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Group of languages spoken in the Caucasus region that are not members of any language families spoken elsewhere in the world. Caucasian languages, spoken by some nine million people, are divided into three subgroups: the South Caucasian, or Kartvelian family; the Northwest Caucasian, or Abkhaz-Adyghe languages; and the Northeast Caucasian, or Nakh-Dagestanian languages. Kartvelian, with more than 4.5 million speakers, comprises four relatively closely related languages, including Georgian. Northwest Caucasian languages include Abkhaz and a chain of dialects called collectively Circassian. The Northeast Caucasian languages are further divided into two groups, Nakh and Dagestanian. The Nakh languages include Chechen and Ingush, spoken by more than a million people mainly in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Dagestanian is an extraordinarily diversified group of 25–30 languages spoken by some 1.7 million people mainly in northern Azerbaijan and the Republic of Dagestan. Several Dagestanian languages, including Avar, Lak, Dargva, and Lezgi, number their speakers in the hundreds of thousands; others are spoken in only a few villages. In spite of their great diversity, most Caucasian languages have in common large consonant inventories; in some languages the number of consonants distinguished approaches 80. Those Caucasian languages with standard written forms employ the Cyrillic alphabet, with the prominent exception of Georgian. An effort is being made to introduce the Latin alphabet for Chechen in Chechnya.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Caucasian languages, visit Britannica.com.
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