Kabardian language

адыгэбзэ adəgăbză
Spoken in Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq,[1] Syria, Germany, USA
Region Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and north east Turkey
Ethnicity Kabarday
Native speakers ca. 1½ million  (2002–2005)
Language family
Northwest Caucasian
  • Circassian
    • Kabardian
Writing system Cyrillic
Official status
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kbd
ISO 639-3 kbd

The Kabardian language, also known as East Circassian (see: Circassian language), is a Northwest Caucasian language, closely related to the Adyghe language. It is spoken mainly in the Russian republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia (the native territories) and in Turkey and the Middle East (the extensive post-war diaspora). It has 47 or 48 consonant phonemes of which 22 or 23 are fricatives, depending upon whether one counts [h] as phonemic, but this is contrasted with just three phonemic vowels. It is one of very few languages to possess a clear phonemic distinction between ejective affricates and ejective fricatives.

The Kabardian language has two major dialects, Kabardian and Besleney. Some linguists argue that Kabardian is only a dialect of an overarching Adyghe or Circassian language that consists of all of the dialects of Adyghe and Kabardian together, and the Kabardians themselves most often refer to their language using the Kabardian term Adighabze ("Adyghe language"). Several linguists, including Georges Dumézil, have used the terms eastern Circassian (Kabardian) and western Circassian (Adyghe) in order to avoid this confusion, but both "Circassian" and "Kabardian" may still be found in linguistic literature. There are several key phonetic and lexical differences that create a reasonably well-defined separation between the eastern and western Circassian dialects, but the degree to which the two are mutually intelligible has not yet been determined. The matter is also complicated somewhat by the existence of Besleney, which is usually considered a dialect of Kabardian, but which also shares a large number of features with certain dialects of Adyghe.

Kabardian is written in a form of the Cyrillic alphabet, and like all Northwest Caucasian languages, has an extremely complex verbal system. Kabardian is ergative.

Since 2004, the Turkish state broadcasting corporation TRT has maintained a half-an-hour programme a week in the Terek dialect of Kabardian.




Labial Alveolar Post-
Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Central Lateral plain pal. lab. plain lab. plain lab.
Plosive voiceless p t k q ʔ ʔʷ
voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ
ejective kʲʼ kʷʼ qʷʼ
Affricate voiceless t͡s
voiced d͡z
ejective t͡sʼ
Fricative voiceless f s ɬ ʃ ɕ x χ χʷ ħ
voiced v z ɮ ʒ ʑ ʁ ʁʷ
ejective ɬʼ ɕʼ
Nasal m n
Approximant l j
Trill r

The glottalization of the ejective plosives (but not fricatives) can be quite weak, and has been reported to often be creaky voice, that is, to have laryngealized voicing. Something similar seems to have happened historically in the Veinakh languages.


The vowel system of Kabardian is very simple (there are only three phonemic vowels). The three vowels are /ə/, /a/ and /aː/.

There are also three semi-vowels: /j/ (<й>), /w/ (<у>) and /ɥ/[citation needed].

The vowel /o/ appears in some loan words; it is often pronounced /aw/.

The diphthong /aw/ is pronounced /oː/ in some dialects. /jə/ may be realised as /iː/, /wə/ as /uː/ and /aj/ as /eː/. This monothongisation does not occur in all dialects.

The vowel /aː/ is the only vowel which occurs initially in native words.

The vowels /a, aː/ can have the semi-vowel /j/ in front of it.

Front Central Back
Close u
Mid ə o
Open-Mid ɔ
Open a / aː


Kabardian language was written until 1924 by Arabic alphabet. In the period 1924-1936 it was written by Latin alphabet. Since then it is written by modified Cyrillic alphabet as many other languages spoken on the Russian territory (see Russification).

А а Э э Б б В в Г г Гу гу Гъ гъ Гъу гъу
Д д Дж дж Дз дз Е е Ё ё Ж ж Жь жь З з
И и Й й К к Ку ку КӀ кӀ КӀу кӀу Къ къ Къу къу
Кхъ кхъ Кхъу кхъу Л л Лъ лъ ЛӀ лӀ М м Н н О о
П п ПӀ пӀ Р р С с Т т ТӀ тӀ У у Ф ф
ФӀ фӀ Х х Ху ху Хь хь Хъ хъ Хъу хъу Ц ц ЦӀ цӀ
Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ ЩӀ щӀ Ъ ъ Ы ы Ь ь Ю ю
Я я Ӏ Ӏy


The vowels are written as <ы> /ə/, <э> /a/ and <а> /aː/.

Other letters represent diphthongs: <я> represents /jaː/, <и> /jə/, <о> /aw/ or /wa/, <ю> /ɥə/ and <е> represents <aj> or <ja>.



The noun system of Kabardian is quite simple compared to other Caucasian languages.


There are two numbers: singular and plural. The plural is formed by adding -хэ (-xa) to the verb. The plural ending is optional (i.e. only used when the speaker wishes to emphasise the fact that the noun is plural).

Many common nouns are singular or plural (i.e. they have one form which is singular or plural). Examples of these include сабњй (sābəy) child/children and ѕӀыху (ts’әxʷ) woman/women. The plural form of the verb is always used when a noun is plural, even if the noun does not take a plural ending.

Names can be 'pluralised' by placing the postposition сымэ (səma) after the name (e.g. Тымэс сымэ) Thomas and others. This is called the associative plural.

Like in English, there are uncountable nouns. In Kabardian, they take the singular form of the verb. шэ (ça), milk, is an example of an uncountable noun.


There are four cases: ergative, nominative, instrumental and adverbial. They are formed:

Case Ending Example
Nominative -r дзэр dzar
Ergative -m дзэм dzam
Instrumental -kӀэ -cç’a дзэkӀэ dzacça
Adverbial -уэ -wa дзэуэ dzawa

The absolutive case marks the subject of an intransitive verb and the object of a transitive verb (see ergative languages).


The ergative case is used to mark everything which the other cases do not mark, such as the subject of a transitive verb, the form of the noun which is used with prepositions/postpositions etc.


This case is used to describe a verb or how a verb was done:

Жыгхэр сатыруы хэсаф. (ʝəγxar sātərwə xasāʃ.)

tree-pl.-NOM row-ADV to plant-pret.-affirmitive

They planted the trees in rows.


The verbal system of Kabardian is very complex. The verb usually goes at the end of the sentence.


The infinitive ends in -н (-n).


Changes in the verb take the role of prepositions.


Here is the positional conjugation of some verbs, showing how the root changes indicate position:

stands sits lies
Body position/Pose щыт (ʃət) щыс (ʃəs) щылъ (ʃəɬ)
On тет (tajt) тес (tajs) телъ (tajɬ)
Under чIэт (cç’at) щIэс (cç’as) щIэлъ (cç’aɬ)
Among хэт (xat) хэс (xas) хэлъ (xaɬ)
Within some area дэт (dat) дэс (das) дэлъ (daɬ)
Behind Iут (wət) Iyc (wəs) Iулъ (wəɬ)


щыт - [someone or something] stands (as a pose);

Iут - [someone or something] stands (behind);

чIэт - [someone or something] stands (under)

тет - [someone or something] stands (above)

дэт - [someone or something] stands (between), etc.


  • Kabardian
    • West Kabardian
    • Central Kabardian
      • Baksan (basis for the literary language)
      • Malka
    • Eastern Kabardian
      • Terek
      • Mozdok
    • North Kabardian
      • Mulka
      • Zabardiqa (1925 until 1991 Soviet Zaparika)
  • Beslenei



Gordon, Matthew and Applebaum, Ayla. "Phonetic structures of Turkish Kabardian", 2006, Journal of the International Phonetic Association 36(2), 159-186

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