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?