Phonetic Structures of Turkish Kabardian, by Matthew Gordon and Ayla Applebaum
Matthew Gordon and Ayla Applebaum
University of California, Santa Barbara
This paper reports results of a quantitative phonetic study of Kabardian, a Northwest Caucasian language that is of typological interest from a phonetic standpoint. A number of cross-linguistically rare properties are examined. These features include the phonetic realization of Kabardian’s small vowel inventory, which contains only three contrastive vowel qualities (two short vowels and one long vowel), spectral characteristics of the ten voiceless fricatives of Kabardian, as well as the acoustic and aerodynamic characteristics of ejective fricatives, an extremely rare type of segment cross-linguistically. In addition, basic properties of the consonant stop series are explored, including closure duration and voice onset time, in order to test postulated universals linking these properties to place of articulation and laryngeal setting.
Kabardian is a Northwest Caucasian language spoken by approximately 647,000 people (SIL online Ethnologue, www.sil.org) primarily in Russia and Turkey and also in smaller communities in various countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Germany, and the United States. Kabardian belongs to the Circassian branch of the Northwest Caucasian language family, which also includes three other languages: Ubykh, a moribund language of Turkey, and the two very closely related languages/dialects of Abkhaz and Abaza. The Circassian languages are commonly divided into two branches: East Circassian, including Kabardian and closely related Besleney, and West Circassian, including Adyghe and its associated dialects.
Kabardian dialects can be further divided into three groups (Smeets 1984): West Kabardian, including Kuban and Kuban-Zelenchuk, Central Kabardian, which includes Baksan and Malka, and East Kabardian, comprising the Terek and Mozdok varieties. The Baksan dialect serves as the basis for the literary language arising in the 19th century (Colarusso 1992:3). Most speakers of Kabardian living outside of Russia do not read Kabardian, which has been written using the Cyrillic script since 1937 (Kuipers 1960:9). Nevertheless, Kabardian (along with other Northwest Caucasian languages) has a rich tradition of oral tales, the best known of which are the Nart sagas (Colarusso 2002).
The largest concentration of Kabardian speakers resides in the Kabardino-Balkar republic of Russia. However, a substantial minority of speakers now reside in Turkey after a long struggle between the Northwest Caucasians and the Russians culminated in a mass exodus from Russia in the 19th century. The Ethnologue cites a figure of 202,000 Kabardian speakers in Turkey, though it is quite likely that the actual number of speakers exceeds this figure (John Colarusso, p.c).
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