The language and people of Chechnya. The Chechens call themselves Nakhchuo, plural Nokhchi, and their language is Nokhchiin muott. It has about a million speakers, and is the principal member of the Nakh branch of the North-East Caucasian or Nakho-Daghestani family. It is very similar to the Ingush language of the neighbouring autonomous republic of Ingushetia. The two peoples together are called Vai Nakh 'Our People'.

They call their country Nokhchiin Mokhk or Nokhchiichö, and the official name of the self-proclaimed state is Nokhchiin Respublika Nokhchiychö, which should come out simply as "Chechen Republic of Chechnya", but in both English and Russian they use a different name, and translate that as "Chechen Republic of Ichkeria". (The name "Chechen" is actually that of a village, encountered by the Russians early in their occupation of the country; it and the country are stressed on the last syllable: Chechén, Chechnyá.)

The phonology features ejective consonants P' T' TS' CH' K' and Q', and it also has pharyngeal fricatives like Arabic, though they are native sounds to Chechen, not borrowings. These can be combined with other sounds to give pharyngealized consonants. It has rounded front vowels Ö and Ü.

The numerals one to ten are tsHa', shi', qo', di', pkhi', yalkh, vworkh, barkh, iss, itt. The H there represents the pharyngeal h.

The d- of 'four' is not an intrinsic part of the word but a class prefix. Some Chechen words take prefixes agreeing with the class of the word they qualify: the classes are somewhat arbitrary groupings like European genders. The class prefixes are v- b- d- and y-, as in stag veza vu 'the man is heavy' against zuda yeza yu 'the woman is heavy' and keema deza du 'the boat is heavy'.

Chechen is ergative, has postpositions, and has SOV order of subject, object, and verb.

Some useful expressions are

  • quzaH gondaH miinash yui 'are there any mines near here?'
  • quzaH tsHaa guuranash yui 'are there any booby traps near there?'
  • sa mashen lachq'a yina 'my car has been stolen'
  • tsun t'ökhal döödush t'ai hintsa lättash dui 'is the bridge still standing?'
  • iza as tsa dina 'I didn't do it'
  • q'in teera waalalaH suuna 'I apologize'
  • gerza ma tooghalaH 'don't shoot'
  • quzaH laza 'it hurts here'
Note the spooky hint of Klingon in it all.

The largely destroyed capital of Chechnya is usually known by its Russian name of Grozny, which means "Terrible" as in "Ivan the Terrible". The native name is Sölzh-Ghala, but after the killing of President Jokhar Dudayev it was renamed Jokhar-Ghala in 1997, though apparently this has now been rescinded.

The Chechen language was formerly written in Cyrillic, but after the proclamation of independence a new Latin script was devised. This makes use of a number of unusual letters I can't show here, so all the write-up above has been in a more readable but unofficial transcription.

Like Turkish it uses a cedilla under C and S for the CH and SH sounds, giving Ç and Ş. Plain c represents TS. There are vowels ä ö ü.

Now for the new letters. Three of the ejective stops are written ph th kh, and the others with a dot above them (which I'll have to show here as a following dot): the affected letters are c· ç· q·. It is also used for the pharyngeal, written , and for the voiced velar fricative, written . (Note: I formerly called ph th kh aspirated here, but I'm now fairly sure that was wrong.)

The voiced palatal fricative ZH as in vision is written with a crossed Z, that is Z with a horizontal stroke through it the way ordinary Z often is in Europe. The schwa sign (reversed, upside-down e) is used for a neutral vowel, and the two diphthongs ie uo are written as ligatures. Finally there is an n with a tail, a bent extension downward of the right-hand stroke, but not as long as for the IPA symbol for velar nasal: I'm not sure how this is pronounced.

To give the names mentioned above in the new script: country is Noxçiyn Respublika Noxçiyçö, and capital is Sölz-G·ala or Dzoxar-G·ala. The numerals one to ten are (I think) cx·a', şi', qo', di', pxi', jalx, vuorx, barx, iss, itt.

I've sifted various sources for these details of the new script, which have been hard to piece together. There is a font showing them at

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