Ossetian for English Speakers - Let's Learn Ossetian!

Hi all,

First of all, I love the languages of the Caucasus. (My profile is Circassiaball, representing the Circassians, an ethnic people of the Caucasus!) Today I'd like to promote one of the lesser-known Indo-European languages of the Caucasus: Ossetian. There's just something so captivating about the language, and, unlike its neighbors (which include North Caucasian, Kartvelian, and Turkic languages), it's not a very difficult language to learn. In this thread I'll answer some questions people might have about this language.

Some Ossetian texts here will have audio so you can listen to brief recordings of the language. The recordings are made by me, so pronunciation may not be 100% correct. If you speak the language and notice a mistake, please let me know! I'm a learner of this language and would really appreciate feedback!

What is Ossetian?

Ossetian is an Eastern Indo-Iranian language spoken in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania (Республикӕ Цӕгат Ирыстон-Алани) and the disputed state of South Ossetia (Республикӕ Хуссар Ирыстон). It is related to the Yaghnobi language, the more well-known Pashto language, and a bit more distantly the Persian and Kurdish languages. Since it's an Indo-European language, it has (distant) ties to more well-known languages like Russian, English, Spanish, and more (though the resemblance may not be that obvious).

There are two dialects of the language: Iron (Ирон) and Digor (Дигорон). The former is the most widely spoken, and is the dialect I'm requesting that Duolingo add. However, if Duolingo also adds a Digor dialect course, that'd be amazing, since it's critically endangered and near the brink of extinction.

How difficult is the language?

Unlike most other languages of the Caucasus, Ossetian is actually not that difficult. It has 9 noun cases (8 depending on analysis) though unlike other languages with cases, the cases have simple rules with little to no exceptions. Take that, Finnish! (I still love you Finnish. No hard feelings??)

The challenge of Ossetian truly lies in the plural form of words (nouns and adjectives). It's formed by adding a suffix -tæ, but very often the word changes form in one way or another, and the rules for these changes are not very consistent at all, with lots of exceptions. However, the rules for the cases are practically the same once the word is in plural form, so you won't have to lose sleep over the irregular plural case declensions. Take that, Russian! (I still love you too Russian. No hard feelings???)

The other complex part of Ossetian is the past tense stem of verbs. It's typically formed by adding -t or -d to the present tense verb stem, but like the plural, the verb stem changes in one way or another with lots of exceptions. However, once the past tense stem is known, using it in verb conjugation is very easy and the rules are very consistent.

The phonology of the language is not that complex, either. It's very comparable to Georgian, which, despite the conception that languages of the Caucasus have many sounds, does not have many sounds. The only real challenge in Ossetian are ejective consonants (consonants that sound "shorter" in length, if you will), but once one gets past them, speaking is very easy.

So in other words, Ossetian could have been worse, especially given its neighboring languages.

How many speakers of Ossetian are there?

There are about 577,000 speakers of Ossetian. It is a vulnerable language according to UNESCO.

Why should Duolingo add an Ossetian course?

The language is slowly dying out as the Russian language dominates in usage among Ossetians in North Ossetia-Alania and South Ossetia, despite being an official language in both regions. In schools, it is a subject of two classes in South Ossetia (literature and grammar), but the medium of instruction is always Russian. In North Ossetia-Alania, Ossetian is not even a subject in the school system and children are not exposed to the language in any official capacity. While there exists Ossetian print media and radio in both regions, they compete with much larger Russian newspaper, radio, and television with much wider circulation.

We should not let a beautiful language such as Ossetian to be overshadowed by more widespread languages such as Russian. This is how languages died in the past, and how they will continue to die, unless we do something about it.

Ubykh, the Northwest Caucasian language with the most sounds of any language outside of Africa, died because of this language overshadowing. The Ubykhs were exiled to modern day western Turkey during the Circassian genocide, and they were forced to assimilate in order to avoid discrimination. Because of this, the Ubykh did not pass on their native tongue to the future generations, and in 1992, the language died along with the last native speaker, Tevfik Esenç. The death was truly a sad loss, for both the Ubykhs and linguists everywhere.

Even if Duolingo chooses not to add an Ossetian course, you will definitely see me promoting this language in the future (along with many others). I will even do it on the Discussion forum in the form of miniature lessons should there be enough interest for them. And believe me, they will be high quality.

Language death is inevitable. That's the sad truth. However, we can still promote those that are starting to near extinction such as Ossetian. and help them escape the grips of the language grim reaper. I plan on doing just that for Ossetian and several other languages of the Caucasus and the world. Even if a language dies out, we can revive it with enough effort and former documentation of the language. It was done for Cornish and it certainly could be done again.

Here is a clip of spoken Ossetian:

кӕд дӕхи хоныс ирон, уӕд дӕ мадӕлон ӕвзаг зон - This is a video of people telling Ossetians to learn their mother tongue. This honestly is what led me to fall in love with the Ossetian language, and was also the inspiration of the YouTube channel Ossetian for Everyone.

How can I support this course?

If you would like to see an Ossetian for English speakers (or more realistically at the moment, an Ossetian for Russian speakers) course on Duolingo, leave an upvote and/or your thoughts on such a course.

If you are a native or fluent Ossetian speaker, please apply to the Incubator to help make this course a reality!

Flag of North Ossetia-Alania

If you have any questions about the language, please ask! I will do my best to answer questions about the language.

March 12, 2018


I would love an Ossetian course! The language is very beautiful.

March 12, 2018

Yes! I have been trying to learn it for some time, but sources are namely in Russian (something I am currently learning and have been since 2012) and only a few are in English. There is that one Argentine that has a Youtube/Facebook channel dedicated to teaching Ossetian, 'LetsLearnOssetian' I think his name is. If we can get someone like him on here, that would be a huge boost!

March 18, 2018

The channel is Ossetian for Everyone, and yes, it is a great resource for learning Ossetian! It would be really cool if we could get the creator of the channel to apply for this course.

March 18, 2018

Just told him what duolingo is a bout

March 24, 2018

I would love to see this course realised and I only wish I were in a position to help.

On another note, I'm really loving your Tiny Cards decks, so thanks again for those.

March 13, 2018

My only issue with learning any language is the price. Duolingo is amazing in the fact that it is free. My goal is to learn Spanish, Scots Gaelic, and Ossetian. I firmly believe that the path to betterment is knowledge.

August 24, 2019
Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.