Linguistic Diversity in the Caucasus Region

With the recent conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Caucasus region of the world has been in the forefront of the media. International events like the Olympics always spark my curiosity about local cultures, customs and languages so I set out to learn about the languages of the region. For the purposes of this post, I will concentrate on the Northern Caucasus region.

Geopolitically, the Northern Caucasus are part of the Russian Federation. They are an area with a complicated ethnolinguistic history. The region is made up of seven internal republics namely: Adyghea, Karachai-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan.

I was aware there were multiple languages spoken in the region but didn’t realize the extent of the linguistic diversity in the Caucasus. There are approximately 40 indigenous tongues spoken throughout the region that encompasses the narrow mountainous area of land between the Black and Caspian Seas.  This is some of the highest density of linguistic diversity in the world; only Papua New Guinea or parts of the Amazon Jungle are near to, or beyond this density.

There are three language families indigenous to the Caucasus, two of which are mainly language groups in the Northern region. First, there is the Kartvelian language family which includes Georgian, Svan, Mingrelian and Laz with about 9.2 million speakers. Second, there is the Northwest Caucasian language family, that includes the Kabardian language with about 2.5 million speakers in total. Finally, there is the Northeast Caucasian language family that includes the Chechen, Avar, Ingush and Lezgian languages and has roughly 3.5 million speakers in total.



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