I got a number of excellent things for Christmas (including a Boris Barnet double feature I can’t wait to see), but the one I want to babble about here is a gift from my lovely and generous wife: Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs, assembled, translated, and annotated by John Colarusso. I recently posted about the Narts, and apparently the enthusiasm with which I discussed them at that time convinced her that the book would be greatly appreciated, as indeed it is. Not only does it have 92 stories from among those of the peoples mentioned in the title, it has an appendix with specimen texts in Kabardian East Circassian, Bzhedukh West Circassian (Adyghey), Ubykh, Abaza (Tapanta Dialect) (“Northern Abkhaz”), and Bzyb Abkhaz. Each text is preceded by a complete phonemic inventory of the language and a page or so of linguistic description; each line of the text is given first in a broader transcription, then in a word-by-word phonemic transcription that separates and translates each morpheme, then a complete translation is given (more literal than the one in the body of the book). I’ll obviously have to work through Colarusso’s A Grammar of the Kabardian Language; in the meantime I’ll have fun playing with the detailed analysis here. I’m already very pleased by a bit of information from the Abaza section:
Abaza and Abkhaz questions are very unusual in that they choose rightward question movement; that is, the interrogative pronoun appears at the end of the verb, and since the verb is usually the last word of the phrase, these wh-words, as they are called, appear phrase finally. Most linguists do not believe that such question formation exists, but lines 15, 16, and 103 offer clear examples.
I’m all in favor of anything that discomfits proponents of alleged universals.
Colarusso does a lot of comparison, both mythological and linguistic. Some of his etymologies seem plausible: Georgian tamada ‘toastmaster’ from Circassian thaamáta, perhaps originally ‘father of the gods’; the name of General Ermolov (who conquered part of the Caucasus for Tsar Alexander I) from Circassian yarmáhl ‘Armenian’ (though I’ll have to check Unbegaun to see if there’s a more convincing etymology). Others seem pretty dubious: Greek Maeotis ‘Azov Sea’ from Circassian miwitha (I’ve replaced Colarusso’s schwas with is for ease of transcription). But it’s all food for thought, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Incidentally, I discovered while looking at the Amazon entry for the book that Amazon now has a citation page that list all the items in a books bibliography for which they have listings; if you click on any of the links, you can find other books that list that item in their bibliography. Interesting and potentially useful.
Addendum. Some Ossetian versions here (courtesy of Mithridates).