What is Dagestan

Dagestan is the area with the highest language density in the entire Caucasus. More than 40 languages are spoken on a territory of ~ 50 000 km2. The majority of languages spoken in Dagestan belong to the East Caucasian (Nakh-Dagestanian) language family. In addition, three Turkic languages are spoken in the area (Kumyk, Nogai, Azerbaijani) and two Indo-European languages (Tat and Russian) (van den Berg 2005, Koryakov 2002, Tuite 1999, Hewitt 1981, Geiger et al. 1959, Wixman 1980). East Caucasian languages form a deep-level linguistic family, comparable to Indo-European in terms of its diversity (Authier & Maisak 2011).

Most Dagestanian villages are situated in mountainous areas. The distance between neighboring villages is usually between 3 – 8 kms, which makes them accessible by foot or by horse.

How multilingualism in Dagestan is shaped

Historically, the economic and social ties between neighboring villages were strong, while neighboring villages located at walking distance from one another often have different native languages. Interethnic communication therefore required knowledge of a shared language.

Until mid-19th century, Turkic languages (especially Kumyk) were used in communication between different ethnic groups (Wixman 1980: 108-19), because the lowlands were dominated by Turkic speakers. The East Caucasian Avar language was another lingua franca, used in some parts of northern Dagestan. Still, before the middle of the 20th century there was no lingua franca common to all Dagestanian territories (Chirikba 2008: 30). The main pattern of language contact was neighbor multilingualism.

People from neighboring villages communicated between themselves in the language of one of the villages rather than in a third language. Villagers often spoke the language of their own settlement, the language of their neighboring village(s), and additionally a more widely spread language of the area. Bilingualism with distant major languages, both within Dagestan and across its borders (Chechen, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Russian), was more restricted.

After the establishment of the Soviet administration in the 1920s, and especially from mid-1930s on, Russification became the process of a major sociolinguistic shift. Russian was the first language to be established in the whole of Dagestan as a single lingua franca and the language of written administration (Daniel et al. 2010). The vitality of local languages has not yet been impaired in the villages, but neighbor multilingualism is in obvious decline. Most people under 20, or, in some villages, under 40, use Russian when communicating with their neighbors from other villages. The traditional patterns of neighbor multilingualism in Dagestan are highly endangered.

How we approach multilingualism

This project is targeted on multilingual language neighborhoods. We aim at getting information about the multilingualism of local people, that is, the languages they can speak besides their native language.

The information for this project is collected using the method of retrospective family interviews, which is specifically designed to obtain quantitative data about bilingualism in the past (Dobrushina 2013). The method entails that respondents are interviewed about their own language inventoryas well as those of their elder – often deceased – relatives. Only those relatives with whom the respondent overlapped in terms of life-span, and whom they claim they remember clearly, are added to the database.

Interviews about relatives allow us to reach back into the 19th century, starting with people born around 1850, with more dense data from the 1880s on. This time span covers the situation in the village before the drastic social changes of the 20th century.

The interviews were mostly held in Russian, and the data were put together in a table (spreadsheet), aggregated and mapped.

We are indebted to the people in the Dagestanian villages for generously sharing their (and their relatives') stories with us and for their extraordinary hospitality and tireless efforts to facilitate our research.

What you will find on this site

This site contains the actual database on Dagestanian multilingualism with a practical search interface. You can choose different parameters (particular villages, neighborhoods, years of birth, genders, native languages, and second languages) and build your own graphs and diagrams. In May 2017, the site contained information about the multilingual repertoire of the residents of 38 villages.

What is the Atlas of multilingualism

We also planned a paper edition of The Atlas of multilingualism of Dagestan, which will present the qualitative and quantitative data on multilingualism in a number of Dagestanian neighborhoods. It will represent a wide range of ethnic contact situations, which will allow a cross-case quantitative comparison.

Each chapter of the book will be devoted to one geographic cluster containing two to four neighboring villages. Each chapter will consist of a paper which describes the economic and social aspects of a particular cluster, and reports the results of our sociolinguistic survey. Apart from the description, each chapter will contain several maps.

Separate chapters are planned to discuss general topics such as the level of Arabic literacy in different parts of Dagestan, as it is viewed from our research, as well as the distribution of several major languages as second languages (Avar, Kumyk, Azerbaijani) and gender patterns of multilingualism.

Two sample chapters are presented in the paper “Atlas of Multilingualism in Daghestan: A case-study in diachronic sociolinguistics” (Dobrushina, Nina, Yury Koryakov & Mikhail Daniel), submitted to the journal “Languages of the Caucasus”.

Publications about the project

How to cite the project

If you use data from the Atlas in your research, please cite as follows:

Dobrushina, Nina, Daria Staferova, and Alexander Belokon (eds.). 2017. Atlas of Multilingualism in Dagestan Online. Linguistic Convergence Laboratory, HSE. (Available online at https://multidagestan.com, accessed on 2020-10-21.)