Tsakhur language

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цӀаӀхна миз
cʼäxna miz
/t͡sʼaˤχna miz/
Native to Azerbaijan, Russia
Ethnicity Tsakhurs
Native speakers
unknown (24,000 cited 1989 and 2010 censuses)[1]
Latin in Azerbaijan, Cyrillic in Russia
Official status
Official language in
Dagestan (Russia)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tkr
Glottolog tsak1249[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Tsakhur (Tsaxur, Caxur) is a language spoken by the Tsakhurs in northern Azerbaijan and southwestern Dagestan (Russia). It is spoken by about 13,000 people in Azerbaijan and by about 9,770 people in Dagestan.[3] The word Tsakhur derives from the name of a Dagestani village where speakers of this language make up the majority.

Although Tsakhur is endangered in communities in closest contact with Azerbaijani, it is vigorous in other communities, gaining prominence in the region, seen in the growth of interest in learning Tsakhur in school and a growing body of Tsakhur-learning materials.[4] Tsakhur is classified as "definitely endangered" by UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.[5]


Tsakhur belongs to the Lezgic group of the Northeast Caucasian language family. The Tsakhurs call their language C'aiχna miz.


The first written documentation of Tsakhur dates back to 1895 and is attributed to Roderich von Erckert. The first description of Tsakhur grammar was published by Adolf Dirr in 1913.[4]

In the 1930s, a literary form of Tsakhur was developed. Starting from 1934, the language was taught in primary schools in Azerbaijan and Dagestan. In 1938, the use of literary Tsakhur in Azerbaijan was discontinued but regained its status in 1989.[4]

The Tsakhur alphabet in Azerbaijan is based on the Latin script, whereas in Dagestan the language uses Cyrillic. In the past (as early as the 11th century) there have been attempts to write Tsakhur in the Arabic script.[6]

In 2008, Arif Rustamov directed the first and so far only feature film in Tsakhur called Facing Back to the Qibla.[7]

Geographic distribution

Tsakhur is spoken mostly in rural areas of Azerbaijan's Zaqatala and Qakh rayons, as well as mountainous parts of Dagestan's Rutul region. There are 15,900 Tsakhurs in Azerbaijan (1999 census) and 10,400 in Russia (2002 census). In 1989, 93% of them reported Tsakhur as their first language.[4]

Official status

In Azerbaijan and Russia, Tsakhur is taught as a subject in primary schools (grades 1 to 4) in Tsakhur-populated regions. Newspapers and radio broadcast in Tsakhur are also available. However the language does not have an official status.[4]

Related languages

Among the languages of the Lezgic group, Rutul appears to be the closest one to Tsakhur. Other than these two, there are eight more languages in the Lezgic group, namely: Lezgian, Tabasaran, Aghul, Budukh, Kryts, Khinalugh, Udi, and Archi.


Similar to many Northeast Caucasian languages, Tsakhur is known for its complex phonology and a large number of vowel phonemes (including 7 simple, 5 pharyngealized and 3 umlauted vowels[clarification needed]). Its first in-depth phonological description was provided by Nikolai Trubetzkoy in 1931.


The consonant inventory, according to Shulze's study of the language, of Tsakhur is shown below. Forms are phonemic unless placed in square brackets, in which case they are suspected to be phonemes but currently with incomplete evidence for this.[8] The inventory shows some asymmetries, but exhibits series of palatalized, labialized, and pharyngealized phonemes.

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Laryngeal
plain pal. lab. plain pal. lab. plain lab. plain pal. lab. plain lab. phar. plain lab. phar.
Nasal n [nʲ]
Plosive /
voiceless p t [tʲ] ts [tsʲ] [tsʷ] tʃʷ k [kʷ] q
ejective [tʲʼ] [tʷʼ] tsʼ [tsʲʼ] [tsʷʼ] tʃʼ tʃʼʷ [kʲʼ] [kʷʼ] qʷʼ qˁʼ ʔ ʕʼ1
geminate tsː [tʃːʼ] [tʃːʷ] [kːʲ] [qːʷ] [qːˁ]
voiced b d dz [dʒʷ] g ɢ [ɢʷ] ɢˁ
Fricative voiceless f s [sʲ] ʃ [ʃʷ] x χ χʷ χˁ h [hʷ]
geminate [sːʲ] ʃː [ʃːʷ] [xːʲ] [xːʷ] χː [χːʷ] [χːˁ]
voiced w1 z [zʲ] [zʷ] ɣ ʁ [ʁʷ] ʁˁ
Approximant l r j
1[clarification needed]


Tsakhur has 18 grammatical cases and has retained suffixaufnahme. Verbs may have singular and plural forms, and 7 grammatical moods. The tense system is complex. In contrast to the related languages, Tsakhur sentences can be formed by affective construction.[6]

Noun case

Tsakhur exhibits a number of noun cases, including grammatical and local cases. The ergative and genitive cases show agreement with the head noun class, as shown below.[8]

Case Marker
Absolutive -∅
Ergative -e(ː)1 / -(V)n2
Genitive -(V)na3, -(V)n4, -(V)ni5
Dative -(V)s
  1. Human nouns
  2. Nonhuman nouns
  3. Head noun ABS, classes I-III
  4. Head noun ABS, classes IV
  5. Head noun OBL
Example inflections
Case Sg. Pl. Sg. Pl.
Absolutive balkan balkanar zer zerbə
Ergative balkanan balkanāšše zeran zerbən
Genitive balkanana balkanāššina zerana zerbəna
Dative balkanus balkanāššis zerus zerbəs
horse cow


The two major dialects of the Tsakhur language are Tsakh and Gelmets.[4]

See also


  1. Tsakhur at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tsakhur". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Ethnologue entry for Tsakhur
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 The Sociolinguistic Situation of the Tsakhur in Azerbaijan by John M. Clifton et al. SIL International, 2005
  5. UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger
  6. 6.0 6.1 (Russian) The Tsakhur language. The ETHEO Project. Last updated 11 October 2005. Retrieved 26 December 2006
  7. Shootings of Facing Back to the Qibla Finished. News Azerbaijan. 1 April 2009.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Wolfgang Schulze, Tsakhur (Lincom Europa, München, 1997) ISBN 3-89586-150-2

External links