Chuvash (Chuvash: Чӑвашла, Čăvašla, ʨəʋaʂˈla; also known as Chăvash, Chuwash, Chovash, Chavash, Çuvaş or Çuaş) is a Turkic language spoken to the west of the Ural Mountains in central Russia. It is the only surviving member of the Oghur branch of Turkic languages.
Chuvash is the native language of the Chuvash people and an official language of Chuvashia. It is spoken by about two million people. 86% of ethnic Chuvash and 8% of the people of other ethnicities living in Chuvashia claimed knowledge of Chuvash language during the 2002 census. Despite that, and although Chuvash is taught at schools and sometimes used in the media, it is considered endangered, because Russian dominates in most spheres of life and few children learning the language are likely to become active users.
The writing system for the Chuvash language is based largely on the Cyrillic alphabet, employing all of the letters used in the Russian alphabet, and adding four letters of its own: Ӑ, Ӗ, Ҫ and Ӳ.
Chuvash is the most distinctive of the Turkic languages and cannot be understood by speakers of other Turkic tongues. Today, Chuvash is classified, alongside with Khazar
, Turkic Avar
, as a member of the Oghuric
branch of the Turkic language
family. It is the only language of this family which is not extinct. The conclusion that Chuvash belongs to the Oghuric branch of Turkic arises from the reasoning that the vocabulary shows the language to belong to the r-
type which is typical for all languages of this branch. The rest of the Turkic languages (Common Turkic) are of the z-
Since the surviving literary records for the non-Chuvash members of Oghuric are scant, the exact position of Chuvash within the Oghuric family cannot be determined.
Formerly, scholars considered Chuvash not properly a Turkic language at all but, rather, a Turkicized Finno-Ugric (Uralic) language.
- А Ӑ Б В Г Д Е Ё Ӗ Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Ҫ Т У Ӳ Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Ъ Ы Ь Э Ю Я
- а ӑ б в г д е ё ӗ ж з и й к л м н о п р с ҫ т у ӳ ф х ц ч ш щ ъ ы ь э ю я
- а, ӑ, бӑ, вӑ, гӑ, дӑ, е, ё, ӗ, жӑ, зӑ, и, йӑ, кӑ, лӑ, мӑ, нӑ, о, пӑ, рӑ, сӑ, ҫӑ, тӑ, У, ӳ, фӑ, хӑ, цӑ, чӑ, шӑ, щӑ, хытӑлӑхпалли, ы, ҫемҫелӗхпалли, э, ю, я
The modern Chuvash alphabet was devised in 1873 by school inspector Ivan Yakovlevich Yakovlev .
|| т ̌
|| ш |
In 1938, the alphabet underwent significant modification which brought it to its current form.
The most ancient writing system, known as the Orkhon script
, disappeared after the Volga Bulgars
converted to Islam. Later, the Arabic alphabet
was adopted. After the Mongol invasion
, writing degraded. After Peter the Great
's reforms Chuvash elites disappeared, blacksmiths and some other crafts were prohibited for non-Russian nations, the Chuvash were educated in Russian, writing in runes recurred with simple folks.
The consonants are the following (the corresponding Cyrillic letters are in brackets): /p/ (п), /t/ (т), /k/ (к), /č/ (ч), /š/ (ш), /ś/ (ç), /χ/ (х), /v/ (в),/ m/ (м), /n/ (н), /l/ (л), /r/ (р), /y/ (й). The stops
, but instead become lenes
(sounding similar to voiced
) in intervocalic position and after liquids
. E.g. Аннепе
sounds like annebe
sounds like kuzhakpa
. However, geminate consonants
don't undergo this lenition. Furthermore, the voiced consonants occurring in Russian
are used in modern Russian-language loans. Consonants also become palatalized
before and after front vowels
According to Krueger (1961), the Chuvash vowel system is as follows (the precise IPA symbols are chosen based on his description, since he uses a different transcription).
|| Rounded |
|| i (и)
|| y (ӳ)
|| ɯ (ы)
|| u (у) |
|| e (е)
|| а (а)
|| ŏ (ă) |
András Róna-Tas (1997) () provides a somewhat different description, also with a partly idiosyncratic transcription. The following table is based on his version, with additional information from Petrov (2001). Again, the IPA symbols are not directly taken from the works, so they could be inaccurate.
|| i (и)
|| y (ӳ)
|| ɯ (ы)
|| u (у) |
|| ĕ (ĕ)
|| ɤ̆ (ă)
|| ɛ (е)
|| a (а)
The vowels ă and ĕ are described as reduced, thereby differing in quantity from the rest. In unstressed positions, they often resemble a schwa or tend to be dropped altogether in fast speech. At times, especially when stressed, they may be somewhat rounded and sound similar to /o/ and /ø/.
Additionally, ɔ (о) occurs in loanwords from Russian.
There are two dialects of Chuvash: Viryal or Upper (which has both o and u) and Anatri or Lower (which has u for both o and u: up. totă "full", tută "taste" - lo. tută "full, taste" ). The literary language is based on both the Lower and Upper dialects. Both Tatar and the Finnic languages have influenced the Chuvash language, as have Russian, Mari, Mongolian, Arabic, and Persian, which have all added many words to the Chuvash lexicon.
Chuvash is an agglutinative language and as such has an abundance of suffixes, but no native prefixes (apart from the reduplicating intensifier prefix as in шура="white", шап-шура="very white"). One word can have many suffixes and these can also be used to create new words (like creating a verb from a noun, or a noun from a verbal root, see Vocabulary section further below) or to indicate the grammatical function of the word.
Nouns and adjectives
Chuvash nouns can take endings indicating the person of a possessor. They can take case-endings. There are six noun cases
in the Chuvash declension system:
- Genitive, formed by adding -ăн, -ĕн or simply -н according to the vowel harmony
- Objective, formed by adding -(н)a or -(н)е, according to the vowel harmony
- Locative, formed by adding -тe, -ре, -тa, -ра according to the vowel harmony
- Ablative, formed by adding -тен or -тан, -рен, ран according to the vowel harmony
- Instrumental, formed by adding -пe or -пa, according to the vowel harmony
- Causal-final, formed by adding -шăн, -шĕн according to the vowel harmony
- Privative, formed by adding -сăр, -сĕр according to the vowel harmony
- Terminative-Antessive, formed by adding -(ч)чен
- relic of Distributive, formed by adding -серен: кунсерен "daily, every day", килсерен "per house", килмессерен "every time one comes"
- Semblative, formed by adding -шкал, -шкел to pronouns in genitive or objective case (манaшкал "like me", санашкал "like you", унашкал "like him, that way", пир(н)ешкел "like us", сир(н)ешкал "like you all", хамaшкал "like myself", хунашкал "like yourself", кунашкал "like this"); adding -ла, -ле to nouns (этемле "humanlike", ленинла "like Lenin")
Taking кун (day) as an example:
||Noun case |
||day, or the day
||of the day
||to the day
||in the day
||of the day, or from the day
||with the day
Possession is expressed by means of constructions based on verbs meaning "to exist" and "to not exist". Thus, while "пур" and "çук" represent "exists" and "not exists," "пурччĕ" and "çукччĕ" are the preterite of these. These lead to the most bizarre-looking (to a Western reader) sentential structures: e.g., in order to say, "My cat had no shoes," we form:
- кушак + -ăм + -ăн ура атă(и) + -сем çук + -ччĕ
- (кушакăмăн ура аттисем çукччĕ)
which literally translates as, "cat-mine-of foot-cover(of)-plural-his non-existent-was." Note that many of the agglutinative languages of Eurasia use a form of the copula (the 'to be' verb) in order to mark possession, instead of a distinct verb meaning 'to have.' An example is Hungarian.
Chuvash verbs exhibit person. They can be made negative or impotential; they can also be made potential. Finally, Chuvash verbs exhibit various distinctions of tense, mood, and aspect: a verb can be progressive, necessitative, aorist, future, inferential, present, past, conditional, imperative, or optative.
||not (to) come
||not (to) be able to come
||She (or he) was apparently unable to come.
||She had not been able to come.
||You (plural) had not been able to come.
||Have you (plural) not been able to come?
"Vowel harmony" is the principle by which a native Chuvash word generally incorporates either exclusively back vowels (а, ă, у, ы) or exclusively front vowels (е, ĕ, и, ӳ). As such, a notation for a Chuvash suffix such as -тен
means either -тан
, whichever promotes vowel harmony; a notation such as -тпĕр
means either -тпăр
again with vowel harmony constituting the deciding factor.
Chuvash has two classes of vowels -- front and back (see the table above). Vowel harmony states that words may not contain both front and back vowels. Therefore, most grammatical suffixes come in front and back forms, e.g. Шупашкар'та "in Cheboksary" but килте "at home".
Compound words are considered separate words with respect to vowel harmony: vowels do not have to harmonize between members of the compound (thus forms like сĕтел
"furniture" are permissible). In addition, vowel harmony does not apply for loanwords
and some invariant suffixes (such as -ĕ
); there are also a few native Chuvash words that do not follow the rule (such as анне
"mother"). In such words suffixes harmonize with the final vowel; thus Анне'пе
"With the mother".
Word order in Chuvash is generally Subject Object Verb
- Johanson, Lars & Éva Agnes Csató, ed. (1998). The Turkic languages. London: Routledge.
- Johanson, Lars (1998). "The history of Turkic." In: Johanson & Csató, pp. 81-125.
- Johanson, Lars (1998). "Turkic languages." In: Encyclopaedia Britannica. CD 98. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 5 sept. 2007.
- Johanson, Lars (2000). "Linguistic convergence in the Volga area." In: Gilbers, Dicky & Nerbonne, John & Jos Schaeken (ed.). Languages in contact. Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi. (Studies in Slavic and General linguistics 28.), pp. 165-178.
- Johanson, Lars (2007). Chuvash. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Elsevier.
- Krueger, John (1961). Chuvash Manual. Indiana University Publications.
- Paasonen, Heikki (1949). Gebräuche und Volksdichtung der Tschuwassen. edited by E. Karabka and M. Räsänen (Mémoires de la Société Finno-ougrinenne XCIV), Helsinki.
- Петров, Н. П. (2001). Чувашская письменность новая / Н. П. Петров // Краткая чувашская энциклопедия. – Чебоксары, 2001. – С. 475-476.