SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics

The Languages of the Caucasus

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1


One from the following list pre-requisite list:

152900069:  General linguistics
155900070: Introduction to phonology
152900071:  Introduction to grammatical structure

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The course will introduce students to aspects of the Caucasian languages that are of interest to linguists and will aim to impart:

  • knowledge of a range of the phonetic features and phonological systems found in the indigenous caucasian language-families
  • knowledge of a range of the morphological features found in the indigenous caucasian language-families 
  • knowledge of a range of the syntactic constructions found in the indigenous caucasian language-families


This course will be taught over 11 weeks with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

The Caucasus is home to over 3 dozen exotic languages on the fringe of Europe. The course surveys the grammatical systems attested in the indigenous language-families so that students of linguistics will come away with knowledge of the challenges presented in various parts of their grammars by these neighbouring, still relatively poorly known, and in some cases endangered languages. They will understand such controversies as those surrounding the degree of minimality in the vowel-systems of north west Caucasian or the relevance of ergativity versus activity to the area, and they will appreciate the range of subject-marking systems and how in some cases there can be a shift as to which argument is interpreted as the clausal subject and other issues in language-change.

Method of assessment

One two-hour written examination taken in May/June (60%); one data analysis report of 500 words to be submitted day 1 after reading week, term 2; one 2,000 - 2,500 word essay to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3.

Suggested reading

  • B. Comrie & M. Polinsky: the great Daghestanian case hoax, in case, typology & grammar (edited by A. Siewierska & Jae Jung Song), 1998, 95-114. John Benjamin.
  • A. C. Harris: Georgian: a language with active case marking, in lingua 80, 47-65
  • B. G. Hewitt: Georgian – ergative or active? In lingua: studies in ergativity (edited by R.M.W. Dixon), 1987, 319-340
  • B. G. Hewitt: Introduction to the study of the languages of the Caucasus (Lincom 2004)
  • B. G. Hewitt: Caucasian languages, in Elsevier encyclopaedia of language & linguistics (2nd edition), 2005
  • B. G. Hewitt: North West Caucasian, in lingua 115 (2005), 91-145
  • B. G. Hewitt: cases, arguments, verbs in Abkhaz, Georgian & Mingrelian, in typological studies in language 81, case & grammatical relations, studies to honor Bernard Comrie (edited by G. Corbett & M. Noonan), John Benjamin 2008, 75-104.
  • A. H. Kuipers: phoneme and morpheme in Kabardian, Mouton, 1960


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules