Dargi languages are spoken in the central part of Daghestan (traditionally in the districts Akushinskij, Levashinskij, Daxadaevskij, Sergokalinskij, Kajtagskij and also partially in the districts of Gunibskij, Bujnakskdkij, Karabudakhkentskij and Agul), in a territory with a length of about 100 km and a breadth of about 70 km (see Map 2 and Map 3). In the west their territory borders on Lak and Avar territory, in the north and east on Kumyk, and in the south on Tabasaran.
Following the most recent publications on the classification of the Nakh-Daghestanian language family (Korjakov 2006, Korjakov and Sumbatova 2007), the Dargi branch consists of 19 languages and about 40 dialects (see Figure 1 above, where terminal nodes represent languages). Among them the biggest are Akusha Dargwa (about 42,000 speakers), Mjurego-Gubden Dargwa (~39,000), Urakhi Dargwa (~35,000), Kajtag Dargwa (~21,000) and Tsudakhar Dargwa (~19,000). We agree with the above mentioned scholars in considering the Dargi branch to be a subgroup of the Daghestanian languages, consisting of individual Dargi languages (and the languages themselves of various dialects). In fact, speakers of most Dargi languages do not understand each other, and the variation between them is much bigger than between the Andic languages, another subbranch of the same family (Rasul Mutalov, personal data). The break-up of the Proto-Dargi language can be estimated to have occurred about two millennia ago (Sumbatova, p.c.). However, the exact number of Dargi languages is still subject to debate, because descriptions are lacking for many of the individual languages and dialects. Thus, Figure 1 will have to be corrected in the future.
The place of the Dargi languages inside the Nakh-Daghestanian family is also debated. Some authors consider them to form a separate branch of the Nakh-Daghestanian language family (Gigineishvili 1977: 142, Kibrik 1996) others group them together with Lak (Haspelmath 1993, Korjakov 2006, van den Berg 2005).
Nowadays Dargi people are officially considered to form a group that shares a common ethnicity and thus representing the second biggest ethnic group in Daghestan (after the Avars) and to speak various dialects of one and the same Dargi language. According to the data of the Russian census from 2002, for instance, about 510,000 people consider themselves to be ethnic Dargi, of whom about 430,000 claim to speak Dargwa. However, there are not only good reasons for rejecting the term Dargi as referring to a historically established homogenous ethnic group, but also against considering Dargwa as one language.
The term Dargi with its current reference was only introduced during Soviet times. At that time the policy was to create names for peoples and languages that lacked significance for the people themselves and to introduce ethnic boundaries all over the Northern Caucasus (Grenoble 2003: 114). The use of these names is nowadays fully established and is maintained largely for various political reasons (©axbanov 2010).
However, historically the term Dargi or Dargwa does not refer to an ethnic group (Abdullaev 1954: 13). There were seven urban centers in central Daghestan that referred to themselves with a proper name and the term Dargwa: Akusha-Dargwa, Kaba-Dargwa, Xamur-Dargwa, Ucmi (or Kajtag)-Dargwa, Bukun-Dargwa, Guci-Dargwa and Sirkha (Magomedov 1999: 13). That is, Dargwa refers to those urban centers that consisted of a number of small villages forming a unit that were able to defend themselves and their own interests against enemies. Other urban centers in the north like Kadar and Gubden, whose inhabitants are today also considered as Dargi people, did not belong to the Dargwa. They formed one administrative unit with Kumyk villages (Abdullaev 1945: 12), and used Kumyk as lingua franca.
Similarly, there was not one single language with the name Dargwa, but a group of related languages, in reference to which the names of the urban centers were used (Uslar 1892: 1). But since Soviet times this erroneous classification of the Dargi languages as dialects of one and the same Dargi language has persisted in many publications and in all official documents (e.g. Abdulaev 1954, Gasanova 1971, Museav 2002, WALS (http://wals.info/), Ethnologue (http://www.ethnologue.com/)).
Like other Daghestanian languages, until 1928 speakers of the various Dargi languages used the Arabic script, but there was no standard orthography. From 1925 the first newspaper in a Dargi language was published (Abdullaev 1954: 15). This newspaper, as well as most books and other materials, was published in Akusha Dargwa, the language which was later chosen as the basis for the literary standard Dargi language. There are several reasons for this choice, e.g. Akusha was and still is the Dargi language with the most speakers, and the village of Akusha together with surrounding villages formed for a long time an autonomous urban center (vol’noe ob±čestvo). In 1930 at the first Daghestanian conference on orthography Akusha was appointed to be the basis for the literary standard Dargi language. In 1928 for a number of Daghestanian languages including Dargwa, Avar, Lak, Lezgian and Tabasaran, a Latin alphabet was developed. In 1938 the policy changed completely and for all Daghestanian literary languages a Cyrillic alphabet was introduced (Grenoble 2003: 48-51). In the following years the Dargi alphabet underwent several changes.
Nowadays there are several newspapers in standard Dargwa, among them one newspaper of Daghestanian importance (Zamana) and five smaller district newspapers, regular radio (about 30 min every day) and TV programs (about 30 min a week), and numerous books. Dargi children living in the traditional Dargi districts usually have classes at school where they learn standard Dargwa.
Shiri and Sanzhi
Shiri and Sanzhi belong to two different Dargi languages (see Figure 1 above). Shiri is mainly spoken in the villages of Chinar and Shiri, and Sanzhi in the village of Druzhba (see Map 4 and Section 3.2). They are not only different from each other, but also different from Standard Dargwa. Nevertheless, they are structurally similar enough to make documenting both of them at the same time feasible. These claims are in contrast with what many published sources state about Dargi languages. But a comparison of Shiri and Sanzhi with other related varieties and with Standard Dargwa supports our position.
Another very important point is that Shiri and Sanzhi speakers do not understand literary standard Dargwa, because Akusha Dargwa, the base for the standard language, is very different from Shiri and Sanzhi. Although some Shiri and Sanzhi children have standard Dargwa classes in school, they usually do not learn this language, which is a foreign language for them, well enough. As a result, they are not able to speak literary standard Dargwa or to read newspapers and books or watch TV programs in this language.