Chuvash language

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Чăвашла, Căvašla
Pronunciation [tɕəʋaʂˈla]
Native to Russia
Region Chuvashia and adjacent areas
Ethnicity Chuvash
Native speakers
1.1 million  (2010 census)[1]
200,000 L2 speakers (no date)
Official status
Official language in
 Chuvashia (Russia)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 cv
ISO 639-2 chv
ISO 639-3 chv
Glottolog chuv1255[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Chuvash (Чăвашла, Căvašla; IPA: [tɕəʋaʂˈla])[3] is a Turkic language spoken in central Russia, primarily in the Chuvash Republic and adjacent areas. It is the only surviving member of the Oghur branch of Turkic languages. While many Turkic languages demonstrate mutual intelligibility to varying degrees, Chuvash has diverged considerably from the other languages in the group.

The writing system for the Chuvash language is based on the Cyrillic script, employing all of the letters used in the Russian alphabet, and adding four letters of its own: Ă, Ĕ, Ç and Ӳ.

Language use[edit]

Stamp of the Soviet Union, Chuvash people, 1933

Chuvash is the native language of the Chuvash people and an official language of Chuvashia.[4][5] It is spoken by 1,640,000 persons in Russia and another 34,000 in other countries.[6] 86% of ethnic Chuvash and 8% of the people of other ethnicities living in Chuvashia claimed knowledge of Chuvash language during the 2002 census.[7] Despite that, and although Chuvash is taught at schools and sometimes used in the media, it is considered endangered,[8][9] because Russian dominates in most spheres of life and few children learning the language are likely to become active users.

A fairly significant production and publication of literature in Chuvash continues to the present day. According to UNESCO's Index Translationum, at least 202 books translated from Chuvash were published in other languages (mostly Russian) since ca. 1979.[10] However, as with most of other languages of the former USSR, most of the translation activity took place before the dissolution of the USSR: out of these 202 translations, 170 books were published in the USSR,[11] and just 17, in the post-1991 Russia (mostly, in the 1990s).[12] A similar situation takes place with the translation of books from other languages (mostly Russian) into Chuvash (the total of 175 titles published since ca. 1979, but just 18 out of them, in the post-1991 Russia).[13]


Chuvash is the most distinctive of the Turkic languages and cannot be understood by speakers of other Turkic tongues. Chuvash is classified, alongside the extinct languages Khazar, Turkic Avar, Bulgar, and (possibly) Hunnic, as a member of the Oghuric branch of the Turkic language family. It is the only language of this branch which is not extinct. Since the surviving literary records for the non-Chuvash members of Oghuric are scant, the exact position of Chuvash within the Oghuric family cannot be determined.

The Oghuric branch is distinguished from the rest of the Turkic family (the Common Turkic languages) by two sound changes: r corresponng to Common Turkic z, and l corresponding to Common Turkic š.[14]

Formerly, scholars considered Chuvash not properly a Turkic language at all but, rather, a Turkicized Finno-Ugric (Uralic) language.[15]

Writing systems[edit]


А а Ă ă Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё
Ĕ ĕ Ж ж З з И и Й й К к Л л М м
Н н О о П п Р р С с Ç ç Т т У у
Ӳ ӳ Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ
Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я
Name IPA Translit. Notes
А а а /a/ a
Ă ă ă /ə/ ă Reduced: a
Б б бă /b/ b only in loanwords from Russian
В в вă /ʋ/ v
Г г гă /ɡ/ g only in loanwords from Russian
Д д дă /d/ d only in loanwords from Russian
Е е е /ɛ/ e
Ё ё ё /jo/ or /ʲo/ yo, jo only in loanwords from Russian
Ĕ ĕ ĕ /ɘ/ ĕ Reduced: e
Ж ж жă /ʐ/ zh only in loanwords from Russian
З з зă /z/ z only in loanwords from Russian
И и и /i/ i
Й й йă /j/ y, j
К к кă /k/ k
Л л лă /l/ l
М м мă /m/ m
Н н нă /n/ n
О о о /o/ o only in loanwords from Russian
П п пă /p/ p
Р р рă /r/ r
С с сă /s/ s
Ç ç çă /ɕ/ ś, ş Reduced: s
Т т тă /t/ t
У у у /u/ u
Ӳ ӳ ӳ /y/ ü
Ф ф фă /f/ f only in loanwords from Russian
Х х хă /χ/ h
Ц ц цă /ts/ ts, z
Ч ч чă // č, c
Ш ш шă /ʂ/ š, sh
Щ щ щă /ɕː/
ş, sh
šc, shch
Ъ ъ хытăлăх палли ʺ Placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent back vowel"; puts a distinct /j/ sound in front of the following iotified vowels with no palatalization of the preceding consonant
Ы ы ы /ɯ/ ı, y
Ь ь çемçелĕх палли /ʲ/ ʹ Placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent front vowel", slightly palatalizes the preceding consonant
Э э э /e/ e
Ю ю ю /ju/ or /ʲu/ yu, ju
Я я я /ja/ or /ʲa/ ya, ja


The modern Chuvash alphabet was devised in 1873 by school inspector Ivan Yakovlevich Yakovlev.[16]

а е ы и/і у ӳ ă ĕ й в к л ԡ м н ԣ п р р́ с ç т ̌т ђ х ш

In 1938, the alphabet underwent significant modification which brought it to its current form.

Previous systems[edit]

The most ancient writing system, known as the Orkhon script, disappeared after the Volga Bulgars converted to Islam. Later, the Arabic script was adopted. After the Mongol invasion, writing degraded. After Peter the Great's reforms Chuvash elites disappeared, blacksmiths and some other crafts were prohibited for non-Russian nations, the Chuvash were educated in Russian, while writing in runes recurred with simple folks.[citation needed]

Chuvash Latin Script (CăvašLat)[17][edit]

CăvashLat emerged in the 2007 in the Chuvash-speaking internet community to bring many variants of transliteration to one standard Latin Script. Every one character of this alphabet corresponds to one specific phoneme. In the table below the characters are grouped according to the types of speech sounds they correspond to: vowels, sonorants, obstruents.

a /a/ ă /ə/ e /e/ ĕ /ɘ/ y /ɯ/ i /i,ɨ/ u /u/ ü /y/
m /m/ v /ʋ/ l /l/ n /n/ r /r/ j /j/
p /p/ t /t/ c /tɕ/ ş /ɕ/ s /s/ š /ʂ/ h /x/ k /k/

It is argued that Chuvash accommodated new speech sounds from Russian loanwords which became new Chuvash phonemes (/f/ and its allophones [f̬ (v),fː], which Russian itself uses only in loanwords; /ks/ and its allophone [gz]; /ts/ and its allophones [ts̬],[tsː]). Also, characters for the speech sounds of upper dialect of Chuvash are added (o, ö). A special character for the unstressed i at the end of loanwords from Russian (intustrĭ 'industry', fottokraffĭ 'photography') is introduced.

f /f/ ĭ /i,ɨ/ o /o/ ö /ø/ x /ks/ z /ts/

Diacritic marks are used to specify: Apostrophe ' - phonemic palatalization; Breve ̆ - unstressed vowels.



The consonants are the following (the corresponding Cyrillic letters are in brackets): /p/ (п), /t/ (т), /k/ (к), // (ч), /s/ (с), /ʂ/ (ш), /ɕ/ (ç), /χ/ (х), /ʋ/ (в), /m/ (м), /n/ (н), /l/ (л), /r/ (р), /j/ (й). The stops, sibilants and affricates are voiceless and fortes, but instead become lenes (sounding similar to voiced) in intervocalic position and after liquids, nasals and semi-vowels. E.g. Аннепе sounds like annebe, кушакпа sounds like kuzhakpa. However, geminate consonants don't undergo this lenition. Furthermore, the voiced consonants occurring in Russian are used in modern Russian-language loans. Consonants also become palatalized before and after front vowels.


A possible scheme for the diachronic development of Chuvash vowels. (Note that not all the asterisked sounds are necessarily separate phonemes.)

According to Krueger (1961), the Chuvash vowel system is as follows (the precise IPA symbols are chosen based on his description, since he uses a different transcription).

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
High i и y ӳ ɯ ы u у
Low e е ø̆ ĕ а а ŏ ă

András Róna-Tas (1997)[18] provides a somewhat different description, also with a partly idiosyncratic transcription. The following table is based on his version, with additional information from Petrov (2001). Again, the IPA symbols are not directly taken from the works, so they could be inaccurate.

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
High i и y ӳ ɯ ы u у
Close-mid ĕ ĕ ɤ̆ ă
Open-mid ɛ е
Low a а

The vowels ă and ĕ are described as reduced, thereby differing in quantity from the rest. In unstressed positions, they often resemble a schwa or tend to be dropped altogether in fast speech. At times, especially when stressed, they may be somewhat rounded and sound similar to /o/ and /ø/.

Additionally, ɔ (о) occurs in loanwords from Russian where the syllable is unstressed in Russian.


There are two dialects of Chuvash: Viryal or Upper (which has both o and u) and Anatri or Lower (which has u for both o and u: up. totă "full", tută "taste" – lo. tută "full, taste" ). The literary language is based on both the Lower and Upper dialects. Both Tatar and the neighboring Uralic languages such as Mari have influenced the Chuvash language, as have Russian, Mongolian, Arabic, and Persian, which have all added many words to the Chuvash lexicon.


Chuvash is an agglutinative language and as such has an abundance of suffixes, but no native prefixes (apart from the reduplicating intensifier prefix as in шурă = white, шап-шурă = very white). One word can have many suffixes and these can also be used to create new words (like creating a verb from a noun, or a noun from a verbal root, see Vocabulary section further below) or to indicate the grammatical function of the word.

Nouns and adjectives[edit]

Chuvash nouns can take endings indicating the person of a possessor. They can take case-endings. There are six noun cases in the Chuvash declension system:

  • Nominative
  • Genitive, formed by adding -ăн (-ĕн) or simply -н according to the vowel harmony
  • Objective, formed by adding -(н)a (-(н)е) according to the vowel harmony
  • Locative, formed by adding -ра (-ре), -тa (-тe) according to the vowel harmony
  • Ablative, formed by adding -ран (-рен), -тан (-тен) according to the vowel harmony
  • Instrumental, formed by adding -пa(ла) (-пe(ле)) according to the vowel harmony


  • Causal-final, formed by adding -шăн (-шĕн) according to the vowel harmony
  • Privative, formed by adding -сăр (-сĕр) according to the vowel harmony
  • Terminativeantessive, formed by adding -(ч)чен
  • relic of distributive, formed by adding -серен: кунсерен "daily, every day", килсерен "per house", килмессерен "every time one comes"
  • Semblative, formed by adding пек to pronouns in genitive or objective case (ман пек "like me", сан пек "like you", ун пек "like him, that way", пирĕн пек "like us", сирĕн пек "like you all", хам пек "like myself", хăвăн пек "like yourself", кун пек "like this"); adding -ла, -ле to nouns (этемле "humanlike", ленинла "like Lenin")

Taking кун (day) as an example:

Chuvash English Noun case
кун day, or the day Nominative
кунăн of the day Genitive
куна to the day Objective
кунта in the day Locative
кунтан of the day, or from the day Ablative
кунпа with the day Instrumental

Possession is expressed by means of constructions based on verbs meaning "to exist" and "to not exist" ("пур" and "çук"). For example, in order to say, "My cat had no shoes," we form:

кушак + -ăм + -ăн ура атă(и) + -сем çук + -ччĕ
(кушакăмăн ура аттисем çукччĕ)

which literally translates as, "cat-mine-of foot-cover(of)-plural-his non-existent-was."


Chuvash verbs exhibit person. They can be made negative or impotential; they can also be made potential. Finally, Chuvash verbs exhibit various distinctions of tense, mood, and aspect: a verb can be progressive, necessitative, aorist, future, inferential, present, past, conditional, imperative, or optative.

Chuvash English
кил- (to) come
килме- not (to) come
килейме- not (to) be able to come
килеймен She (or he) was apparently unable to come.
килеймерĕ She had not been able to come.
килеймерĕр You (plural) had not been able to come.
килеймерĕр-и? Have you (plural) not been able to come?

Vowel harmony[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Vowel harmony.

"Vowel harmony" is the principle by which a native Chuvash word generally incorporates either exclusively back vowels (а, ă, у, ы) or exclusively front vowels (е, ĕ, и, ӳ). As such, a notation for a Chuvash suffix such as -тен means either -тан or -тен, whichever promotes vowel harmony; a notation such as -тпĕр means either -тпăр, -тпĕр again with vowel harmony constituting the deciding factor.

Chuvash has two classes of vowels – front and back (see the table above). Vowel harmony states that words may not contain both front and back vowels. Therefore, most grammatical suffixes come in front and back forms, e.g. Шупашкарта "in Cheboksary" but килте "at home".


Compound words are considered separate words with respect to vowel harmony: vowels do not have to harmonize between members of the compound (thus forms like сĕтел|пукан "furniture" are permissible). In addition, vowel harmony does not apply for loanwords and some invariant suffixes (such as -ĕ); there are also a few native Chuvash words that do not follow the rule (such as анне "mother"). In such words suffixes harmonize with the final vowel; thus Аннепе "With the mother".

Word order[edit]

Word order in Chuvash is generally subject–object–verb.

Chuvash numbers[edit]

  • 1 – пĕрре pĕrre, пĕр pĕr
  • 2 – иккĕ ikkĕ, икĕ ikĕ, ик ik
  • 3 – виççĕ vişşĕ, виçĕ vişĕ, виç viş
  • 4 – тăваттă tăvattă, тăватă tăvată, тăват tăvat
  • 5 – пиллĕк pillĕk, пилĕк pilĕk
  • 6 – улттă ulttă IPA: [ˈultːə], ултă ultă IPA: [ˈult̬ə], улт ult IPA: [ult]/IPA: [ult̬]
  • 7 – çиччĕ şiccĕ IPA: [ˈɕitɕːɘ], çичĕ şicĕ IPA: [ˈɕitɕ̬ɘ], çич şic IPA: [ˈɕitɕ̬]
  • 8 – саккăр sakkăr IPA: [ˈsakːər], сакăр sakăr IPA: [ˈsak̬ər]
  • 9 – тăххăр tăhhăr, тăхăр tăhăr
  • 10 – вуннă vunnă, вун vun
  • 11 – вун пĕр vun pĕr
  • 12 – вун иккĕ vun ikkĕ, вун икĕ vun ikĕ, вун ик vun ik
  • 13 – вун виççĕ vun vişşĕ, вун виçĕ vun vişĕ, вун виç vunviş
  • 14 – вун тăваттă vuntăvattă, вун тăватă vuntăvată, вун тăват vuntăvat
  • 15 – вун пиллĕк vunpillĕk, вун пилĕк vunpilĕk
  • 16 – вун улттă vunulttă, вун ултă vunultă, vunult
  • 17 – вун çиччĕ vun şiccĕ, вун çичĕ vun şicĕ
  • 18 – вун саккăр vunsakkăr, вун сакăр vunsakăr
  • 19 – вун тăххăр vuntăhhăr, вун тăхăр vuntăhăr
  • 20 – çирĕм şirĕm
  • 30 – вăтăр vătăr
  • 40 – хĕрĕх hĕrĕh
  • 50 – аллă allă, алă ală, ал al
  • 60 – утмăл utmăl
  • 70 – çитмĕл şitmĕl
  • 80 – сакăрвуннă sakărvunnă, сакăрвун sakărvun
  • 90 – тăхăрвуннă tăhărvunnă, тăхăрвун tăhărvun
  • 100 – çĕр şĕr
  • 1000 – пин pin
  • 834236 - сакăр çĕр вăтăр тăватă пин те ик çĕр вăтăр улттă sakăr şĕr vătăr tăvată pin te ik şĕr vătăr ulttă IPA: [ˌsakərɕɘrʋət̬ərt̬əʋat̬ə↗p̬inʲt̬eǀikɕɘrʋət̬ər↘ultːəǁ], сакăр çĕр вăтăр тăватă пин те ик çĕр вăтăр ултă sakăr şĕr vătăr tăvată pin te ik şĕr vătăr ultă


  1. ^ Chuvash at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Chuvash". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ also known as Chăvash, Chuwash, Chovash, Chavash, Çuvaş or Çuaş
  4. ^ Эктор Алос-и-Фонт. Оценка языковой политики в Чувашии
  5. ^ Оценка языковой политики в Чувашии
  6. ^ Ethnologue report for Chuvash
  7. ^ Russian Census 2002. 6. Владение языками (кроме русского) населением отдельных национальностей по республикам, автономной области и автономным округам Российской Федерации(Knowledge of languages other than Russian by the population of republics, autonomous oblast and autonomous districts)(Russian)
  8. ^ Zheltov, Pavel. An Attribute-Sample Database System for Describing Chuvash Affixes
  9. ^ Tapani Salminen (22 September 1999). "UNESCO red book on endangered languages: Europe". 
  10. ^ Index Translationum: translations from Chuvash - shows 202 titles, as of 2013-01-06. The index has data since ca. 1979.
  11. ^ Index Translationum: translations from Chuvash, published in the USSR - shows 170 titles
  12. ^ Index Translationum: translations from Chuvash, published in Russia - shows 17 titles
  13. ^ Index Translationum: translations into Chuvash
  14. ^ Johanson (1998); cf. Johanson (2000, 2007) and the articles pertaining to the subject in Johanson & Csató (ed., 1998).
  15. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (1997)
  16. ^ "Telegram to the Chairman of the Simbirsk Soviet". Retrieved 30 August 2010. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ András Róna-Tas. "Nutshell Chuvash". Erasmus Mundus Intensive Program Turkic languages and cultures in Europe (TLCE). Retrieved 31 August 2010. 

See also[edit]


  • Čaušević, Ekrem (2002). "Tschuwaschisch. in: M. Okuka (ed.)". Lexikon der Sprachen des europäischen Ostens (Klagenfurt: Wieser). Enzyklopädie des europäischen Ostens 10: 811–815. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  • Johanson, Lars & Éva Agnes Csató, ed. (1998). The Turkic languages. London: Routledge.
  • Lars Johansen (1998). "The history of Turkic". Johanson & Csató. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online CD 98. pp. 81–125. Retrieved 5 September 2007. 
  • Lars Johanson (1998). "Turkic languages". 
  • Lars Johanson (2000). "Linguistic convergence in the Volga area". Gilbers, Dicky & Nerbonne, John & Jos Schaeken (ed.). Languages in contact Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi. pp. 165–178 (Studies in Slavic and General linguistics 28.),. 
  • Johanson, Lars (2007). Chuvash. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Krueger, John (1961). Chuvash Manual. Indiana University Publications. 
  • Paasonen, Heikki (1949). Gebräuche und Volksdichtung der Tschuwassen. edited by E. Karabka and M. Räsänen (Mémoires de la Société Finno-ougrinenne XCIV), Helsinki. 
  • Петров, Н. П (2001). "Чувашская письменность новая". Краткая чувашская энциклопедия. – Чебоксары. pp. С. 475–476. 

External links[edit]