Friday, October 05, 2012

WORK IN PROCESS: Dr. Thomas Wier, Free University "Do 'Caucasian' languages really exist? Areal features (or the lack thereof) in the languages of the Caucasus" (

( ISET/CRRC Georgia, Zandukeli St. 16 
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 
6:15pm until 7:30pm 

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Since the Middle Ages, when Arab geographers would call it the 'Mountain of Languages', the Caucasus has always stood out for its linguistic peculiarities, but almost always in a negative sense: for what they were not, rather than for what they were for. In this talk, I would like to lay out the state of the art in area studies of the Caucasus and challenge the notion that any such thing as a 'Caucasian language' exists. We will frame the talk by juxtaposing two ends of the debate: Klimov (1965) and Chirikba (2008) on the one hand, who argue that as many as four dozen features identify the Caucasus as a linguistic area or Sprachbund; and Tuite (1999) on the other, who argues that the only feature that properly identifies the Caucasus as a Sprachbund is glottalized consonants.

Of course, both cannot be true. I will argue that, while the truth lies somewhere in between, in a larger sense, treating the Caucasus as a single, coherent unit reflects outdated 19th- and early 20th-century Orientalist attitudes towards the Caucasian languages and peoples, and prevents us from fully understanding the linguistic complexity of the region.

Thomas Wier has a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Chicago and is Assistant Professor at the Free University in Tbilisi.


W-i-P is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the International School of Economics (ISET) building (16 Zandukeli Street). It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public.

The purpose of the W-i-P series is to provide support and productive criticism to those researching and developing academic projects pertaining the Caucasus region.

Would you like to present at one of the W-i-P sessions? Send an e-mail to

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