An Exercise in Abkhaz Comparative Dialectology: in the steps of N. Ja. Marr

An Exercise in Abkhaz Comparative Dialectology: in the steps of N. Ja. Marr, in Wolfram Bublitz, Manfred von Roncador und Heinz Vaterr (eds.) Philologie,Typologie und Sprachstruktur: Festschrift für Winfried Boeder zum 65 Geburtstag, 47-64. 2002. Franfurt am Main usw: Peter Lang Verlag. [With Zaira Khiba]

One of the multitude of languages in which the legendary (albeit, in terms of theoretical linguistics, eccentric) Scottish-Georgian philologist Nikolaj Jakovlevich Marr [Nik’o Iak’obis-dze Mari] (1864-1934) took an interest was the North-West Caucasian language Abkhaz, spoken to the (north-) west of both his birthplace (Kutaisi in Imereti(a)) and his maternal region of Guria; the province of Mingrelia (home to Georgian's sister-language, Mingrelian, the second most widely attested South Caucasian tongue) historically split Abkhazia from Georgian-speaking areas.

Abkhaz had first been studied in depth by the Russian soldier -linguist Baron P. K. Uslar, who is widely credited with having laid the foundations of North Caucasian linguistics. He produced monograph -descriptions of some seven North Caucasian languages, and Abkhaz was the first, the printed version of the work appearing in 1887. Uslar devised a Cyrillic-based script but did not manage to distinguish all the 67 consonantal phonemes of the northern, Bzyp dialect, on which he worked. Successive adaptations were introduced by I. Bartolomej, K’. Mach’avariani, the native Abkhazian D. Gulia, and finally in 1909 by another Abkhazian A. Ch’och’ua, whose version remained in use for some two decades. Pre-Soviet publications were few and included a translation of the Gospels (1912) and Ch’och’ua's own primer (1920). The early Soviets granted Abkhaz the status of a literary language, which guaranteed not only continuing and more widescale publication but also the possibility of teaching of and in the language.

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