Khwarshi language

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Native to Russia
Region Southwestern Dagestan[1][2]
Native speakers
1,700 (2010 census)[3]
Northeast Caucasian
  • Tsezic
    • Bezhta–Hunzib–Khwarshi[4]
      • Khwarshi
Language codes
ISO 639-3 khv
Glottolog khva1239[5]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Khwarshi (also spelled Xvarshi, Khvarshi) is a Northeast Caucasian language spoken in the Tsumadinsky-, Kizilyurtovsky- and Khasavyurtovsky districts of Dagestan by the Khwarshi people. The exact number of speakers is not known, but the linguist Zaira Khalilova, who has carried out fieldwork in the period from 2005 to 2009, gives the figure 8,500.[6] Other sources give much lower figures, such as Ethnologue with the figure 1,870[1] and the latest population census of Russia with the figure 1,872.[7] The low figures are because many Khwarshi have registered themselves as being Avar speakers,[6] which is also considered their literary language.

There are six dialects of the Khwarshi language based on their geographical distribution. The dialects are: Upper- and Lower Inkhokwari Khwarshi, Kwantlada Khwarshi, Santlada Khwarshi, Khwayni Khwarshi and Khwarshi Proper, originating in their respective villages in the Tsumadinsky district. Due to emigration, see the Khwarshi people and their history, Kwantlada Khwarshi-, Upper- and Lower Inkhokwari Khwarshi-speaking communities also exist in Oktyabrskoe, Santlada Khwarshi-speaking communities exist in Pervomayskoe and Khwarshi Proper-speaking communities exist in Mutsalaul.


The phoneme inventory of Khwarshi is large, with about 87 distinct phonemes. Nevertheless, its phonology is quite straightforward with only few phonological processes and little morphophonology, with assimilation, vowel harmony, and nasalization occurring.[8] The syllabic structure of Khwarshi is also quite simple, with (C)V(C) being the most common structure, of which V(C) is only permitted word-initially.[9]


Khwarshi has a total number of 21 vowel phonemes, including vowel length and nasalization.[10]

Front Central Back
Unrounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i ɨ u
Close-mid e o
Open a

All the vowels above also have a long counterpart, which are always in stressed syllables. All vowels can occur in closed syllables (i.e. (C)VC), and all except /ɨ/ occur in open syllables (i.e. (C)V). /ɨ/ does not occur in the Khwarshi Proper and Inkhokwari dialects.[11]

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close ĩ ũ
Close-mid õ
Open ã
  • All the nasal vowels above except /ĩ/ have a long counterpart.
  • Note also, that there is no nasalized version of /ɨ/.
  • The Khwarshi Proper dialect does not have nasalized vowels and replaces these with their non-nasalized counterparts.


Khwarshi has 66 consonants:[10]

Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
central lateral
plain phar. plain lab. plain lab. pal. plain lab. plain lab. phar. plain lab. phar. phar.+lab. plain phar.
Nasal m n
Plosive voiced b d g
voiceless p t (tʷ) k q
ejective pˤʼ tʷʼ kʷʼ kˤʼ qʷʼ qˤʼ qˤʷʼ
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡ɬ t͡ʃ
ejective t͡sʼ t͡sʷʼ t͡ɬʼ t͡ɬʷʼ t͡ʃʼ t͡ʃʷʼ
Fricative voiceless s ɬ ʃ ʃʷ x χ χʷ χˤ χˤʷ ħ h
voiced z ʒ ʒʷ ʁ ʁʷ ʁˤ ʁˤʷ ʕ
Trill r
Approximant l j w

It is not clear whether /tʷ/ is present in Khwarshi or not, as Zaira Khalilova does not include it in her chart of consonants, but nevertheless provides a minimal pair indicating there is a distinction between /t/ and /tʷ/: /eta/ "touch" and /etʷa/ "fly".[12] Therefore, it is shown in parentheses in the chart above.

All the consonants can be found in native vocabulary, but some of them are however more rare than others, and some are mostly found in loanwords, such as /ʕ/ which almost only occur in loanwords of Arabic origin. Another example is /x/, found only in loanwords of Avar origin.[13]

The palatalized consonant and all the pharyngealized consonants are not found in Khwarshi Proper, but can be found in all the other dialects. Consider for instance the Khwarshi Proper word /χililːu/ "drunk", which in the other dialects is /χˤilʲilʲːu/.[14]


Gemination is quite a common phonological process in Khwarshi, caused by grammatical processes. Gemination only occurs intervocally and not all consonants geminate. Which consonants that geminate is different according to which processes they are a part of, and it depends on the dialect as well.[15]

Below is a list of some of the processes causing gemination:

  • When suffixing the past participle-ending /-u/ to a verbal stem ending in a consonant, the final consonant is geminated, e.g. /lat͡sʼ-a/ "to eat" > /lat͡sʼ-ːu/ "eaten".
  • When suffixing the present tense-ending, which generally is /-ʃe/, the final consonant is geminated, e.g. /lat͡sʼ-a/ "to eat" > /lat͡s-ːe/ "eat-pres". Notice that ejectivization is lost with the present tense-ending, while it is kept with the past participle-ending.
  • When suffixing the verbal noun-ending /-nu/ to a verbal stem, the verbal noun-ending is geminated - not the final consonant, e.g. /tʼa-ja/ "to drop" > /tʼa-nːu/ "something which has been dropped".
  • When infixing the potential marker /-l-/ to a verbal stem, the potential marker is geminated, e.g. /tʼa-ja/ "to drop" > /tʼa-lː-a/ "to potentially drop".
  • When emphasis is needed, the consonants of some words may be geminated, e.g. /ʕezeʕan/ "much" > /ʕezːeʕan/ "much indeed". It is highly idiomatic though, and does not apply to all words.

In loanwords, geminated consonants are normally non-geminated, when adopted into the Khwarshi language. For example, the Avar word /kːʼara/ "mosquito" is found as /kʼara/ in Khwarshi. The same goes for words of Tindi origin such as /kːʼanu/ "small", which is found as /kʼanu/ in Khwarshi. Another interesting aspect of loanwords of Tindi origin in the Khwarshi language is that the consonants are ejectivized when they enter the Khwarshi language, e.g. Tindi /t͡sːikʷːa/ "small intestine" > Khwarshi /t͡sʼikʷʼa/.[16]



Khwarshi nouns inflect for case, of which there are 51, and number, singular or plural, and belong to one of five genders, or rather noun classes. That a noun belongs to a specific class cannot be seen on the noun itself, but only through agreement.

Noun classes[edit]

There are five noun classes in the singular, but only a distinction between human and non-human in the plural, the male human and female human having merged into human, and the remaining classes into non-human.[17]

Class Description Singular Plural
Prefix Infix Suffix Prefix Infix Suffix
I Male human ∅-2 -w- -w b-, m-1 -b- -b
II Female human j- -j- -j
III Inanimate objects,
and animals
b-, m-1 -b- -b l-, n-1 -r- -l
IV Inanimate objects,
and animate objects
l-, n-1 -r- -l
V Inanimate objects,
and names of young
j- -j- -j
  1. Only before nasalized vowels.
  2. ∅- indicates the lack of a prefix.

The noun classes are visible through agreement in adjectives, adverbs, postpositions and demonstrative pronouns, and also verbs if the verb begins with a vowel. There are, however, some exceptions, like with irregular verbs in other languages. Below are some examples of such agreement in postpositions, demonstrative pronouns, verbs and adjectives, respectively. Notice however, that a verb is present in all of the examples but the first, while the third example has a special focus on verbs.

milʲːo b-ot͡ɬot͡ɬʼo heⁿʃe gul-o
2pl.gen2 iii-in.middle bookiii put-imp
"Put the book between you!"
o-w-enu ʒikʼo ∅-otʼqʼ-i ilʲ-ːo at͡ɬ-a
i-that mani i-come-pst.w 1pl.obl-gen2 village-in
"That man came to our village"
∅-ot͡ɬot͡ɬʼo-so-ho j-ot͡ɬot͡ɬʼo-so j-ez-un
i-in.middle-def-apud ii-in.middle-def ii-take-pst.uw
"The middle (brother) married the (other) middle (sister)."
b-et͡ʃ-un-t͡ɬo b-et͡ʃ-un-aj-t͡ɬo bert͡sina-b kandaba
hpl-be-pst.uw-narr hpl-be-pst.uw-neg-narr beautiful-hpl
"Once upon a time there were beautiful girls"

As the noun class of a noun cannot be seen on the noun itself, it should not be represented in a literal translation. In the examples above, however, the noun class of certain nouns is shown, albeit in superscript to indicate that it is not represented in the original Khwarshi sentence. The only nouns that have their noun classes indicated here are those with which the other words agree with.


There are 8 grammatical cases in Khwarshi, and 43 locative cases. The grammatical cases are: absolutive, ergative, two genitive, instrumental, durative, vocative and causal. The remaining cases, the locative cases, are a bit more complex, as they each consist of both a part that has something to do with orientation and a part that has something to do with direction. So while the ergative case has a single suffix /-(j)i/, the superversative case consists of two suffixes, the superessive /-t͡ɬʼo/ plus the versative /-ʁul/, becoming /-t͡ɬʼoʁul/.[18]

Below are the case endings of the grammatical cases.

Absolutive Ergative Genitive 1 Genitive 2 Instrumental Durative Vocative Causal
-∅ -(j)i1 -s -lo, -la -z -d -ju -t͡ɬeru
  1. The ergative case ending is /-ji/ after vowels, and /-i/ after consonants.

Below are the case endings of the locative cases.

Essive Lative Versative Ablative Translative Terminative
Superessive -t͡ɬʼo -t͡ɬʼo-l -t͡ɬʼo-ʁul -t͡ɬʼo-zi -t͡ɬʼo-ʁuʒaz -t͡ɬʼo-qʼa
Subessive -t͡ɬ -t͡ɬ-ul -t͡ɬ-ʁul -t͡ɬ-zi -t͡ɬ-ʁuʒaz -t͡ɬ-qʼa
Inessive -ma -ma-l -ma-ʁul -ma-zi -ma-ʁuʒaz -ma-qʼa
Interessive -ɬ-ul -ɬ-ʁul -ɬ-zi -ɬ-ʁuʒaz -ɬ-qʼa
Adessive -ho -ho-l -ho-ʁul -ho-zi -ho-ʁuʒaz -ho-qʼa
Apudessive -ʁo -ʁo-l -ʁo-ʁul -ʁo-zi -ʁo-ʁuʒaz -ʁo-qʼa
Contessive -qo -qo-l -qo-ʁul -qo-zi -qo-ʁuʒaz -qo-qʼa


Khwarshi verbs normally consist of a stem, an agreement prefix indicating noun class and number of the relevant nouns, and a suffix showing tense, aspect, mood, or the like. Only about one fourth of the Khwarshi verbs show agreement, all of them beginning with a vowel. There is a small number of verbs beginning with a vowel that do not show agreement. Verbs beginning with a consonant do not show agreement.[19]

The verbs are very regular in Khwarshi, the only irregular verb being the auxiliary verb /goli/ "to be", which takes neither a prefix nor a suffix and has only several non-finite forms. In the past- and future tense, however, the verb /-et͡ʃ-/ "to be situated" is used instead of /goli/, which may take both a prefix and a suffix.[20]



  1. ^ a b "Ethnologue entry for Khwarshi". Retrieved 2012-07-21. 
  2. ^ "Ethnologue map of European Russia, Khwarshi is in the inset with references number 21". Retrieved 2012-07-21. 
  3. ^ Khwarshi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  4. ^ The Languages of the Caucasus, by Wolfgang Schulze (2009)[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Khvarshi". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  6. ^ a b Khalilova (2009), p. 3
  7. ^ Всероссийская перепись населения 2002 Archived 2011-06-09 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Khalilova (2009), pp. 25-30
  9. ^ Khalilova (2009), pp. 31
  10. ^ a b Khalilova (2009), p. 14
  11. ^ Khalilova (2009), p. 23
  12. ^ Khalilova (2009), pp. 17-18
  13. ^ Khalilova (2009), p. 15
  14. ^ Khalilova (2009), pp. 16, 19
  15. ^ Khalilova (2009), p. 20
  16. ^ Khalilova (2009), p. 22
  17. ^ Khalilova (2009), p. 41
  18. ^ Khalilova (2009), pp. 66-67, 73-74
  19. ^ Khalilova (2009), pp. 181-182
  20. ^ Khalilova (2009), pp. 182-183


Khalilova, Zaira (2009). A Grammar of Khwarshi.  External link in |title= (help)

External links[edit]