Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2003 (11.3)
Page 42

Udi Language
Comparing Ancient Albanian with Contemporary Udi
by Zaza Alexidze

Related Articles
1 Caucasian Albanian Alphabet: Ancient Script Discovered in the Ashes - Zaza Alexidze and Betty Blair
2 Quick Facts: Caucasian Albanian Script - Alexidze and Blair
3 Albanian Script: How Its Secrets Were Revealed? - Alexidze and Blair
4 Zaza Alexidze. Decipherer: Glimpses of Childhood - Blair
5 Caucasian Albanian Script: Significance of Dechipherment - Alexidze
6 Udins Today: Ancestors of the Caucasian Albanians - Zurab Konanchev

One of the most significant aspects about the discovery and decipherment of the Caucasian Albanian written script is that there is a living community today that speaks this language - the Udins who live primarily in Azerbaijan. The Udi language belongs to the Lezgian Group of the Dagestani Branch of the Caucasian Language Family.

Historians date the Caucasian Albanian written script to the 5th century - more than 1,500 years ago. They believe that since the 10th century, or perhaps even earlier, the written form of this language ceased to exist [See Quick Facts: "How the Caucasian Albanian Script Probably Disappeared" in this issue].

That's why the proximity that exists between the Albanian script and the Udi language as it is spoken today is quite remarkable. It was thought that over such a long period of time, greater differences would have evolved in the language since it did not have a script to fix or anchor its grammar and vocabulary.

Today, there are an estimated 8,000 ethnic Udins, who live primarily in the Caucasus. They are concentrated mostly in two villages in northern Azerbaijan near Gabala (formerly called Gutgashen). The largest settlement is Nij and a smaller group live in the Oghuz region (previously called Vartashen). A third community immigrated to Georgia in 1920-1922, allegedly for economic reasons. They call their village Zinobiani, after their leader Zinobi Silikasvili. Previously, it was called Oktomberi by the Bolsheviks after "The Great October Revolution" of 1917. There are also some Udins who live in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi. Other small groups are scattered throughout Russia, Armenia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.


Above: (From left to right) 1. Orayin by Georgi Kechaari, 2000. First literary book. In Udi (Latin modified script with 52 letters). 2. Traditional Udi Wedding Traditions by Kechaari, 2003. In Azeri. 98 pages. 3. Dance Around the Fire (Examples of Udi Folklore) compiled by Kechaari, 2002. In Azeri. 102 pages. 4. Waterspring by Georgi Kechaari, 2002. In English. 24 pages. The Norwegian Humanitarian Enterprise (NHE) sponsored these four booklets related to the Udi culture, plus four others these past three years.

This close relationship between the written Caucasian Albanian text and its descendent - the modern-day Udi language - confirms the scholarship of Georgian Akaki Shanidze who concluded in 1937 that Udi was the language represented by the Caucasian Albanian script. He based his research on a 15th-century Armenian grammar discovered in Yerevan by Georgian Ilia Abuladze. This manuscript illustrated what some of the known alphabets in the region looked like, such as Greek, Hebrew, Georgian, Syrian, Coptic, Arabic and also Albanian.

One of the ways that linguists determine the genetic proximity of languages is by comparing certain classifications of words; for example: terms related to kinship, body parts, the galaxy and natural phenomena. Also they compare personal pronouns, numerals and action verbs as well as verbs that express physiological needs such as hunger. It turns out that terms for such words in both Albanian and Udi are, indeed, very close. Here are a few words (in English transliteration) to illustrate words that are exactly the same in modern everyday usage in Udi as well as the 5th century written Caucasian Albanian script which was found among the manuscripts at St. Catherine's Monastery in Mt. Sinai, Egypt.

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