Ubykh is one of the languages comprising the small North-West Caucasian
(Abkhazo-Adyghean) language family. It is SOV, ergative, postpositional,
head-marking, and massively agglutinative. First attested in around 1650 in
the Seyâhatnâme of Evliya Çelebi, it was originally spoken in the region
surrounding the modern Russian city of Sochi, then in exile in north-western
Turkey after the 19th-century invasion of the northern Caucasus by the
Russian Empire and subsequent emigration en masse of the Ubykh nation.
Since the death in 1992 of Ubykh’s last competent native speaker, Tevfik
Esenç, the language has been functionally extinct.
Ubykh already has considerable linguistic renown for its titanic inventory of
consonant phonemes (comprising at least 80 segments in the only well-
attested dialect), but it also demonstrates great complexity in morphology
and syntax. This sketch takes a heavily descriptive approach, outlining not
only Ubykh’s complex phonology and phonetics, but also its inflectional and
derivational morphology – including the most comprehensive account to date
of Ubykh noun morphology – and syntax, with particular focus on describing
attested idiolectic and dialectic variation. The sketch is liberally illustrated
with examples drawn mainly from 14 identified speakers, and is based upon
both the published corpus and previously unpublished field recordings; many
of the example sentences and one of the sample texts are published here for
the first time. It is hoped that this sketch, the first Ubykh grammar in English,
will stimulate renewed interest in the language and provide a useful reference
for Caucasological researchers.