Abkhaz Language Sokhumi Reviews
Abkhaz Language and other languages Jul 04, 2016
English is not widely spoken in Abkhazia. Staff in the first hotel I stayed in knew a few words, and made every effort to communicate with me using sign language and phoning an English speaking friend. In the second hotel, I was surprised by two fluent receptionists and a fluent waitress, and I also met an English speaking waiter in a cafe on the waterfront in Sokhumi and a couple of Russians on my tour to Lake Ritsa were able to chat with me in English. So to get the most out of your trip, you'll need to speak something else.
The most useful language for travelling in Abkhazia will undoubtedly be Russian. Everyone in Abkhazia speaks it, whether Russian or not, and the first language people try to communicate with you in will be Russian, so a few phrases (like hello, thank you, please, I don't understand, how much, do you speak English, I don't speak Russian, etc) are pretty much essential. With nearly all tourists coming from Russia itself or Russian speaking countries, all tours on offer will be in Russian. From a practical point of view, Russian is the only language you need to get by.
So why bother learning some Abkhaz, then? Russian tourists don't ever need to learn any, and most don't seem to, something confirmed to me by an Abkhaz waitress, and a Russian tour guide who had lived there for some time but didn't know how to say thank you in Abkhaz. And that is precisely why it is a fantastic idea to learn a few words. Service in shops and restaurants can often be a little cold. I don't know whether that is a dislike for Russian tourists or just the ex-Soviet way, but service is generally brief, abrupt and without a smile. That is, until you say something in Abkhaz. Then the smiles break out, hands are shaken, conversations attempted. It was amazing, and it happened each and every time I used a word of Abkhaz. People clearly appreciated the extra effort.
So here is a little Abkhaz phrasebook to help:
Hello - bzia zbasha
Good morning - mosha bzia
Good evening - khula bzia
Yes - ayey/ayow
No - mamo/map
Thank you - itabup (very easy to remember...think of "eat a boob"!)
What's your name? - uara yarban? (to a man)/bara barban (to a woman)
My name is ____ - sara ____ sykhzup
Abkhazia - Apsny
Sokhumi - Akwa
Coffee - qahawa
Water - adzykh
1 - aki
2 - uba
3 - khpa
4 - pshba
5 - khuba
6 - fba
7 - bijba
8 - aaba
9 - juba
10 - juaba
100 - shuki
The pronunciation is approximate (the kh sound is like ch in Scottish loch), as Abkhaz is an incredibly complex language. For example, there are several different k sounds, some with a click, some emphatic, some with a glottal stop after, and that's not including the kh sounds, but I don't think anyone will really worry too much about a beginner having a go! Abkhaz is also written in the Cyrillic alphabet with several letters not found in Russian. I'm able to read Russian words and have a go at pronouncing them, even without any knowledge of that language, but Abkhaz was much more of a challenge to read. Luckily, most signs are bilingual.
Many Muslim Abkhaz were expelled from the area after the Russo-Turkish war of 1806-1812 when Russia took control of Abkhazia from the Ottoman Empire, and there has been large Abkhaz diaspora in Turkey, Syria and Jordan since that time. Many Syrian Abkhaz have recently been welcomed to Abkhazia as refugees, so if you know some Arabic, particularly Syrian Arabic, you may be able to chat with them...I met several Syrians one evening while walking along Sokhumi's waterfront. I did hear Turkish spoken a couple of times in Sokhumi too. Armenians make up the third largest ethnic group in Abkhazia after Abkhaz and Georgian, and Abkhazia is apparently a popular holiday destination for those living in Armenia, so if you can speak Armenian, that might also prove useful.
A little note about Georgian. Although many locals, especially older people, will understand Georgian, considering how fragile/non-existant Georgian-Abkhaz relations are, speaking Georgian in Abkhazia is probably not a wise thing to do, and knowledge of the language is maybe not something you should admit to. The only place where Georgian might come in handy is in Gali, where over 90% of the population are ethnically Georgian. You will hear Georgian spoken in the streets here, and I noticed a few old signs in the Georgian alphabet from the bus, but as it's not the most secure place to stay, most likely you won't need to use any Georgian once inside Abkhazia.
Part of the Abkhazia 2016 travel blog
Part of the list Abkhazia
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