How to read Lezgi – Step 1

Let’s just assume that you want to learn Lezgi. One of the obstacles you have to overcome is the script. Lezgi is officially written in Cyrillic letters even though some people on the Internet make do with writing in Latin.

Frankly, I’d be happy to switch to Latin script as well, I have even developed a nifty web-friendly transcription scheme for Lezgi, however the reality which cannot be ignored is that my brilliant work is not yet widely known and everyone and their friend use very different transcription schemes (or no scheme at all), usually not taking into account some of the sound contrasts. Also, dictionaries, journals, books and other potentially useful printed material are published in Cyrillic only. It is thus unavoidable to learn it.

So here we are with the first installment of the ‘How to read Lezgi’ series which strives to teach you the Cyrillic script as it is used to write Lezgi. I’m assuming you’re new to this, if you by any chance already know another language written in Cyrillic (most probably Russian) – you have a good headstart, but be wary – the Lezgi version is a bit different to what you’ve learnt. We shall start with the easiest of steps – those Cyrillic letters, which look and sound exactly (or almost exactly) as their Latin equivalents.

They are: Аа, Ее, Оо, Кк, Мм, Тт

The vowels (a, e and o) have so-called ‘continental’ values, that is they are pronounced as in Italian or Spanish, having pure sounds without the off-glides and diphthongisation so characteristical of English. [o] is a sound alien to literary Lezgi, it occurs only in foreign (mainly Russian) loanwords. When it begins a word or comes after another vowel ‘e’ is pronounced [ye]

M needs no comment as it should pose no problem whatsoever.

Both к and т are a bit tricky, as each of them –depending on the word- can be pronounced with aspiration (puff of air, as in English kick, take) or without it (as in English skip, step). This is an important difference in Lezgi, but it is not reflected in writing. More on this later.

For now let us see what words can we build with this little inventory:

ак – ak (a type of stove used for bread-baking)
аката – fall under sth! or start! (imperative)
акт – act, an official document (it’s a loanword via Russian)
ам – that one, he, she, it (generic 3rd pers. pronoun; there’s no gender distinction in Lezgi)
ама – there is still
амма – but
атом – atom
еке – big, large
ем – fodder (for livestock)
кака – egg

кам (no aspiration) – step; revenge
ката – run! (imperative)
кек – fingernail
кем – lack of something
ма – go on, take it (particle used when giving something to someone)
мам – breast
мет – knee
та – until, till, up to
там – forest
тамам – detailed, elaborated
тамама – finish! (imperative)
тек – one, only, alone, odd number
тема – topic (Russian loan)

All remembered? Alright then – see you next time.

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3 Responses to “How to read Lezgi – Step 1”

  1. Eskandar Says:

    Looks like -а is an imperative ending. Is the ‘рай’ part of cагърай also an imperative of a different kind (maybe different person?), or is it something else altogether?

    Lezgi looks fun already! In addition to the Russian loans I think I see some Persian (кем, та), Azeri [or Turkish?] (тек) and Arabic (амма, тамам).

  2. Jade Says:

    Luckily since I took the time to learn the Tajiki alphabet I don’t have much trouble reading Cyrillic! I notice a few possible Arabic loanwords in there too, like амма and тамама.

    I probably won’t get very far with it, but I’ll follow the lessons to get a glimpse of the grammar!

  3. Peterlin Says:

    Imperative is marked by -a or nothing (sometimes both variants: bare root and root+a are possible, sometimes not)

    -рай is 3rd pers. optative – “let it..” cагърай is actually short for cагъ хьурай ‘let there be health’

    You’re both right about the loans.

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