How to read Lezgi – Step 1

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

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)

Who’s there?

<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 21 <![endif]–> Now, when knock on a friend’s door and you’re asked the above question what are you going to answer? „It’s me”? Comes natural, huh? The point is it’s not that natural… While we, Poles, would say „To ja” (lit. This (is) I), that is something similar, though not exactly the same, the Persians answer with „manam” (man hastam = I am).

 

Now suppose that it’s your door that someone knocks on and it will take you some time to get there and open it. What do you say? Naturally „I’m coming”, no? For us it’s rather „Już idę” (I’m going already), for Persians it’s „umadam” (I came).

 

Now, what do you think of these different ways to answer such simple situation? I think that they show that much (most? all?) of any language is conventional, that the natural, correct ways of saying things are only natural and correct relative to the culture they are used in.

 

Now, another point I’ll be trying to make on this blog is that a language is not a huge but finite set of words (a dictionary) plus a set of solid as stone word- and sentence-building rules (a grammar). It’s about much more than that! It’s about how people communicate and play their social roles. To speak a language it’s not enough to be able to construct grammatically correct sentences and know a dictionary by heart. You have to know what actually is said (and when and how it is said) and what is not.

 

Now, I hope, you have some idea on what is this blog going to be about, and whose door it is that you’re knocking on.