Tevfik Esenç – Wikipedia

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Last known speaker of the Ubykh language

Tevfik Esenç

Tevfik Esenç, aged 57

Born 1904 (1904)
Died (aged 88)
Nationality Turkish
Known for being the last native speaker of Ubykh
Movement Circassian nationalism

Tevfik Esenç (1904 – 7 October 1992) was a Turkish citizen of Circassian origin, known for being the last speaker of the Ubykh language.[1][2] He was fluent in Ubykh, Adyghe and Turkish.[3] After his death in 1992, the Ubykh language went extinct despite the efforts and work of numerous linguists to revive it. Nevertheless, Esenç is single-handedly responsible for the world’s current knowledge of Ubykh language and culture being as extensive and detailed as it is.


Esenç’s gravestone.
Tevfik Esenç
[recite] a Fatiha for his soul
Who immortalised the Ubykh language, the last Ubykh who could write and speak this language

Esenç was raised by his Ubykh-speaking grandparents for a time in the village of Hacıosman (Ubykh: Lak°’ạ́ṡ°a; Adyghe: Hundjahabl) in Turkey, and he served a term as the muhtar (mayor) of that village, before receiving a post in the civil service of Istanbul. There, he was able to do a great deal of work with the French linguist Georges Dumézil and his associate Georges Charachidzé to help record his language,[2] although not all the writings of Charachidzé (1930–2010) have been published. Others who met Esenç and produced work on Ubykh are: the Norwegian Hans Vogt (1911–92);[4] the British George Hewitt, who in made recordings with Esenç in Istanbul;[5] the Abkhazian Viacheslav Chirikba, who has written on Ubykh settlements and Ubykh surnames; and the Turkish linguist A. Sumru Özsoy.

Having an excellent memory and understanding quickly the goals of Dumézil and the other linguists who came to visit him, he was a primary source of not only the Ubykh language, but also of the mythology, culture history, and customs of the Ubykh people. He spoke Turkish and Ubykh, and also a dialect of Adyghe (West Circassian), allowing some comparative work to be done between these two members of the Northwest Caucasian family. A purist, his idiolect of Ubykh was considered by Dumézil as the closest thing to a standard “literary” Ubykh language that existed.[2]

He finished his work for Ubykh with the following speech to his long-time collaborator Georges Charachidzé:[3]

Professor Charachidzé, my great friend…

Please forgive me if I made any mistakes.
From now on, you are the Ubykh language. I told everything I know to you. Teach it to the world.
May God give you all blessings and beauty!

This is where Ubykh comes to an end.

— Tevfik Esenç, his finishing address in the last Ubykh audio recording

Esenç died in the night of 7 October 1992, at the age of 88; he was buried in the village cemetery of Hacıosman, his birthplace, alongside his wife Emine. He was survived by three sons and two daughters.

In 1994, A. Sumru Özsoy organized an international conference, namely Conference on Northwest Caucasian Linguistics, at Boğaziçi University in memory of Dumézil and Esenç.[6]


  1. ^ “29 yıl önce yok olan bir dilin ve son temsilcisi Tevfik Esenç’in hikayesi: “Bir Rüya Gördüm, Anlatsam da Anlamazsınız”. Independent Türkçe (in Turkish). 18 March 2021. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  2. ^ a b c circassianworld (4 September 2013). “Tevfik Esenç – the last person able to speak the Ubykh language”. Circassian World. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  3. ^ a b Duvar, Gazete (10 September 2020). “Bir dilin ölümüne tanıklık etmek: Tevfik Esenç’in anısına”. Gazeteduvar (in Turkish). Retrieved 22 April 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ (see his ‘Dictionnaire de la Langue Oubykh’, 1963, Universitetsvorlaget)
  5. ^ the recordings are available on the Net; his account of his meetings in 1974 has been published — ‘Encountering Ubykh(s)’, in Arxeologija i ètnografija pontijsko-kavkazskogo regiona 5, 195-204, 2016: Krasnodar; see also his ‘The labialised sibilants of Ubykh (North West Caucasian)’, in Revue des Etudes Géorgiennes et Caucasiennes, 2, 1986, 21-30)
  6. ^ E. F. K. Koerner (1 January 1998). First Person Singular III: Autobiographies by North American Scholars in the Language Sciences. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 33. ISBN 978-90-272-4576-2.

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