Northwest Caucasian Languages: Kabardian

Kabardian: East Adyghe

Kabardian is spoken by less than 650.000 people. Less than 450.000 speakers live in southern Russia, more precisely in the Kabardian-Balkar Republic and the Karachay-Circassian Republic and in the Stavropol region. Some speakers dwell in the Krasnodar region and the Republic of Adygea. About 200.000 speakers live in Turkey.

Kabardian together with Adyghe is a member of the Circassian group in the Northwest Caucasian language family. The language is sometimes referred to as East Circassian or Upper Circassian.

Dialects of Kabardian are Greater Kabardian, Beslenei, Kuban, Kuban, Mozdok, and the so called Cherkes dialect, which comprises the dialects spoken along the Kuban and Zelendzhuk rivers.

The written standard of Kabardian was created after the October revolution in 1923. First it was written with Latin script. Since 1936 a Cyrillic based alphabet is in use. The literary language is derived from the Greater Kabardian dialect.

Kabardian and Adyghe have a very long oral literary tradition, an example of which are the well known 'Nart' sagas.

The Kabardian sound system is characterised by a large number of consonant distinctions (but fewer than in Abkhaz-Abazin and Ubykh!) and a small number of vowel distinctions: Literary Kabardian has about 45 consonant phonemes and two vowel phonemes, which are distinguished by the opposition 'open-closed'. This opposition, however, is restricted in position. Some scholars tried to prove that Kabardian and Adyghe don't have phonemic vowels at all. More recent analyses, however, have shown that there are least two vowel phonemes.

Lexical accent is dynamic and free.

Kabardian has two cases: The ergative case is marked by -n, while the absolutive case is unmarked. The ergative case is used with the subject of transitive ('agentive') verbs. The absolutive case is used with subjects of intransitive ('factitive') verbs and with objects of transitive ('agentive') verbs.

The Kabardian verb is polysynthetic and has an intricate morphology. The verb is the absolute center of the sentence and mirrors the syntactic structure of the sentence by means of incorporation. The conjugation is characterised by a split into transitive ('agentive') and intransitive ('factitive') verbs. The grammatical categories person, number, tense, mood, version, potentiality, comitativity, sociativity, reciprocity, and inferenciality are expressed on the verb. Agreement is marked by cross-referencing pronominal affixes. The verb can agree with subject, direct object, and indirect object at the same time.

Kabardian is an ergative language: intransitive subjects and direct objects are marked in the same way on the participants of the verb and on the verb, transitive subjects are treated differently.

Word-order is predominantly SOV, the possessor precedes the possessed, the adjective usually follows the head noun, relative sentences precede the head and the language has postpositions rather than prepositions.

Possession is marked by prefixed pronouns on the possessed noun. The prefix pronouns agree with the possessor in person. The Beslenei dialect of Kabardian distinguishes between organic (body parts, relatives etc.) possession and non-organic possession.