The Northwest Caucasian Languages
Authors: Peter Arkadiev & Yury Lander
Year: October 2018 version. Submitted to Maria Polinsky (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Languages of the Caucasus
Place of Publication: Oxford, UK
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2020.
Number of pages: 89 (For this chapter)
During the centuries, the speakers of the languages of the family inhabited areas to the North and partly to the South of the Western part of the Caucasian Ridge including the Northeast coast of the Black Sea. The situation changed drastically in the middle of the 19th century, when many Circassian, Abkhaz-Abaza and Ubykh communities had to migrate to the Ottoman Empire after their lands were occupied by the Russian Empire. As a result, currently we find speakers of NWC languages not only in the Northwest Caucasus per se (primarily in the Russian regions of Adygea, Karachaevo-Cherkesia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Krasnodarski Krai and in the de facto independent Republic of Abkhazia), but also within a massive diaspora living mainly in Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel. Outside of the Caucasus, the people of this diaspora are commonly referred to as “Cherkes”, i.e. Circassians, irrespectively of their actual origin. According to the Great Russian Encyclopedia and the 2010 Russian census, in Russia, West Circassian has no less than 117.500 speakers, Kabardian has more than 515.700 speakers, Abaza has about 38.000 speakers, and the number of speakers of Abkhaz both in Abkhazia and in Russia is about 2 100.000. There are no parallel data for the diaspora, mainly because of the complicated status of the NWC languages in Turkey (see below). For Ubykh, it is commonly accepted that Tevfik Esenç, the last competent speaker of the language, died in Turkey in 1992.
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