Chuvash language

Chuvash language
Чӑвашла, Čăvašla
Pronunciation [tɕəʋaʂˈla]
Spoken in Russia
Region Chuvashia and adjacent areas
Ethnicity Chuvash
Native speakers 1,640,000  (2002 census)
Language family
  • Oghuric (Lir)
Official status
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 cv
ISO 639-2 chv
ISO 639-3 chv

Chuvash (Чӑвашла, Čăvašla; IPA: [tɕəʋaʂˈla])[1] is a Turkic language spoken in central Russia, primarily in the Chuvash Republic and adjacent areas. It is the only surviving member of the Oghur branch of Turkic languages.

The writing system for the Chuvash language is based largely on the Cyrillic alphabet, employing all of the letters used in the Russian alphabet, and adding four letters of its own: Ӑ, Ӗ, Ҫ and Ӳ.


Language use

Stamp of the Soviet Union, Chuvash people, 1933

Chuvash is the native language of the Chuvash people and an official language of Chuvashia.[2] It is spoken by 1,640,000 persons in Russia and another 34,000 in other countries.[3] 86% of ethnic Chuvash and 8% of the people of other ethnicities living in Chuvashia claimed knowledge of Chuvash language during the 2002 census.[4] Despite that, and although Chuvash is taught at schools and sometimes used in the media, it is considered endangered,[5][6] because Russian dominates in most spheres of life and few children learning the language are likely to become active users.


Chuvash is the most distinctive of the Turkic languages and cannot be understood by speakers of other Turkic tongues. Today, Chuvash is classified, alongside Khazar, Turkic Avar, Bulgar, and, possibly, Hunnic, as a member of the Oghuric branch of the Turkic language family. It is the only language of this family which is not extinct. The conclusion that Chuvash belongs to the Oghuric branch of Turkic arises from the reasoning that the vocabulary shows the language to belong to the r- and l- type which is typical for all languages of this branch. The rest of the Turkic languages (Common Turkic) are of the z- and š- type."[7]

Since the surviving literary records for the non-Chuvash members of Oghuric are scant, the exact position of Chuvash within the Oghuric family cannot be determined.

Formerly, scholars considered Chuvash not properly a Turkic language at all but, rather, a Turkicized Finno-Ugric (Uralic) language.[8]

Writing systems


Name IPA Translit. Notes
А а а /a/ a
Ӑ ӑ ӑ /ə/ ă Reduced: may be /ə/ when unstressed, /o/ when stressed.
Б б бӑ /b/ b
В в вӑ /ʋ/ v
Г г гӑ /ɡ/ g
Д д дӑ /d/ d
Е е е /ɛ/ e
Ё ё ё /jo/ or /ʲo/ yo, jo
Ӗ ӗ ӗ /e/ ě Reduced: may be /ɘ/ when unstressed, /ø/ when stressed.
Ж ж жӑ /ʐ/ zh
З з зӑ /z/ z
И и и /i/ i
Й й йӑ /j/ y, j
К к кӑ /k/ k
Л л лӑ /l/ l
М м мӑ /m/ m
Н н нӑ /n/ n
О о о /o/ o May be /ɔ/ in loanwords from Russian
П п пӑ /p/ p
Р р рӑ /r/ r
С с сӑ /s/ s
Ҫ ҫ ҫӑ /ɕ/ ś
Т т тӑ /t/ t
У у у /u/ u
Ӳ ӳ ӳ /y/ ü
Ф ф фӑ /f/ f
Х х хӑ /χ/ h
Ц ц цӑ /t͡s/ ts
Ч ч чӑ /t͡ɕ/ č
Ш ш шӑ /ʂ/ š, sh
Щ щ щӑ /ɕː/
ş, sh
šc, shch
Ъ ъ хытӑлӑхпалли ʺ Placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent back vowel"; puts a distinct /j/ sound in front of the following iotified vowels with no palatalisation of the preceding consonant
Ы ы ы /ɯ/ ı, y
Ь ь ҫемҫелӗхпалли /ʲ/ ʹ Placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent front vowel", slightly palatalises the preceding consonant
Э э э /e/ e
Ю ю ю /ju/ or /ʲu/ yu
Я я я /ja/ or /ʲa/ ya

In 1873–1938

The modern Chuvash alphabet was devised in 1873 by school inspector Ivan Yakovlevich Yakovlev.[9]

а е ы и/і у ӳ ӑ ӗ й в к л љ м н ԡ њ п р р́ с ҫ т т ̌ ђ х ш

In 1938, the alphabet underwent significant modification which brought it to its current form.

Previous systems

The most ancient writing system, known as the Orkhon script, disappeared after the Volga Bulgars converted to Islam. Later, the Arabic alphabet was adopted. After the Mongol invasion, writing degraded. After Peter the Great's reforms Chuvash elites disappeared, blacksmiths and some other crafts were prohibited for non-Russian nations, the Chuvash were educated in Russian, writing in runes recurred with simple folks.



The consonants are the following (the corresponding Cyrillic letters are in brackets): /p/ (п), /t/ (т), /k/ (к), /t͡ɕ/ (ч), /s/ (с), /ʂ/ (ш), /ɕ/ (ҫ), /χ/ (х), /ʋ/ (в), /m/ (м), /n/ (н), /l/ (л), /r/ (р), /j/ (й). The stops, sibilants and affricates are voiceless and fortes, but instead become lenes (sounding similar to voiced) in intervocalic position and after liquids, nasals and semi-vowels. E.g. Аннепе sounds like annebe, кушакпа sounds like kuzhakpa. However, geminate consonants don't undergo this lenition. Furthermore, the voiced consonants occurring in Russian are used in modern Russian-language loans. Consonants also become palatalized before and after front vowels.


According to Krueger (1961), the Chuvash vowel system is as follows (the precise IPA symbols are chosen based on his description, since he uses a different transcription).

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
High i ⟨и⟩ y ⟨ӳ ɯ ⟨ы⟩ u ⟨у⟩
Low e ⟨е⟩ ø̆ ⟨ӗ⟩ а ⟨а⟩ ŏ ⟨ӑ⟩

András Róna-Tas (1997)[10] provides a somewhat different description, also with a partly idiosyncratic transcription. The following table is based on his version, with additional information from Petrov (2001). Again, the IPA symbols are not directly taken from the works, so they could be inaccurate.

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
High i ⟨и⟩ yӳ ɯ ⟨ы⟩ u ⟨у⟩
Close-mid ĕ ⟨ӗ⟩ ɤ̆ ⟨ӑ⟩
Open-mid ɛ ⟨е⟩
Low a ⟨а⟩

The vowels ӑ and ӗ are described as reduced, thereby differing in quantity from the rest. In unstressed positions, they often resemble a schwa or tend to be dropped altogether in fast speech. At times, especially when stressed, they may be somewhat rounded and sound similar to /o/ and /ø/.

Additionally, ɔ (о) occurs in loanwords from Russian.


There are two dialects of Chuvash: Viryal or Upper (which has both o and u) and Anatri or Lower (which has u for both o and u: up. totă "full", tută "taste" – lo. tută "full, taste" ). The literary language is based on both the Lower and Upper dialects. Both Tatar and the Uralic languages have influenced the Chuvash language, as have Russian, Mari, Mongolian, Arabic, and Persian, which have all added many words to the Chuvash lexicon.


Chuvash is an agglutinative language and as such has an abundance of suffixes, but no native prefixes (apart from the reduplicating intensifier prefix as in шурă = white, шап-шурă = very white). One word can have many suffixes and these can also be used to create new words (like creating a verb from a noun, or a noun from a verbal root, see Vocabulary section further below) or to indicate the grammatical function of the word.

Nouns and adjectives

Chuvash nouns can take endings indicating the person of a possessor. They can take case-endings. There are six noun cases in the Chuvash declension system:

  • Nominative
  • Genitive, formed by adding -ӑн, -ӗн or simply -н according to the vowel harmony
  • Objective, formed by adding -(н)a or -(н)е, according to the vowel harmony
  • Locative, formed by adding -тe, -ре, -тa, -ра according to the vowel harmony
  • Ablative, formed by adding -тен or -тан, -рен, ран according to the vowel harmony
  • Instrumental, formed by adding -пe or -пa, according to the vowel harmony


  • Causal-final, formed by adding -шӑн, -шӗн according to the vowel harmony
  • Privative, formed by adding -сӑр, -сӗр according to the vowel harmony
  • Terminativeantessive, formed by adding -(ч)чен
  • relic of distributive, formed by adding -серен: кунсерен "daily, every day", килсерен "per house", килмессерен "every time one comes"
  • Semblative, formed by adding -шкал, -шкел to pronouns in genitive or objective case (манaшкал "like me", санашкал "like you", унашкал "like him, that way", пир(н)ешкел "like us", сир(н)ешкал "like you all", хамaшкал "like myself", хунашкал "like yourself", кунашкал "like this"); adding -ла, -ле to nouns (этемле "humanlike", ленинла "like Lenin")

Taking кун (day) as an example:

Chuvash English Noun case
кун day, or the day Nominative
кунӑн of the day Genitive
куна to the day Objective
кунра[citation needed] in the day Locative
кунран[citation needed] of the day, or from the day Ablative
кунпа with the day Instrumental

Possession is expressed by means of constructions based on verbs meaning "to exist" and "to not exist" ("пур" and "ҫук"). For example, in order to say, "My cat had no shoes," we form:

кушак + -ӑм + -ӑн ура атӑ(и) + -сем ҫук + -ччӗ
(кушакӑмӑн ура аттисем ҫукччӗ)

which literally translates as, "cat-mine-of foot-cover(of)-plural-his non-existent-was."


Chuvash verbs exhibit person. They can be made negative or impotential; they can also be made potential. Finally, Chuvash verbs exhibit various distinctions of tense, mood, and aspect: a verb can be progressive, necessitative, aorist, future, inferential, present, past, conditional, imperative, or optative.

Chuvash English
кил- (to) come
килме- not (to) come
килейме- not (to) be able to come
килеймен She (or he) was apparently unable to come.
килеймерӗ She had not been able to come.
килеймерӗр You (plural) had not been able to come.
килеймерӗр-и? Have you (plural) not been able to come?

Vowel harmony

"Vowel harmony" is the principle by which a native Chuvash word generally incorporates either exclusively back vowels (а, ӑ, у, ы) or exclusively front vowels (е, ӗ, и, ӳ). As such, a notation for a Chuvash suffix such as -тен means either -тан or -тен, whichever promotes vowel harmony; a notation such as -тпӗр means either -тпӑр, -тпӗр again with vowel harmony constituting the deciding factor.

Chuvash has two classes of vowels – front and back (see the table above). Vowel harmony states that words may not contain both front and back vowels. Therefore, most grammatical suffixes come in front and back forms, e.g. Шупашкарта "in Cheboksary" but килте "at home".


Compound words are considered separate words with respect to vowel harmony: vowels do not have to harmonize between members of the compound (thus forms like сӗтел|пукан "furniture" are permissible). In addition, vowel harmony does not apply for loanwords and some invariant suffixes (such as -ӗ); there are also a few native Chuvash words that do not follow the rule (such as анне "mother"). In such words suffixes harmonize with the final vowel; thus Анне'пе "With the mother".

Word order

Word order in Chuvash is generally subject–object–verb.

Chuvash numbers

  • 1 – пĕрре pĕrre, пĕр pĕr
  • 2 – иккĕ ikkĕ, икĕ ikĕ, ик ik
  • 3 – виççĕ vişşĕ, виçĕ vişĕ, виç viş
  • 4 – тăваттă tăvattă, тăватă tăvată, тăват tăvat
  • 5 – пиллĕк pillĕk, пилĕк pilĕk
  • 6 – улттă ulttă IPA: [ˈultːə], ултă ultă IPA: [ˈult̬ə], улт ult IPA: [ult]/IPA: [ult̬]
  • 7 – çиччĕ şiccĕ IPA: [ˈɕiʨːɘ], çичĕ şicĕ IPA: [ˈɕiʨ̬ɘ], çич şic IPA: [ˈɕiʨ̬]
  • 8 – саккăр sakkăr IPA: [ˈsakːər], сакăр sakăr IPA: [ˈsak̬ər]
  • 9 – тăххăр tăhhăr, тăхăр tăhăr
  • 10 – вуннă vunnă, вун vun
  • 11 – вун пĕр vunpĕr
  • 12 – вун иккĕ vunikkĕ, вун икĕ vunikĕ, вун ик vunik
  • 13 – вун виççĕ vunvişşĕ, вун виçĕ vunvişĕ, вун виç vunviş
  • 14 – вун тăваттă vuntăvattă, вун тăватă vuntăvată, вун тăват vuntăvat
  • 15 – вун пиллĕк vunpillĕk, вун пилĕк vunpilĕk
  • 16 – вун улттă vunulttă, вун ултă vunultă, vunult
  • 17 – вун çиччĕ vunşiccĕ, вун çичĕ vunşicĕ, vunşic
  • 18 – вун саккăр vunsakkăr, вун сакăр vunsakăr
  • 19 – вун тăххăр vuntăhhăr, вун тăхăр vuntăhăr
  • 20 – çирĕм şirĕm
  • 30 – вăтăр vătăr
  • 40 – хĕрĕх hĕrĕh
  • 50 – аллă allă, алă ală, ал al
  • 60 – утмăл utmăl
  • 70 – çитмĕљ şitmĕl
  • 80 – сакăрвуннă sakărvunnă, сакăрвун sakărvun
  • 90 – тăхăрвуннă tăhărvunnă, тăхăрвун tăhărvun
  • 100 – çĕр şĕr
  • 1000 – пин pin
  • 834236 - сакăр çĕр вăтăр тăватă пин те ик çĕр вăтăр улттă sakăr şĕr vătăr tăvată pin te ik şĕr vătăr ulttă IPA: [ˌsakərɕɘrʋət̬ərt̬əʋat̬ə↗p̬inʲt̬eǀikɕɘrʋət̬ər↘ultːəǁ], сакăр çĕр вăтăр тăватă пин те ик çĕр вăтăр ултă sakăr şĕr vătăr tăvată pin te ik şĕr vătăr ultă


  1. ^ also known as Chăvash, Chuwash, Chovash, Chavash, Çuvaş or Çuaş
  2. ^ Эктор Алос-и-Фонт. Оценка языковой политики в Чувашии
  3. ^ Ethnologue report for Chuvash
  4. ^ Russian Census 2002. 6. Владение языками (кроме русского) населением отдельных национальностей по республикам, автономной области и автономным округам Российской Федерации(Knowledge of languages other than Russian by the population of republics, autonomous oblast and autonomous districts)(Russian)
  5. ^ Zheltov, Pavel. An Attribute-Sample Database System for Describing Chuvash Affixes
  6. ^ Tapani Salminen (Last updated 22 September 1999). "UNESCO red book on endangered languages: Europe". 
  7. ^ Johanson (1998); cf. Johanson (2000, 2007) and the articles pertaining to the subject in Johanson & Csató (ed., 1998).
  8. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (1997)
  9. ^ "Telegram to the Chairman of the Simbirsk Soviet". Retrieved 30 August 2010. 
  10. ^ András Róna-Tas. "Nutshell Chuvash". Erasmus Mundus Intensive Program Turkic languages and cultures in Europe (TLCE). Retrieved 31 August 2010. 

See also


External links

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