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Chirag Documentation Project


Language Chirag
Depositor Dmitry Ganenkov
Affiliation Institute of Linguistics, Moscow
Location Russian Federation
Collection ID 0339
Grant ID MDP0279
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This is a collection of materials for Chirag, an endangered language from the Dargwa branch of the East Caucasian (Nakh-Daghestanian) family, spoken in Daghestan, Russia, by 2100 to 2400 speakers.

The collection represents a rich corpus of audio and video data from both traditional narratives and everyday communication. The recordings include spontaneous speech as well as lexical and grammatical elicitation, with part of the spontaneous speech transcribed, morphologically analysed and translated to produce an annotated corpus of Chirag.


Group represented

Originally, the language is spoken in the village of Chirag (41°49’54’’ N, 47°26’02’’ E) in the highlands of Daghestan, Russia, close to the Greater Caucasian Mountain Range. Since 1991, Chirags have been leaving the native village due to difficult conditions of life in the mountains. As a result, the village has been almost depopulated, and less than 150 people remain in the village. The rest have moved to the lowlands, mostly Kaspiysk, a small city close to Makhachkala, the capital of the Republic of Daghestan. According to Chirags living in the village, there are about 800 households living in Kaspiysk.


Language information

Chirag belongs to the Dargwa branch of the East Caucasian (Nakh-Daghestanian) family. Traditionally, Chirag is regarded as one of numerous Dargwa dialects. However, the degree of divergence between different dialects at all levels including phonology, lexicon and morphology, is so high that scholars of East Caucasian languages generally agree that linguistically many of them represent separate languages rather than dialects of the same language. For example, Koryakov 2006 identified 17 languages within the Dargwa branch of East Caucasian. Lexicostatistics (as one of the possible measures of language divergence) shows that Chirag together with Kubachi is the most divergent of all Dargwa languages (Yury Koryakov’s (2006) counts based on a version of the Swadesh list), sharing only 67% of its basic lexicon with Standard Dargwa and 67%–84% of the basic lexicon with other dialects. The divergence of Chirag from other Dargwa languages prevents it from being used in communication with speakers of other Dargwa languages.

Sociolinguistically, Chirag does not have any official status and never has. The language of instruction in schools is Russian, some children (especially living in Chirag) are taught ‘mother tongue’ (i.e. Standard Dargwa) which is to them an almost foreign language. All mass media, including papers, radio and TV are in Russian. There is no official Chirag orthography and people use Russian in writing. Most of the ethnic group lives in the multilingual environment where Russian is the only lingua franca. In Kaspiysk, despite very positive attitude of ethnic Chirags towards their language, it is obviously losing ground, since parents often use Russian even at home in their everyday interactions with their children. Most young people (20 years old and younger) in Kaspiysk are semi-speakers of their mother tongue or lack any command of the language at all. In Chirag itself, all people including children continue to actively use the language on everyday basis, but the number of people and especially the number of children in the village is too small to ensure safe language transmission and preservation (only two children went to the first grade of the secondary school in Chirag last year). The overall number of full speakers of Chirag can be estimated as no more than 2100-2400.

Chirag is interesting both from cross-linguistic and intra-genetic (the Dargwa branch) points of view. Typologically, Chirag is important for the following features:

  1. it was reported by Kibrik and Kodzasov (1990) to have both pharyngealization and epiglottalization as distinct phonological properties of vowels (or syllables)
  2. a large system of nominal locative forms
  3. elaborated verbal paradigm, morphologically distinguishing between perfective/imperfective, transitive/intransitive, two types of negation (presupposition vs. assertion), evidential vs. non-evidential in most TMA forms, and infinitives inflected for person and number

The most interesting, yet completely undescribed, a fragment of Chirag grammar is syntax, some features of which (control over infinitival subjects, long-distance gender and person agreement, anaphoric devices) may well appear to be typologically rare or even unique. From the point of view of other Dargwa languages, Chirag is interesting primarily since it displays either very archaic features lost or reduced in the rest of the branch (e.g. analytic causatives or system of personal pronouns) or some developments not found elsewhere in the branch (e.g. semantic evolution of some nominal locative forms).


Collection contents

When completed, the materials in this collection will include

  • around 30 hours of spontaneous speech of various genres (fairy tales, myths, personal life stories, everyday communication), of which ca. 80% will be transcribed and translated
  • around 80 hours of lexical and grammatical elicitation
  • around 10 hours of video recording
  • a small number of legacy materials digitized (ca. 200 notebook pages) from previous research archived at the Institute of Language and Literature (RAS, Makhachkala)
  • a morphologically annotated corpus of Chirag with flexible search options available on the internet
  • a small bilingual Russian/Chirag lexicon will be produced, possibly including an English component
  • a grammatical sketch of Chirag in English
  • an orthography for Chirag similar to the one used for Standard Dargwa
  • a booklet of Chirag texts for the community (ca. 80-100 pages)

At this point, the collection contains

  • 1h 13min of video recordings of spontaneous language use in natural contexts (observed communicative events), covering procedurals (bread making) and women traditional celebrations (International Women’s Day)
  • 142 hours of audio recordings of spontaneous language use (cover folk tales, life stories, conversations and narratives), elicited narratives (pear stories) and lexical and morphosyntactic elicitation sessions
  • 411 annotation files, corresponding to 17 hours of annotated material with orthographic transcriptions in Cyrillic and translations into Russian
  • 231 files with glossed text (FLEx flextext format)
  • 257 text files with details taken from the elicitation sessions
  • 212 pictures of the landscape, community surroundings and houses
  • metadata for all materials


Collection history

The core of the materials were collected by the research team during their ELDP language documentatino project from 2014 to 2016.
The collection also includes legacy materials.


Other information

The collection does not focus primarily on video materials because the related DoBeS project “Documenting Dargi languages in Daghestan – Shiri and Sanzhi” (Diana Forker, University of Bamberg, URL: will provide extensive ethnological video documentation on dialects of two other Dargwa languages: Shiri and Sanzhi.

Chirag has been scarcely documented so far and lacks even a short description of most aspects of grammar. In the 1970s, A.E. Kibrik and S.V. Kodzasov visited Chirag (at that time – a large and thriving village) and made audio recordings of a word list and samples of narratives. The audio recordings have not survived, the word list containing about 800 words including basic verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs was then published under the Chirag entries in the Comparative dictionary of Daghestanian languages (Kibrik and Kodzasov 1988, 1990). These publications also include very short descriptions of Chirag phonology (1 page), plural and oblique case formation (2 pages), basic verb form formation (3 pages). Kibrik 1979 (20 pages) describes basics of Chirag morphosyntax: case marking of core arguments, rules of person and gender agreement, complementation strategies with some matrix predicates, several subjecthood tests (reflexives, relativization, antipassive, clause coordination). Another researcher is S. Gasanova, who also worked on Chirag in 1970s. She published a paper (1979) on case formation in Chirag and used data from Chirag in her survey of Dargwa dialectology (1971). Some field notes of hers (word lists and samples of texts, total of 150-200 notebook pages) are deposited at the Manuscript Archive (Institute of Language and Literature, Daghestan Scientific Center, Makhachkala). Recently, The Dictionary of Languages and Dialects of the Peoples of the Northern Caucasus (Comrie and Khalilov, eds, 2010) has been published which also includes a large number of Chirag words. However, the source contains typos and errors and thus is not fully reliable (moreover, it does not provide lexically relevant morphological information, such as aspectual stems of verbs and plural forms of nouns), so that the data in this source need a check-up.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Ganenkov, Dmitry. 2015. Chirag Documentation Project. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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