Make space on the bookshelves and coffee tables. The world’s first Abkhaz-Ossetian dictionary is almost here. The South Caucasus’ two tiny, breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, may already share the languages of Russian and separatism from Georgia, but that is not enough. In an expression of brotherhood, they have decided to translate each other’s rare, mountain languages.
Featuring some 4,000 words, the dictionary is a product of blood, sweat and tears by linguists from the two regions, South Ossetia’s breakaway authorities were excited to report earlier this week. “This is going to be the first Ossetian-Abkhaz dictionary in history,” proudly proclaimed Robert Gagloyev, the director of the Vaneyev Research Institute in South Ossetia’s main town, Tskhinvali.
The dictionary will go to print this year with 200 copies, of which half will be given to Abkhazia as a gift and the rest will be donated to schools, libraries and a university in South Ossetia.
The two languages share with each other, and with Georgian, a propensity toward guttural sounds, agglutination and disregard for vowels. Unlike Georgian, the Abkhaz and Ossetian languages both make use of the Cyrillic alphabet.
But, otherwise, the two differ widely, like most languages in the Caucasus, where completely different languages can be found spoken on the slopes of the same mountain. Abkhaz, which features an incredible 58 consonants, is classified as a Northwest Caucasian Language, while Ossetian is grouped with the Eastern Iranian language group.
American satirist Ambrose Bierce once described all dictionaries, except his own Devil’s Dictionary, as “a malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic.” But some dictionaries are still more useful than others.
An Abkhaz-Ossetian dictionary might be of very little practical value in the Caucasus, where Russian or English are more the choice for trans-border communication, but, in this region, languages are all about politics.