Politics Magazine

A Look at the Ubykh Language

Posted on the 11 July 2015 by Calvinthedog

This post will analyze how hard it is to learn the Ubykh language for a native English speaker.

Ubykh is actually technically extinct, its last speaker having died recently. However, I understand that a linguist says he recently taught himself to speak the language. The Ubykhs still exist as an ethnic group, and members of the group say that they want to revitalize their language. The Ubykhs presently reside in far eastern Turkey.


Ubykh, a Caucasian language of Turkey, is now extinct, but there is one second language speaker, a linguist who is said to have taught himself the language. It has more consonants than any non-click language on Earth – 84 consonant sounds in all. Furthermore, the phonemic inventory allows some very strange consonant clusters. Ubykh has many rare consonant sounds. is only also found in two of Ubykh’s relatives, Abkhaz and Abaza and in two other languages, both in the Brazilian Amazon. The pharyngealized labiodental voiced fricative does not exist in any other language. It often makes it onto weirdest phonologies lists. Ubykh also got a very high score on a study of the weirdest languages on Earth.

Combine that with only two vowel sounds and a highly complex grammar, and you have one tough language.

In addition, Ubykh is both agglutinative and polysynthetic, ergative and has polypersonal agreement:

“If only you had not been able to make him take it all out from under me again for them…”

There are an incredible 16 morphemes in that nine syllable word.

Ubykh has only four case systems on its nouns, but much case function has shifted over to the verb via preverbs and determinants. It is these preverbs and determinants that make Ubykh monstrously complex. The following are some of the directional preverbs:

  • above and touching
  • above and not touching
  • below and touching
  • below and not touching
  • at the side of
  • through a space
  • through solid matter
  • on a flat horizontal surface
  • on a non-horizontal or vertical surface
  • in a homogeneous mass
  • towards
  • in an upward direction
  • in a downward direction
  • into a tubular space
  • into an enclosed space

There are also some preverbal forms that indicate deixis:

j- towards the speaker

Others can indicate ideas that would take up whole phrases in English:

jtɕʷʼaa- “on the Earth,in the Earth”

ʁadja ajtɕʷʼaanaaɬqʼa“
They buried his bod.” Lit. “They put his body in the earth.”

faa– “out of, into or with regard to a fire”.

Amdʒan zatʃətʃaqʲa faastχʷən.
“I take a brand out of the fire.”

Morphemes may be as small as a single phoneme:

wantʷaan “They give you to him.”

w – 2nd singular absolutive
a – 3rd singular dative
n – 3rd ergative
– to give
aa – ergative plural
n – present tense

Adverbial suffixes are attached to words to form meanings that are often formed by aspects or tenses in other languages:

asfəpχa “I need to drink it.”
asfəfan “I can drink it.”
asfəɡʲan “I drink it all the time.”
asfəlan “I am drinking it all up.”
asfətɕʷan “I drink it too much.”
asfaajən “I drink it again.”

Nouns and verbs can transform into each other. Any noun can turn into a stative verb:

məzə “child”

səməzəjtʼ “I was a child.” Lit. “I child-was.” “Child-was” is a verb “to be a child.”

By the same token, many verbs can become nouns via the use of a nominal affix:

qʼa “to say”

səqʼa “what I say” Lit. “That which I say – my speech, my words, my language, my orders, etc.”

Number is marked on the verb via a verbal suffix and is only marked on the noun in the ergative case.

However, it does lack the convoluted case systems of the Caucasian languages next door and there is no grammatical gender.

Ubykh is rated 6, hardest of all.

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