Semantic Changes Of Lexical Derivatives Exemplified In The Adyghe Root Of Гъу


Modern etymological and historical semasiological studies go far beyond linguistic units and have both descriptive and explanatory nature by involving the cognitive, mental level. Traditional approved methods of etymological analysis include external and internal reconstruction. It contributes to identifying the lexical units lost in the process of semantic evolution and word-formation acts. This scientific interdisciplinary approach complies with the modern humanitarian paradigm as it provides deep etymological and historical semasiological analysis in the denotative and word-formation aspects. Such integrated approach to analysis of linguistic means is relevant, primarily, for researching languages with a recent system of writing. This article provides a multifaceted analysis of one particular Adyghe root morpheme гъу . In the research the integration of all the derivative words into one lexical family allows to consider them in the structural and denotative ways as they form a systemic unity. The article gives an insight into semantic typological changes in the meaning as well. Changes are related to the etymological meaning and the root morpheme. The article deals with the issue of developing semantic structures of one-root words derived from the same etymon, from гъу that is already in its initial representation is determined as a structural and semantic unity. The historical semasiological and motivational analysis gives the opportunity to see main vectors of the semantic evolution of words referred to one lexical family, the group that is united by etymological and word-formation features. The approach contributes to the better understanding of the nature of the whole system.

Keywords: MorphemerootsemanticsetymologyAdyghe language


Etymology as a science is known to take into account both the rules of phonetic correspondence and semasiological relations (semantic shifts) between different words, as well as the facts obtained by comparing the linguistic features of cognate languages or variants of one language, dialects. The most effective methods used in etymology are external and internal extrapolations that analyse existing semantic and word-formative correspondences and relations to identify the lost and reconstructed meanings in the historical development of the word. The significance of etymology is determined by the fact that it as the field of linguistics explores highly effective methods to cumulate "modern data, written history, pre-literate reconstruction and semantic typology" (Trubachev, 1976). The current development of etymological research features in its going beyond of sound-semantic correspondences and using methods of comprehending underlying linguistic processes based on cognition. As the famous scientist M. M. Makovsky writes: "We should remember that in many cases a word can disguise the mystery of another word or a word family, and, therefore, in these words the mystery of human thinking or even the mystery of human existence may be hidden. .... (Makovsky, 1996) Only etymological analysis can reveal transphenomenal relations or show that one would think quite obvious relations are falsifiable (Ibid, 1970).

Problem Statement

Adyghe language linguistics still lacks scientific works on etymology and it makes it difficult to identify and analyse the process of evolution of original words. The fact is that the issues of word formation and semantic evolution of original words in the Adyghe languages stem from the sticking-points requiring resolution first. And the points are about understanding the etymology and semantics of morphemes. Apart from some articles on etymology, we can distinguish the works of A.K. Shagirov "Etymological dictionary of the Adyghe (Circassian) languages" (1977) and N. R. Ivanokov "Selectas" (2015), where the authors analyse many native words. In contrast to the two-volume etymological dictionary by A.K. Shagirov that deals with both Circassian naming units and borrowed ones, N. R. Ivanokov focuses on the origin of native words only. As for the naming units, the author describes them as taking their origin from root morphemes of the Bzhedukh dialect. We think highly of the works by N. R. Ivanokov and share some of his ideas. Nevertheless, the author's one-sided approach is not appropriate in some aspects of our research. In contrast to his conclusions, our research shows that the sound roots are referred to different periods of the language development (from the Kabardino-Circassian/Adyghe to the General Abkhazian-Adyghe, possibly Pro-Adyghe--Abkhazian period). That is what makes our research relevant and speaks well for its scientific novelty.

Research Questions

Cognitive modelling of the word family in the Adyghe language is relevant for many reasons. There are challenging open problems in the language. They are word formation, semantics, as well as the hierarchy of motivational features between single-rooted words. Before presenting the analysis, it is necessary to differentiate such notions as a word (lexical) family, word-formation family, word root family and etymological family. Despite the proximity of these concepts, there are subtle differences between them. The word-formative structure of a lexical family, understood as a word-formative family, can form several word-formative sub-families inside the lexical one. They are based on various word-formative models that differ in their way of reflecting the reality. Thus, a word-formation family is not a linear system. It is a complex composition with many vectors. The distinguishing feature of the composition is that there is diversity of word-formation types. Further, the word root families are based on related roots. So, the word root family can consist of two or more sub-families, between which there are no word-formation relations. They may have existed initially, but disappeared gradually in the process of historical development. The integrated structural and semantic description of the lexical family begins with the initial stage of its formation, i.e. the analysis of the words forming the etymological family that is referred to one sound-root. S. Yu. Voronin introduces the concept of sound descriptive system that is understood as a part of the general system of the language. In the system there is a necessary, essential, repeating and relatively stable phonetic, primarily motivated relation between the phonemes and the motive (Voronin, 1982).

Thus, the structural and denotative boundaries of the different families remain vague. The word-formation family is a consistent development of the etymological or word root family. "The word-formation family, being a system of semantically and structurally related lexemes formed as a result of different vector word-formation acts, is at the same time a subsystem or a part of the general structure of the root or etymological family. Thus, the lexical family is understood as the unity of its etymological and semantic-word-formation structures. The analysis of motivational relations in the lexical family should begin with the restoration of the initial motivated feature or features of the initial lexeme or the initial root morpheme. The language family at different stages of its development represents formal and semantic unity. All the words included in the structure of the family reveal formal and semantic similarity due to the unity of the cognitive sphere they serve. But there is a restriction imposed by the logic of the internal development of the language, leading to a clash of the principles of deducibility and motivation" (Shomakhova, 2012).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the work is to identify the sound-complex of гъу , its etymological meanings, as well as to determine the typology of semantic transitions defined and motivated by the initial form and by the analysis of word-formation chains in the Abkhazian-Adyghe languages.

Research Methods

The modern cognitive approach to the issues of etymology and historical word formation allows us to analyse the initial sound-root units within the etymological and word-formation families. The approach is effective in the studying of the Adyghe language as the Adyghe root morphemes are characterized by a high degree of productivity. The fact was highlighted in the monograph devoted to cognitive modelling of etymological families in the non-cognate French and Kabardino-Circassian languages (Harayeva, 2007). The cognitive approach offers wide opportunities in the sphere of explication of semantic changes, their typology and systematization. The techniques of comparative-historical, semantic-motivational methods are also used in the analysis.


Based on the theoretical framework, we proceed with analysing the root гъу to determine its formal and denotative content.

In "Grammar of the Kabardino-Circassian literary language" -гъу- is considered either as a part of a compound root or as a word-formative suffix: зэ-мы-фэ-гъу means "not similar in colour; multicoloured"; зэ-мы-гуэ-гъу means " belonging to different groups "(Bersirov, 2010; Tcharkakho, 2004); гурыIуэ-гъуэ "clear" (Ibid, 1970). In the reconstructed words N. R. Ivanokov finds the component - гъу- in several naming units ( шыгъу «соль», благъуэ «дракон», etc.) and explains it as "a sign related to what is named by the derivative word" (Ivanokov, 2015) or "something, a substance, an object" (Ibid, 1970). In our opinion, such interpretations of the meaning of гъу component do not reveal its gist, but, on the contrary, they prevent from achieving the target goal. But the author was one of the first linguists who went far beyond the existing frame of etymology when studying the Circassian languages and put forward his view on the reconstruction of many etymons, hydronyms and other naming units.

The well-known Adyghe linguist B. M. Bersirov points (Bersirov, 2010) out six meanings of the verbal root гъуы that correlates with Kabardino-Circassian гъу:

1. "to be together»: кIыгъу ;

2. "add; add anything to anything»: шIегъу ;

3. "get dry, sun-dry»: мэгъуы ;

4. "to sympathize, to regret, to forgive»: йыгу кIэгъуы ;

5. "forgive, be forgiven": фегъэгъуы ;

6. «gnaw»: йэгъуы (Bersirov, 2001).

In the modern Kabardino-Circassian language the component -гъу- has the same meanings that are given above. But as the root is known to be transformed due to semantic extensions and getting new meanings, it makes it difficult to reconstruct the archaic meaning.

In our opinion, in the etymological semantic analysis, the examples from all the groups given by the author go back to the initial meanings "dryness" and "close object". In the fourth meaning йыгу кIэгъуы/игу щIэгъун B. M. Bersirov may have implied imply щIы as "do" but not щIэ with the meaning "under" in the first part of the second word, and it means "a heart; to do together".

In his turn, A. K. Shagirov considers the root гъу as having the meaning "get dry" and the root гъущIэн that means "dry up, crack" (Shagirov, 1977). The opinion is not in conflict with our hypothesis that states that the meaning is primary. ГъущIэн ("get dry") consists of гъу ("dry") and щ ("bottom") and should be interpreted as "get dry to the bottom".

The meaning " forgive" in гъуы is found by the author in the verb гъун - "to go unpunished" (about injustice, atrocities) " (Shagirov, 1977). According to A.K. Shagirov, the root correlates with Abkhazian а-гIуара and Abazian гIуара "to get dry" (Ibid, 1970).

In our opinion, this sound-root is one of the most productive as it is a source for several word-formation families united in one large etymological group. It is evidenced by the examples in the following groups with one primary meaning.

1. The sound-root stands out distinctly from all the words that have similar meanings "something that is not wet, moist»: гъуы «get dry» (Bagov, 1999), гъущэ «сухой» (Ibid, 1970), гъур «dried» (Ibid, 1970);

2. "Something that is no longer growing, is not developing»: гъуа - the participle гъун (Ibid, 1970), (жыг гъуа) «not developing, dead tree», псыр гъуащ «water dried up, no movement».

3. "An object where there is nothing what should develop or grow»: гъуэгу "a road" (Ibid, 1970), лъагъуэ "a path" (Ibid, 1970).

In "Grammar of the Adyghe language" the word гъуэгу is interpreted as "dry ( гъуы ) surface ( гуы )". A.K. Shakirov does not agree with the second interpretation of the words ( гуы ) and does not find "surface" here. He claims that гуы this meaning is combined with nouns only (Shagirov, 1977).

We agree with the authors of "Grammar of the Adyghe language" that the first part of the word should be interpreted as "something dry", but we do not think the second part of the naming unit -гуы has the meaning "surface" according to A. K. Shagirov. The examples of other lexemes of the modern language: лъагъуэ «a path» (Bagov, 1999) («dry legs») « лъэ (a leg) + гъуэ (dry without vegetation) ». It is impossible to separate the second part of this example from the first part of the compound word гъуэгу "a road" (Ibid), гъуэ/гъуы «дорога» and гуы «arba, wagon" (Ibid) (literally: dry, without vegetation for arbas, carts). In these examples, there is a logical, semantic mutual relation, since there is no vegetation on the beaten "path", "road".

4. "Close object/subject»: гъунэгъу «neighbour» (Ibid, 1970), «близкий», Iэгъуэ «near, close» (Ibid). At first thought, it seems that the semantic structure of these lexemes does not contain any common semantic features with the meaning "dry", "not growing". But in the first word there is гъуы in the same meaning as in the words of the third group "to dry up". The second part нэ, corresponds to нэ in the word унэ "house", which will be discussed below, the third part of гъу , later received the meaning of the affix of compatibility, i.e., of grammatical affix гъу. In general, the word means" neighbour " or "close"- "something what is closer to you", because a neighbour living in the second house from you is not your neighbour but the neighbour of your neighbour. So, Adyghes say: Зы унэ дякущ "there is a house between us". It is not a question of shared bloodline, but it means that there is nobody closer at the distance. In the second word I эгъуэ there are two roots: «a hand» + гъуэ "near" with the meaning "close" in modern Kabardino-Circassian, but there is an implied meaning within "bring what you can reach with your hand."

As A. K. Shagirov writes, this root is represented in other languages of the Abkhazian-Adyghe group: Abkh.. агIуыза , Abazian. гIуза , Ubykh гIушъэ . The word means "traveling companion" (Shagirov, 1977). Such examples in related languages allow to assume that the sound-root is archaic, i.e., the root гъу goes back to the era of the proto-language: Kabardino-Circassian → Adyghe → Adyghe-Ubykh → Adyghe-Ubykh-Abkhaz → the proto-language of the group;

5. «Colour»: гъуэ "light red" (Bagov, 1999) is the semantic link between the objectificated colour, i.e. the thing that it is no longer "green", "growing", but is "dried up" and its "subsequent image". Hence, there appear colour shades: гъуа+фэ ( гъуэ «light red» + фэ «image») «light re image», фа+гъуэ (about a person) ( фэ «colour» + гъуэ «light red") "pale" (lit. "a dried-up image "), a healthy person cannot be absolutely white since the white color is considered as the absence of colour at all, therefore, the absence of life. In the first example, the polysemous word фэ in the modern Kabardino-Circassian dialect has the meaning "image"; other meanings of this word are "skin"," skin "," colour "" ibid., 664"," you ". It must be admitted that in the modern language the component фэ in compound words does not have the meaning "colour", though many linguists think that the meaning can be found there. For example, in удзы+фэ , плъыжьы+фэ , хужьы+фэ , etc. the part фэ may not have the meaning "colour" as the semantics of the roots of more complex categories denies this fact: удз «grass» + фэ «image» = «the image of grass», плъыжь «red» + фэ «image» = «the image of something red», хужь «white» + фэ «image» = «a colourless image; image of something white». To clarify this explanation of the фэ component, there are other examples: псалъа+фэ ( псалъэ «word» + фэ "image/manner/style" = image/manner / style of speech. The meaning "way, manner, style" is implied in the lexeme шыфэлIыфэ that is divided into шы «horse» + фэ «image» + лIы «man» + фэ "image" translated as "the image of the rider".

6. "The burrow, nest, hole" - гъуэ «нора»; абгъуэ «гнездо» (something that is dome shaped); гъуанэ «hole» (Ibid, 1970) where нэ "eyes" and, consequently, it has the meaning "dry eye". "A dry eye" is similar to a hole in the mental picture of Circassians.

7. "Time, time period»: уэ-гъуэ «hit the time», гузэвэгъуэ means «grief» (the meaning appeared ин ьуфты ща adhesion: ща гу «heart» + зэв «narrowly» + гъуэ "time" and now has the meaning "heart contraction time".

8. The analysis of the semantic evolution of the sound-root гъу shows that at some stage of the development one of its primary meanings turned into a formative sound in the process of desemantization The loss of their own meaning and transition into a grammatical affix are observed in words: дыгъу «thief», гъудэ «gadfly», etc.

Among the group with the root гъу we find the naming unit "iron" гъущI (Bagov, 1999). As solid fossil fuels, iron is "something frozen, dried up". We cannot say that the naming unit appeared in a later era because, as evidenced by гъуы "something dry / yellow" + щIы "earth", i.e, this is what was found in the ground, and accordingly it was" copper « гъуа +плъэ (lit. "yellowish-red"). It was A. K. Shagirov who noted that гъущI «iron" was derived from гъуы (Shagirov, 1977). In favour of the statement that the гъуаплъэ «copper" is derived from гъу A.K. Shagirov finds correlations from Abkhazian а-бгIва and Abazin бгIва (Ibid, 1970)

In the word гъум "fat" A. K. Shagirov considers it is necessary to compare the first component of the word in Abkhazian and Abazin агъуы/гъуы "board" and in Ubykh гъуы "stake" (Shagirov, 1977. p. 137). The author writes that the second component of the word ( мы ) is of the same origin as Ubykh бы «fat." The examples support the scientist's hypothesis: быртIым "full, dense" (Bagov, 1999), IэштIым "fist" (Ibid, 1970) where м is the same as in гъум "fat." In this particular context, the meaning of the naming unit cannot be understood without the language examples found by A.K. Shakirov in the Ubykhh language гъум "full, dense". If we assume that in Ubykh бы means "thick", and гъуы means "stake", then in Kabardino – Circassian гъум it should be explained as "thick stake" . It is proved by the meaning "something thick" in the modern language. The Ubykh бы «thick" correlates with the Circassian бырт Iым «thick" (Bagov, 1999), бырыбын "become fluffy" (Ibid), бэтэн"stout" (Ibid, 1970), шэрыб «bubble" (Ibid, 1970), etc. All of them mean "something that is above a plane". The fact that the root can be found in both the Ubykh and Adyghe languages claims that it appeared in the period when the languages functioned as one language. The Ubykh example гъуы « staker " does not contradict the semantics of the sound-root гъуы proposed in this article since in fact "stake" is also" something dry, not developing, dried up". This meaning of the root shows once again that none of the dialects of the Adyghe language can be taken as a basis for the etymological and semantic analysis of the word. Abkhaz-Abazian агъуы /гъуы "board" matches Kabardino-Cherkess гъуы in пхъэбгъу "board" (Ibid), which is divided into пхъэ "wood" + бы "something not narrow" + гъуы «dry" and can be interpreted as the "wood wide dry."

It is also impossible not to agree with the fact that -гъуэ- serves for forming nouns from verbs with a temporal meaning only: лэжьэ-гъуэ "working hours", къухьэ-гъуэ "sunset" are within the semantic range with the meaning "frozen" and these examples are explained as "time stood still for work» лэжьэгъуэ; "time stood still for the sunset" къухьэгъуэ , i.e. "It is time for the accomplishment of these actions with no change and movement".

In the example , гъуэтын is "to find", гъуэ having the same meaning as in гъуэгу "road" and generally the word can be explained as "a way to give/find", while its antonym, гъуэщэн "get lost" (Ibid, 1970) has the meaning "road rots", i.e. "lose the road". The second part ( щэ-щы ) is connected with щ in щын «rot», and the latter is found in щабэ «soft». The comparison of the two opposite words of гъущын "to get dry" and щын "to rot" consists of the same element щы with different meanings and positions. And that is another fact that the Adyghe languages sound-roots are historically derived from the same initial meaning and gradually developed two opposing meanings (enantiosemy). In the process of historical development of the language some sound roots lose their productivity, and some are transformed. Initially the element -щы- had the meanings "rot" and "dry", but in the process of language development there appeared new lexemes since the morpheme - щы- acquired the meaning "dryness" and added the element гъу . And that is the way for the lexeme гъущэ to function with the meaning "dry" in contemporary Kabardino-Circassian.

Thus, if the element is found in many naming units: -гъу- in the Abkhaz, Abazian and Ubykh languages, гъуабжэ «dark grey», гъуэ «hole», гъуэгу «road», гъуэжь «yellow», гъуэщэн «get lost», пхъэ(м)бгъу «board», гъун «get dry» (Ibid, 1970), гъусэ «companion», it is possible to speak about semantic generality of the sound-root, which has its further multi-vector development. But it should be pointed out that the semantic development of lexemes derived from a single sound-root does not go beyond the semantic restrictions set by the initial meanings.

It is impossible to analyse all word-formative models that make up the etymological and lexical families of гъу within the article. We will focus only on one word-formation family derived from one of the primary meanings of гъу , on the meaning of "hole", " nest»: унагъуэ «family» (Bagov, 1999), бынунагъуэ «family with children», унагъуэ ихьэн «to enter a family (to marry) », унагъуэцIэ «family name», унагъуэ зэхэс «families sitting together (big family) », лэгъунэ «bedroom», лэгъунцIыкIу «small room attached to the house», лэгъунлей «kitchen», лэгъунвакъэ «vintage women's indoor shoes, slippers», унэцIэджэгъу (Ibid, 1970) «families with the same name (namesake)». It should be mentioned that Adyghes in almost all of these categories cut the element гъуы/гъуэ . But it does not destroy the holistic meaning of what they said. For example, for унагъуэ ихьэн «to enter the family (to marry) » унэ ихьэн; бынунагъуэ – бынунэ is a full equivalent as well as «family with children»; унагъуэцIэ – унэцIэ «family name», while the Circassian Diaspora abroad, in most cases, uses унагъуэцIэ .

It is a noteworthy fact that the word, унагъуэ "home" has already the root morpheme with the meaning "container" нэ , but after the formation of the naming unit +нэ "home" by means of adhesion у(ы) "person" + нэ "container" the given lexical unit is formed in the process of language evolution of унагъуэ with the meaning "family hole".

In the process of language development, the sound-root morpheme гъуэ in some contexts could undergo a process of desemantization, turning into a word-formative affix. The cognitive approach considers the processes of grammatization as a manifestation of human cognitive activity, which is seen in its ability to conceptualize the world and the development of more complex, abstract things through more simple and specific ones. As E. S. Kubryakova writes, the naming of specific objects and specific actions that have a visual physical nature becomes a source of abstract vocabulary and grammatical units, which include affixes (Kubryakova, 2004). Based on the above, we can refer the lexeme щхьэусыгъуэ «reason» to the lexical family гъуы\гъуэ as the lexeme relating to causal vocabulary where the process of grammatization of the root morpheme in the affix took place.

In the following example къысхуэгъэгъу "I'm sorry" that consists of five elements: къы prefix "direction of action" + -с- prefix "first person" + хуэ- prefix "inducement to something" + гъэ- causative prefix "force" + гъу "get dry", which means "go in my direction to make dry". In this category, the core element is the sound-root of гъу, which, as our study showed, is represented in words that are completely distant from each other in their meaning. All the vocabulary of the Kabardino-Circassian dialect of the Adyghe language starting with the letter гъу has the meaning "dryness", which has developed the forms where it is difficult to find any relations between in the modern language.


Despite the significant differences in the meaning references, semantic combinations and word-formation models of the studied lexemes, an observable semantic and formal similarity was found. If the element is found in many naming units: -гъу - in the Abkhaz, Abazian and Ubykh languages, гъуабжэ «dark grey», гъуэ «hole», гъуэгу «road», гъуэжь «yellow», гъуэщэн «get lost», пхъэ(м)бгъу «board», гъун «get dry», гъусэ «companion» (Ibid, 1970), it is possible to speak about semantic common traits of the sound-root, which has its further multi-vector development. But it should be pointed out that the semantic development of lexemes derived from a single sound-root does not go beyond the semantic restrictions set by the initial meanings.

A large number of identical word-formation models and semantic meanings allow to assume that it is not occasional. This fact cannot be explained by the genetic relationship or language contacts only. The typology and hierarchy of motivational features underlying the naming process are explained by the common ways of thinking that leads to the similar semantic changes in the language. The analysis of the word families derived from the sound-root гъу , lexical units, their components and their etymons showed that these lexical-semantic groups are two-level systems: word-formative and semantic ones. The article analyses the semantic structures of cognate words. It reveals their motivational relations and identifies the main vectors of their semantic evolution. The analysis helps to explain the nature of the whole system. The seven semantic and one word-formation meanings of the original word were pointed out. It is the root meaning that is the starting point of appearing figurative meanings. Thus, the internal form of the original word, root, root morpheme is behind the process of creating new lexical units. Motivational relations of cognate words are the basis of word-formation chains. The bag of cognate words analysed reflects the characteristic aspects of the world categorization by peoples speaking the Abkhaz-Adyghe languages.

The applied method of comparative historical analysis can be used in the analysis of other sound-root units of the Abkhazian-Adyghe languages and, therefore, has great prospects for further research.

In our research we focus on the particular one-root monosyllabic group -гъу-. The main meaning of the root morpheme remains invariant in various positions within the derived words. This element found in different parts of speech indicates its high productivity in the Adyghe languages. The language material shows that verbs did not change the meaning of the root regardless of the number of affixes, whereas nouns illustrates the semantic change with the shift to affixal morphemes in the modern Kabardino-Circassian languages.

All the variety of semantic evolution of derivative acts and its multi-vector development are determined by the cognitive activity that result in evaluating and naming segments of the reality.


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29 March 2019

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Kharaeva, L., Kardanov, M., Ezaova, M., Hezheva, L., & Shugusheva, D. (2019). Semantic Changes Of Lexical Derivatives Exemplified In The Adyghe Root Of Гъу. In D. K. Bataev (Ed.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 58. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1622-1630). Future Academy.