Ossetian language

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ирон ӕвзаг (iron ævzag)
дигорон ӕвзаг (digoron ævzag)
Pronunciation [iˈɾon ɐvˈzaɡ]
[digoˈɾon ɐvˈzaɡ]
Native to North Caucasus (North Ossetia-Alania), South Ossetia (partially recognized)
Ethnicity Ossetians
Native speakers
597,450 (2010) [1]
Early forms
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 os
ISO 639-2 oss
ISO 639-3 oss
Glottolog osse1243
Linguasphere 58-ABB-a
Oseta latina skribo.jpg
Ossetian text from a book published in 1935. Part of an alphabetic list of proverbs. Latin script.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Ethnolinguistic groups in the Caucasus region. Ossetian-speaking regions are shaded gold. Caucasus-ethnic en.svg
Ethnolinguistic groups in the Caucasus region. Ossetian-speaking regions are shaded gold.

Ossetian (English: /ɒˈsɛtiən/ , /ɒˈsʃən/ , /ˈsʃən/ ), [3] [4] more commonly called Ossetic and rarely Ossete [note 1] [11] (Ossetian: ирон ӕвзаг, romanized: iron ӕvzag), is an Eastern Iranian language spoken in Ossetia, a region on the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. It is a relative and possibly a descendant of the extinct Scythian, Sarmatian, and Alanic languages. [12]


The Ossete area in Russia is known as North Ossetia–Alania, while the area south of the border is referred to as South Ossetia. Ossetian speakers number about 614,350, with 451,000 speakers in the Russian Federation recorded in the 2010 census. [9]

History and classification

Ossetian is the spoken and literary language of the Ossetes, a people living in the central part of the Caucasus and constituting the basic population of the republic of North Ossetia–Alania, which belongs to the Russian Federation, and of South Ossetia, which is de facto occupied by Russia (but is de jure part of the Georgian Republic according to most other states). Ossetian belongs to the Iranian group of the Indo-European family of languages (as hinted by its endonym, ирон). Within Iranian it is placed in an Eastern subgroup and further to a Northeastern sub-subgroup, but these are areal rather than genetic groups. The other Eastern Iranian languages such as Pashto and Yaghnobi show certain commonalities but also deep-reaching divergences from Ossetic.

From deep Antiquity (since the 7th–8th centuries BC), the languages of the Iranian group were distributed in a vast territory including present-day Iran (Persia), Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Ossetian is the sole survivor of the branch of Iranian languages known as Scythian. The Scythian group included numerous tribes, known in ancient sources as the Scythians, Massagetae, Saka, Sarmatians, Alans and Roxolans. The more easterly Khorezmians and the Sogdians were also closely affiliated, in linguistic terms.

Ossetian, together with Kurdish, Tati and Talyshi, is one of the main Iranian languages with a sizable community of speakers in the Caucasus. It is descended from Alanic, the language of the Alans, medieval tribes emerging from the earlier Sarmatians. It is believed to be the only surviving descendant of a Sarmatian language. The closest genetically related language may be the Yaghnobi language of Tajikistan, the only other living Northeastern Iranian language. [13] [14] Ossetian has a plural formed by the suffix -ta, a feature it shares with Yaghnobi, Sarmatian and the now-extinct Sogdian; this is taken as evidence of a formerly wide-ranging Iranian-language dialect continuum on the Central Asian steppe. The names of ancient Iranian tribes (as transmitted through Ancient Greek) in fact reflect this pluralization, e.g. Saromatae (Σαρομάται) and Masagetae (Μασαγέται). [15] :69

Evidence for Medieval Ossetian

The earliest known written sample of Ossetian is an inscription which dates from the 10th to 12th centuries and was found near the River Bolshoi Zelenchuk at Arkhyz. The text is written in the Greek alphabet, with special digraphs.

Saxiri Furt Xovs
Istori Furt Bӕqӕtar
Bӕqӕtari Furt Æmbalan
Æmbalani Furt Lak
Ani čirtī
"K., son of S., son of I., son of B., son of A.; [this is] their monument." [15] :55–56 The original, following Zgusta, translates only initials; presumably this is because although the uninflected forms may be inferred, no written records of them have been found to date.

The only other extant record of Proto-Ossetic are the two lines of "Alanic" phrases appearing in the Theogony of John Tzetzes, a 12th century Byzantine poet and grammarian:

Τοῖς ἀλανοῖς προσφθέγγομαι κατά τήν τούτων γλῶσσαν
Καλή ημέρα σου αὐθεντα μου αρχόντισσα πόθεν εἶσαι
Ταπαγχὰς μέσφιλι χσινὰ κορθὶ κάντα καὶ τ’άλλα
ἂν ὃ ἒχη ἀλάνισσα παπὰν φίλον ἀκούσαις ταῦτα
οὐκ αἰσχύνεσσι αὐθέντρια μου νὰ μου γαμὴ τὸ μουνί σου παπᾶς
τὸ φάρνετζ κίντζι μέσφιλι καίτζ φουὰ σαοῦγγε
[15] :54 [16]

The portions in bold face above are Ossetian. Going beyond a direct transliteration of the Greek text, scholars have attempted a phonological reconstruction using the Greek as clues, thus, while τ (tau) would usually be given the value "t", it instead is "d", which is thought to be the way the early Ossetes would have pronounced it. The scholarly transliteration of the Alanic phrases is: "dӕ ban xʷӕrz, mӕ sfili, (ӕ)xsinjӕ kurθi kӕndӕ" and "du farnitz, kintzӕ mӕ sfili, kajci fӕ wa sawgin?"; equivalents in modern Ossetian would be "Dӕ bon xwarz, me’fšini ‘xšinӕ, kurdigӕj dӕ?" and "(De’) f(s)arm neč(ij), kinźi ӕfšini xӕcc(ӕ) (ku) fӕwwa sawgin". [17] The passage translates as:

The Alans I greet in their language:
"Good day to you my lord's lady, where are you from?"
"Good day to you my lord's lady, where are you from?" and other things:
When an Alan woman takes a priest as a lover, you might hear this:
"Aren't you ashamed, my lordly lady, that your c*nt is being f**ked by a priest?" [sic]
"Aren't you ashamed, my lady, to have a love affair with the priest?" [16] [17]

Marginalia of Greek religious books, with some parts (such as headlines) of the book translated into Old Ossetic, have been recently found. [18]

It is theorized that during the Proto-Ossetic phase, Ossetian underwent a process of phonological change conditioned by a Rhythmusgesetz or "Rhythm-law" whereby nouns were divided into two classes, those heavily or lightly stressed. "Heavy-stem" nouns possessed a "heavy" long vowel or diphthong, and were stressed on the first-occurring syllable of this type; "light-stem" nouns were stressed on their final syllable. This is precisely the situation observed in the earliest (though admittedly scanty) records of Ossetian presented above. [15] :47 This situation also obtains in Modern Ossetian, although the emphasis in Digor is also affected by the "openness" of the vowel. [19] The trend is also found in a glossary of the Jassic dialect dating from 1422. [20]


There are two important dialects: Digor (distributed in the west of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and Kabardino-Balkaria) and Iron (in the rest of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and in South Ossetia and Karachay-Cherkessia), [12] spoken by one-sixth and five-sixths of the population, respectively. A third dialect of Ossetian, Jassic, was formerly spoken in Hungary.


The Iron dialect of Ossetic has 7 vowels:

Front Central Back
Close и/i/у/u/
Close-mid ы/ɘ/
Mid е/e/о/o/
Near-open ӕ/ɐ/
Open а/a/

The Ossetian researcher V. I. Abayev distinguishes 26 consonants, to which five labialized consonants and two semivowels may be added. Unusually for an Indo-European language, there is a series of glottalized (ejective) stops and affricates. This can be considered an areal feature of languages of the Caucasus.

Labial Dental/
Velar [21] Uvular [21]
plain labialized plain labialized
Stops voiced б/b/д/d/г/ɡ/гу/ɡʷ/
voiceless п/pʰ/~/p/т/tʰ/~/t/к/kʰ/~/k/ку/kʷʰ/~/kʷ/хъ/q/хъу/qʷ/
ejective пъ/pʼ/тъ/tʼ/къ/kʼ/къу/kʼʷ/
Affricates voiced дз/z/~/d͡z/дж/d͡ʒ/
voiceless ц/s/~/t͡s/ч/t͡ʃ/
ejective цъ/t͡sʼ/чъ/t͡ʃʼ/
Fricatives voiced в/v/з/ʒ/~/z/гъ/ʁ/гъу/ʁʷ/
voiceless ф/f/с/ʃ/~/s/х/χ/ху/χʷ/
Nasals м/m/н/n/
Lateral л/ɫ/~/l/
Rhotic р/r/
Approximants й/j/у/w/

Voiceless consonants become voiced word-medially (this is reflected in the orthography as well). /t͡ʃ/, /d͡ʒ/, and /t͡ʃʼ/ were originally allophones of /k/, /ɡ/, and /kʼ/ when followed by /e/, /i/ and /ɘ/; this alternation is still retained to a large extent.

Stress normally falls on the first syllable, unless it has a "weak" vowel (/ɘ/ or /ɐ/), in which case it falls on the second syllable. In the Iron dialect, definiteness is expressed in post-initially stressed words by shifting the stress to the initial syllable. This reflects the fact that historically they received a syllabic definite article (as they still do in the Digor dialect), and the addition of the syllable caused the stress to shift. [13]


According to V.I. Abaev, [13]

In the course of centuries-long propinquity to and intercourse with Caucasian languages, Ossetian became similar to them in some features, particularly in phonetics and lexicon. However, it retained its grammatical structure and basic lexical stock; its relationship with the Iranian family, despite considerable individual traits, does not arouse any doubt.


Ossetic has lost the grammatical category of gender which many Indo-European languages have preserved until today. [13] According to the Encyclopӕdia Britannica 2006 [22] Ossetian preserves many archaic features of Old Iranian, such as eight cases and verbal prefixes. It is debated how many of these cases are actually inherited from Indo-Iranian case morphemes and how many have re-developed, after the loss of the original case forms, through cliticization of adverbs or re-interpretations of derivational suffixes: the number of "inherited" cases according to different scholars ranges from as few as three (nominative, genitive and inessive) to as many as six (nominative, dative, ablative, directive, inessive). Some (the comitative, equative, and adessive) are secondary beyond any doubt. [23]


Definiteness in the Iron dialect is, according to Abaev, only expressed by shift of word accent from the second to the first syllable (which is not possible in all nouns):

  • fӕrǽt "an axe"
  • fǽrӕt "the axe"


Nouns and adjectives share the same morphology and distinguish two numbers (singular and plural) and nine cases: nominative, genitive, dative, directive, ablative, inessive, adessive, equative, and comitative. The nominal morphology is agglutinative: the case suffixes and the number suffix are separate, the case suffixes are the same for both numbers and the number suffix is the same for all cases (illustrated here for the Iron dialect with the noun сӕр sӕr "head"): [13]


Since inessive and genitive show the same forms in both numbers, it is sometimes debated whether Ossetian might possess eight case forms for each number instead of nine.


The personal pronouns mostly take the same endings as the nouns. The 1st and 2nd person singular exhibit suppletion between the stem used in the nominative case and the stem used in the other (oblique) cases: 1st sing. nom. ӕз ӕz, obl. мӕн mӕn-; 2nd sing. nom. ды dy, obl. дӕу- dӕu-; the oblique stem without other endings is the genitive case form. The 1st and 2nd persons plural have only one stem each - мах max and сымах/смах symax/smax, functioning as both nominative and genitive. The third person pronoun coincides with the demonstrative уый uyj. In addition, there are enclitic non-nominative forms of the pronouns of all three persons (genitive: 1st sing. мӕ , 2nd sing. дӕ , 3rd sing. йӕ/ӕй jӕ/ӕj, 1st pl. нӕ , 2nd pl. уӕ , 3rd pl. сӕ ), which are somewhat deviant. The genitive ends in -ӕ , the ablative and inessive coincide with the genitive, the allative ends in -м -m and the dative has the vowel -у- -y- before the ending (e.g. мын myn), while the comitative has the vowel -е- -e- (e.g. мемӕ memӕ). The stems of the 1st and 2nd plural are different from the full ones - нV- nV- and уV- uV-, respectively. The 3rd singular stem has the doublet forms йV- jV- and ∅V- everywhere outside of the ablative and inessive, which appears as дзы dzy, and the comitative, which can only have йV- jV-. [24]

Reflexive forms are constructed from the enclitic forms of the personal pronouns and the reflexive pronoun хӕдӕг xӕdӕg 'self' (with the oblique forms хиц- xic- in the dative and ablative, хиу- xiu- in the adessive and хи xi in the other cases).

There are two demonstratives - ай aj (stem а- a-, pl. адон adon) 'this' and uyj (stem уы- uy-, pl. уыдон uydon) 'that'. The interrogative pronouns are чи či (oblique stem кӕ- kӕ-) 'who' and сы cy (oblique stem сӕ- cӕ-). Indefinite pronouns meaning any- and some- are formed from the interrogatives by means of the prefix ис- is- and the suffix -дӕр -dӕr, respectively. Negatives are formed similarly, but with the prefix ни- ni-; the totality prefix ('every-') is ал- al-, and ӕлы ӕly is used adjectivally. Other pronouns meaning 'all' are ӕгас ӕgas and ӕппӕт ӕppӕt. There are two pronouns meaning 'other': иннӕ innӕ for 'another of two, a definite other one' and ӕндӕр 'ӕndӕr' for 'some other, an indefinite other one'. [25]


Verbs distinguish six persons (1st, 2nd and 3rd, singular and plural), three tenses (present, past and future, all expressed synthetically), three moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative), and belong to one of two grammatical aspects (perfective and imperfective). The person, tense and mood morphemes are mostly fused. The following description is of Iron.


Each verb has a present stem and a past stem, the latter normally being identical to the past participle. The past stem commonly differs from the present stem by adding т t or д d (e.g. дар- dar- : дард- dard- 'to hold'; уарз- warz : уарзт warzt 'to love'), or, more rarely, -ст -st (e.g. бар- bar : барст- barst 'weigh') or -ыд yd (зар- zar- : зарыд- zaryd- 'sing'; nonetheless, the past participle of this type is still formed with -д/т t/d: зард- zard-). However, there are usually various other vowel and consonant changes as well. Some of the most common vowel alternations are ӕ ӕ : а a (e.g. кӕс- kӕs : каст- kast- 'look'), и i : ы y (e.g. риз- riz- : рызт- ryzt- 'tremble'), and у u : ы y (e.g. дзур- dzur- : дзырд- dzyrd- 'speak'); some other alternations are a a : ӕ ӕ (mostly in bisyllabic stems, e.g. араз- araz- : арӕз- arӕz- 'make'), ау au : ы y, ӕу ӕu : ы y, and о o : ы y. Frequent consonant changes are -д d, -т t, -тт tt, -нд nd, -нт nt > -ст st (e.g. кӕрд- kӕrd- : карст karst 'cut'), -дз dz, -ц -c, -ндз -ndz, -нц -nc > -гъд hd (лидз- lidz- : лыгъд- lyhd- 'run away'), elision of a final н n or м m (e.g. нӕм nӕm : над nad). Suppletion is found in the stem pair дӕттын dӕttyn : лӕвӕрд lӕvӕrd 'give'. [26] It is also seen in the copula, whose past stem is уыд- uyd-, whereas the present forms are highly irregular and begin in д- d-, ст- st- оr in a vowel (see below).

There are also many related transitive-intransitive verb pairs, which also differ by means of a vowel alternation (commonly а a : ӕ ӕ, e.g. сафын safyn 'lose' : сӕфын sӕfyn 'be lost', and у u : уы uy, e.g. хъусын qusyn 'hear' : хъуысын quysyn 'be heard') and sometimes by the addition of the consonant -с s (тавын tavyn 'to warm' : тафсын tӕfsyn 'to be warm'). [27]

Tense and mood conjugation

The present and future tense forms use the present stem.

The indicative present endings are 1st sing. -ын -yn, 2nd sing. -ыс -ys, 3rd sing. -ы -y, 1st pl. -ӕм -ӕm, 2nd pl. -ут -ut, 3rd pl. -ынц -ync. Only the copula uyn 'be' is conjugated differently: 1st sing. дӕн -dӕn, 2nd sing. -дӕ -dӕ, 3rd sing. -ис is, -у u or -и i, 1st pl. стӕм stӕm, 2nd pl. стут stut, 3rd pl. сты sty. The copula also has a special iterative stem вӕйй- vӕyy-, which is conjugated regularly.

The future tense forms consist of the present stem, the element -дзы(н)- ~ -дзӕн- -dzy(n)- ~ -dzӕn- and the endings 1st sing. -ӕн -ӕn, 2nd sing. -ӕ , 3rd sing. -(и(с)) -(i(s)) , 1st pl. -стӕм -stӕm, 2nd pl. -стут -stut, 3rd pl. -сты -sty, which appear to derive from encliticised copula уын uyn 'be' used as an auxiliary (the forms of the copula still coincide phonetically with the ending, except that the 1st and 2nd sing. begin in д d) . Thus, the resulting composite endings are -дзын-ӕн -dzyn-ӕn, -дзын-ӕ -dzyn-ӕ, -дзӕн-(ис) -dzӕn-(is), -дзы-стӕм -dzy-stӕm, -дзы-сты -dzy-sty. [28]

The past tense uses the past stem. The endings, however, are different for intransitive and transitive verbs. The intransitive endings are 1st sing. -(т)ӕн -(t)ӕn, 2nd sing. -(т)ӕ -(t)ӕ, 3rd sing. -(и(с)) -(i(s)), 1st pl. -ыстӕм -ystӕm, 2nd pl. -ыстут -ystut, 3rd pl. -ысты -ysty. They are similar to the ones added to -дзы(н)- -dzy(n)- in the future tense, because the construction appears to be, in origin, a periphrastic combination of the past passive participle and the copula.

The transitive endings, on the other hand, are 1st sing. -(т)он -(t)on, 2nd sing. -(т)ай -(t)aj, 3rd sing. -а -a, 1st pl. -(т)ам -(t)am, 2nd pl. -(т)ат -(t)at, 3rd pl. -(т)ой -(t)oj. Remarkably, these forms actually derive from the old past subjunctive rather than the indicative (which is why the endings still almost entirely coincide with those of the future subjunctive, apart from the initial consonant т t). [29] The variable -т- -t of the transitive as well as the intransitive past endings appears in verbs whose present stem ends in vowels and sonorants (й j, у u, р r, л l, м m, н n), since only these consonants are phonotactically compatible with a following sequence -дт- dt, which would normally arise from the combinations of the dentals of the stem and the ending: e.g. кал-д-т-он kal-d-t-on 'I poured', but саф-т-он saf-t-on 'I lost'. [30]

The subjunctive mood has its own forms for each tense: present-future -ин -in, -ис is, -ид -id, -иккам -ikkam, -иккат -ikkat, иккой -ikkoj; future -он -on, -ай -ay, -а -a, -ӕм -ӕm, -ат -at, -ой -oj; past -аин -ain, -аис -ais, -аид -aid, -аиккам -aikkam, -аиккат -aikkat, аиккой -aikkoj, with a т t added before the ending in transitive verbs. The future forms derive from the historical subjunctive and the others from the historical optative. The imperative consists of the present stem and the endings 2nd sing. -∅, 2nd pl. -ут -ut, 3rd sing. -ӕд -ӕd, 3rd pl. -ӕнт -ӕnt. [31] . A special future imperative form can be formed by the addition of the independent particle иу iu.


Passive voice is expressed periphrastically with the past passive participle and an auxiliary verb цӕуын cӕuyn 'to go': аразын arazyn 'build' – арӕзт цӕуын arӕzt cӕuyn 'be built'; causative meaning is also expressed periphrastically by combining the infinitive and the verb кӕнын kӕnyn 'to do': e.g. бадын badyn 'to sit' - бадын кӕнын badyn kӕnyn 'to seat'. Reflexive meaning is expressed by adding the reflexive pronoun хи xi: дасын dasyn 'to shave (something, somebody)' – хи дасын xi dasyn 'shave oneself'. [32]


Somewhat similarly to the Slavic languages, verbs belong to one of two lexical aspects: perfective vs. imperfective, and the aspects are most commonly expressed by prefixes of prepositional origin, which simultanously express direction or other abstract meanings: цӕуын cӕuyn 'go (imperf.)' - рацӕуын racӕuyn 'go out (perf.). The directional prefixes simultaneously express ventive or andative direction: а- a- 'out', ба- ba- 'in', and ны- ny- 'down' express motion away from the speaker, whereas ра- ra-, арба- arba- and ӕр- ӕr- have the same meanings, but combined with motion towards the speaker. The prefix фӕ- fӕ- expresses motion away from the speaker regardless of direction. In addition, all of them may express small aspectual nuances: а- a- is used for rapid, brief and superficial motion, арба- arba- also for rapid and sudden action, ба- ba- for more substantial action, ны- ny- for especially intensive action, while фӕ- fӕ- can express habituality in the present and either repetition or rapidity and brevity in the past. [33]

Iterativity or habituality may be expressed with the separate particle иу iu. To make a prefixed form receive imperfective meaning, the article цӕй cӕj is inserted: рацӕйцыди racӕjcydy 'he was going out'. [34]

Non-finite verb forms

There is an infinitive, four participles (present and past active, past passive, and future), and a gerund. The infinitive is formed from the present stem with the ending -ын -yn, which phonologically coincides with the 1st person singular: цӕуын cӕuyn 'to go' (and 'I go').

The past passive participle ends in -т t or -д d, coinciding with the past stem (фыссын fyssyn 'write' – фыст fyst 'written'); it is often nominalised to a verbal noun. All the other participles, as well as the gerund, are formed from the present stem. The future participle ends in -инаг inag and may have either active or passive meaning: фыссинаг fyssinag 'who will write / will be written'. Together with the copula used as an auxiliary, it forms a periphrastic immediate future tense. The dedicated active participles end in -ӕг -ӕg and receive 'present' or 'past', or more accurately, imperfective or perfective meaning depending on the aspect of the stem: фыссӕг fyssӕg 'writing' – ныффыссӕг nyfyssӕg 'having written'. There is also a participle-gerund form ending in -гӕ -gӕ : бадгӕ badgӕ '(while) sitting'. It can be used adverbially, as a gerund, but also attributively like a participle with absolutive voice: кӕрдгӕ kӕrdgӕ may mean '(which has been) cut', судзгӕ sudzgӕ may mean '(which is) burning', etc. To receive an unambiguously adverbial, i.e. gerundial interpretation, it needs to be declined in the ablative case, as does an adjective: бадгӕйӕ badgӕjӕ '(while) sitting'. [35]


Ossetic uses mostly postpositions (derived from nouns), although two prepositions exist in the language. Noun modifiers precede nouns. The word order is not rigid, but tends towards SOV. The morphosyntactic alignment is nominative–accusative, although there is no accusative case: rather, the direct object is in the nominative (typically if inanimate or indefinite) or in the genitive (typically if animate or definite). [13]


For numerals above 20, two systems are in use – a decimal one used officially, and a vigesimal one used colloquially. [13]

Writing system

Ossetic text written with Georgian script, from a book on Ossetian folklore published in 1940 in South Ossetia Oseta kartvela skribo.jpg
Ossetic text written with Georgian script, from a book on Ossetian folklore published in 1940 in South Ossetia

Written Ossetian may be immediately recognized by its use of the Cyrillic letter Ae ӕ), a letter to be found in no other language using Cyrillic script. The father of the modern Ossetian literary language is the national poet Kosta Khetagurov (1859–1906). [13]

An Iron literary language was established in the 18th century, written using the Cyrillic script in Russia and the Georgian script in Georgia. The first Ossetian book was published in Cyrillic in 1798, and in 1844 the alphabet was revised by a Russian scientist of Finnish-Swedish origin, Andreas Sjögren. A new alphabet based on the Latin script was made official in the 1920s, but in 1937 a revised Cyrillic alphabet was introduced, with digraphs replacing most diacritics of the 1844 alphabet.

In 1820, I. Yalguzidze published a Georgian-script alphabetic primer, adding three letters to the Georgian alphabet. [36] The Georgian orthography receded in the 19th century, but was made official with Georgian autonomy in 1937. The "one nation – two alphabets" issue caused discontent in South Ossetia in the year 1951 demanding reunification of the script, and in 1954 Georgian was replaced with the 1937 Cyrillic alphabet.

The table below shows the modern Cyrillic alphabet, used since 1937, with phonetic values for the Iron dialect in the IPA. Di- and tri-graphs in parentheses are not officially letters of the alphabet, but are listed here to represent phonemically distinctive sounds:

Modern Cyrillic alphabet
IPA äɐbvɡɡʷʁʁʷdd͡ʒz~d͡zeʒ~zijkkʼʷɫ
IPA mnoprʃ~stu, wfχχʷqs~t͡st͡sʼt͡ʃt͡ʃʼɘ

In addition, the letters ё, ж, ш, щ, ъ, ь, э, ю, and я are used to transcribe Russian loans.

The Latin alphabet (used 1923–1938)
IPA äɐbs~t͡st͡sʼt͡ʃt͡ʃʼdz~d͡zd͡ʒefɡɡʷʁʁʷijk
IPA kʷʼɫmnopqrʃ~stu, wvχχʷɘʒ~z

In addition, the letters š and ž were used to transcribe Russian words. The "weak" vowels ӕ[ɐ] and ы[ɘ] are extremely common in the language.

Language usage

The first page of the first issue of the Ossetian newspaper Rastdzinad. Sjogren's Cyrillic alphabet. 1923 1agRastdzinad.jpg
The first page of the first issue of the Ossetian newspaper Rastdzinâd . Sjögren's Cyrillic alphabet. 1923

The first printed book in Ossetian appeared in 1798. The first newspaper, Iron Gâžêt , appeared on July 23, 1906 in Vladikavkaz.

While Ossetian is the official language in both South and North Ossetia (along with Russian), its official use is limited to publishing new laws in Ossetian newspapers. There are two daily newspapers in Ossetian: Raštdzinâd (Рӕстдзинад / Рӕстꚉінад, "Truth") in the North and Xuržarin (Хурзӕрин, "The Sun") in the South. Some smaller newspapers, such as district newspapers, use Ossetian for some articles. There is a monthly magazine Mâx dug (Мах дуг, "Our era"), mostly devoted to contemporary Ossetian fiction and poetry.

Ossetian is taught in secondary schools for all pupils.[ citation needed ] Native Ossetian speakers also take courses in Ossetian literature.

The first Ossetian language Bible was published in 2010. [9] [ failed verification ] It is currently the only full version of the Bible in the Ossetian language. [37]


The following table illustrates some common Ossetic words with cognates or translations in other Indo-Iranian and other Indo-European languages.

Translations into different languages
Pashto اور
Tat ataşmanügmay/dədəxuvarşöüvinisürx/qirmizizərdsouzgürg
Kurdish agir / armeh/heyvnumak/dayikxwişkşevpozsorzerd/borkesk/şîngur / wir
Mazanderani tashmungnoumārkhakhershufeniseserkhzardsuzwerg
Persian آتش
بینی / پوزه
pozeh / bini
بور/ زرد
zard / bur
Sanskrit अग्नि॔ः
Kamkata-vari āŋomosnuĩnuasusřotrnāsuřtrepuṭādraādraṣiol
German FeuerMonatneuMutterSchwesterNachtNasedreirotgelbgrünWolf
Latin ignismēnsisnovusmātersorornoxnasustrēsruberflāvus, gilvusviridislupus
Modern Greek φωτιά
Armenian հուր
Lithuanian ugnismėnuonaujasmotinasesuonaktisnosistrysraudonasgeltonasžaliasvilkas
Russian огонь
Irish tinenuamáthairdeirfiúroíchesróntrídearg/ruabuíglasfaolchú
Breton tanmiznevezmammc'hoarnozfritriruzmelenglasbleiz

See also


  1. The expressions "Ossetic language" and "Ossetian language" are about equally common in books, [5] but dictionaries show that there are differences between British and North American usage. The Collins English Dictionary mentions only "Ossetic" for American usage and lists it first for British usage, [6] and the US dictionaries Merriam-Webster, [7] Random House, [8] and American Heritage [3] don't even mention the language as a meaning of "Ossetian", whereas the Oxford University Press (as quoted in the Lexico.com entries for Ossetic and Ossete) clearly considers "Ossetian" more common than "Ossetic" for the language. So US dictionaries agree on "Ossetic" for the language, whereas UK dictionaries don't agree on whether it or "Ossetian" are more common. "Ossetic" is apparently preferred in scientific use (linguistics), as shown by this article's references, including the entries in Ethnologue [9] and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. [10]

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  1. Ossetian at Ethnologue (23rd ed., 2020)
  2. Windfuhr 2013.
  3. AHD:Ossetian
  4. OED:Ossetian.
  5. Ngram Viewer
  6. Collins English Dictionary
  7. Merriam-Webster.com
  8. Random House Dictionary
  9. 1 2 "Ossetic". Ethnologue . Retrieved 2019-01-08.
  10. Encyclopaedia Britannica
  11. Dalby 1998.
  12. 1 2 Lubotsky, Alexander (2010). Van Sanskriet tot Spijkerschrift Breinbrekers uit alle talen. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. p. 34. ISBN   9089641793.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Abaev, V. I. A Grammatical Sketch of Ossetian. Translated by Stephen P. Hill and edited by Herbert H. Paper, 1964
  14. Thordarson, Fridrik. 1989. Ossetic. Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, ed. by Rudiger Schmitt, 456-479. Wiesbaden: Reichert.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Kim, Ronald (2003). "On the Historical Phonology of Ossetic: The Origin of the Oblique Case Suffix". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 123 (1): 43–72. doi:10.2307/3217844.
  16. 1 2 Zgusta 1987.
  17. 1 2 Kambolov, Tamerlan (10 May 2007). Some New Observations on the Zelenchuk Inscription and Tzetzes’ Alanic Phrases (PDF). Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans – Iranian-Speaking Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes. Barcelona. pp. 21–22. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  18. Ivanov 2010.
  19. Zgusta 1987, p. 51.
  20. Zgusta 1987, p. 55.
  21. 1 2 Despite the transcription used here, Abaev refers to /k/ and /ɡ/ as "postpalatal" rather than velar, and to /q/, /χ/ and /ʁ/ as velar rather than uvular.
  22. Ossetic language. (2006). In Encyclopӕdia Britannica. Retrieved August 26, 2006, from Encyclopӕdia Britannica Premium Service: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ossetic-language
  23. Т.Т. Камболов. 2006 Очерк истории осетинского языка. p.330-339
  24. Abaev 1964, p. 22-26
  25. Abaev 1964, p. 26-31
  26. Abaev 1964, p.35-42.
  27. Abaev 1964, p.42-43.
  28. Abaev 1964, p.51.
  29. Abaev 1964, p.59.
  30. Abaev 1964, p.51.
  31. Abaev 1964, p.52-53.
  32. Abaev 1964, p. 44.
  33. Abaev 1964, p. 76-79
  34. Abaev 1964, p. 45-47
  35. Abaev 1964, p. 47-50
  36. Correspondence table between the Georgian based and the modern script with examples of use (in Russian)
  37. "Russian Censorship: Ossetian & Russian Bibles, Bible Literature". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2017-01-08.