Ubykh is a North West Caucasian language once spoken on the eastern
coast of the Black Sea around Sochi in the Russian Federation, and also in Turkey.
The Ubykhs were driven out of the Sochi region by the Russians in 1864. Most of
them eventually settled in Turkey, where they founded the villages of Hacı Osman,
Kırkpınar, Masukiye and Hacı Yakup.
During subsequent years the Ubykhs gradually adopted Turkish and Circassian
as their everyday languages. The last fluent speaker of Ubykh (Tevfik Esenç)
died on 7th October 1992 at the age of 88. Before his death linguists, such as
Georges Dumézil, Hans Vogt and George Hewitt, were able to collect numerous
audio recordings of spoken Ubykh and made copious notes about the language.
There has never been a standard written form of Ubykh, though there was
a rich oral literature, some of which has been transcribed using a mixture of
the IPA and the Latin alphabet.
The Ubykh people themselves have shown interest in relearning their
language, which include more consonants then just about any other language and
very few vowels. To that end, an American, Adam Dean, has created modifications
of the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets specifically for writing Ubykh. Adam does
not work for SIL or any linguistically related agency, but he has nonetheless
produced these alphabets with the hope that they will be adopted for the language.
Proposed Cyrillic alphabet for Ubykh
Proposed Latin alphabet for Ubykh
- Nasalised vowels are indicated by diaerises or umlauts above
the vowel letters.
Other than [a] and [@], vowel articulations in Ubykh are uncertain.
The vowel [O] may have been derived from [aa] as in Danish, Norwegian
and Swedish. Other vowels are derived from [a] and [@] in conjunction
with [j], [w], and labialised or palatised consonants; e.g., [g'a] becoming
[ge]. These vowels will most likely be spoken as in Turkish, except for the
sound [M] possibly becoming the schwa [@]. Nasalized vowels
have also been noted in Ubykh according to the article on
When Ǧ ǧ appears at the end
of a word or before another consonant, it lengthens the preceding vowel sound.
A Turkish word where this letter falls between two vowels may be transliterated
intact, even though the letter "Y" is preferred between two vowels.
Even though the plain [v] sound does not occur in Ubykh, В в
is included in the alphabet for the purpose of transliterating foreign words.
В в is also used as a labialisation marker
[_w] when preceded by another consonant.
Ь ь is also used as a palatisation marker
['] when preceded by another consonant.
Ъ ъ is used solely as a pharyngealisation marker.
If the pharyngeal stop [_?\] comes into the language when it is revived, however,
this letter may be then used to represent that sound.
І is used to mark ejective or plosive consonants as well
as the glottal stop [?]. The glottal stop did not originally occur in Ubykh,
but the phoneme [q_>] is often turned into [?] when [q_>]
occurs between two vowels. This is especially true in past tense verbs.
Ѓ ѓ lengthens the vowel which precedes it.
- To simplify matters, letters representing [j] plus vowels have been eliminated.
Instead, the Serbian practice of spelling out [j] plus a vowel shall be used.
To avoid confusing a palatised ejective consonant with a plain consonant
plus Ы, the ejective sign will be written immediately
after the basic consonant in Cyrillic and not at the end of the combination.
- In both alphabets, the double guillemets « and » shall be
used as open and close quotes. This is the standard practice in French, and
has been adopted to avoid confusing the single close quote with the ejective.
NB: The IPA transliterations in these notes are given in X-SAMPA.
For more details of X-SAMPA see:
A Practical Orthography for Ubykh by Rohan Fenwick
One of the reasons why so little attempt has been made at learning
and teaching Ubykh may have been the lack of a stable and practical
writing system for the language. Linguistic orthographies for Ubykh
have been very unstable over the years, and no system has been devised
for the accurate and easy transcription of Ubykh by people who might
want to learn it. Hence, the following practical orthography is
tentatively proposed by Rohan Fenwick, who intends to produce a
learner's dictionary of Ubykh using this orthography in the near future.
The starting point of this orthography is the short fragment of Ubykh transcribed by a native speaker in the Turkish alphabet (perhaps the only fragment of Ubykh text ever to be natively written), found in Georges Dumézil's Documents anatoliens sur les langues et les traditions du Caucase III (1965, p. 267). Also at play is the principle that no character or diacritic should be used that cannot be found on the standard Turkish computer keyboard layout, as the vast majority of the surviving Ubykhs are found in Turkey. The rapidly growing availability of access to the Internet offers an excellent opportunity for developing the language as a literary or written form, which, given the fragmentation and spread of the Ubykh nation across Turkey and elsewhere, is very likely to be the necessary first step in any serious attempt at revival.
This orthography depends rather heavily upon digraphs, but such a system is less potentially confusing, and much less prone to typesetting error (a problem that has proven to be substantial with the diacritic-based orthographies of Dumézil, Vogt and Mészáros), than a system based more heavily on diacritics.
This orthography was published in A Grammar of Ubykh,
by Rohan S.H. Fenwick in May 2011.
Osman Güngör, a speaker of Ubykh, produced the following fragment using the Turkish alphabet: vıniyet ağurdevût ‘your intention will be foiled’ (phonemically, wɨnɨjɜt ɐʁʷɨrdɜwɨt). This provides the bases for the vowel letters and for the uvular fricative /ʁ/. Most other basic consonant letters follow those of Turkish, with the exception of x, which represents the uvular voiceless fricative, and ğ, which represents its voiced counterpart.
There are six diacritic letters: u i ü r h ö. u marks labialisation; i marks palatalisation and alveolopalatalisation; ü combines the functions of u and i, and marks the labialised alveolopalatal consonants. Following the usage of Vietnamese and some Athabaskan languages such as Gwich’in, r marks the retroflex consonants, and h marks pharyngealised consonants, and also the voiceless and ejective lateral fricatives. ö combines the functions of u and h, marking consonants that are both labialised and pharyngealised.
The diacritic ^ marks the velar fricatives: ĝ x̂ /ɣ x/.
Ubykh practical orthography
1. Faxie Adıĝeğe zeneynşuguere letuq’e. 2. Weneynşu ğeywığie şq’enı pxiedık’uın ğexueçeneyt’. 3. «Zeşueblelheweguereğe zepxiedık’ulherıxe let,» aq’egiı ğaq’uq’e. 4. Wepxiedık’uın sengiafı pselhıxu xieyk’ieq’eşegiı «Sığue sımguıçaq’eşie sıgiın ğets’elhı adıç’ienın sıcık’iewt,» q’egiı alesq’eyt’. 5. Aneynşu wepxiedık’u zenıbyewme aynıwewtın lheq’ewq’e. 6. Açebğiewısın ak’iegiı dğejüepsewne zeqhaşiıgueren giıwın weşuwe wezeq’ale alesq’e.
1. fɐχʲɜ ɐdɨɣɜʁɜ zɜnɜjnʃʷgʷɜrɜ lɜtʷq’ɜ. 2. wɜnɜjnʃʷ ʁɜjwɨʁʲɜ ʃq’ɜnɨ pχʲɜdɨkʷ’ɨn ʁɜχʷɜʧɜnɜjt’. 3. «zɜʃʷɜblɜɬɜwɜgʷɜrɜʁɜ zɜpχʲɜdɨkʷ’ɬɜrɨχɜ lɜt,» ɐq’ɜgʲɨ ʁɐqʷ’q’ɜ. 4. wɜpχʲɜdɨkʷ’ɨn sɜngʲɐfɨ psɜɬɨχʷ χʲɜjkʲ’ɜq’ɜʃɜgʲɨ «sɨʁʷɜ sɨmgʷɨʧɐq’ɜɕɜ sɨgʲɨn ʁɜʦ’ɜɬɨ ɐdɨʨ’ɜnɨn sɨʤɨkʲ’ɜwt,» q’ɜgʲɨ ɐlɜsq’ɜjt’. 5. ɐnɜjnʃʷ wɜpχʲɜdɨkʷ’ zɜnɨbjɜwmɜ ɐjnɨwɜwtɨn ɬɜq’ɜwq’ɜ. 6. ɐʧɜbʁʲɜwɨsɨn ɐkʲ’ɜgʲɨ dʁɜʑʷɜpsɜwnɜ zɜqˁɐɕɨgʷɜrɜn gʲɨwɨn wɜʃʷwɜ wɜzɜq’ɐlɜ ɐlɜsq’ɜ.
Free English translation
1. Once upon a time, in Circassia, there was a certain young man. 2. That young man, having become of an age to marry, was looking for a young woman. 3. “In a certain distant country,” he had heard them say, “there is a renowned young woman.” 4. That young woman remained unmarried, saying to whoever came to court her, “I will marry him who knows what is in my heart without my telling him.” 5. The young man took himself off to the young woman to marry her. 6. Getting on his horse, he went, and when night fell, he entered a certain village and stayed there.
Lines 1-6 of the fable “The Smart Young Girl”, published by Georges Dumézil in Transactions of the Philological Society 1961, pp. 56-67.
Information about the Ubykh language
Information about the Ubykh phonology
A collection recordings in Ubykh by Tevfik Saniç
Information about the Ubykh people
If you have any questions about this page, you can contact Adam Dean at
email@example.com and Rohan Fenwick
South Caucasian (Kartvelian):
Other languages written with the Cyrillic alphabet