Archive for May, 2009

Lezgi dialects. Why bother?

May 7, 2009

Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve been trying to deal with the Standard Literary Lezgi, the kind of normative language used in school instruction and in official publications (and also in books, newspapers etc.).  However, as with any other language, Standard Literary Lezgi is not the only form of Lezgi in existence and worthy of preservation.

All around the Lezgi speech area, people use different varieties of Lezgi in their daily life. Sometimes those varieties differ considerably from the Standard language, and sometimes their speakers are not well-acquainted with the Standard at all. This variety is a good thing, as each dialect may teach us a thing or two about the Lezgi language in general (eg. by preserving words or grammatical structures lost in standard Lezgi, or by evolving in interesting directions or…). It is, thus, quite enlightening to take a look at the dialects as well.

The problem is that as even resources for Standard Literary Lezgi can be quite hard to come by, there’s serious shortage of information regarding the dialects. In my opinion, it is especially the Lezgi dialects spoken in Azerbaijan that are underresearched. One of my goals for the future would be to make an attempt at addressing this situation. In other words I am willing (and going to) to publish on this blog or elsewhere all the information on Lezgi dialects that I can gather (a request directed at Lezgi speakers: please, help me if you can, by telling me about your native version of Lezgi).

I’ll start soon(ish) by giving a bit of our attention to Lezgi as spoken in Yargun (a Lezgi-speaking village in Northern Azerbaijan; the official name of the village is actually Xazry). I’ll be using the information kindly provided by Ayten Babaliyeva, a Lezgi linguist now studying and working in France (merci beaucoup!). Yargun Lezgi is both her native dialect and the subject of her thesis. All I do  is basically translating her work from French and putting extracts from it on the web.

Until next time, then.

Verbs weak and strong

May 6, 2009

I’m going to talk about Lezgi verbs in the next couple of entries, so let’s start from the basics.

Lezgi verbs can be divided into two groups: so-called “strong” and “weak” verbs. The latter are much more numerous and in fact new weak verbs can be formed any time (weak verbs are thus an open class). What is the difference between them and what consequences does it have?

For starters, the strong verbs have a thematic vowel while the weak verbs don’t. Thematic vowel is stressed and forms the three verb stems (called Masdar, Imperfective and Aorist; each of them may have a different vowel) from which all the other verbal forms are made. As the weak verbs have no thematic vowel they are stressed on the stem itself, which stays the same in Masdar, Imperfective and Aorist forms.

Examples (pay close attention; SV – strong verb; WV – weak verb):

kisun (WV) ‘fall asleep’

base: kis
Masdar: kisun (base + Masdar ending for WV: -un) 
Imperfective: kisiz (base + Imperf ending for WV: -iz)
Aorist: kisna (base + Aorist ending for WV: -na)

fin (SV) ‘go’

base: f
Masdar: fin (base + vowel: -i + Masdar ending for SV: -n) 
Imperfective: fiz (base + vowel: -i + Imperf ending for SV: -z)
Aorist: fena (base + vowel: e + Aorist ending for SV: -na)

raxun (SV) ‘talk’

base: rax
Masdar: raxun (base + vowel: -u + Masdar ending for SV: -n) 
Imperfective: raxaz (base + vowel: -a + Imperf ending for SV: -z)
Aorist: raxana (base + vowel: -a + Aorist ending for SV: -na)

As you can see, the thematic vowels differ both between verbs and between stems of one strong verb.  In fact, they’re unpredictable, you have to learn them by heart for every strong verb (they are affected by vowel harmony, which limits the choices, but we’ll talk about it later). Fortunately, as we’ve said, there’s only limited number of strong verbs.

Lezgi syntax trivia. Subjects and participles.

May 3, 2009

Now that I’m done with “reading lezgi” I thought I’d share with you two bits of info on Lezgi syntax (ie. sentence-forming). Or rather not, I’ll just show you some things, withholding any comments until you ask some questions.

I. The subject (or the doer/experiencer).

Руш кIвализ хтана.  The girl returned home.
Гада кIвализ хтанач. The boy didn’t return home.
Гада кIвале авач. The boy is not home.
Рушаз гада акуна. The girl saw the boy.
Гададиз руш акунач. The boy didn’t saw the girl.
Бубади гада кIвализ ракъурна. Father sent the boy home.
Гадади рушаз ич гана. The boy gave the apple to the girl.
Руша гададиз ич ганач. The girl didn’t give the apple to the boy.

II. Participles. Do you know any other language which makes the following possible?

рушаз ич гайи гада – the boy who gave the apple to the girl
гадади ич гайи руш – the girl whom the boy gave the apple
гадади рушаз гайи ич – the apple which was given by the boy to the girl

Reading Lezgi. Step 4.2 The twin signs.

May 3, 2009

Okay, so the time has come to take the last step. Previously we talked a bit about the three ‘modifier’ signs present in Lezgi orthography and we breezed through the digraphs / combinations employing one of them, the ‘I’ sign aka palochka.

Now let me tell you a thing about the two modifier signs that we are left with – ъ and ь. These are vestiges of the Russian Cyrillic orthography where they are known as, respectively, ‘hard sign’ and ‘soft sign’. I won’t go into detail on how do they function in Russian, focusing exclusively on their role in Lezgi.

So, we’ve already seen that in Lezgi, the ‘hard sign’ (ъ), can stand on its own (spelling the so-called glottal stop, the sound the Cockneys make instead of syllable-final ‘t’). Now lets take a look on ъ as a part of digraphs/letter combinations. Relax, there are only three of them:

гъ къ хъ

гъ (gh) is like Scottish ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ but voiced. Or like an Arabic غ sound. Or, in other words, very similar to the way Parisians pronounce their ‘r’s.

къ (q) is like Arabic ق. If that tells you nothing, think of a ‘k’ pronounced further back in the throat and you’re there.

хъ (qh) is much like къ (q) but it is aspirated. That is, a breath of air follows the throaty ‘k’. You may recall that the aspirated/not-aspirated distinction is somewhat important in Lezgi, yet not reflected in writing. Well, къ and хъ are the only pair of sounds where that difference is written down.


гъалатI ghalat’ – mistake
гъвечIи ghwech’i – little, younger
гъед ghed – fish; star
гъил ghil – hand
ягъун jaghun – to hit, to strike
къав qaw – roof
къад qad – twenty
къалурун qalurun – to show, to demonstrate
къацу qacu – green
къачун qachun – to take, to catch
къван qwan – stone
къец qec – outside
къе qe – today
ракъурун raqurun – to send
хъвер qhwer – laughter, smile
хъел qhel – anger

Адак хъел ква adak qhel kwa – he’s angry (lit. anger is under him)
хъипи qhipi – yellow
хъсан qhsan – good
хъун qhun – to drink

за яд хъвазва za jad qhwazwa – I am drinking water
ва яд хъвада wa jad qhwada – you’ll drink water or you drink water (habitually)
ада яд хъвана ada jad qhwana – he drank water
яд хъухъ jad qhuqh – drink water!

Okay, enough of this, let’s move on. The last remaining modifier sign is ‘ь’ which, like ‘I’, cannot stand on its own in Lezgi. The four combinations:

уь кь хь гь

уь (y) is a vowel, pronounced like German or Azerbaijani ü (an ‘i’ with rounded lips).

кь (q’) is to къ (q) what кI (k’) is to к (k). In other words, it is both throaty and glottalised.

хь (xh) is like a crossover between German ch in ‘Bach’ and German ch in ‘ich’. It’s a bit like Scottish ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ but there’s less friction. Remember how I told you to pronounce Lezgi x very throaty? The need to make it different from the softer xь was the reason.

гь (h), coming last, is straightforward, as it is a plain English ‘h’.


гьа ha – that one
гьазур hazur – ready
гьал hal – state (of things)
гьикI hik’ – how?

ви гьалар гьикI я?  vi halar hik’ ja? – how are you?
гьина hina – where?
гьич hich – at all
гьуьрмет hyrmet – respect
гьялун haelun – to solve
гьахъ haqh – truth
гьекь heq’ – sweat
кьабулун q’abulun – to accept
кьак q’ak – syphilis
кьарай q’araj – patience
кьатI q’at’ – part, piece
кьван q’wan – that much, (to) that degree, as much as
кьвед q’wed – two
кьев q’ew – wives of the same husband with relation to each other
кьел q’el – salt
уьгьу yhy – cough
уьлгуьч ylgych – razor
уьмуьр ymyr – life
хьел xhel – arrow
хьи xhi – that, so that
хьун xhun – to become, to be
гьатун hatun – to fall upon, to get
гъавурда гьатун ghawurda hatun – to understand

зун ви гафрин гъавурда гьатизва(ч) zun wi gafrin ghawurda hatizwa(ch)
– I (don’t) understand your words

Okay, so we’re now done with the alphabet and writing conventions. If there’s still anything unclear, please let me know. I will try go back to the previous lessons to review and improve them.

Now, what do you want to have next?