The Udi language


© Wolfgang Schulze 2002 (University of Munich)


Basic data







 (the local designation is udin muz ‘Udi(sh) language’) belongs to the Lezgian (or Southern) branch of the autochthonous East Caucasian language family. Within the Lezgian branch, Udi occupies a so-called marginal position reflecting the fact that historically speaking the language separated from the Lezgian ‘branch’ soon after this branch disintegrated into at least three ‘dialects’ (Early Udi, Early Archi, and Early Samur). There is a (very!) vague possiblity to relate the ethnonym udi to the ancient ethnic name Qûtîm documented in Middle Assyrian sources. Later, the name turned up as Utíoi in Greek, as Utii in Latin, and as Utink` in Classical Armenian. Today, Udi is spoken in three villages in Transcaucasia as well as in a number of Diaspora places scattered throughout the Russian Federation, in Armenia, in Turkmenistan, and in Kazakhstan. Nowadays, the original habitat of the ethnic Udis in Northern Azerbaijan is confined to the village of Nidzh (Nij), located on the road from Sheki (in the West) to Qabala (formerly Kutkashen) in the East. In Nidzh, the ethnic Udis represent a rather compact unity of roughly 4.500 people, 80% of whom reclaim to use Udi in one context or the other. Before autumn 1989, Vartashen (now Oghuz) was the second Azerbaijani village which hosted a significant number of ethnic Udis. By virtue of the Armenian Azerbaijani clashes in 1989, most of the roughly 3.000 Vartashen Udis left Vatashen/Oghuz. Some families fled to neighboring Nidzh, others left Azerbaijan and settled in Armenia, in the Russian Federation, in Turkmenistan, or in Kazakhastan. Today, some 35 ethnic Udi families still live in Oghuz. A third settlement of ethnic Udis had been founded in Eastern Georgia (east of Kvareli) in 1922 when a considerable number of basically Vartashen Udis left their original habitat due to the disastrous economic situation after the Civil War. This villages, called Okt’omberi (formerly Zinobiani), today hosts some 80 ethnic Udis (93 in 1989, 83 in 1995), living in a totally ‚Georgian’ environment. Ethnic Udis are Christians (basically, Orthodox in Oghuz, and Georgian in Nidzh). However, there has been a considerable semi-Islamic adstrate, mixed with Jewish traditions especially in Vartashen.


In a total, there are up to 8.100 ethnic Udis today (7,971 Udis in Azerbaijan in 1989). Most of the Udi speakers are bi- or even multilingual. In Okt’omberi, it is Georgian that plays the role of a language for ‘external’ communication, whereas Udi is retained by some 50 people in ‘internal’ communication (most of them are 50 years old and beyond). In Nidzh, the language is much better preserved than in Georgia: Here, multilingualism forms an integrated part of everyday communication, being based on Azeri and – till 1989 – on a local variety of Armenian. Additionally, Southwest Iranian Tati (the language of the local Jewish communities) is occasionally present among ethnic Udis, too. Russian is not as important as it used to be in times of Soviet rulership. In Nidzh (and, till 1989, in Vartashen) Udi is spoken by most elder ethnic Udis (50 years and beyond), whereas the knowledge of the language decreases the younger people are. Nevertheless, in ‘internal’ communication, a considerable number of young Udis still use a yet strongly Azeri influenced variety of Udi that can be described as ‚Young People’s Udi’. The sociolinguistic situation of Udi in Nidzh has become more stable after the immigration of Udis from Vartashen. Stipulated by the work of the native Udi Georgi kechaari (from nizh), a graphic tradition gradually develops. It is derived from the now Latin based tradition of Azeri (some Cyrillic signs are added). Yet, teaching is nearly completely in Azeri – although certain classes are given in Udi [see the program developed by Ajdynov & Kechaari [Kocharli] 1992). The last years saw a growing interest in the cultural and linguistic heritage of the Udi people due to an increasing debate on the ethnic layers in Azerbaijan. The Udi people is often thought to represent the last off-spring of one of the ethnic groups that once constituted the Early Christian kingdom of Alwan (Caucasian Albania). The foundation of the ‘Scientific Research Center of Caucasian Albania’ in Baku in the year 2000 that also opts to support the maintenance of the Udi cultural and linguistic tradition can be regarded as another expression of such a growing interest [although it is undoubtedly directed by political rather than purely cultural objectives]. Also, an Udi National Cultural Center (Orayin – ‘The Spring’) has recently been established in Baku that tries to promote both the preparation of Udi textbooks (e.g. the primar by Ajdynov & Kechaari [Kocharli] 1996) and the translation of foreign , mainly Azeri and Western European belletristic literature into Udi. The Norwegian Humanitarian Enterprise (NHE) has put considerable efforts into the promotion of Orayin’s activities (including the publication of a (Nizh-)Udi text book by Georgi Kechaari (2001)). 


The long-standing and strong impact from Azerbaijani cultural and linguistic traditions has led to a dramatic decrease in the knowledge of the ‘mental’ culture among Udis. Folk traditions are generally adopted from the Azeri surroundings though occasionally accommodated to the original Udi traditions. It still is a matter of research to disclose the extent to which specific Udi traditions with respect to folk tales, fairy tales, heroic or religious myths, and songs are still present among Udis. Most of the data exploited in the scientific literature are older than at least 50 years. As a matter of fact, the large bulk of textual data on Udi stems from the 19th century. Among them, there are tales, notes on conversation, and - last but not least - the translation of the Gospels, prepared by Semjon Bezhanov, an Udi teacher from Vartashen in the years 1890-1898 (assisted by his brother Mikhail Bezhanov, a local ethnograph). The Gospels have been recently reedited by W. Schulze (Schulze 2001a).  


The unique position of Udi within the Lezgian branch of East Caucasian has motivated linguists to work on this language since nearly 150 years, starting with Schiefner’s famous (nevertheless in parts unreliable) 1863 grammar of Udi. Though Udi has experienced a rather comprehensive linguist description since then (including the exceptional work carried out by the Udi linguists Voroshil Lukasyan and Evgeni Dzhejranishvili), the results can hardly be regarded as an overall contribution to the preservation and documentation of the language. Western linguists such A. Harris (e.g. 1992, 1997, 2000, 2002), and W. Schulze (e.g. 1982, 1994, 2001a, 2001b, forthcoming) have helped to refine the linguistic analysis of Udi and to augment the stock of texts available, yet the number of texts still is regrettably small. The most urgent task would be to document as much texts as possible documenting both the actual conversational styles in Nidzh and Okt’omberi and the general oral tradition and to cumulate the data in a new comprehensive (etymological) Udi dictionary (the best distionary we have so far is Gukasyan 1974). A first step into this direction has been done by Jost Gippert and Manana Tanadshvili (U Francfort) who have started a audiovisual documentation project on Okt’omberi Udi in September 2002 (as part of the DOBES project funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung). A typologically oriented reference grammar will be availble towards the end of the year (W. Schulze 2003, in preparation. A Functional Grammar of Udi).  



Links:               Alice Harris’ homepage has/will have detailed information on the linguistics of Udi as well as textual data. The site also informs on Harris’ book on the Endoclitics and the Origins of Udi Morphosyntax’. Oxford 2002: OUP. 

                           Udi Online Grammar (prepared by W. Schulze 2001b): A comprehensive, though in some respects necessarily superficial documentation of Udi, including texts with glosses etc.

                           Titus-Server: Recordings of Udi (audio).

                           Titus-Server: Information about Caucasian Albanian documents (Mt. Sinai palympsests)

                           Titus-Server: Documentation of the Udi Gospels.

                           A preliminary analysis of a sample from Mt. Sinai texts.

                           A Nizh Udi anecdote




NOTE: This bibliographical list is far from being a comprehensive bibliography on the Udi language. I have neglected earlier works by Dzheiranishvili and Panchvidze because most of them are summarized in they books. I also have neglected some specific references with respect to the problem of Caucasian ‘Albanian’ (recte: Alvan) as this question will be dealt with on a separate page in the net.


Grammers: Currently, the best book to start with undoubtedly is Harris 2002. Concentrating on a major issue of Udi grammar, the book carefully directs the reader to a broader understanding of the language (see Schulze 2002c for a preliminary review). Other grammars include Schiefner 1863 (with many errors), Dirr 1904 (a rather good introduction), Jeiranishvili 1971 (the book on Udi until Harris 2002 and (hopefully) Schulze 2003 (in preparation)), Panchvidze 1974, Schulze 1982 (with many diachronic arguments, however, in parts no longer up-to-date), and Schulze 1994 (very, very condensed). There is an Udi Online Grammar availble (Schulze 2001b).


Udi texts are editied by Schiefner 1863 (most of them translations from Russian), Bezhanov 1888 (the standard text to start with), Dirr 1904 (first hand texts), Bezhanov & Bezhanov 1902 (reedited by Schulze 2001a), Dirr 1928 (a good collection), Bouda 1939 (exploiting Dzheirani & Dzheirani 1933), Jeiranishvili 1971 (including the frequently quoted text tämbäl ghar), Schulze 1998 (one text, a revised version can be found here), Harris (forthcoming), and Kechaari 2001 (an extremely important collection of Nizh texts (tales, poems, anecdotes, in parts translations from Azeri).


Lexical material is given by Schiefner 1863 (highly unreliable), Dirr 1904, Jeiranishvili 1971 (very useful onomasiological lists), Gukasyan 1974 (the only true dictionary of the language), Fähnrich 1999 (a word list), and Schulze 2001 (covering the lexical material in the Gospels from an etymological perspective). Currently, a comprehensive Online Dictionary of Udi is under construction at the Institute for General Linguistics and Language Typology of the University of Munich.



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ajdynov, Ju. A. & Kechaari [Kocharli], zh. a. 1996. Älifba [Azbuka]. Baku.

Aleksidzé, Z. & J.-P. Mahé 1997. Découverte d’un texte albanien: une langue ancienne du Caucase retrouvée. Académie des Inscriptions & belles-lettres. Comptes rendues des séances de l’année 1997 avril-juin, fasc. II, 517-532. Paris: Boccard.

AKEKSIDZÉ, Z. 1998-2000. Remarques sur le déchriffrement de l'écriture  albano-caucasienne. RArm 27:423-428.

ALEKSIDZÉ, Z. & J.-P. MAHÉ 2001. Le déchiffrement de l'écriture des Albaniens du Caucase. CRAI 2001 [in press].

Anonymous 1842 (ante). Nachal’nye osnovanija grammatiki na Agvanskom jazyke, pisannoj armjanskimi bukvami. (ms., St. Peterburg Oriental Institute, no. C-7 (Armenica)).

Bezhanov, M. (ed.) 1888. Rustam. SMOMPK IV (annex).

Bezhanov, M. 1892. Kratkie svedenie o s. Vartashene i ego zhiteljax. SMOMPK XIV:1-32.

Bezhanov, S. & Bezhanov, M. 1902. Gospoda Nashego Iisusa Xrista Svjatoe evangelie ot Matfeja, Marka, Luki i Ioanna na russkom i udinskom jazykax. Tiflis: Izdanie Kavkazskago Uchebnago Okruga (SMOMPK XXX).

Bouda, K. 1939. Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Udischen auf Grund neuer Texte. WZKM 93:60-72.

Crysmann, B. 2000. On the Placement and Morphology of Udi Subject Agreement. Draft version.

Dirr, A. 1904. Grammatika udinskogo jazyka. SMOMPK XXXIII:1-101.

Dirr, A. 1928. Udische Texte. Caucasica 5:60-72.

dzhejrani, T. & dzhejrani, M. 1934. Samdzhi däs [The first lesson]. Suxumi: Zakav. Fil AN SSSR.

dzheiranishvili, Evg. 1971. Udiuri ena. Gramat’ik’a, krestomat’ia, leksik’oni. Tbilisi: Tbil. univ. gamomcemloba.

Fähnrich, H. 1999. Kleines Udisch-Deutsches Wörterverzeichnis. Jena: Kaukasien-Reihe.

Gukasjan, V. L. 1964. Nidzhskij dialekt udinskogo jazyka. Kand. diss. (ms.). Baku [avtoreferat 1965: Foneticheskie i morfologicheskie osobennosti niddhskogo dialekta udinskogo jazyka. Baku: Izd. AN Azeb.SSR].

Gukasjan, V. 1974. Udincä-azärbaycança-rusça lüğät. Bakı: Elm.

Harris, A. 1984. Case marking, verb agreement, and inversion in Udi. D.M. Perlmutter & C.G. Rosen (eds.). Studies in Relational Grammar 2,243-258. Chicago: UCP.

Harris, A. 1992. The particle -a in Udi. H.I. Aronson (ed.). The non-Slavic languages of the USSR, Linguistic studies, 135-56. Chicago: CLS.

Harris, A. 1996. Focus in Udi. H.I. Aronson (ed.): NSL 8: Linguistic studies in the non-Slavic languages of the CIS and the Baltic Republics, 201-220. Chicago: CLS.

Harris, a. 2000. Where in the word is the Udi clitic? Language 76,3:593-616.

Harris, A. 2002. Endoclitics and the Origins of Udi Morphosyntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harris, A. (in preparation). Udi evidence for the reconstruction of Proto-Lezgian locative cases and preverbs.

Jagnovskij, A.G. 1858. Zapiska o polozhenii del po voprosu o predpolagaemom srodstve votjakov s zakavkazskimi udinami. Vest. Russk. Geogr. Obshch. 2 (introduction).

Karamiantz, N. 1886. Einundzwanzig Buchstaben eines verlorenen Alphabets. ZDMG 40: 315-319.

Karbelashvili, D. P. 1935. K fonetike udinskogo jazyka. Jazyk i myshlenie III-IV:259-276.

KECHAARI, G. 2001. Orayin. Bakı: Azärbaican Dövlät Näšriyyatı.

Meliksetbekov, L. 1942. K istorii udin. Tbilisi: Trudy gosud. univ. im. Stalina.

Outtier, B. 1992. Le vocabulaire religieux en Oudi. C. Paris (éd.). Caucasiologie et mythologie comparée, 331-333. Paris: Peeters.

Pajjazat, A. 1933a. Grammatika udi-albanskogo jazyka. Erevan (ms.).

Pajjazat, A. 1933b. Udi-albanskij slovar’. Erevan (ms.).

Panchvidze, Vl. 1974. Udiuri enis gramat’ik’uli analizi. Tbilisi: Mecniereba.

Schiefner, A.A. 1863. Versuch über die Sprache der Uden. St. Petersburg: Imp.Akad. (Mémoires series VII,  vol. VI, no. 8).

Schulze, W. 1982. Die Sprache der Uden in Nord-Azerbajdžan. Studien zur Synchronie und Diachronie einer süd-ostkaukasischen Sprache. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

SCHULZE, W. 1994. Udi. A Grammatical Sketch. In: Rieks Smeets (ed.). The Indigenous Languages of the Caucasus, vol. 3.2., 447-514. Delmar, New York: Caravan.

Schulze, W. 1998. Person, Klasse, Kongruenz. Fragmente einer Kategorialtypologie des einfachen Satzes in den ostkaukasischen Sprachen. Vol. 1 (in two parts): Die Grundlagen. München/Newcastle: Lincom Europa.

Schulze, W. 2000. Towards a Typology of the Accusative Ergative Continuum: The Case of East Caucasian. General Linguistics 37,1:71-155.

Schulze, W. (ms. 2000). Floating clitics in Udi and Northern Talysh: Coincidence or language contact? Paper presented at the X. International Caucasian Colloqium, Univ. of Munich.

Schulze, W. 2001a. The Udi Gospels. Annotated Text, Etymological Index, Lemmatized Concordance. München/Newcastle: Lincom.

SCHULZE, W. 2001b. Udi Online Grammar. /Uog.html.

Schulze, W. 2002a. Die kaukasischen Sprachen. In: W. Oesterreicher et al. (eds.). Language typology and Language Universals II. (HSK)., 1774-1796. Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Schulze, W. 2002b. The loan layers of Udi: Armenian. W. Bublitz, M. v. Roncador, H. Vater (eds.). Philology, Typology and Language Structure. Festschrift for Winfried Boeder on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, 211-223. Franfurt a.M. etc.: P. Lang.

SCHULZE, W. 2002c. Review of: Harris, A. 2002. Endoclitics and the Origins of Udi Morphosyntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press. LINGUIST List 13.2994.

SCHULZE, W. 2002d. Towards a Pragmasyntax of Udi Narratives. Paper given at the Symposium on Typology (U Francfort Nov. 2002) [ms.].

Schulze, W. (in press). The grammar of the Udi gospels. H.I. Aronson (ed.). Papers of the First Biennal Chicago Conference on Caucasia.

SCHULZE, W (2003, in preparation). A Functional Grammar of Udi.

Starchevskij, A.V. 1891. Kavkazkij tolmach. Perevodchik s russkogo na glavnejshie kavkazskie jazyki, zakl. v sebe 27 jazykov. St. Petersburg: Imp.Akad.

Volkova, N. 1994. The Udis. Paul Friedrich & Norma Diamond (eds.). The Encyclopedia of World Cultures. Vol. 6. Russia and Eurasia/China, 375-378. Boston: Hall and Co.

Xuciev, A. & Čelokaev, A. 1853. Slovar’ obshcheupotrebitel’nyx terminov kavkazskix udinov s perevodem na russkij jazyk. St. Petersburg: Imp.Akad.