From Guma to Abzhywa: Tracing the Journey of Abkhazian Dialects with Viacheslav Chirikba

Abkhazians | from the book: 'Die Völker des Kaukasus' by Friedrich Martin von (1848).

Abkhazians | from the book: 'Die Völker des Kaukasus' by Friedrich Martin von (1848).

According to Viacheslav Chirikba, a linguist and doctor of philology, Abkhazians used to speak five dialects until the middle of the 19th century. 

These dialects were spread from the southeast to the northwest, with the Abzhywa dialect in the eastern part of Abkhazia, the Tsabal dialect in the upper reaches of the Kodor, the Guma sub-dialect between the Kodor and the current New Athos, the Bzyp dialect between New Athos and the Bzyp River, the Sadz dialect between the present city of Gagra and the river Matsesta, and the Ahchypsy dialect in the upper reaches of the Mdzymta River.

However, during the time of mukhadzhirism, which refers to the forced migration of the mountain peoples of the Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire, most speakers of these dialects were evicted. Currently, only two dialects of the Abkhaz language are spoken in Abkhazia – Abzhywa in the eastern part and Bzyp in the western part. The Guma sub-dialect is still spoken by some people in Abkhazia, particularly in three villages - Bagmaran, Merkheul, and partly Eshera - where the older generation speaks the sub-dialect. Around ten villages in Turkey have also preserved the Guma sub-dialect.

Modern linguistic mapping of Western Caucasus tribal composition 1774-1780, by Artur Tsutsiev
Modern linguistic mapping of Western Caucasus tribal composition 1774-1780. 'Atlas of the Ethno-Political History of the Caucasus' by Arthur Tsutsiev. New Haven: “Yale University Press”, 2014.

+ Word-Formation (An International Handbook of the Languages of Europe) | 192. Abkhaz, by Viacheslav Chirikba
+ Abkhaz Personal Names, by Viacheslav Chirikba
+ The Caucasian language material in Evliya Çelebi's “Travel book” A Revision, by Jost Gippert

The Guma sub-dialect, which was spoken in the region between the Kodor and the Shitskuara River, is a unique speech that retained features of both the Abzhywa and Bzyp dialects, making it a central idiom. Despite being one of the first Abkhaz speech-forms to be recorded, the Guma sub-dialect is now only spoken by a few people in Turkey, who were forced to migrate during the 'mukhadzhirstvo' (exile), period.

Interestingly, one of the earliest records of the Abkhaz language was made by a French writer Jacques Francois Gamba in 1822. Gamba created a small Abkhazian-French dictionary based on the Guma speech during his visit to Sukhum. Five years later, a lieutenant of the Russian fleet Vladimir Romanov visited Sukhum and recorded about two thousand words and phrases in the Guma sub-dialect.

The Guma sub-dialect was also used in some of the earliest publications in the Abkhazian language, including Bartolomei's "Abkhazian ABC Book" in 1862 and a translation of part of the Bible into Abkhazian. However, with the eviction of the speakers of the Guma sub-dialect to Turkey, a gap appeared that was filled by the Abzhywa dialect. As a result, most of the subsequent publications and records were based on the norms of the Abzhywa dialect.

Viacheslav Chirikba, who is a doctor of philology, has studied the Abkhazian dialects, including the Guma sub-dialect, while in Turkey. He plans to publish recorded texts in this rare form of the Abkhazian language, which will add to the knowledge and will assist the preservation of this unique Abkhazian idiom. 




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