Tevfik Esenç

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Tevfik Esenç
Зэйшъо Тевфик
Tevfik Esenç (1904–1992).jpg
Tevfik Esenç, aged 57
Born1904 (1904)
Died (aged 88)
NationalityTurkish citizen of Circassian origin
Known forBeing the last native speaker of Ubykh
MovementCircassian nationalism

Tevfik Esenç, also known as (in his original Circassian unofficial name) Tevfik Zayshua (Ubykh: Зэйшъо Тевфик, romanized: Zayśua Tevfik; Adyghe: Зэйшъо Тэуфик, romanized: Zəyş̂o Təwfik; 1904 – 7 October 1992) was a Circassian in Turkey and the last known speaker of the Ubykh language.[1][2] He was fluent in Ubykh, Adyghe and Turkish.[3] He asked the Turkish government to help him in his efforts to keep his language alive, but was denied. After his death in 1992, despite the efforts and work of numerous linguists, the Ubykh language went extinct. 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 was raised by his Ubykh-speaking grandparents for a time in the village of Hacı Osman (Lakwasha/Hundjahable) 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] 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; the Turkish 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 the primary source of not only the Ubykh language, but also of the mythology, culture and customs of the Ubykh people. He spoke not only Ubykh, but also the Hakuchi dialect of Adyghe, allowing some comparative work to be done between these two members of the Northwest Caucasian family. He was also a fluent speaker of Turkish. A purist, his idiolect of Ubykh was considered by Dumézil as the closest thing to a standard "literary" Ubykh language that existed.[2]

Esenç died in 1992 at the age of 88. The inscription that he wanted on his gravestone read as follows:[2]

This is the grave of Tevfik Esenç. He was the last person able to speak the language they called Ubykh.

— Gravestone, inscription

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]

He finished his work for Ubykh with the following speech:[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.

To anyone reading these words, if you know better than me, please share it!

May Allah give you all blessings and beauty!

This is where Ubykh comes to an end.

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


  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 d 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.
  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 — ‘Encounterng 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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