Ubykh (ТВaҳəбзa/Twaxəbza)

Ubykh is a North West Caucasian language once spoken on the eastern coast of the Black Sea around Sochi in the Russian Federation, and also in Turkey. The Ubykhs were driven out of the Sochi region by the Russians in 1864. Most of them eventually settled in Turkey, where they founded the villages of Hacı Osman, Kırkpınar, Masukiye and Hacı Yakup.

During subsequent years the Ubykhs gradually adopted Turkish and Circassian as their everyday languages. The last fluent speaker of Ubykh (Tevfik Esenç) died on 7th October 1992 at the age of 88. Before his death linguists, such as Georges Dumézil, Hans Vogt and George Hewitt, were able to collect numerous audio recordings of spoken Ubykh and made copious notes about the language.

There has never been a standard written form of Ubykh, though there was a rich oral literature, some of which has been transcribed using a mixture of the IPA and the Latin alphabet.

The Ubykh people themselves have shown interest in relearning their language, which include more consonants then just about any other language and very few vowels. To that end, an American, Adam Dean, has created modifications of the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets specifically for writing Ubykh. Adam does not work for SIL or any linguistically related agency, but he has nonetheless produced these alphabets with the hope that they will be adopted for the language.

Proposed Cyrillic alphabet for Ubykh

Proposed Cyrillic alphabet for Ubykh

Proposed Latin alphabet for Ubykh

Proposed Latin alphabet for Ubykh


NB: The IPA transliterations in these notes are given in X-SAMPA. For more details of X-SAMPA see: www.answers.com/topic/x-sampa

A Practical Orthography for Ubykh by Rohan Fenwick

One of the reasons why so little attempt has been made at learning and teaching Ubykh may have been the lack of a stable and practical writing system for the language. Linguistic orthographies for Ubykh have been very unstable over the years, and no system has been devised for the accurate and easy transcription of Ubykh by people who might want to learn it. Hence, the following practical orthography is tentatively proposed by Rhona S. H. Fenwick, who intends to produce a learner's dictionary of Ubykh using this orthography in the near future.

The starting point of this orthography is the short fragment of Ubykh transcribed by a native speaker in the Turkish alphabet (perhaps the only fragment of Ubykh text ever to be natively written), found in Georges Dumézil's Documents anatoliens sur les langues et les traditions du Caucase III (1965, p. 267). Also at play is the principle that no character or diacritic should be used that cannot be found on the standard Turkish computer keyboard layout, as the vast majority of the surviving Ubykhs are found in Turkey. The rapidly growing availability of access to the Internet offers an excellent opportunity for developing the language as a literary or written form, which, given the fragmentation and spread of the Ubykh nation across Turkey and elsewhere, is very likely to be the necessary first step in any serious attempt at revival.

This orthography depends rather heavily upon digraphs, but such a system is less potentially confusing, and much less prone to typesetting error (a problem that has proven to be substantial with the diacritic-based orthographies of Dumézil, Vogt and Mészáros), than a system based more heavily on diacritics.

This orthography was published in A Grammar of Ubykh, by Rohan S.H. Fenwick in May 2011.

A Practical Orthography for Ubykh by Rohan Fenwick


  1. Osman Güngör, a speaker of Ubykh, produced the following fragment using the Turkish alphabet: vıniyet ağurdevût ‘your intention will be foiled’ (phonemically, wɨnɨjɜt ɐʁʷɨrdɜwɨt). This provides the bases for the vowel letters and for the uvular fricative /ʁ/. Most other basic consonant letters follow those of Turkish, with the exception of x, which represents the uvular voiceless fricative, and ğ, which represents its voiced counterpart.
  2. There are six diacritic letters: u i ü r h ö. u marks labialisation; i marks palatalisation and alveolopalatalisation; ü combines the functions of u and i, and marks the labialised alveolopalatal consonants. Following the usage of Vietnamese and some Athabaskan languages such as Gwich’in, r marks the retroflex consonants, and h marks pharyngealised consonants, and also the voiceless and ejective lateral fricatives. ö combines the functions of u and h, marking consonants that are both labialised and pharyngealised.
  3. The diacritic ^ marks the velar fricatives: ĝ x̂ /ɣ x/.

Sample text

Ubykh practical orthography
1. Faxie Adıĝeğe zeneynşuguere letuq’e. 2. Weneynşu ğeywığie şq’enı pxiedık’uın ğexueçeneyt’. 3. «Zeşueblelheweguereğe zepxiedık’ulherıxe let,» aq’egiı ğaq’uq’e. 4. Wepxiedık’uın sengiafı pselhıxu xieyk’ieq’eşegiı «Sığue sımguıçaq’eşie sıgiın ğets’elhı adıç’ienın sıcık’iewt,» q’egiı alesq’eyt’. 5. Aneynşu wepxiedık’u zenıbyewme aynıwewtın lheq’ewq’e. 6. Açebğiewısın ak’iegiı dğejüepsewne zeqhaşiıgueren giıwın weşuwe wezeq’ale alesq’e.

IPA transcription
1. fɐχʲɜ ɐdɨɣɜʁɜ zɜnɜjnʃʷgʷɜrɜ lɜtʷq’ɜ. 2. wɜnɜjnʃʷ ʁɜjwɨʁʲɜ ʃq’ɜnɨ pχʲɜdɨkʷ’ɨn ʁɜχʷɜʧɜnɜjt’. 3. «zɜʃʷɜblɜɬɜwɜgʷɜrɜʁɜ zɜpχʲɜdɨkʷ’ɬɜrɨχɜ lɜt,» ɐq’ɜgʲɨ ʁɐqʷ’q’ɜ. 4. wɜpχʲɜdɨkʷ’ɨn sɜngʲɐfɨ psɜɬɨχʷ χʲɜjkʲ’ɜq’ɜʃɜgʲɨ «sɨʁʷɜ sɨmgʷɨʧɐq’ɜɕɜ sɨgʲɨn ʁɜʦ’ɜɬɨ ɐdɨʨ’ɜnɨn sɨʤɨkʲ’ɜwt,» q’ɜgʲɨ ɐlɜsq’ɜjt’. 5. ɐnɜjnʃʷ wɜpχʲɜdɨkʷ’ zɜnɨbjɜwmɜ ɐjnɨwɜwtɨn ɬɜq’ɜwq’ɜ. 6. ɐʧɜbʁʲɜwɨsɨn ɐkʲ’ɜgʲɨ dʁɜʑʷɜpsɜwnɜ zɜqˁɐɕɨgʷɜrɜn gʲɨwɨn wɜʃʷwɜ wɜzɜq’ɐlɜ ɐlɜsq’ɜ.

Free English translation
1. Once upon a time, in Circassia, there was a certain young man. 2. That young man, having become of an age to marry, was looking for a young woman. 3. “In a certain distant country,” he had heard them say, “there is a renowned young woman.” 4. That young woman remained unmarried, saying to whoever came to court her, “I will marry him who knows what is in my heart without my telling him.” 5. The young man took himself off to the young woman to marry her. 6. Getting on his horse, he went, and when night fell, he entered a certain village and stayed there.

Lines 1-6 of the fable “The Smart Young Girl”, published by Georges Dumézil in Transactions of the Philological Society 1961, pp. 56-67.

Sample videos in and about Ubykh


Information about the Ubykh language

Information about the Ubykh phonology

A collection recordings in Ubykh by Tevfik Saniç

Information about the Ubykh people

If you have any questions about this page, you can contact Adam Dean at adamedean@juno.com and Rohan Fenwick at the_famous_eccles1@hotmail.com

Northwest Caucasian languages

Abaza, Abhkaz, Adyghe, Kabardian, Ubykh

Other languages written with the Cyrillic alphabet

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