Chuvash language

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Чӑвашла, Căvašla
Pronunciation [tɕəʋaʂˈla]
Native to Russia
Region Chuvashia and adjacent areas
Ethnicity Chuvash
Native speakers
1.1 million (2010 census)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Chuvashia (Russia)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 cv
ISO 639-2 chv
ISO 639-3 chv
Glottolog chuv1255[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Chuvash (Чӑвашла, Căvašla; IPA: [tɕəʋaʂˈla])[3] is a Turkic language spoken in central Russia, primarily in the Chuvash Republic and adjacent areas. It is the only surviving member of the Oghur branch of Turkic languages. While many Turkic languages demonstrate mutual intelligibility to varying degrees, Chuvash has diverged considerably from the other languages in the group.

The writing system for the Chuvash language is based on the Cyrillic script, employing all of the letters used in the Russian alphabet, and adding four letters of its own: Ӑ, Ӗ, Ҫ and Ӳ.

Language use

Stamp of the Soviet Union, Chuvash people, 1933

Chuvash is the native language of the Chuvash people and an official language of Chuvashia.[4][5] It is spoken by 1,640,000 persons in Russia and another 34,000 in other countries.[6] 86% of ethnic Chuvash and 8% of the people of other ethnicities living in Chuvashia claimed knowledge of Chuvash language during the 2002 census.[7] Despite that, and although Chuvash is taught at schools and sometimes used in the media, it is considered endangered,[8][9] because Russian dominates in most spheres of life and few children learning the language are likely to become active users.

A fairly significant production and publication of literature in Chuvash continues to the present day. According to UNESCO's Index Translationum, at least 202 books translated from Chuvash were published in other languages (mostly Russian) since ca. 1979.[10] However, as with most of other languages of the former USSR, most of the translation activity took place before the dissolution of the USSR: out of these 202 translations, 170 books were published in the USSR,[11] and just 17, in the post-1991 Russia (mostly, in the 1990s).[12] A similar situation takes place with the translation of books from other languages (mostly Russian) into Chuvash (the total of 175 titles published since ca. 1979, but just 18 out of them, in the post-1991 Russia).[13]


Chuvash is the most distinctive of the Turkic languages and cannot be understood by speakers of other Turkic tongues. Chuvash is classified, alongside the extinct languages Bulgar and Khazar, as a member of the Oghuric branch of the Turkic language family. It is the only language of this branch which is not extinct. Since the surviving literary records for the non-Chuvash members of Oghuric are scant, the exact position of Chuvash within the Oghuric family cannot be determined.

The Oghuric branch is distinguished from the rest of the Turkic family (the Common Turkic languages) by two sound changes: r corresponding to Common Turkic z, and l corresponding to Common Turkic ş.[14]

Formerly, scholars considered Chuvash not properly a Turkic language at all but, rather, a Turkicized Finno-Ugric (Uralic) language.[15]

Writing systems


А а Ӑ ӑ Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё
Ӗ ӗ Ж ж З з И и Й й К к Л л М м
Н н О о П п Р р С с Ҫ ҫ Т т У у
Ӳ ӳ Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ
Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я
Name IPA Translit. Notes
А а а /a/ a
Ӑ ӑ ӑ /ə/ ă a'
Б б бӑ /b/ b only in loanwords from Russian
В в вӑ /ʋ/ v
Г г гӑ /ɡ/ g only in loanwords from Russian
Д д дӑ /d/ d only in loanwords from Russian
Е е е /ɛ/ e
Ё ё ё /jo/ or /ʲo/ yo, jo only in loanwords from Russian
Ӗ ӗ ӗ /ɘ/ ĕ e'
Ж ж жӑ /ʐ/ zh only in loanwords from Russian
З з зӑ /z/ z only in loanwords from Russian
И и и /i/ i
Й й йӑ /j/ y, j
К к кӑ /k/ k
Л л лӑ /l/ l l'
М м мӑ /m/ m
Н н нӑ /n/ n n'
О о о /o/ o only in loanwords from Russian
П п пӑ /p/ p
Р р рӑ /r/ r r'
С с сӑ /s/ s
Ҫ ҫ ҫӑ /ɕ/ ś, ş s'
Т т тӑ /t/ t
У у у /u/ u
Ӳ ӳ ӳ /y/ ü
Ф ф фӑ /f/ f only in loanwords from Russian
Х х хӑ /χ/ h
Ц ц цӑ /ts/ ts, z
Ч ч чӑ // ç, c
Ш ш шӑ /ʂ/ ş, sh
Щ щ щӑ /ɕː/
ş, sh
şç, shch
Ъ ъ хытӑлӑх палли ʺ Placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent back vowel"; puts a distinct /j/ sound in front of the following iotified vowels with no palatalization of the preceding consonant
Ы ы ы /ɯ/ ı, y
Ь ь ҫемҫелӗх палли /ʲ/ ʹ Placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent front vowel", slightly palatalizes the preceding consonant
Э э э /e/ e
Ю ю ю /ju/ or /ʲu/ yu, ju
Я я я /ja/ or /ʲa/ ya, ja


The modern Chuvash alphabet was devised in 1873 by school inspector Ivan Yakovlevich Yakovlev.[16]

а е ы и/і у ӳ ӑ ӗ й в к л ԡ м н ԣ п р р́ с ҫ т т̌ ђ х ш

In 1938, the alphabet underwent significant modification which brought it to its current form.

Previous systems

The most ancient writing system, known as the Orkhon script, disappeared after the Volga Bulgars converted to Islam. Later, the Arabic script was adopted. After the Mongol invasion, writing degraded. After Peter the Great's reforms Chuvash elites disappeared, blacksmiths and some other crafts were prohibited for non-Russian nations, the Chuvash were educated in Russian, while writing in runes recurred with simple folks.[citation needed]

Chuvash Latin Script (CăvašLat)[17]

CăvašLat emerged in the 2007 in the Chuvash-speaking internet community to bring many variants of transliteration to one standard Latin Script. Every one character of this alphabet corresponds to one specific phoneme. In the table below the characters are grouped according to the types of speech sounds they correspond to: vowels, sonorants, obstruents.

a /a/ ă /ə/ e /e/ ĕ /ɘ/ y /ɯ/ i /i,ɨ/ u /u/ ü /y/
m /m/ v /ʋ/ l /l/ n /n/ r /r/ j /j/
p /p/ t /t/ c /tɕ/ ş /ɕ/ s /s/ ş /ʂ/ h /x/ k /k/

It is argued that Chuvash accommodated new speech sounds from Russian loanwords which became new Chuvash phonemes (/f/ and its allophones [f̬ (v),fː], which Russian itself uses only in loanwords; /ks/ and its allophone [gz]; /ts/ and its allophones [ts̬],[tsː]). Also, characters for the speech sounds of upper dialect of Chuvash are added (o, ö). A special character for the unstressed i at the end of loanwords from Russian (intustrĭ 'industry', fottokraffĭ 'photography') is introduced.

f /f/ ĭ /i,ɨ/ o /o/ ö /ø/ x /ks/ z /ts/

Diacritic marks are used to specify: Apostrophe ' - phonemic palatalization; Breve ̆ - unstressed vowels.



The consonants are the following (the corresponding Cyrillic letters are in brackets): /p/ (п), /t/ (т), /k/ (к), // (ч), /s/ (с), /ʂ/ (ш), /ɕ/ (ҫ), /χ/ (х), /ʋ/ (в), /m/ (м), /n/ (н), /l/ (л), /r/ (р), /j/ (й). The stops, sibilants and affricates are voiceless and fortes but become lenes (sounding similar to voiced) in intervocalic position and after liquids, nasals and semi-vowels. Аннепе sounds like annebe, but кушакпа sounds like kuzhakpa. However, geminate consonants do not undergo this lenition. Furthermore, the voiced consonants occurring in Russian are used in modern Russian-language loans. Consonants also become palatalized before and after front vowels.


A possible scheme for the diachronic development of Chuvash vowels (note that not all the sounds with an asterisk are necessarily separate phonemes).

According to Krueger (1961), the Chuvash vowel system is as follows (the precise IPA symbols are chosen based on his description since he uses a different transcription).

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
High i ⟨и⟩ y ⟨ӳ ɯ ⟨ы⟩ u ⟨у⟩
Low e ⟨е⟩ ø̆ ⟨ӗ⟩ а ⟨а⟩ ŏ ⟨ӑ⟩

András Róna-Tas (1997)[18] provides a somewhat different description, also with a partly idiosyncratic transcription. The following table is based on his version, with additional information from Petrov (2001). Again, the IPA symbols are not directly taken from the works so they could be inaccurate.

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
High i ⟨и⟩ yӳ ɯ ⟨ы⟩ u ⟨у⟩
Close-mid ӗ ⟨ĕ⟩ ɤ̆ ⟨ӑ⟩
Open-mid ɛ ⟨е⟩
Low a ⟨а⟩

The vowels ӑ and ӗ are described as reduced, thereby differing in quantity from the rest. In unstressed positions, they often resemble a schwa or tend to be dropped altogether in fast speech. At times, especially when stressed, they may be somewhat rounded and sound similar to /o/ and /ø/.

Additionally, ɔ (о) occurs in loanwords from Russian where the syllable is unstressed in Russian.


There are two dialects of Chuvash: Viryal or Upper (which has both o and u) and Anatri or Lower (which has u for both o and u: up. totă "full", tută "taste" – lo. tută "full, taste" ). The literary language is based on both the Lower and Upper dialects. Both Tatar and the neighboring Uralic languages such as Mari have influenced the Chuvash language, as have Russian, Mongolian, Arabic, and Persian, which have all added many words to the Chuvash lexicon.


Chuvash is an agglutinative language and as such, has an abundance of suffixes but no native prefixes (apart from the reduplicating intensifier prefix as in шурӑ = white, шап-шурӑ = very white). One word can have many suffixes, which can also be used to create new words like creating a verb from a noun or a noun from a verbal root. See Vocabulary below. It can also indicate the grammatical function of the word.

Nouns and adjectives

Chuvash nouns can take endings indicating the person of a possessor. They can take case-endings. There are six noun cases in the Chuvash declension system:

  • Nominative - , plural: -сем (-sem)
  • Genitive, formed by adding -ӑн (-ӗн) or simply -н according to the vowel harmony
  • Objective, formed by adding -(н)а (-(н)е) according to the vowel harmony
  • Locative, formed by adding -ра (-ре), -та (-те) according to the vowel harmony
  • Ablative, formed by adding -ран (-рен), -тан (-тен) according to the vowel harmony
  • Instrumental, formed by adding -па(ла) (-пе(ле)) according to the vowel harmony


  • Causal-final, formed by adding -шӑн (-шӗн) according to the vowel harmony
  • Privative, formed by adding -сӑр (-сӗр) according to the vowel harmony
  • Terminativeantessive, formed by adding -(ч)чен
  • relic of distributive, formed by adding -серен: кунсерен "daily, every day", килсерен "per house", килмессерен "every time one comes"
  • Semblative, formed by adding пек to pronouns in genitive or objective case (ман пек "like me", сан пек "like you", ун пек "like him, that way", пирӗн пек "like us", сирӗн пек "like you all", хам пек "like myself", хӑвӑн пек "like yourself", кун пек "like this"); adding -ла, -ле to nouns (этемле "humanlike", ленинла "like Lenin")
  • Postfix: ха (ha)

Taking кун (day) as an example:

Chuvash English Noun case
кун day, or the day Nominative
кунӑн of the day Genitive
куна to the day Objective
кунта in the day Locative
кунтан of the day, or from the day Ablative
кунпа with the day Instrumental

Possession is expressed by means of constructions based on verbs meaning "to exist" and "not to exist" ("пур" and "ҫук"). For example, to say, "My cat had no shoes":

кушак + -ӑн ура атӑ(и) + -сем ҫук + -ччӗ
(кушакӑн ура аттисем ҫукччӗ)

which literally translates as "cat-mine-of foot-cover(of)-plural-his non-existent-was."


Chuvash verbs exhibit person and can be made negative or impotential; they can also be made potential. Finally, Chuvash verbs exhibit various distinctions of tense mood, and aspect: a verb can be progressive, necessitative, aorist, future, inferential, present, past, conditional, imperative or optative.

Chuvash English
кил- (to) come
килме- not (to) come
килейме- not (to) be able to come
килеймен She (or he) was apparently unable to come.
килеймерӗ She had not been able to come.
килеймерӗр You (plural) had not been able to come.
килеймерӗр-и? Have you (plural) not been able to come?

Vowel harmony

Vowel harmony is the principle by which a native Chuvash word generally incorporates either exclusively back vowels (а, ӑ, у, ы) or exclusively front vowels (е, ӗ, и, ӳ). As such, a notation for a Chuvash suffix such as -тен means either -тан or -тен, whichever promotes vowel harmony; a notation such as -тпӗр means either -тпӑр, -тпӗр, again with vowel harmony constituting the deciding factor.

Chuvash has two classes of vowels: front and back (see the table above). Vowel harmony states that words may not contain both front and back vowels. Therefore, most grammatical suffixes come in front and back forms, e.g. Шупашкарта "in Cheboksary" but килте "at home".


Compound words are considered separate words with respect to vowel harmony: vowels do not have to harmonize between members of the compound (so forms like сӗтел|пукан "furniture" are permissible). In addition, vowel harmony does not apply for loanwords and some invariant suffixes (such as -ӗ); there are also a few native Chuvash words that do not follow the rule (such as анне "mother"). In such words suffixes harmonize with the final vowel; thus Аннепе "with the mother".

Word order

Word order in Chuvash is generally subject–object–verb.

Chuvash numbers

  • 1 – пӗрре pĕrre, пӗр pĕr
  • 2 – иккӗ ikkĕ, икӗ ikĕ, ик ik
  • 3 – виҫҫӗ vişşĕ, виҫӗ vişĕ, виҫ viş
  • 4 – тӑваттӑ tăvattă, тӑватӑ tăvată, тӑват tăvat
  • 5 – пиллӗк pillĕk, пилӗк pilĕk
  • 6 – улттӑ ulttă IPA: [ˈultːə], ултӑ ultă IPA: [ˈult̬ə], улт ult IPA: [ult]/IPA: [ult̬]
  • 7 – ҫиччӗ şiccĕ IPA: [ˈɕitɕːɘ], ҫичӗ şicĕ IPA: [ˈɕitɕ̬ɘ], ҫич şic IPA: [ˈɕitɕ̬]
  • 8 – саккӑр sakkăr IPA: [ˈsakːər], сакӑр sakăr IPA: [ˈsak̬ər]
  • 9 – тӑххӑр tăhhăr, тӑхӑр tăhăr
  • 10 – вуннӑ vunnă, вун vun
  • 11 – вун пӗр vun pĕr
  • 12 – вун иккӗ vun ikkĕ, вун икӗ vun ikĕ, вун ик vun ik
  • 13 – вун виҫҫӗ vun vişşĕ, вун виҫӗ vun vişĕ, вун виҫ vunviş
  • 14 – вун тӑваттӑ vuntăvattă, вун тӑватӑ vuntăvată, вун тӑват vuntăvat
  • 15 – вун пиллӗк vunpillĕk, вун пилӗк vunpilĕk
  • 16 – вун улттӑ vunulttă, вун ултӑ vunultă, vunult
  • 17 – вун ҫиччӗ vun şiccĕ, вун ҫичӗ vun şicĕ
  • 18 – вун саккӑр vunsakkăr, вун сакӑр vunsakăr
  • 19 – вун тӑххӑр vuntăhhăr, вун тӑхӑр vuntăhăr
  • 20 – ҫирӗм şirĕm
  • 30 – вӑтӑр vătăr
  • 40 – хӗрӗх hĕrĕh
  • 50 – аллӑ allă, алӑ ală, ал al
  • 60 – утмӑл utmăl
  • 70 – ҫитмӗл şitmĕl
  • 80 – сакӑрвуннӑ sakărvunnă, сакӑрвун sakărvun
  • 90 – тӑхӑрвуннӑ tăhărvunnă, тӑхӑрвун tăhărvun
  • 100 – ҫӗр şĕr
  • 1000 – пин pin
  • 834236 - сакӑр ҫӗр вӑтӑр тӑватӑ пин те ик ҫӗр вӑтӑр улттӑ sakăr şĕr vătăr tăvată pin te ik şĕr vătăr ulttă IPA: [ˌsakərɕɘrʋət̬ərt̬əʋat̬ə↗p̬inʲt̬eǀikɕɘrʋət̬ər↘ultːəǁ], сакӑр ҫӗр вӑтӑр тӑватӑ пин те ик ҫӗр вӑтӑр ултӑ sakăr şĕr vătăr tăvată pin te ik şĕr vătăr ultă


  1. Chuvash at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Chuvash". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. also known as Chăvash, Chuwash, Chovash, Chavash, Çuvaş or Çuaş
  4. Эктор Алос-и-Фонт. Оценка языковой политики в Чувашии
  5. Оценка языковой политики в Чувашии
  6. Ethnologue report for Chuvash
  7. Russian Census 2002. 6. Владение языками (кроме русского) населением отдельных национальностей по республикам, автономной области и автономным округам Российской Федерации(Knowledge of languages other than Russian by the population of republics, autonomous oblast and autonomous districts)(Russian)
  8. Zheltov, Pavel. An Attribute-Sample Database System for Describing Chuvash Affixes
  9. Tapani Salminen (22 September 1999). "UNESCO red book on endangered languages: Europe".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Index Translationum: translations from Chuvash - shows 202 titles, as of 2013-01-06. The index has data since ca. 1979.
  11. Index Translationum: translations from Chuvash, published in the USSR - shows 170 titles
  12. Index Translationum: translations from Chuvash, published in Russia - shows 17 titles
  13. Index Translationum: translations into Chuvash
  14. Johanson (1998); cf. Johanson (2000, 2007) and the articles pertaining to the subject in Johanson & Csató (ed., 1998).
  15. Encyclopædia Britannica (1997)
  16. "Telegram to the Chairman of the Simbirsk Soviet". Retrieved 30 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. András Róna-Tas. "Nutshell Chuvash" (PDF). Erasmus Mundus Intensive Program Turkic languages and cultures in Europe (TLCE). Retrieved 31 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also


  • Čaušević, Ekrem (2002). "Tschuwaschisch. in: M. Okuka (ed.)" (PDF). Lexikon der Sprachen des europäischen Ostens. Klagenfurt: Wieser. Enzyklopädie des europäischen Ostens 10: 811–815. Retrieved 31 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Johanson, Lars & Éva Agnes Csató, ed. (1998). The Turkic languages. London: Routledge.
  • Lars Johansen (1998). "The history of Turkic". Johanson & Csató. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online CD 98. pp. 81–125. Retrieved 5 September 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lars Johanson (1998). "Turkic languages".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lars Johanson (2000). "Linguistic convergence in the Volga area". Gilbers, Dicky & Nerbonne, John & Jos Schaeken (ed.). Languages in contact Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi. pp. 165–178 (Studies in Slavic and General linguistics 28.), .CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Johanson, Lars (2007). Chuvash. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Krueger, John (1961). Chuvash Manual. Indiana University Publications.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Paasonen, Heikki (1949). Gebräuche und Volksdichtung der Tschuwassen. edited by E. Karabka and M. Räsänen (Mémoires de la Société Finno-ougrinenne XCIV), Helsinki.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Петров, Н. П (2001). "Чувашская письменность новая". Краткая чувашская энциклопедия. – Чебоксары. pp. С. 475–476.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links