Those of you who have read Frank Herbert’s Dune will remember the Fremen language Chakobsa, described by Wikipedia as “a mixture of Roma (or gypsy) language…, one sentence in Serbo-Croat and various Arabic terms.” Imagine my surprise when I was reading Lesley Blanch’s absorbing if overheated The Sabres of Paradise (1960), about the Russian-Chechen conflicts of the nineteenth century, and hit this on page 21: “They laughed derisively, speaking among themselves in that mysterious tongue, Chakobsa, ‘the Hunting Language’, which the rulers and Princes used when they wished to converse in secret, and of which no more than a few words have been discovered.” I found a further allusion to it in Twelve Secrets of the Caucasus by “Essad Bey” (one of the pseudonyms used by the remarkable Lev Nussimbaum, whom I discussed in this post), first published in 1930 as Zwölf Geheimnisse im Kaukasus (my quote is from page 16 of the first translated edition, Viking 1931, which has been newly republished with a preface by Tom Reiss):

So the princes have a special language of their own, a language that is understood only by the prince and his peers. This is the famous hunting language. It was contrived by the inhabitants of the knights’ citadels, the princely palaces, and the robbers’ strongholds. The secret of it is strictly guarded, and no outsider has hitherto succeeded in becoming familiar with it though it is current throughout the whole of the mountains and among all the members of the caste. It is said to be the language of an extinct line of knights; but only within the last few decades has it come to be known about at all, so secretive were the princes. All important business is discussed in this language, secrets that no man must hear, and enterprises which affect the fate of the mountain people. Only five words of it are known to science, and they resemble no single word of any other known language. Shapaka—a horse, amafa—blood, ami—water, asaz—a gun, and ashopshka—a coward. The name of the language itself is Chakobsa.

(You will note that Nussimbaum/Essad is even more overheated than Mrs. Blanch, and I have no idea how much of that is to be taken seriously, including the “five words known to science.”)

As you can imagine, the Frank Herbert hits swamp the Google results, but I was able to turn up one precious find from Google Books (a damnable “snippet view,” but one of those rare ones where you can actually see the bit you need), from page 75 of George Thomas’s 1977 The Languages and Literatures of the Non-Russian Peoples of the Soviet Union: “Presumably the Circassian Hunting language, also called Chakobsa or Sikowschir (Reineggs 1796, 248), (Bzhedukh /šhə-k’oa-bza/” (the snippet cuts off there). Reineggs is Jacob Reineggs (1744-1793), who went from serving Erekle II of eastern Georgia to being Russian Resident in Tiflis (Tbilisi) and wrote an Allgemeine historisch-topographische Beschreibung des Kaukasus that was published posthumously in 1796. Bzhedukh is a dialect of Adyghe. “Sikowschir” gets only four Google hits, all from nineteenth-century German sources, three of them books by Friedrich von Adelung and one an article by one of the great monosyllabic linguists of that century, A. F. Pott. While Adelung simply reproduces the word as found in Reineggs, Pott writes: “Die beiden [geheime Sprachen] gewöhnlichsten heissen Schakobsché und nicht, wie Reineggs schreibt, Sikowschir, und Farschipsé. Die erste derselben scheint eine ganz besondere zu sein, weil ihre Worte mit der gewöhnlichen Tscherkessischen Sprache keine Aehnlichkeit haben.” (‘Both [secret languages] are most commonly called Schakobsché and not, as Reineggs writes, Sikowschir, and Farschipsé. The first seems to be quite exceptional, since its words have no resemblance to the common Circassian language.’)

I’m guessing Herbert got it from Blanch, since he was working on Dune in the early ’60s, when her book was published (and, I gather, popular); I wonder if anyone has noticed before that it wasn’t original with him? At any rate, the Circassian secret language should be rechristened something like Shekabza or Shekobza [or, to take into account the labialization, Shekwabza] (my attempts to provide a readable English equivalent of the Bzhedukh form cited by Thomas), since the Reineggs/Nussimbaum/Blanch version has been firmly appropriated by the Fremen.


  1. Within the “Dune” books most of the Chakobsa is Romani.
    It’s always fun to puzzle out which languages Herbert pilfers from for his stories. I’ve never figured out what the first part of “mirabhasa” — another language he names — is supposed to mean (bhasa is of course Skt “language”).

  2. Herbert also apparently borrowed a couple of terms from Hebrew. Kwisatz Haderach is slightly morphed Hebrew (Kvitsat Ha-Derech) for “Shortening of the Way”, and Bene Gesseret, with the G pronounced hard (gimel), means Children of the Bridge–although in modern Hebrew the denotation is the bridge of a stringed instrument, not a foot traversable bridge.

  3. SnowLeopard says

    Do true languages manage to perpetuate themselves in secret? Maybe Chakobsa was/is a code instead. (Circassian Pig Latin? Pig Circassian?) If it really arose and was used during hunting, they might not need many more words than horse, blood, water, gun, and coward anyway.

  4. John Emerson says

    Pott, Bopp, and Rask, Are there more?

  5. John Emerson says

    Pott, Bopp, and Rask, Are there more?

  6. Check out this page on the Circassian “hunting language” (“Schak’webze” according to the writer) and the Abkhazian “forest language”:
    According to the above, the language was devised so the animals wouldn’t be able to understand what the hunters were saying.

  7. @John Emerson: Grimm?

  8. John Emerson says

    Pott, Bopp, Rask and Grimm
    Ta dum ta dum ta dum ta dim…..
    Jones, Wolff, Wundt, and Paul are less satisfyingly monosyllabic and Teutonic, with the possible exception of Wundt.
    Per Google, Pott, Bopp, Rask, and Grimm sometimes appear in the same sentence. That is extremely satisfying.

  9. And then there was the Germano-Russian Grot (whom I wrote about here).

  10. John Emerson says

    Wolff, Wundt, Grot, and Paul….
    Maybe Grot and Pott should be rhymed.

  11. Why do people always forget August Fick?

  12. John Emerson says

    Fick’s work doesn’t meet my high standards.

  13. marie-lucie says

    Quoting Wikipedia:
    Inama Nushif translates as “She is Eternal.”
    Inama Nushif reminds me very much of Inuma Elish, the first words of a famous Sumerian poem (don’t ask me more about Sumerian). Is this just coincidence, or is the Dune language more mixed than it is rumoured to be?

  14. marie-lucie,
    “enuma elish” is Akkadian and it means something like “when on high”. There was a lot of Arabic in Dune, so that would be my first stop. “Inama Nushif” doesn’t ring a bell, though.

  15. In modern eastern Circassian these words are:
    Chakobsa = щакIуэбзэ (щакIуэ = hunter, бзэ = language), there’s another version щэхубзэ (щэху = silent, secret). It is probably not a single language but rather a group of languages used by different groups of hunter/warriors brotherhoods.
    Sikowschir = зекIуэ + ? (зекIуэ means military campaign, second part looks confusing, could be щIэр – make, meaning make war).

  16. The Sabres of Paradise! That brings back memories. My parents had it, and I read it when I was in my early teens. It was quite fascinating, about a part of the world and a bit of history one rarely learns much about. Unfortunately, the good guys lose: I remember rooting for Shamyl and his brave Daghestanis against the Russian imperaliasts.

  17. Bene gesserit is also Latin, i.e., a legal phrase quamdiu se bene gesserit ‘as long as he shall behave himself well’.

  18. John Emerson says

    I find the idea that Circassians worry about people eavesdropping on them mildly amusing (God forgive me). Circassian itself is a secret language for 99.975% of the human race, and a hard one to learn.

  19. Ruslan: Thanks very much! It’s great to have a speaker of a Circassian language on board.

  20. Language Hat, Thanks!
    Circassian wasn’t a ‘secret’ language before the genocide, so it is not very relevant to Chakobsa if its ‘secret’ now. There was a Circassian committee in the British parliament, Circassians ruled Egypt during 14 and 15 centuries, there were Circassian pirates who dominated the Black sea and a part of the Mediterranean in the middle ages, also having a secret language made sense during feuds.

  21. marie-lucie says

    Thanks for the correction, I should have double-checked before writing. I knew that the two expressions did not have the same translation, but my point was that since according to the discussion above, the words in Dune seem to have been taken from obscure language sources, influence from yet other languages, such as Sumerian or Akkadian might be possible.
    (I wrote a version of this reply earlier but must have neglected to press Post)

  22. David Marjanović says

    Die beiden [geheime Sprachen]

    Die beiden geheimen Sprachen.

    Shekabza or Shekobza (my attempts to provide a readable English equivalent of the Bzhedukh form cited by Thomas),

    Put a w in somewhere. ° is the Caucasianist diacritic for labialized consonants, so k’° is [k̕ʷ], orthographic кӀу. There are only three phonemic vowels (/aː/, /ɐ/, /ə/ or /a/, /ə/, /ɨ/ depending on the dialect), but with lots of allophony, so a vs o is up to your discretion.

    I find the idea that Circassians worry about people eavesdropping on them mildly amusing

    Reminds me of the story of the sultan, the sack of pebbles, and the Ubykh language.

  23. David Marjanović says

    Why do people always forget August Fick?

    Because, in German, his name is too fucking embarrassing! That’s why.

  24. I did some more digging in Google Books. They’ve gotten smarter about not giving too much away in the snippets. This was actual work!
    One specific fact I found of interest is that Reineggs claimed to have found 18 words of the language–which is way more than 5, but not nearly enough.
    Here are the additional snippets I got, arranged as I have guessed that they appear. I was sometimes able to get partial words for half-cropped lines by re-searching for likely words and looking at highlighting.
    p 75
    here we might .. mention … secret languages. The forest language
    of the Abkhazians, the Circassian Hunting Language (Klimov 1969, 31), and
    a mysterious “whistle” language spoken by the women in the more remote
    areas across the northern Caucasus. The Abkhazian Forest language
    p 75
    consists of various shifts of meaning and recombinations of ordinary
    Abkhaz material. Presumably the Circassian Hunting language, also
    called Chakobsa or Sikowschir (Reineggs 1796, 248), (Bzedukh /šhə-k’oa-bza/
    p 76
    horse .. language … language .. formed along
    similar lines. The eighteen words of the Hunting language which
    Reineggs has recorded do not accord with their normal Circassian counter-
    parts, but nonetheless look purely Circassian. e.g. Reineggs
    p 76
    assures me that it is still spoken by the descendants of the princely
    class still living in a Soviet village called // in Bzhedukh,
    The women’s “chirping” language is apparently spoken in // and
    p 76
    Mr Alexander Zouraeff, a Digoron Ossete, told me that he could remember
    his sister and mother speaking it, but as a man he would not deign to
    learn it. Unlike the two preceding secret languages, the Chirping

  25. From Jaimoukha, A. 2001, The Circassians. London: RoutledgeCurzon (p. 251): ‘A curious aspect of Circassian, which it shares with its sister languages, Abkhaz and Ubykh, is the secret language of the hunters, schak’webze, which was used by the princes and nobles in their hunting expeditions. This language was not comprehended by the masses of the people. It was not a different language as such, but rather it had a lexicon made up of transposed and other distorted words with basic syntactical structure unaffected. It was believed that by switching to the cryptic tongue the senses of the animals would be dulled as to the purpose of the hunters, and thus a plentiful bag would be assured.’ (Jaimoukha refers to Khiba, Z. K. 1980, A Contribution to Abkhaz Lexicography: The Secret Language of the Hunters. Bedi Kartlisa 38, 269-77. Paris).

  26. Thanks, that’s a clear and useful summary!

  27. The Belgian Eurovision entry will be in an invented language. (BBC; video). Sung by a mezzo-soprano, who will perhaps need her IPA training.

  28. I always assumed (with my inadequate Arabic) that the Bene Gesserit were in fact the Sons of the Islands (jazira)… Given they’re all female, shouldn’t they be the Benet Gesserit anyway?

  29. “Klimov 1969” in Trey’s comment is probably Klimov, Georgi 1969, Die kaukasische Sprachen. Hamburg: Helmut Buske, a translation of Климов Г. А. Кавказские языки. М., 1965.

  30. robert berger says

    For those of you who enjoy classical music,
    (I was a professional),the eminent conductor
    Yuri Temirkanov,often described as a Russian,
    is actually an ethnic Kabardinian,and a native of
    that region.The great Valery Gergiev is also
    an ethnic Ossetian.

  31. I knew about Gergiev, but not about Temirkanov—thanks!

  32. Thanks for your post about Mr Termikan(ov) Robert! I have two remixes of Circassian folk music he published and can share them if anyone is interested.
    Another curiosity — the newly elected mayor of London Boris Johnson claimed his grandma was Circassian.

  33. Might as well post the content of the link I gave since nobody seems to have picked up on it (there’s also a scholarly bibliography on the page):
    “A peculiarity of the West Caucasian lexicon was represented until recently by the presence of a special stock of lexical items, the use of which was socially constrained to the realm of hunting. Both the Abkhaz ‘Forest Language’ and the Adyghe (Circassian) ‘Hunting Language’ possessed an important stock of taboo-periphrases and other words, which were absent from the standard vocabulary’ (Klimov, 1965, pp 33-4 or 1969, p31). The distinguished Abkhaz ethnographer, Salva Inal-Ipa, describes the ‘Forest Language’ as follows (1965, p191): ‘The Hunting Language has a special functional role – not to give the prey any possibility of recognising the presence and intentions of the hunters, to lead the beasts into error and to blunt their sensitive awareness, in order that they should not notice the approach of danger and run away, but that it should be easy to hunt and kill them.
    “‘The ‘Forest Language’, in the main, differs from the vernacular only in its nominal forms. It was forbidden to call objects by their own names, since it was considered that this impedes good luck in the hunt. for the representation of each taboo-object or phenomenon with which the hunters frequently come into contact, use was made of peculiar word-substitutes. these correspondences manifest in many cases either a lapidary description of the specific qualities of the relevant objects, or a transformed expression of their essential role, and also comparisons or onomatopoeic representations. However, in the majority of instances the meaning and content of the words of the ‘Forest Language’ is not clear. Thus, on the hunt, an Abkhaz, as though having forgotten part of the lexical component of his native language, all of a sudden begins to communicate with his colleagues of the chase in a different language, the content of the nouns of which is not understood by the mass of the people, since these words have nothing in common with ordinary colloquial speech’.”
    * Khiba, Z. K., ‘A Contribution to Abkhaz Lexicography: The Secret Language of the Hunters’, in Bedi Kartlisa, Paris, 38, 1980, pp 269-77.

  34. Thanks very much, JCass—that’s fascinating!

  35. marie-lucie says

    Just like the origin of the numerous European words for ‘bear’, all descriptive.

  36. Not all descriptive, I don’t think. AFAIK PIE *rktos > Gk arktos, Avestan aresho, Arm. arj, Alb. ari, L. ursus, Welsh arth is usually assumed to be primitive, though it’s true that words meaning ‘brown’, ‘honey-eater’, and other things displaced it in the rest of IE.

  37. Which category do the Scandinavian words for “bear” fall under?
    I would attempt to find out for myself, but I still have no access (that I can find) to extended Roman characters on my computer, and the Scandinavian words for “bear” are along the lines of “bjoern”.
    I’m guessing that the words for bear in Scandinavian languages might be in the “brown”-derived category?
    And does anyone know what is up with certain Danish names like Torben and Esben, where an online source on Norse names told me that the “-ben” element meant “bear”? How did it reach it’s current form which is somewhat lacking in outward resemblance to “bjoern”? I know, the /b/ and the /n/ are there, so they do resemble each other somewhat, but if anyone knows any of the specific processes or the original lexical item involved, I’d be very interested. If the source was correct that Torben meant “Thor’s bear,” then it’s pre-Christian, so there’s been a lot of time for the words and names to evolve.

  38. marie-lucie says

    There is a very nice discussion of bear names and their etymology at:
    which gives the basics with the minimum of technicality (explained) necessary to understand the presentation.
    About PIE *Rtko-s (I am copying from the site), the potential ancestor (existing under four regional variants), there is a suggestion that it might have meant originally ‘the destroyer’ [of beehives], yet another description.
    Whatever the meaning, in formal, structural terms this form has always seemed to me to be problematic. The canonical PIE root is of the form CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant; the vowel often disappears if something else is added afterwards), sometimes preceded by an s-, but many reconstructed forms, such as this one, are much longer: this could be because they are borrowed from other languages, or just because they include a root that cannot be recognized in its simplest form because it has been lost in other cases. I don’t know enough to decide in this particular case, but I doubt that this ‘primitive’ (meaning ‘currently unanalyzable’) word represents the basic PIE meaning ‘bear’ and nothing else, rather than yet another descriptive word. If the taboo was very strong, then the original word (if it ever existed) might eventually have been forgotten while only the euphemisms remained in the various language families.

  39. marie-lucie says

    The Scandinavian names, like the other Germanic names, are from the ‘brown’ word family.
    The crucial element in this word family is the consonants, b-r-n. There have to be vowels among or after these consonants, but -ow- or -joe- (the latter pronounced something like ‘yuh’) arose from the modification of simpler vowels. In order to understand the precise stages of evolution you would have to consult a ‘comparative’ or ‘historical’ Scandinavian (or at least Germanic) grammar, which you could find in a university library. (Such grammars are usually quite technical).
    If the -ben element in Thorben, etc does mean ‘bear’, it probably lost its r through being unstressed (the stress or most prominent pronunciation being on Thor or other name). In such a case the vowel(s) of the unstressed word also become less distinctive. If indeed ben is another form of bjoern, loss of r would probably also have happened in other words which have nothing to do with this meaning but which have -rn- in their normal form (eg the word when said by itself has an r, but when joined with another word it loses its r if the other word is more prominent). Again, this sort of thing would probably be explained in a comparative or historical grammar.
    I keep saying ‘if’ because I don’t know the particulars for Scandinavian languages, so I might be wrong on some of the details, but the sort of changes which would explain that bjoern and ben might have the same origin (if they in fact do) are very common in the history of languages.

  40. As a Scandinavian, I don’t think this element going from “-bjørn” (generally pronounced somewhat like “b-yearn”, or “byurn”) to “-ben” is all that surprising. In Norwegian dialect the word commonly appears as “bjønn” (“byun”), and I think I can still hear a faint trace of a y-sound in “Esben” when I try speaking it out loud.
    By the way, Torbjørn co-exists with the other form as a fairly common name, though I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone called Esbjørn.
    On a Frank Herbert-oriented note, he took “Bene Gesserit” from legal Latin, though the resemblance to Semitic phrases was surely not unintentional. He later took the name of his invented planet Tleilax and by analogy turned it into the “Bene Tleilaxu” people. (“Tleilax” appears to be a made-up, vaguely Nahuatl-looking word–Herbert wrote much of the original novel in Mexico–though if someone knows otherwise…)

  41. …and I just realized that the Norwegian form of “Esbjørn” is Asbjørn, which is indeed a familiar-enough name.

  42. marie-lucie says

    “Tleilax” could be a modification of Tlaloc, the name of one of the main Nahuatl gods. The author appears to have ranged far and wide in his choice of vocabulary.
    On the subject of made-up languages, today the NYTimes website had a mostly very positive review of the new play The Internationalist, in which an American is sent to work in a distant country where he does not know the language -and a lot of the play is conducted in this language, which the author apparently made up herself. There is no comment about how she went about it.

  43. thanks, marie-lucie and gh, that clears some things up.
    The alternate Norwegian forms make things obvious, but I never happened to run into such an alternate form in Denmark, though the page on Nordic names indicate that such variant forms do exist.
    gh’s native-speaker instincts are worth a lot. I only speak Danish as a second language (and I only get to speak it on exceedingly rare occasions anymore, since I don’t know any speakers around here.) I guess I can see now how it would be natural for -bjoern (sorry about the ascii we’re still working on the problem) could easily become -ben over centuries in an unstressed position as marie-lucie was describing. It’s just that I had never seen or heard Torbjoern or Esbjoern, and it was not possible for me to intuit backwards from -ben to -bjoern.
    The site that I got the information on names from was I’m just a speaker of Danish as a second language and have a degree in linguistics; I’m no expert and don’t know how reliable the information is, but there’s the URL.
    By the way, I once lived with a Danish family whose four children were named Askil, Helge, Esben, and Birna. The parents told me that the names were old names rather out of fashion at the moment. According to the meanings given at the above site, all four of the names are obviously pre-Christian Nordic names.

  44. Can anyone tell me what’s with the Indo-European taboo on calling a bear by its real name? I’ve been aware of the existence of the taboo for quite some time, probably since around the time that I learned the Russian word (or euphemism, as it were) for bear, but possibly I learned of it before that.
    Obviously it was a very strong taboo, especially considering what marie-lucie said about the PIE potentially not being the actual name but yet another descriptive circumlocution. Are there other objects/beings/etc. subject to similar taboos in Indo-European?

  45. marie-lucie says

    Taboos on pronouncing the names of animals, especially while hunting, are very common in hunting cultures. Hunters assume that animals can understand human language, and that if the animals hear themselves being talked about they will be sure to make themselves scarce. On the other hand, animals do not understand every subtlety of human language, so if instead of “the bear” the hunters say “the brown/shaggy/honey-eating/etc one” the bear will not understand the reference. In addition to being very large (the “European brown bear” is a type of grizzly) and good to eat, bears are also potentially very dangerous, especially when and where they compete with humans for food such as fish and berries, and that is one more reason for preventing them from understanding humans even if they are not actually being hunted. Finally, in remote times the bear being the largest and most powerful animal probably had mythological significance as well (witness the two female bears placed among the constellations). All of these reasons could have led to the proliferation of synonyms meant for avoiding the actual name of the bear, so thoroughly that it might have completely disappeared from the vocabularies of Indo-European languages (if it ever existed in the first place).
    There are also cases in multilingual regions where hunters do not invent metaphors but just use words from other languages – perhaps the idea is that the bear or other animal living in one group’s territory only understand that group’s language, so using names from the neighbours’ language also disguises the topic of conversation.
    Perhaps other commenters can answer Isidora’s last question.

  46. Words for “left-[handed]” are another set often cited as requiring euphemism and constant re-invention.

  47. Reinvention or indeed borrowing, as in “izquierdo”, one of the ordinary Spanish words with an unquestioned Basque etymology (though not directly borrowed from Basque as we know it today).

  48. marie-lucie says

    There are also the “unmentionable” human body parts which are supposed to be referred to by their Latin or Greek names rather than by the words inherited from the everyday language of the people. But people ignorant of Latin or Greek also invent suitable substitutes, especially for use by children.

  49. David Marjanović says

    I once read that the idea survives or almost survives somewhere in Europe that if you call the bear, he comes. Like the devil. So don’t try this at home.

    Klimov, Georgi 1969, Die kaukasische Sprachen. Hamburg: Helmut Buske

    Die kaukasischen Sprachen.
    There seems to be some kind of law that people who don’t speak German are bound to miscite at least one of the German books and articles they mention. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an exception.

  50. marie-lucie says

    The problem with German can’t be worse than the one with French. I don’t know how many bound library books (in university libraries no less) I have seen with titles like “Grammaire du française” or “Grammaire français”, even though the correct French title is right there on the original paperback cover. It seems that the binders cannot copy a title properly and instead must have the idea that the spelling on the cover of a book written entirely in French is less reliable than their hazy memories of high school French. Similar mistakes also occur in lists of references, even in journals which could be expected to have better editorial oversight.
    Even linguists are not immune from such mistakes. In American works on syntax there are often French examples which no French-speaking person would ever utter, or that do not mean what they are purported to mean. When I see such mistakes occurring in a language for which there are tons of examples available from literature extending over several centuries, from current periodicals (to quote only written sources), as well as from the many native speakers found in North American universities, I wonder how much faith to place in examples taken from little-known languages, e.g. from the jungles of Brazil or South East Asia, or even from minority European languages.

  51. Greetings to all members of this group! I would like to make the following comments and provide examples of the Circassian (Adiga) language of the hunt from actual folkloric chants and prayers. More details are available if any one is interested. I hope the Cyrillic shows. I have included Latin transcriptions just in case it doesn’t.
    Circassian aristocracy donned masks on their hunting expeditions, apparently to confound the prey, and together with the esoteric cant (schak’webze=language of the chase), render the objects of the hunt unaware of the true purpose of the chevy.
    ‘Бжьабэ [Bzchabe]’ (‘multi-antlered’, ‘with branching antlers’ = ‘deer’) affords an example of a word used in the (secretive) language of the chase (schak’webze).
    ‘Deer’ are referred to by the euphemistic appellation (of the language of the chase) ‘бжьабэ [Bzchabe]’ (= ‘multi-antlered’, ‘with branching antlers’).
    In the language of the chase (schak’webze), wild boars and hogs were referred to as ‘peschabe’ (‘soft-snouts’).
    All best!

  52. Thanks very much, Amjad!

  53. It occurred to me to see if I could find the missing place names in Trey’s comment above:

    p 76
    assures me that it is still spoken by the descendants of the princely class still living in a Soviet village called // in Bzhedukh. The women’s “chirping” language is apparently spoken in // and

    And sure enough I did; here’s the whole passage:

    Long thought to be extinct, one of my informants, Mr. Rashid Dahabsu, assures me that it is still spoken by the descendants of the princely class still living in a Soviet village called /ž’ağ’a habX/ in Bzhedukh. The women’s “chirping” language is apparently spoken in /3aš’ahab/ and the nearby /taawy/, both Bzhedukh villages.

  54. Mr. Goldwater of Circassia!

  55. Hah, I didn’t even notice that!

  56. from page 75 of George Thomas’s 1977 The Languages and Literatures of the Non-Russian Peoples of the Soviet Union

    That’s a collection of papers from a conference; Thomas is just the editor. The snippets we’re looking at appear to be from the paper “Languages of the North-West Caucasus” (pp. 62-154) by John Colarusso, who has been cited here before, e.g. about Narts.

    But /ž’ağ’a habX/? That doesn’t look like something someone would put between slashes. And /3aš’ahab/ looks like it’s supposed to be the same thing. Looks like an OCR problem. Google in its mysterious ways is willing to show me a smidgen more than it showed Trey, enough to stitch together three of the above snippets; as best I can make out the images, they read:

    = ‘horse-going-language’, i.e. the ‘cavalry language’), was formed along similar lines. The eighteen words of the Hunting language which Reineggs has recorded do not accord with their normal Circassian counterparts, but nonetheless look purely Circassian, e.g. Reineggs Ptschakoaentsche ‘camel’ , most probably something like /pčaqᵒančə, -č’a/ or /pčaq’ᵒančə, -č’a/, judging from the familiar Circassian words which Reineggs has also transcribed. The normal word for ‘camel’ is /maxᵒč’a/. Long thought to be extinct, one of my informants, Mr. Rashid Dahabsu, assures me that it is still spoken by the descendants of the princely class still living in a Soviet village called /ǯ’əǯ’əḫabλ/ in Bzhedukh. The women’s “chirping” language is apparently spoken in /ǯ’əǯ’əḫabλ/ and the nearby /taawy/, both Bzhedukh villages. My late friend and informant Mr. Alexander Zouraeff, a Digoron Ossete, told me that he could remember his sister and mother speaking it, but as a man he would not deign to learn it. Unlike the two preceding secret languages

    I don’t understand some of the symbols in there; Wikipedia tells me that λ, at least, is “a nonstandard symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet for the voiced alveolar lateral affricate [dɮ]”.

  57. Thanks very much for that improved reading!

  58. January First-of-May says

    in a Soviet village called /ǯ’əǯ’əḫabλ/ in Bzhedukh

    This is probably modern Dzhidzhikhabl (Джиджихабль), in western Adygea. The “nearby /taawy/” could then be the village of Tauykhabl, 3 km away.
    [Apparently the latter was previously known as simply Tauy (Тауй). Presumably the slashes are in something like Americanist phonetic notation and/or the UPA, so their /y/ is IPA /j/.]

    The villages are today on the shore of the Krasnodar Reservoir (filled 1973-75); it appears that many other villages were flooded by the reservoir, with the inhabitants resettled elsewhere, but those two in particular seem to have just barely escaped this. (Some sources say that Dzhidzhikhabl was actually one of the resettlement targets.)

  59. David Marjanović says

    ° is Soviet Caucasianist for ʷ […as I already said in this thread in 2008, it turns out…], ʒ is d͡z…

Speak Your Mind