Reading Lezgi. Step 4.2 The twin signs.

Okay, so the time has come to take the last step. Previously we talked a bit about the three ‘modifier’ signs present in Lezgi orthography and we breezed through the digraphs / combinations employing one of them, the ‘I’ sign aka palochka.

Now let me tell you a thing about the two modifier signs that we are left with – ъ and ь. These are vestiges of the Russian Cyrillic orthography where they are known as, respectively, ‘hard sign’ and ‘soft sign’. I won’t go into detail on how do they function in Russian, focusing exclusively on their role in Lezgi.

So, we’ve already seen that in Lezgi, the ‘hard sign’ (ъ), can stand on its own (spelling the so-called glottal stop, the sound the Cockneys make instead of syllable-final ‘t’). Now lets take a look on ъ as a part of digraphs/letter combinations. Relax, there are only three of them:

гъ къ хъ

гъ (gh) is like Scottish ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ but voiced. Or like an Arabic غ sound. Or, in other words, very similar to the way Parisians pronounce their ‘r’s.

къ (q) is like Arabic ق. If that tells you nothing, think of a ‘k’ pronounced further back in the throat and you’re there.

хъ (qh) is much like къ (q) but it is aspirated. That is, a breath of air follows the throaty ‘k’. You may recall that the aspirated/not-aspirated distinction is somewhat important in Lezgi, yet not reflected in writing. Well, къ and хъ are the only pair of sounds where that difference is written down.


гъалатI ghalat’ – mistake
гъвечIи ghwech’i – little, younger
гъед ghed – fish; star
гъил ghil – hand
ягъун jaghun – to hit, to strike
къав qaw – roof
къад qad – twenty
къалурун qalurun – to show, to demonstrate
къацу qacu – green
къачун qachun – to take, to catch
къван qwan – stone
къец qec – outside
къе qe – today
ракъурун raqurun – to send
хъвер qhwer – laughter, smile
хъел qhel – anger

Адак хъел ква adak qhel kwa – he’s angry (lit. anger is under him)
хъипи qhipi – yellow
хъсан qhsan – good
хъун qhun – to drink

за яд хъвазва za jad qhwazwa – I am drinking water
ва яд хъвада wa jad qhwada – you’ll drink water or you drink water (habitually)
ада яд хъвана ada jad qhwana – he drank water
яд хъухъ jad qhuqh – drink water!

Okay, enough of this, let’s move on. The last remaining modifier sign is ‘ь’ which, like ‘I’, cannot stand on its own in Lezgi. The four combinations:

уь кь хь гь

уь (y) is a vowel, pronounced like German or Azerbaijani ü (an ‘i’ with rounded lips).

кь (q’) is to къ (q) what кI (k’) is to к (k). In other words, it is both throaty and glottalised.

хь (xh) is like a crossover between German ch in ‘Bach’ and German ch in ‘ich’. It’s a bit like Scottish ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ but there’s less friction. Remember how I told you to pronounce Lezgi x very throaty? The need to make it different from the softer xь was the reason.

гь (h), coming last, is straightforward, as it is a plain English ‘h’.


гьа ha – that one
гьазур hazur – ready
гьал hal – state (of things)
гьикI hik’ – how?

ви гьалар гьикI я?  vi halar hik’ ja? – how are you?
гьина hina – where?
гьич hich – at all
гьуьрмет hyrmet – respect
гьялун haelun – to solve
гьахъ haqh – truth
гьекь heq’ – sweat
кьабулун q’abulun – to accept
кьак q’ak – syphilis
кьарай q’araj – patience
кьатI q’at’ – part, piece
кьван q’wan – that much, (to) that degree, as much as
кьвед q’wed – two
кьев q’ew – wives of the same husband with relation to each other
кьел q’el – salt
уьгьу yhy – cough
уьлгуьч ylgych – razor
уьмуьр ymyr – life
хьел xhel – arrow
хьи xhi – that, so that
хьун xhun – to become, to be
гьатун hatun – to fall upon, to get
гъавурда гьатун ghawurda hatun – to understand

зун ви гафрин гъавурда гьатизва(ч) zun wi gafrin ghawurda hatizwa(ch)
- I (don’t) understand your words

Okay, so we’re now done with the alphabet and writing conventions. If there’s still anything unclear, please let me know. I will try go back to the previous lessons to review and improve them.

Now, what do you want to have next?

Reading Lezgi – Step 4.1. Meet the palochka.

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.

Reading Lezgi – Step 3.3

It’s the time to collect the leftovers – that is the remaining single letters of the Lezgi alphabet. Later we’ll proceed to step 4 – the digraphs.

Here’s what’s left in store: Жж Чч Цц Шш Щщ Фф  ъ

Фф is, plain and simple, /f/. Just associate the letter with Greek ‘phi’ and you got it.

гаф – word
фикир – thought
фу – bread
фин – to go, going
физва – is going
фида – will go
фена – went
фур – hole

Чч – this one is English /ch/. It comes in aspirated and unaspirated variants, which are not differentiated in writing.

чай – tea
заз чида – I know
чам – bent
чам – (unasp.) bridesgroom
чан – (unasp.) soul, life; dear
четин – difficult
-ч – negation suffix (this becomes /-sh/ in some dialects):

Зи буба Бакудай хтанач – My father didn’t return from Baku.
Ина чай авач – There’s no tea here
Заз чидач – I don’t know

Шш is English /sh/

шак – doubt
ширин – sweet
шаз – last year
шумуд – how many?
туш – is not (negation of я)
зун Лезги туш – I am not Lezgi

Цц is /ts/ said as one sound. Like it has aspirated and unaspirated variants.

цав – sky
цал – wall
циф – cloud
яц – bull

Жж – depending on the dialect and the origin of a particular word it can be pronounced both as /j/ and /zh/ (‘s’ in ‘measure’). In some dialects only the latter pronunciation occurs.

жаваб – answer
жеда – will be, will become
жемят – society; people
жив – snow
жанавур – wolf
жув – myself; yourself
жумарт – generous, noble

Щщ occurs in Russian loans only, where it stands for /shch/ sound combo.

ъ – the use of this one marks a significant departure from Russian orthographic conventions. In Lezgi ъ, apart from its usage in many digraphs (see Part 4), stands for a glottal stop, ie. the sound in the middle of ‘uh-huh’ or in the Cockney pronunciation of ‘city’. It’s never written word-initially.

ваъ – no

Reading Lezgi – Step 3.2

Slowly but surely moving forward we approach “y and its family”, or the fossils of Russian orthography carried over to Lezgi. Let’s start.

Йй is /y/ or the first sound in ‘yet’. Because of the peculiar characteristics of Russian (and Lezgi) Cyrillic (about which we’ll talk later in this post) й occurs very rarely at the beginning of the word, and when it does it is followed by the и or уь (that’s a letter we’ll learn about later).

йирф – a kind of flat shovel
йис – year
йиф – night
йифиз – at night

Now, let’s talk about a word-final й having some very interesting properties:

a) in verbs, adding й it “moves the time backwards”:

Буба аниз фена.  = Father went there.
Буба аниз фенай. = Father had gone there.
Ина са кас ава. = There is a man here.
Ина са кас авай. = There was a man here.

b) the forms with й are used in relative clauses:

ина авай кас – the man who is here (lit. here-being-man)

c) with nouns, й  forms the lative cases which express the notion of moving away from something:

адак – under him/it
адакай – from under him/it (or, ‘about him’)
столдал – on the table
столдалай – from the table
Зи буба Бакуда ава  – my father is in Baku
Зи биба Бакудай атанва – my father has come from Baku

You may remember that at the beginning of the word, or immediately after another the letter e actually sounds /ye/. This weird behaviour is a leftover from the Russian Cyrillic system which has separate letters for “y+vowel” combinations. e is one of those. Before we go further, stop, and ask yourself “how do you spell an actual /e/ at the beginning of the word”?

Well, here’s how:

Ээ is always an /e/. It’s used quite rarely in Lezgi, always coming at the beginning of a word:

эвел – beginning
эвела – at the beginning, at first
эгер – if, in case that
экв – light, illumination, dawn
экзамен – exam
экран – screen
эрк – a close relationship between people who can rely on each other
эски – old (of things)
эхир – end

Let’s now review the remaining letters for y+vowel combinations:

Ёё stands for /yo/ and is barely used in Lezgi. No wonder – Lezgi doesn’t have /o/ sound in native words, remember?

ёлка – new year’s tree (not that it’s connected to Lezgi culture, but it’s just about the only word starting with ё listed in dictionaries).

Юю is read /yu/

юбка – skirt
юзун – to move
юлдаш – friend, comrade
юмор – humour
уюн – trick

Яя is a bit tricky as it has two very different pronunciations. At the beginning of a word or after a vowel it is pronounced /ya/:

аял – child
яб – ear
яд – water
як – meat
ял – breath
яр – loved one; the 15-day period starting from 21 March
яран сувар – the spring festival marking the start of the new year

я on its own means ‘is/am/are’. Now, we’ve already encountered ава ‘is/am/are’ haven’t we? The point is я is used in ‘x is y’ sense, whereas ава comes to play when you talk about ‘being somewhere’:

Зун Лезги я. = I am Lezgi.
Зун ина ава. = I am here.

Now, when я comes between consonants, it’s read /ae/ like the vowel in ‘cat’:

лянет – curse
мяден – natural resource deposit
няни – evening
няс – ill-fated; ill-willed
сят – hour; watch, clock

How to read Lezgi – Step 3.1

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

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 :)

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.