Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Do Ossetians Speak Osetin?

The Daily Dish had a reader make the following statement: "...It claimed that there are a majority of ethnic Russians in South Ossetia. In fact, the majority are Ossetians, a small Iranic-Language speaking group." (original here)

I have no special knowledge of the linguistic diaspora in this region, so I did a little quick research.
  • According to The CIA World Factbook, Georgia's overall population is 4,630,841.
  • According to its Wikipedia page, there were about "45,000 ethnic Ossetians and 17,500 ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia in 2007" (let's say about 62,000 altogether).
  • According to Ethnologue there is a language called Osetin with about 100,000 speakers in Georgia (figure from 2001).
  • Osetin's typological classification is Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Eastern, Northeastern.
It does seem to be the case that a) there are a majority of Ossetians in South Ossetia; and b) Ossetians do speak an Iranian language.

The answer, then, is yes, Ossetians speak Osetin.

UPDATE (8/25/2008): Bill Poser over at Language Log has a nice post discussing the "linguistic aspects of the situation in Georgia" here.


Anonymous said...

Linguistic nitpicking:

There IS a majority (singular) of Ossetians.

Chris said...

It's an interesting point. The grammatical properties of existential "there" constructions in English are famoulsy complex.

As a descriptivist linguist, I'm interested in the reasons I had for choosing "are". Given that it was immediately followed by an NP containing the singular indefinite article "a", I should have been primed for a singular verb, as you suggest.

Conceptually, the plurality of the noun "Ossetians" seems to have won, so to speak.

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