian with the help of Tena Gnjatović 


This grammar should be used with some caution, not only because it was written by a linguist who is far from being a fluent speaker of Kabardian. It is largely compilatory in nature, and many examples were drawn from the existing works on Kabardian by M. L. Abitov, Mukhadin Kumakhov, and others. However, I have also excerpted and analyzed many sentences from the literature, especially from the Nart corpus (Nārtxar, 1951, Nārtxar, 2001), and some examples were elicited from native speakers. Although I have relied heavily on the published scholarly works on Kabardian, my interpretations of the data are sometimes very different from those in the available literature. I have tried to approach the Kabardian language from a typological point of view, comparing its linguistic features, that may appear strange to speakers of Indo-European languages, to similar features found in other languages of the world. Although primarily designed for linguists, I hope that at least parts of this overview of Kabardian grammar may be of some use to laymen. If it succeeds in attracting at least a few people to the study of Kabardian, this grammar will have served its purpose.

Apart from John Colarusso's grammar (1992) and his recently published grammatical sketch (2006), and the largely outdated monograph by Aert Kuipers (1960), this is, to my knowledge, the only general overview of the structure of Kabardian available in English. In contrast to these three works, which were composed as a result of field work with native speakers from the Kabardian diaspora, this grammar attempts to describe the standard Kabardian language used in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic of the Russian Federation.

This grammar is a result of my long-standing endeavor to learn this exciting and fascinating, though incredibly difficult language. In a world in which a language dies out every fortnight, the linguist's task is at least to describe the small languages threatened by extinction. Although the statistics on the number of speakers of Kabardian does not lead one to think that Kabardian is in immediate danger of extinction, especially if compared with other small Caucasian languages in Russia, sociolinguistic data show that the number of native speakers is decreasing among the younger generations; it seems that it is especially in the diaspora that Kabardian is facing extinction. As R. M. W. Dixon wrote, anyone who calls themselves a linguist should assume the task of saving at least one endangered language from oblivion. This work is my response to this greatest challenge that linguists, as well as other people who care about the preservation of linguistic diversity, are facing today.

Finally, I would like to thank Lemma Maremukova and Alim Shomahua for their help and for the examples they provided as native speakers of Kabardian. Globalization, which is partly responsible for the mass extinction of languages, has, on the other hand, opened some, until recently unimaginable, possibilities for the investigation of languages over large distances, for "field work" via Internet. F'əś'ašxwa.

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