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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.

Reading Lezgi – Step 4.1. Meet the palochka.

April 20, 2009

Now that we’ve covered the whole alphabet let’s turn our attention to digraphs (or two-letter combinations signifying one sound). Lezgi has many of those because it has more sounds than Russian, for which the Russian Cyrillic script was originally designed.

Not counting the в /w/ (which we’ve already met – go back a bit and read once more how it behaves after a consonant), Lezgi has three… , let’s say, ‘modifier symbols’  – I, ъ, ь . In contrast to the English ‘h’ which is a letter of its own apart from forming digraphs (I’m talking about ‘ph’, ‘th’, ‘ch’ and ‘sh’, and to stretch things a bit ‘gh’, ‘kh’ and ‘zh’ as well), those three are barely (ъ) or not at all (two others)  independent letters.

We’ve already met ъ /’/ in its role as a letter, but we’ll talk about its combo-making abilities a bit later.

For now – let’s meet palochka,  everybody! ‘Palochka’ is not a Russian folk dance, but a word (it means literally ‘little stick’) for a special symbol designed for use in orthographies of several Caucasian languages. It looks (almost) like I, but as you’ll find out, because of technology constraints the proper palochka is almost never used, I, l, 1, or ! being substituted for it on the web. I’ll use I

In standard Lezgi, palochka is used in the following letter combinations (remember, it’s not a letter in Lezgi):

пI тI кI цI чI

These all mark so-called ejective consonant. You pronounce them like you would pronounce their regular equivalent except that you stop the airflow through your glottis (that is, you make a glottal stop). The resulting sounds sounds to me as if it was stopped in the mouth for a split-second and then forcefully released. Anyway, don’t worry, they are quite easy to learn.

кичIе – to be afraid (a very irregular verb)
кIан – to love / like / want (another very irregular verb)
кIвал – house, home
пIуз – lip
тIал – pain
тIвар – name
балкIан – horse
цIап – horse-shit
цIай – fire
чIал – language
-тIа – if (suffixed)
тIимил – a bit

And now let’s see if you can translate the following:

Зи тIвар Петр я.
Ваз Лезги чIал чидани?
Заз Лезги чIал са тIимил чида.
Заз вун кIанда, вазни зун кIандани?

КичIе жемир, чан хва – Don’t worry, dear son.

And we’ll finish for now with this lovely proverb:
БалкIан кIандай цIап такIан. – loves the horse but hates the horseshit

This post may be expanded, I’ll let you know.

What to read?

March 25, 2009

One of the diffuculties with learning languages like Lezgi is the scarcity of reading material available.
Fortunately, the times are changing and more and more information can be found online.
In particular, you can now read Lezgi Gazet, the Lezgi-language newspaper printed in Maxachkala. Believe it or not, but they’ve run a story about me some time ago.
Also, there are discussions in Lezgi on some webfora (the main language of communication there being Russian): Sharvili, LezgiWarez and DGU. The first of these hosts a number of Lezgi-themed e-books, the last is hosted by Daghestani National University and is a good place to meet Daghestanis of all ethnic backgrounds.

How to read Lezgi – Step 3.1

March 24, 2009

After a longish break another six-pack of letters is coming up.  The 0.1 is here because for a while we are going to move forward in shorter installments (less examples, for example). On the other hand – your work gets harder as the letters will look less familiar.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

Бб, Гг, Дд, Зз, Ии, Лл (here arranged alphabetically)

Бб is easy but dangerous. The easiness is in that it is pronounced /b/ as you’d perhaps expect from its shape. The danger lies in that it’s not that difficult to confuse б /b/ with  в /w/ which we met earlier.

буба /buba/ means “father”
абур /abur/ means “those” or “they”
хабар /xabar/ – news, information

Ии is the only vowel for today, an /i/ (maybe a bit closer to ‘ee’ in ‘feet’ than ‘i’ in ‘fit’).

иви /iwi/ – blood
иеси /iyesi/ – host, owner, proprietor
им – this, this one
ибур – these, these ones
ина – here
ви  – your (sg.)
-ни /-ni/ – question particle for yes/no questions; attached to the end of word you ask about, you can think of it as “is-it?/does-it?”; in pronunciation it often shortens to /n/ sound, or, even further, to nasalisation of the preceding vowel.

A question for transcription and translation, just to make sure everything is clear by now:
Ви буба ина авани?
A bonus challenge: do you know how to answer affirmatively?

Дд stands for /d/. Try connecting it in mind with the Greek delta.

диде – mother
дах – ‘daddy’, or ‘elder brother’
дуст – friend
мад  – yet, another one, next one

Гг has an even more transparent Greek connection. It’s a gamma, hence a /g/.

гада – boy
гун – to give; giving
гана – gave (past tense form)
вугун /wugun/ – to give (for a given time or purpose)
гур – grave

Зз looks a bit like a 3, but is pronounced /z/

зун – I, me
за – I (subject in transitive sentences)
заз – to me (dative)
зи – my
зурба – very big, great
гузва – gives, is giving (also for other persons)
гуда – will give

And now comes the trick. What can you make of the following sentences (apart from that they’re silly) in terms of Lezgi grammar? Any observations?

Зи буба ви бубадиз атана.
Ви бубади зи бубадиз хабар гана.
Зи бубади заз хабар гузва.
За зи дустуниз хабар гуда.
Зи дустуни ваз хабар гуда.
Ва ви дахаз хабар гуда.

Лл listed last, sounds like /l/.

It lets us to introduce a very productive suffix:
-вал /-wal/ creates abstract nouns

стхавал – brotherhood
дидевал – motherhood
садвал – unity (one-ness)

That would be all for today, as always I wait impatiently for your feedback, but right now we can proudly go from the Л to the Е to the З to the Г to the И.

ЛЕЗГИ! Yes, you should now be able to spell and read the name of the language and nation.

How to read Lezgi – Step 2

March 5, 2009

Okay, so it’s time for the second installment of the series. The previous one (Cyrillic letters which look and sound roughly the same as Latin ones) was trivial. This time we’ll focus on something more difficult – those Lezgi Cyrillic letters which look like Latin ones while not sounding like them. Be careful with them and don’t mix them up!

Here’s the list for today:
Cc Yy Пп Рр  Хх Нн Вв

Cc has a kind of a  special place here. It’s pronounced like [s], so not exactly different from English “c” (which either sounds like [s] or like [k]).
New words (here and there I’ll transliterate to make sure you’re not confused):
cа [sa] – one, a (that is an indefinite article:  cа кек – one fingernail/a fingernail)
сам  – straw
сас [sas] – tooth (especially one of the front teeth)
сес  – voice, sound, call, vote
кас [kas] – person, human being
мас [mas] – price
маса – other, another, different;  са маса кас – a different person
месела – for example

The above should not be too difficult to digest, the next chunk:

Yy is pronounced more or less like ‘u’ in English ‘pull’
Пп (ok, maybe including it here is a stretch, but it does look a bit like ‘n’) is pronounced like English ‘p’ in ‘part’ or like ‘p’ in ‘spit’ – that is either with, or without the aspiration (puff of air following the release).

мус? [mus] – when?
пак [pak] – pure, clean, impeccable, saint
пака – tomorrow
пакама – morning, dawn, daybreak
пас – rust,  corrosion, mold
тум [tum – aspirated t] – seed
тум [tum – unaspirated t] – tail, handle (as you can see, the difference in pronunciation is not reflected in writing!)
туп – ball; gun
уму – thaw
уста [usta] – master, anyone skillful

Нн – looks like an ‘h’ but sounds like an ‘n’. However, there’s a hook – when н comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant or a pause,  it sometimes (that is, in some varieties of spoken Lezgi) adds a nasal quality to it, and dissapears. That is, for instance, the word ун (meaning ‘yes’) is often pronounced not as [un] but [ũ] (that squiggly up there, called tilda, marks nasalization). But relax, it’s not that important to nasalize the vowel, you can just pronounce the н and still be understood.

Рр – This  is Lezgi [r] sound. Among all the varieties of English you can find a similar sound only in Scottish.  So roll your ‘r’s but don’t overdo it.

Хх – Now, pay close attention, as this sound will probably be difficult for you to make. Try to pronounce the ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ the way the Scots do, and then try to place the friction even further back inside your throat (this is to make space for the second Scottish ch-like sound present in Lezgi about which you’ll learn later; it is very important to maintain difference between the two).

кар – work, thing to do
ксун – to fall asleep; falling asleep
ксус! – fall asleep! (imperative; anything strange here?)
ксана – I/you/he/she/it/we/you/they fell asleep

^ yes, indeed, the above means that Lezgi verbs have the same form for all persons

курс – course
намус – honour, dignity
нек – milk
нер – nose
нур – light
мах – legend, traditional tale
рак – door
рахун – to talk; talking
рахух! – talk! (another strange imperative)
рахунар – talks, the act of talking
стха – brother
пер (aspirated) – mood;
пер (unaspirated) – shovel

зи пер хана [zi pher xana] – my mood broke = worsened
зи пер хана [zi per xana] – my shovel broke

хак – stake
хана – 1. broke; 2. bore (brought to life)
хата – error, mistake
хатам – the very last
хер – wound
хтун – to return

Now a little task: what can you learn about Lezgi plurals from the following set:

махар – legends
нерар – noses
нурар – lights
перер – shovels
сарар – front teeth
сесер – sounds, voices, votes
сурар – cemetary
хкар – stakes
хрер – wounds

Вв is all what’s left for today. The first problem with it is that its pronunciation varies from that of an English ‘w’ to that of an English ‘v’. Sometimes it even sounds like a version of ‘v’ made with both lips touching (normal ‘v’ is when lower lip touches the upper teeth, try it). However, as basically it is a ‘w’ you can pronounce it that way all the time. The second problem is that when в follows a consonant it sort of forms one sound with it – the consonant is pronounced with rounded lips (linguists call that labialization).
That lip-rounding in some dialects sort of invades, infects the next vowel (yes, affects is a better word), changes it into ‘o’ (which doesn’t normally occur in Lezgi, as we told earlier), and disappears.
I guess that was confusing, so let’s have an example: the word свас means ‘daughter-in-law’ or ‘bride’. It is normally pronounced [s_was], [s_w] symbolizing the almost-at-the-same-time pronunciation of [s] and [w]. In dialects suffering from ‘lip-rounding infection’ [s_was] turns into [sos] that is [a] is changed into [o] and lip-rounding disappears from [s].

Ok, enough theory, let’s have the new words:

свах [s_wax] – molar tooth; сухвар [sux_war] – molar teeth
(see how the lip-rounding can’t stay in one place?)

сев [sew] – bear; север [sewer] – bears
сувар – holiday
вун – you (one person)
вах – sister
хва [x_wa] – son
ава – there is
ксанва – am/is/are asleep, have/has fallen asleep (from ксана ава)

Now, I’ll leave you with all this. Think about it, digest it, analyse the example words, draw conclusions and ask me if anything is not clear. Hell, tell me even if something is clear but could be improved!

The long-term fate of this blog truly depends on your feedback 🙂

Learning Lezgi – how do we proceed

March 4, 2009

A couple words about what are my plans for the immediate future of this blog.

1. How to read Lezgi. This introducton to Lezgi Cyrillic will be continued in small, easily palatable, chunks, each introducing only a couple of letters (first those which are similar to Latin ones, then more uniquely shaped, then digraphs and trigraphs – plenty of them). I’ll try to smuggle in some info about grammar and choose as useful example words as possible – but some randomness of the vocabulary is inevitable. Lezgi sound system is quite rich and it’ll take us some time before we will be able to form meaningful sentences.

2. Lezgi lessons. After we’re done with reading, we’ll start to actually learn the language and not only its script. The lessons will start from scratch and all the info introduced during the script phase will be repeated to keep the material organised. I’ll try to maintain a light tone and to make it as entertaining as possible.

3. Feedback. It’s much needed. For one thing, it’s always good to know what works and what doesn’t, what is explained well and what demands further clarifications. So I welcome any opinions. What’s even more important is that whoever reads this must be aware that I don’t really know Lezgi. I know a bit or two about it, and I can read it fairly ok, but there’s still a lot of unsolved mysteries out there. So, what’s particularly important is feedback from those who speak Lezgi well. I will try to spread the word about this blog among my Lezgi friends, and if you have the opportunity, please do so as well.

4. Regular updates. Don’t expect them. I’ll try to make this blog alive, but can’t promised any regular activity.

That would be it for now. Next time – those Cyrillic letters which look like Latin ones but don’t sound like them.

How to read Lezgi – Step 1

March 4, 2009

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.

Introducing Learning Lezgi

March 1, 2009

This webspace is almost a year old, yet it is only now that I’ve decided to fill it with content. My journey with Lezgi has had its ups and downs (of which I’ll tell you later) thus far, but I hope that now I’m finally back on the right track.

But first things first – you might want to know what is this Lezgi thing I am talking about. After all I can’t assume you’re familiar with it, can I? To put it briefly, Lezgi is a Caucasian  language spoken by over 500k people most of whom live in northern Azerbaijan and southern Dagestan (I think you may want to consult an atlas now). Ah, another thing – ‘Caucasian’ here is taken to mean ‘pertaining to the Caucasus mountain range’  and not ‘white-skinned’, mind you.

Back to the point – it has no relatives outside the Caucasus area, which sort of means it’s nothing like any other language you’re familiar with. Lots of difficult vocabulary, strange grammar, guttural sounds – I kid you not. On the other hand it’s just about the most accessible of its kin – the Lezgis are very helpful and well represented on the Net and the language itself is still less quirky than some of its cousins.

The idea behind this blog is twofold: first, to give me some space to document my efforts to learn it, vent my frustration and cry for help and second, to share a couple pieces of what could pass for facts about the language with the outside world. Expect mini lessons, pontifications about minor grammar points, short translations etc.

I’ll be writting mainly in English and Lezgi (or rather my best approximation of it), but entries in Russian, Turkish or Polish could happen sometime as well.

That’s it for now. Let me finish this post with what for some of you will be the first ever Lezgi word they learnt:

Сагърай / Saghraj! (this means ‘be healthy, be well’ and is used as a farewell or a thankyou in Lezgi)