The Chechen Alphabet
The Chechen alphabet is written in an extended version of the Cyrillic alphabet and consists of 49 letters. Learning the Chechen alphabet is essential if you are serious about learning the language. Listen to the recording and follow along.
|Upper case||Lower Case||Name||English|
|А||а||ah||a (as in father)|
|Аь||аь||eah||ä (as in cat or in yeah)|
|ГI||гI||gheh||gh (Arabic: غ)|
|Кх||кх||qah||q (Arabic: ق)|
|Оь||оь||urh||ö (German: ö)|
|Уь||уь||ew||ü (German: ü)|
|Х||х||kha||kh (Arabic: خ)|
|Хь||хь||h'a||h' (Arabic: ح)|
|Ъ||ъ||cho h'aark||hard sign (чIогIа хьаьрк)|
|Ь||ь||k'ed h'aark||soft sign (кIеда хьаьрк)|
|Юь||юь||yuu||yü (German: jü)|
|I||I||aah (palochka)||w, ' (Arabic: ء or ع)|
It is a good idea, if you are unfamiliar with the Cyrillic alphabet, to write each letter down 10 times each repeating the appropriate sound as you write it. Try to think of pictures to go with the unfamiliar letters to help you better (such as Ч looks like an upside down chair, making the ch sound in chair).
So, you have seen your first "Chechen challenge", the alphabet. Though it might seem like a lot, it is really the extra signs such as ь, ъ and 1 that are considered a separate letter. Let's break down the alphabet a little to better help you with pronunciation. We will group together letters which sound alike and explain how to pronounce them.
А and Аь (The A-group)[edit | edit source]
These sounds have English counterparts and are quite familiar to English speakers. А although is a short ǒ sound in English, like in the word, pond (or occasionally, as an a, for example in mall ). Аь resembles more of the English sound, eah, like in the word, sand (the English of England itself, however, has largely lost this sound as it has become identical with the a of father).
Г and гI (The G-group)[edit | edit source]
There are two ways to produce a g sound in Chechen. The letter, Г, is pronounced just like the English g in the word game. The ГI, however, is a sound unfamiliar in English. If you are familiar with Arabic, French or German, this sound is exactly the same as an Arabic غ, or a French or German r. It is pronounced from the back of the throat, almost like you are gargling. keep in mind that it is not a heavy guttural sound.
К, Кх, Къ, and КI (The K-group)[edit | edit source]
This group of letters is rather common in Chechen and most Caucasian languages. К is the same as the English k. Кх is a harder sound, similar to the Arabic letter ق. To understand the difference, try to say ka whilst placing your hand in front of your mouth. You will let air out when you say ka naturally, thus giving you the Chechen letter К. Now, try the same thing, instead force yourself not to let air out whilst saying ka. This is the sound for the letter Кх. The letter Къ is the same thing as Кх, except now force a puff of air out whilst saying Кх. This should feel awkward at first as this sound is very unique to Caucasian languages. You should have made a slight clicking noise whilst saying this letter, which is exactly what you want to do. КI and Къ are almost the same, except К1 has more of a glottal stop, which tends to be the purpose of the palochka (1). This is similar to the Arabic hamza ء.
В, Н, and Р (The False Friends)[edit | edit source]
These letters are all in English, the problem is that they do not look like the English equivalent. For example, В is a v sound, Н is an n sound, and Р is an r sound. The only way to learn this is to just force yourself to get out of the habit of pronouncing every P as an English p sound.
О and Оь (The O-group)[edit | edit source]
If you are familiar with German or French, this group should be easy for you. O is the same as in English, although similar to Russian, when unstressed, it is a short sound (like hot). Luckily though, unlike Russian, stress always falls on the first syllable in Chechen, with the exception of Russian loan words. The Оь is like the German or Turkish ö, or French oeu. The sound is similar to the ur in the word burn.
П and ПI (The P-group)[edit | edit source]
П is the same as the English p, one nice way of remembering how the letter П sounds in Chechen and any language using the Cyrillic alphabet, is thinking of the mathematical symbol of pi (π). ПI is a forced sound of p with a small glottal stop. A fun way to try out this sound is to start bouncing your lips fast. Whilst doing this, force out the normal p sound and your result should be ПI.
Т and ТI (The T-group)[edit | edit source]
Similar to the "P-group", the Т and ТI work the same way. ТI is just a more forced t sound with a little glottal stop. Since a t sound is created with your tongue rather than your lips, you should also feel a less heavy breath when saying ТI.
У and Уь (The U-group)[edit | edit source]
Like the "O-group", these sounds are similar to German and French also. У is like the English oo. Уь is like the German ü or the French u. Try saying the English u with rounded lips. This should give you the proper sound for Уь.
Х, Хь, and ХI (The H-group)[edit | edit source]
Another important and challenging group of letters, these consist of essential sounds in the Chechen language. Х is said like a heavy h but with a slight guttural sound. In some dialects of Chechen and even Russian, the Х is said without any gutteral sound, though in some words it is sometime hard to create a heavy h sound without adding even the slightest of a guttural sound. It is the sound of Scottish loch or German Bach. Хь is a heavier sound then Х. In Arabic, this would be the same as the letter ح. This sound is very important to master, because the word for you in Chechen is "хьо". Can you try saying this word? The last letter in this group is ХI, which is a very soft h sound.
Ц, ЦI, Ч and ЧI (The C-group)[edit | edit source]
Ц is like the English ts in cats (or, for some, the c in silence). Ц1 is the same thing except with a slight glottal stop. Ч is like the English ch in choice. ЧI is also the same thing with a similar glottal stop like ЦI.
ЧIогIа и КIеда хьаьрк[edit | edit source]
In Russian loanwords, ЧIогIа хьаьрк, (Ъ), or a hard sign, indicates that the preceding consonant is not palatalised, whilst a КIеда хьаьрк, (Ь), or a soft sign, indicates that the preceding consonant is palatalised. When learning how a Chechen word is spelt, do not ignore these signs when writing or typing Chechen words.
Ю, Юь, Я and Яь (The Y-group)[edit | edit source]
Ю, Юь, Я and Яь are just like their counterparts У, Уь, А and Аь except adding a y sound before it.
1 or I (The Palochka)[edit | edit source]
You might have been wondering why the Latin letter I is written in Chechen letter. In fact, it is actually not a Latin letter in this situation, but a letter that is totally unique in Caucasian languages. This letter is called the palochka. You will see it written sometimes as a I or a 1. In Latinised Chechen, the palochka is normally written as a w or a ', though its sound is a glottal stop when not following a consonant letter.
Stress[edit | edit source]
Stress in Chechen always falls on the first syllable of the word. The only exception is in foreign words and words of Russian and Arabic origin, which tend to carry over the stress rules. Otherwise, when learning a new Chechen word, assume that the stress is on the first syllable.
Silent letters[edit | edit source]
Chechen has a lot of letters that are not pronounced and contain much liaison. If you are familiar with French, this aspect should come easy for you. Most of the time, the last vowel at the end of a word is not pronounced. This can become rather difficult for learners of Chechen, but after you gain a nice amount of Chechen vocabulary then learning new words will become easy for you.
Before moving on to the lessons, make sure you know the Chechen alphabet. There will not be any romanised forms of the Chechen words in these lessons, so it is important to know how the alphabet works. Force yourself to read Cyrillic, it is all right if you read slowly at first, that is expected since this is a brand new alphabet to you. Before you realise it, you will be able to read Cyrillic as fast as you can read the Latin alphabet.
Аьтто хилла! Good luck!