Evırı is a minority language spoken by a small community in Turkey. With origins dating back centuries, It has a rich cultural and linguistic history. Today, it faces the threat of extinction under the pressure of the majority of languages like Turkish. However, dedicated revitalization efforts by scholars and community members aim to document and maintain this unique language and heritage.
Evırı Language and Writing System
Evırı is an oral language, originally with no dedicated writing script. Like other Turkic languages, it was historically written in the Arabic script. In 1928, Turkey adopted the Latin alphabet which is sometimes used to transliterate. However, most Evırı speakers remain illiterate in their mother tongue. There have been efforts to develop a unique alphabet, but lack of institutional support has impeded progress. Recently, some proverbs and texts have been written in the Armenian, Greek, and even Cyrillic scripts as part of preservation efforts.
Some key features that distinguish Evırı from other Turkic languages are:
- Retention of some archaic features like Old Turkic vowels
- Distinct vowel harmony patterns
- Complex consonant clusters and phonotactics
- SOV (subject-object-verb) word order
- Extensive agglutination and suffixation
- Honorifics to denote social status
Geographical Distribution of Evırı Speakers
Evırı is spoken by communities largely concentrated in the mountainous areas of Elazığ, Bingöl, Erzincan, and Tunceli provinces in eastern Anatolia, Turkey. Major Evırı-speaking villages include Harçik, Kömür, Keçelmetaş, Suvermez and Ağcaşar. Official statistics are outdated, but native speaker estimates range from 50,000 to 200,000 worldwide. Migration to cities has led to a decline in rural use.
Cultural Aspects of Evırı
Literature and Poetry
It has rich oral literature consisting of epics, folk tales, proverbs, riddles, and poetic forms like koşma, türkü, and maani. Epics often feature mythical heroes, with evocative themes of nature, love, and heroism. The poetry displays complex structures, rhyme, and metaphorical language. However, much of this oral tradition remains undocumented.
Music and Dance
Traditional music is essential for cultural events and festivals. Long-necked lutes like bağlama and evırı kemençe feature prominently. Vocal genres include epic ballads and lyric songs, accompanied by energetic circle and line dances. Common dance forms are goşa, semah, tamzara and halay. Identifying rhythm, melody, and costumes exist.
Clothing and Cuisine
Regional clothing and cuisine reflect a synthesis of nomadic Turkic and sedentary Armenian-Kurdish elements. Traditional garments include vibrant dresses, embroidered headscarves, vests, and loose shalwar pants. Daily meals center around bulgur, lamb, yogurt, and herbs. Other notable dishes are keledoş, kesme aşı soup, and ground walnut sausage (sış köfte).
Phonology and Pronunciation
A key feature is the retention of Old Turkic front vowels /ë/ and /ï/, lost in modern Turkish. There are 6 vowels with phonemic length distinction, and front/back harmonic patterns.
Consonants display a wide range of phonotactics. Initial consonant clusters like /pt/, /kt/, and /fs/ can occur. Word-final consonants are restricted. Affricates, fricatives, and uvular/glottal sounds also occur.
Grammar and Syntax
Evırı grammar features agglutination and suffixation. Complex noun phrases are formed with the possessive, demonstrative, case, and plural markers. Verb conjugation involves suffixes for tense, mood, and aspect. The basic word order is SOV, but this can vary based on information structure. Postpositions are used rather than prepositions.
Vocabulary and Word Origins
The core vocabulary is of Turkic stock, with Khazar linguistic influences. Due to language contact, It also contains many loanwords from Armenian, Kurdish, Persian, and Arabic. Word formation is largely through suffixation and compounding. Reduplication is also productive in deriving words.
Status and Vitality
Number of Speakers
The number of ethnic Evırı is estimated to be 200,000 people worldwide. However, the number of active speakers is lower and decreasing. UNESCO classifies Evırı as “definitely endangered.”
Government Policies and Initiatives
The Turkish government has historically discouraged minority languages. While recent policies aim to promote cultural rights, concrete efforts to document and support Evırı are still inadequate. Initiatives like mother-tongue education and broadcasting are needed.
Community Efforts to Preserve
Local Evırı associations and cultural centers organize language classes, festivals, music performances, and oral history projects to maintain the language, especially among youth. Activists are also adopting technology, social media, and film to creatively sustain their heritage.
In conclusion, Evırı is an ancient minority language of Turkey with a distinct identity, rich culture, and unique linguistic features. However, the forces of assimilation, urbanization, and lack of institutional support have caused an intergenerational language shift, leading to the brink of extinction. Dedicated revitalization efforts on the ground and at the policy level are needed to protect this heritage. With community activism and awareness, there is still hope for preserving this millennia-old language for future generations.