Adyghe phonology

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Adyghe is a language of the Northwest Caucasian family which, like the other Northwest Caucasian languages, is very rich in consonants, featuring many labialized and ejective consonants. Adyghe is phonologically more complex than Kabardian, having the retroflex consonants and their labialized forms.


Adyghe exhibits a large number of consonants: between 50 and 60 consonants in the various Adyghe dialects. Below is the IPA phoneme chart of the consonant phonemes of Adyghe. Phonemes in green are found in the Shapsug and Natukhai dialects and phonemes in blue are unique to the Abzakh dialect.

Labial Alveolar Post-alveolar Alveolo-
Retroflex Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain lab. plain lab. lat. plain lab. plain lab. pal. plain lab. plain lab. pal.
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k1 q ʔ ʔʷ ʔʲ
voiced b d ɡ1 ɡʷ ɡʲ
ejective pʷʼ tʷʼ kʷʼ kʲʼ
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡sʷ t͡ʃ t͡ʂ
voiced d͡z d͡zʷ d͡ʒ
ejective t͡sʼ t͡ʃʼ t͡ʂʼ
Fricative voiceless f s ɬ ʃ ʃʷ ɕ ʂ x χ χʷ ħ
voiced v1 z ɮ ʒ ʒʷ ʑ ʐ ɣ ʁ ʁʷ
ejective ɬʼ ʃʼ ʃʷʼ
Approximant j w
Trill r
  1. Consonants that exist only in borrowed words.
  • In the Black Sea coast dialects of Adyghe (e.g. Shapsug dialect and Natukhai dialect) there exist a palatalized voiced velar stop [ɡʲ], a palatalized voiceless velar stop [] and a palatalized velar ejective [kʲʼ] that were merged with [d͡ʒ], [t͡ʃ] and [t͡ʃʼ] in most Adyghe dialects.[1][2][3][4] For example, the Shapsug words "гьанэ" [ɡʲaːna] "shirt", "кьэт" [kʲat] "chicken" and "кӏьапсэ" [kʲʼaːpsa] "rope" are pronounced in other dialects as "джанэ" [d͡ʒaːna], "чэт" [t͡ʃat] and кӏапсэ [t͡ʃʼaːpsa].
  • The labialized retroflex consonants шъу [ʂʷ] and жъу [ʐʷ] in the literary Temirgoy dialect are alveolo-palatal щу [ɕʷ] and жьу [ʑʷ] in the Black Sea coast dialects of Adyghe (Shapsug dialect and Natukhai dialect).
  • In the Black Sea coast dialects of Adyghe (e.g. Shapsug dialect and Natukhai dialect) there exist an alveolar ejective fricative [] that correspond to [t͡sʼ] in other Adyghe dialects.[5] For example, the Shapsug words "сӏэ" [sʼa] "name" and "псӏы" [psʼə] "lie" are pronounced in other dialects as "цӏэ" [t͡sʼa] and пцӏы [pt͡sʼə].
  • The phoneme written Л л is pronounced as a voiced alveolar lateral fricative [ɮ] mostly by the Circassians of Adygea, but many Circassians in diaspora pronounce it as an alveolar lateral approximant [l].
  • In Adyghe, the palato-alveolar consonants ш [ʃ], шӏ [ʃʼ] and шӏу [ʃʷʼ] may be affricated to ч [t͡ʃ], чӏ [ʈ͡ʂʼ] and чӏу [ʈ͡ʂʷʼ] after the consonant с [s] or шъу [ʃʷ]. For example the words сщагъ "I carried him to", сшӏагъ "I knew", сшӏошӏогъ "I thought" and шъушӏагъ "you (pl.) knew" may be pronounced as сычагъ [sət͡ʃaːʁ], сычӏагъ [sət͡ʂʼaːʁ], сычӏошӏогъ [sət͡ʂʷʼaʃʷʼaʁ] and шъучӏагъ [ʃʷt͡ʂʼaːʁ].
  • The first and second person prefixes с [s], т [t], п [p] and шъу [ʃʷ] may become voiced з [z], д [d], б [b] and жъу [ʒʷ] before the consonant гъ [ʁ]. For example сгъэкӏуагъ "I made him go", тгъэкӏуагъ "we made him go", пгъэкӏуагъ "you made him go" and шъугъэкӏуагъ "you (pl.) made him go" may be pronounced as згъэкӏуагъ [zʁakʷʼaːʁ], дгъэкӏуагъ [dʁakʷʼaːʁ], бгъэкӏуагъ [bʁakʷʼaːʁ] and жъугъэкӏуагъ [ʒʷʁakʷʼaːʁ].
  • The phoneme [f] ⟨ф⟩ found in the Adyghe dialects correspond to [xʷ] ⟨ху⟩ in Kabardian. For example the Adyghe words тфы [tfə] "five", фыжьы [fəʑə] "white" and цӏыфы [t͡sʼəfə] "person" are тху [txʷə], хужь [xʷəʑ] and цӏыху [t͡sʼəxʷ] in Kabardian. [xʷ] might be found in Adyghe in the suffix -шхо /-ʃxʷa/ which means big or mighty; but that suffix was borrowed from Kabardian.
  • In many Adyghe dialects (e.g. Bzhedug, Shapsug, Natukhia and Abzakh) there exist [t͡ɕʷ] ⟨чъу⟩ that corresponds to standard Temirgoy [t͡sʷ] ⟨цу⟩. For example the Temirgoy word цуакъэ [t͡sʷaːqa] is чъуакъэ [t͡ɕʷaːqa] in the other Adyghe dialects.
  • All dialects possess a contrast between plain and labialized glottal stops. A very unusual minimal contrast, and possibly unique to the Abzakh dialect of Adyghe, is a three-way contrast between plain, labialized and palatalized glottal stops.
  • The Black Sea dialect of Adyghe contains a very uncommon sound: a bidental fricative [h̪͆], which corresponds to the voiceless velar fricative [x] found in other varieties of Adyghe.


In contrast to its large consonant inventory, Adyghe has only three phonemic vowels in a classic vertical vowel system.

Close-mid ə
Open-mid ɜ
Open a