Chuvash language

Chuvash /ˈvɑːʃ/[3] (Чӑвашла, translit. Căvašla, Çovaşla; IPA: [tɕəʋaʂˈla])[4] is a Turkic language spoken in European Russia, primarily in the Chuvash Republic and adjacent areas. It is the only surviving member of the Oghur branch of Turkic languages. Because of this, Chuvash has diverged considerably from the other Turkic languages, which are mutually intelligible to a greater or lesser extent with each other but not with Chuvash.

Native toRussia
RegionChuvashia and adjacent areas
Native speakers
1,042,989 (2010 census)[1]
Early form
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1cv
ISO 639-2chv
ISO 639-3chv
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

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


Stamp of the Soviet Union, Chuvash people, 1933

Chuvash is the native language of the Chuvash people and an official language of Chuvashia.[5][6] It is spoken by 1,640,000 persons in Russia and another 34,000 in other countries.[7] 86% of ethnic Chuvash and 8% of the people of other ethnicities living in Chuvashia claimed knowledge of Chuvash language during the 2002 census.[8] Despite that, and although Chuvash is taught at schools and sometimes used in the media, it is considered endangered,[9][10] because Russian dominates in most spheres of life, and few children learning the language are likely to become active users.

A fairly significant production and publication of literature in Chuvash still continues. According to UNESCO's Index Translationum, at least 202 books translated from Chuvash were published in other languages (mostly Russian) since ca. 1979.[11] However, as with most other languages of the former USSR, most of the translation activity took place before the dissolution of the USSR: out of the 202 translations, 170 books were published in the USSR,[12] and just 17, in the post-1991 Russia (mostly, in the 1990s).[13] A similar situation takes place with the translation of books from other languages (mostly Russian) into Chuvash (the total of 175 titles published since ca. 1979, but just 18 of them in post-1991 Russia).[14]


Chuvash is the most distinctive of the Turkic languages and cannot be understood by speakers of other Turkic tongues. Chuvash is classified, alongside the extinct language Bulgar, as the only remaining member of the Oghuric branch of the Turkic language family. 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.

The Oghuric branch is distinguished from the rest of the Turkic family (the Common Turkic languages) by two sound changes: r corresponding to Common Turkic z, and l corresponding to Common Turkic ş.[15]

Chuvash is so divergent from the main body of Turkic languages that scholars formerly considered Chuvash to be a Turkified Finno-Ugric (Uralic language).[16] However, the first scientific fieldwork description of Chuvash, by August Ahlqvist in 1856, allowed researchers to establish its proper affiliation.[17]

Writing systemsEdit


А а Ӑ ӑ Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё
Ӗ ӗ Ж ж З з И и Й й К к Л л М м
Н н О о П п Р р С с Ҫ ҫ Т т У у
Ӳ ӳ Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ
Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я
Name IPA Latin script (CVLat and Turkish-Based)[18] Notes
А а а /a/~/ɑ/ a
Ӑ ӑ ӑ /ə/, /ɒ/ ă/o a'
Б б бӑ /b/ b only in loanwords from Russian
В в вӑ /ʋ/~/w/, /v/ (in non-chuvash loanwords) v
Г г гӑ /ɡ/ g only in loanwords from Russian
Д д дӑ /d/ d only in loanwords from Russian
Е е е /ɛ/ e, je/ye
Ё ё ё /jo/ or /ʲo/ jo/yo only in loanwords from Russian
Ӗ ӗ ӗ /ɘ/ (ɘ~ø) ĕ/ö e'
Ж ж жӑ /ʐ/ ž/j only in loanwords from Russian
З з зӑ /z/ z only in loanwords from Russian
И и и /i/ i/İ i
Й й йӑ /j/ j/y
К к кӑ /k/, /kʲ/ (c), /k̬ʲ/ (gʲ, ɟ) k
Л л лӑ /l/~/ɫ/, /lʲ/ (ʎ) l, lĭ/l' l'
М м мӑ /m/ m
Н н нӑ /n/, /nʲ/ (ɲ) n, nĭ/n' n'
О о о /o/ o only in loanwords from Russian
П п пӑ /p/, /p̬/ (b) p
Р р рӑ /r/~/ɾ/ r r'
С с сӑ /s/, /s̬/ (z) s
Ҫ ҫ ҫӑ /ɕ/, /ɕ̬/ (ʑ) ş/c s'
Т т тӑ /t/, /tʲ/, /t̬ʲ/ (dʲ), /t̬/ (d) t, tĭ/t'
У у у /u/, /̯u/ (o) u
Ӳ ӳ ӳ /y/ ü u'
Ф ф фӑ /f/, /̯f̬/ (v) f only in loanwords from Russian
Х х хӑ /χ/, /χʲ/, /χ̃/ (ɣ), /χ̃ʲ/ (ɣʲ) h/x
Ц ц цӑ /ts/, /ʦ̬/ (dz) ts only in loanwords from Russian
Ч ч чӑ //, /ʨ̬/ (ʥ) c/ç
Ш ш шӑ /ʂ/, /ʂ̬/ (ʐ) š/ş
Щ щ щӑ /ɕː/
šc/şç only in loanwords from Russian
Ъ ъ хытӑлӑх палли only in loanwords from Russian. Placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent back vowel"; puts a distinct /j/ sound in front of the following iotified: Е, Ё, Ю, Я vowels with no palatalization of the preceding consonant
Ы ы ы /ɯ/ y/ı only in beginning of words, 1-2 letters
Ь ь ҫемҫелӗх палли /ʲ/ ĭ/' Placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent front vowel", slightly palatalizes the preceding consonant
Э э э /e/ e only first letter
Ю ю ю /ju/ or /ʲu/ ju/yu
Я я я /ja/ or /ʲa/ ja/ya


The modern Chuvash alphabet was devised in 1873 by school inspector Ivan Yakovlevich Yakovlev.[19]

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

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

Previous systemsEdit

The most ancient writing system, known as the Old Turkic alphabet, disappeared after the Volga Bulgars converted to Islam. Later, the Arabic script 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, while writing in runes recurred with simple folks.[20][21]



The consonants are the following (the corresponding Cyrillic letters are in brackets): The stops, sibilants and affricates are voiceless and fortes but become lenes (sounding similar to voiced) in intervocalic position and after liquids, nasals and semi-vowels. Аннепе sounds like annebe, but кушакпа sounds like kuzhakpa. However, geminate consonants do not 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.

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Retroflex Alveolo-palatal Palatal Velar Uvular
Stop п /p/ т /t/ к /k/
Affricate ч //
Fricative c /s/ ш /ʂ/ ҫ /ɕ/ x /χ/
Nasal м /m/ н /n/
Approximant в /ʋ/ л /l/ й /j/
Trill p /r/


A possible scheme for the diachronic development of Chuvash vowels[citation needed] (note that not all the sounds with an asterisk are necessarily separate phonemes).

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)[22] 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⟩ y ⟨ӳ⟩ ɯ ⟨ы⟩ u ⟨у⟩
Close-mid ӗ ⟨ĕ⟩ 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 where the syllable is unstressed in Russian.

Word accentEdit

The usual rule given in grammars of Chuvash is that the last full (non-reduced) vowel of the word is stressed; if there are no full vowels, the first vowel is stressed.[23] Reduced vowels that precede or follow a stressed full vowel are extremely short and non-prominent. One scholar, Dobrovolsky, however, hypothesises that there is in fact no stress in disyllabic words in which both vowels are reduced.[24]


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 neighbouring Uralic languages such as Mari have influenced the Chuvash language, as have Russian, Mongolian, Arabic and Persian, which have all added many words to the Chuvash lexicon.


As characteristic of all Turkic languages, Chuvash is an agglutinative language and as such, has an abundance of suffixes but no native prefixes or prepositions, apart from the partly reduplicative intensive prefix, such as in: шурӑ - white, шап-шурӑ - snow-white, хура - black, хуп-хура - jet black, такӑр - flat, так-такӑр - absolutely flat, тулли - full, тӑп-тулли - chock full (compare to Turkish beyaz - white, bem-beyaz snow-white, kara - black, kap-kara - jet black, düz - flat, dümdüz - absolutely flat, dolu - full, dopdolu - chock full). One word can have many suffixes, which can also be used to create new words like creating a verb from a noun or a noun from a verbal root. See Vocabulary below. It can also indicate the grammatical function of the word.

Nouns and adjectivesEdit

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:

Grammatical case:

  • Nominative -
  • Possessive (of), after consonants: -ӑн/-ӗн, after vowels: -н according to the vowel harmony
  • Dative-Accusative (for), after consonants: -а/-е, after vowels: -на/-не according to the vowel harmony
  • Locative (in, on), formed by adding -ра/-ре, -та/-те according to the vowel harmony
  • Ablative (from), formed by adding -ран/-рен, -тан/-тен according to the vowel harmony
  • Instrumental (with), formed by adding -па(лан)/-пе(лен) according to the vowel harmony
  • Abessive (without), formed by adding -сӑр/-сӗр according to the vowel harmony
  • Causative, formed by adding -шӑн/-шӗн according to the vowel harmony



  • Terminativeantessive (to), 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 (as), formed by adding пек to pronouns in genitive or objective case (ман пек "like me", сан пек "like you", ун пек "like him, that way", пирӗн пек "like us", сирӗн пек "like you all", хам пек "like myself", хӑвӑн пек "like yourself", кун пек "like this"); adding -ла, -ле to nouns (этемле "humanlike", ленинла "like Lenin")
  • Postfix: ха (ha)



  • Infinitive: -ма(лла|лли|лăх)/-ме(лле|лли|лĕх), negative postfix мар
  • Gerund (-ing): positive -ни, negative -манни/-менни
  • Conditional mood if: -са(сă)н/-се(сĕ)н, negative -маса(сă)н/-месе(сĕ)н, even if: -са(сă)н та/-се(сĕ)н те, negative -маса(сă)н та/-месе(сĕ)н те

Taking кун (day) as an example:

Noun case Chuvash English
Nominative кун day, or the day
Possessive кунӑн of the day
Dative-Accusative куна to the day
Locative кунта in the day
Ablative кунтан of the day, or from the day
Instrumental кунпа with the day

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

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

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


Chuvash verbs exhibit person and 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 harmonyEdit

Vowel harmony is the principle by which a native Chuvash word generally incorporates either exclusively back or hard vowels (а, ӑ, у, ы) and exclusively front or soft vowels (е, ӗ, ӳ, и). 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".

Two vowels cannot occur in succession.


Compound words are considered separate words with respect to vowel harmony: vowels do not have to harmonize between members of the compound (so 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 Аннепе "with the mother".

Word orderEdit

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

Chuvash numbersEdit

  • 1 – пӗрре pĕrre, пӗр pĕr
  • 2 – иккӗ ikkĕ, икӗ ikĕ, ик ik
  • 3 – виҫҫӗ vişşĕ, виҫӗ vişĕ, виҫ viş
  • 4 – тӑваттӑ tăvattă, тӑватӑ tăvată, тӑват tăvat
  • 5 – пиллӗк pillĕk, пилӗк pilĕk
  • 6 – улттӑ ulttă IPA: [ˈultːə], ултӑ ultă IPA: [ˈult̬ə], улт ult IPA: [ult]/IPA: [ult̬]
  • 7 – ҫиччӗ şiccĕ IPA: [ˈɕitɕːɘ], ҫичӗ şicĕ IPA: [ˈɕitɕ̬ɘ], ҫич şic IPA: [ˈɕitɕ̬]
  • 8 – саккӑр sakkăr IPA: [ˈsakːər], сакӑр sakăr IPA: [ˈsak̬ər]
  • 9 – тӑххӑр tăhhăr, тӑхӑр tăhăr
  • 10 – вуннӑ vunnă, вун vun
  • 11 – вун пӗр vun pĕr
  • 12 – вун иккӗ vun ikkĕ, вун икӗ vun ikĕ, вун ик vun ik
  • 13 – вун виҫҫӗ vun vişşĕ, вун виҫӗ vun vişĕ, вун виҫ vun viş
  • 14 – вун тӑваттӑ vun tăvattă, вун тӑватӑ vun tăvată, вун тӑват vun tăvat
  • 15 – вун пиллӗк vun pillĕk, вун пилӗк vun pilĕk
  • 16 – вун улттӑ vun ulttă, вун ултӑ vun ultă, вун улт vun ult
  • 17 – вун ҫиччӗ vun şiccĕ, вун ҫичӗ vun şicĕ
  • 18 – вун саккӑр vun sakkăr, вун сакӑр vun sakăr
  • 19 – вун тӑххӑр vun tăhhăr, вун тӑхӑр vun tăhăr
  • 20 – ҫирӗм şirĕm
  • 30 – вӑтӑр vătăr
  • 40 – хӗрӗх hĕrĕh
  • 50 – аллӑ allă, алӑ ală, ал al
  • 60 – утмӑл utmăl
  • 70 – ҫитмӗл şitmĕl
  • 80 – сакӑрвуннӑ sakărvunnă, сакӑрвун sakărvun
  • 90 – тӑхӑрвуннӑ tăhărvunnă, тӑхӑрвун tăhărvun
  • 100 – ҫӗр şĕr
  • 1000 – пин pin
  • 834236 - сакӑр ҫӗр вӑтӑр тӑватӑ пин те ик ҫӗр вӑтӑр улттӑ sakăr şĕr vătăr tăvată pin te ik şĕr vătăr ulttă IPA: [ˌsakərɕɘrʋət̬ərt̬əʋat̬ə↗p̬inʲt̬eǀikɕɘrʋət̬ər↘ultːəǁ], сакӑр ҫӗр вӑтӑр тӑватӑ пин те ик ҫӗр вӑтӑр ултӑ sakăr şĕr vătăr tăvată pin te ik şĕr vătăr ultă

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ [Перепись-2010 "Population of the Russian Federation by Languages (in Russian)"] Check |url= value (help). Russian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Chuvash". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ "Chuvash". Lexico UK Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ also known as Chăvash, Chuwash, Chovash, Chavash, Çovaş, Çuvaş or Çuwaş
  5. ^ Алос-и-Фонт, Эктор. Оценка языковой политики в Чувашии
  6. ^ Оценка языковой политики в Чувашии
  7. ^ "Chuvash". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  8. ^ Russian Census 2002. 6. Владение языками (кроме русского) населением отдельных национальностей по республикам, автономной области и автономным округам Российской Федерации Archived 4 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine(Knowledge of languages other than Russian by the population of republics, autonomous oblast and autonomous districts)(in Russian)
  9. ^ "Zheltov, Pavel. An Attribute-Sample Database System for Describing Chuvash Affixes" (PDF). Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  10. ^ Tapani Salminen (22 September 1999). "UNESCO red book on endangered languages: Europe".
  11. ^ Index Translationum: translations from Chuvash - shows 202 titles, as of 2013-01-06. The index has data since ca. 1979.
  12. ^ Index Translationum: translations from Chuvash, published in the USSR - shows 170 titles
  13. ^ Index Translationum: translations from Chuvash, published in Russia - shows 17 titles
  14. ^ Index Translationum: translations into Chuvash
  15. ^ Johanson (1998); cf. Johanson (2000, 2007) and the articles pertaining to the subject in Johanson & Csató (ed., 1998).
  16. ^ Chuvash language, Encyclopædia Britannica (1997)
  17. ^ Korhonen, Mikko (1986). Finno-Ugrian Language Studies in Finland 1828-1918. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica. p. 80. ISBN 951-653-135-0.
  18. ^ "Chuvash Latin Script".
  19. ^ "Telegram to the Chairman of the Simbirsk Soviet". Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  20. ^ "Древнечувашская руническая письменность". Трофимов А.А. Национальная библиотека Чувашской Республики.
  21. ^ "Язык – основа национальной культуры". Национальная библиотека Чувашской Республики.
  22. ^ András Róna-Tas. "Nutshell Chuvash" (PDF). Erasmus Mundus Intensive Program Turkic languages and cultures in Europe (TLCE). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 August 2011. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
  23. ^ Dobrovolsky (1999), p. 539.
  24. ^ Dobrovolsky (1999), p. 541.
  • Čaušević, Ekrem (2002). "Tschuwaschisch. in: M. Okuka (ed.)" (PDF). Lexikon der Sprachen des Europäischen Ostens. Klagenfurt: Wieser. Enzyklopädie des europäischen Ostens 10: 811–815. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 March 2006. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
  • Dobrovolsky, Michael (1999). "The phonetics of Chuvash stress: implications for phonology". Proceedings of the XIV International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 539–542. Berkeley: University of California.
  • Johanson, Lars & Éva Agnes Csató, ed. (1998). The Turkic languages. London: Routledge.
  • Lars Johansen (1998). "The history of Turkic". Johanson & Csató. Encyclopædia Britannica Online CD 98. pp. 81–125. Retrieved 5 September 2007.
  • Lars Johanson (1998). "Turkic languages".
  • Lars Johanson (2000). "Linguistic convergence in the Volga area". Gilbers, Dicky & Nerbonne, John & Jos Schaeken (ed.). Languages in contact Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi. pp. 165–178 (Studies in Slavic and General linguistics 28.).
  • Johanson, Lars (2007). Chuvash. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Krueger, John (1961). Chuvash Manual. Indiana University Publications.
  • Paasonen, Heikki (1949). Gebräuche und Volksdichtung der Tschuwassen. edited by E. Karabka and M. Räsänen (Mémoires de la Société Finno-ougrinenne XCIV), Helsinki.
  • Петров, Н. П (2001). "Чувашская письменность новая". Краткая чувашская энциклопедия. – Чебоксары. pp. С. 475–476.
  • Алос-и-Фонт, Эктор (2015). Преподавание чувашского языка и проблема языкового поведения родителей. Чувашский государственный институт гуманитарных наук.

External linksEdit