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Caucasian languages Etymology

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Caucasian languages Etymology

The languages of the Caucasus are a large and extremely varied array of languages spoken by more than ten million people in and around the Caucasus Mountains, which lie between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

The Great Caucasus mountain range extends from the Black Sea to the Caspian. To the north of it is the western portion of the Eurasian steppe; to the south, the hill country of northern Mesopotamia.

Both the steppe and northern Mesopotamia have been centers of economic and political power since approximately the Neolithic, and both have long been avenues through which peoples and languages have moved between Asia and Europe.

The Caucasus itself has been a major conduit through which the Neolithic revolution, agriculture and stockbreeding, and subsequent technological innovations have spread from Mesopotamia to eastern Europe.

The Caucasus is a biological refuge zone in which species found nowhere else are native, and it is known for its ecological and biological diversity.

It has also been known since ancient times for its linguistic diversity, and it can be called a linguistic refuge zone in the sense that three entire separate language families are indigenous to the Caucasus and have no kin elsewhere.

The indigenous language families of the Caucasus are:

Kartvelian or South Caucasian, a family about 4500 years old comprising Georgian and its three sister languages. It probably dispersed in the vicinity of central to eastern Georgia, in the foothills or southern plains. Georgian has a written history going back to the creation of a special alphabet after Georgia became Christianized in the fourth century; the same alphabet is still used. Most Georgians and other Kartvelians are Christians, but some of those in the south are Muslim.

Northwest Caucasian or Abkhaz-Adyghe (or Abkhaz-Circassian), a family of uncertain age (evidently older than the Romance or Slavic families and younger than Indo-European, which is about 6000 years old) with three or four daughter languages. The structural type of this family is exotic in Eurasia. It may have dispersed near the Black Sea coast.

Speakers of Northwest Caucasian languages are mostly Muslims. There are sizable diasporic communities in Turkey and elsewhere in the Near East, descendants of emigrants from the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century; they retain the languages to varying extents.

Northeast Caucasian or Nakh-Daghestanian, a much-diversified family about 6000 years of age, with some 30 daughter languages spoken in the central and eastern Caucasus. It probably dispersed in the southeastern foothills of the Caucasus, near the Caspian Sea and in presentday Azerbaijan. Islam spread into Azerbaijan early and from there to the northern Caucasus, reaching the Chechen and Ingush in the 17th18th centuries.

Though most speakers of Northeast Caucasian languages are Muslims, the Udi (who now inhabit three villages in Azerbaijan and Georgia and are remnants of a larger pre-Georgian population) are monophysite Christians. There are sizable Chechen-Ingush diasporic communities in Turkey and Jordan, descendants of emigrants and deportees from the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century; they retain the language, generally quite well.

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