Lezgi is a Caucasian language claiming around 800,000 speakers worldwide. It is well established in its native region across the border between Azerbaijan and the Russian Republic of Dagestan, where it enjoys official status. Nevertheless, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) classified it as a “vulnerable” language, one rarely spoken by children outside of their home, thus jeopardizing its transmission to future generations.
But one man is set to change that. Jeyhun Amirkhanov, a native Lezgi speaker from Azerbaijan, uses YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to promote his region, culture, and language. He explained the reasons behind his online activity to Rising Voices:
Losing a language is losing a whole culture, a way of thinking. It happens with most languages which are in danger, not only with us. […] I do this because I want our people to be more aware about their language, culture and history.
On his YouTube channel, he shares videos featuring local songs and showing the Caucasian landscapes. He has also made a few videos about the language itself.
The video below is a list of six tongue twisters in Lezgi, but perhaps they should be called “throat twisters” instead, since Piotr Kozłowski, a Lezgi-language learner and the founder of a website dedicated to Lezgi, confided that trying to pronounce them feels like it may “do terrible damage to your throat”:
The lack of formal education and support from the government make it difficult for people to speak their language correctly, and with its 54 different consonants, Lezgi can be very challenging to an untrained ear. In a more recent video, Amirkhanov gave a short lesson on ejective consonants:
Luckily, he is not alone in his efforts to save the language. Another YouTube channel is set to teach Lezgi to children, so even if kids with Lezgi roots live far from native villages, they still have a chance to learn some of their mother (or father) tongue.
Illustration: screen grab from Jeyhun Amirkhanov’s YouTube video on Lezgian Tongue Twisters.
This post was originally published on Global Voices on august 5, 2017 and is reproduced here under a CC BY 3.0 license