First Contact

Cyril Graham – The Avar language. The first (and very likely, only) grammatical description of Avar in English, from 1873.

He first called my attention to the peculiarities of the Lesghian or Avar language. He said he had not yet been able to master it on account of the interminable intricacies of its construction, and the difficulties in its pronunciation. He, however, was able to quote me the numerals, which, loaded as they are with “clicks”, excited my curiosity.

… that which most surprises is the paucity of words taken from absolutely foreign tongues, such as the Persian, the Georgian and the Tatar with which the Avars cannot fail to be brought in contact. The few Arabic words of course have found their way into the language through the Kuran.

We now come to the question, who are these Avar? By the Persians and the Russians they are called Lesghians, but they themselves repudiate this name. Their legends are few, history, properly so called, they have none. Their poems and stories only tell us of quarrels – for which, by-the-bye, they have three words – and raids on the part of the Russians and Persians.

When I come to the alphabet and grammar I shall say a few more words with regard to a certain peculiarity which at once strikes the stranger; the extraordinary “click” found in the beginning, the middle and the end of words, and resembling nothing in our continent, but reminding us of the terminal sound so exuberant in the Aztek language. Whence it came – for as far as I can gather it is not to be found amongst the neighbouring tribes – I cannot imagine. Except to those who have heard it uttered, it is impossible to explain it. It differs entirely from the many South African “clicks,” and used as it is by a race who are in possession of a highly developed language, offers itself as a phenomenon which requires careful investigation.


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