Review of ROBERT CHENCINER: Daghestan: tradition and survival

Review of ROBERT CHENCINER: Daghestan: tradition and survival, in BSOAS

The principal reason for the Caucasus being dubbed 'The Mountain of Tongues' by a 10th century Arab  geographer (al-Mas‘udi) was the staggering patchwork of languages concentrated in its small N.E. enclave of Daghestan ('Place of Mountains' in its Turkic etymology). If one includes the related (Vei)Nakh languages (viz. Chechen, Ingush and Bats, which last is  spoken today in a single Georgian village), there are around thirty indigenous  (Nakh-)Daghestanian languages, spoken by ethnic groups numbering as low as 400 (Hinukh) upto over half a million (Avar). A few members of this family are restricted to Azerbaijan and, for Udi, Georgia, whilst Lezgian-speakers span the Russo-Azerbaijani border, but the majority of the languages are  concentrated in Daghestan, a country equivalent in size to Scotland and still part  of the Russian Federation, where Indo-European Russian and Turkic Kumyk[h], Azeri and Nogai are widely spoken also. Difficulty in demarcating languages and dialects accounts  for different totals being sometimes ascribed to (Nakh-)Daghestanian; on p. 107 and on the back of the dust-jacket we are told there are 33 'nationalities' or languages respectively, whilst p. 289 talks of Daghestan's 32 ethnic groups.

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