Toponymical Ethnocultural Codes In Lexical-Semantic Field Of Relatedness


Toponyms are a valuable language source of geographical, historical, ethnographic and other knowledge. The toponyms of Dagestan constitute the linguistic view of the world and serve as a means for the implementation of different ethnocultural codes in speech. The mentality of Dagestan language speakers is aimed at different types of ethnocultural information coding and determined by the ethnolinguistic nature of knowledge about the world. All this is reflected in certain language codes. The semantics of toponyms reflects cultural values of ethnic groups, the historical change in cultural and value-based stereotypes of the society. In recent years the cultural and historical aspects of toponyms received great scientific attention. They are treated as some ethnic culture text, containing information about the history and culture of a nation, about main geographical, etc. Consequently, our research seeks to analyse toponymic ethnic culture codes in six Dagestan languages that belong to Avar-Ando-Tsez, Lak-Dargin and Lezgin groups of Dagestan Languages. The research was carried out based on toponyms, collected by the authors in several districts of the Republic of Dagestan. The analysis of microtoponyms showed the presence of topomorhic, physical and geographical, emotional and characterological, colour, floral, fauna, temporal ethnic culture codes that reveal culturally marked and pragmatically important information. These codes are universal for the toponymic systems of all Dagestan languages. However, the toponymic spaces of each represented language is not a closed lexical system and are defined by the model of linguistic world view, existing in the mentality of a particular nation.

Keywords: Dagestan languagestoponymycultural codeinformation


Dagestan languages have specific features in the area of research. However, their body of toponyms is formed of the syncretism of separate systems in 26 languages. This is a single system including constituent parts that change and enrich the common system of toponyms, characterized by the prevalence of identities.

The language material of Avar, Andi (Chamalal, Bagvalal, Tindi), Dargin and Rutul languages is studied using descriptive, comparative and structural methods that allow analysing and comparing the facts from Dagestan languages and finding the features of objectification of such notions as linear, vertical and territorially microtoponymy object, pragmatic significance and etc.

The study of toponymy and their constituents from the etymological point of view needs synchronous and diachronic research methods. It is necessary to account for chronological steps in the development of languages resulting from the loss of the original phonemic composition in the part of toponyms and the necessity for step-by-step reconstruction.

Problem Statement

Code is one of the main terminological and notional units of semiotics besides such units as sign and symbol. It is used to show the mechanism for the generation of every message meaning:

– it is a sign structure;

– it is a system governed by the rules creating a certain order or the combination of symbols i.e. a particular way to understand the world;

– it is a strictly occasional inverse correspondence of one symbol to one definition (Eco, 2006, 2007).

Culture codes, built on the ideas about the reality that surrounds people, are clearly reflected in toponyms, treated as constituent parts of a changing system and showing cultural perceptions of the society. The names of natural objects contain the past and present of a nation, its view, and perception of the world.

Modern cognitive researches treat this concept as more comprehensive and functional as it (the concept code) can be used to understand and organize not only verbal but non-verbal systems. It can be attributed to the ideas about synthetic constructs with their own internal and external conformity (this is where code is different from a natural language) (Nikonov, 2011; Arnold, 2004; Berezovich, 2000; Vezhbitskaya, 2001; Prokhorov, 2005; Toporov, 2005; Trubachev, 2004; Yurkenas, 2003; Eco, 2006, 2007).

Research Questions

The subject of this research is the modern toponymic lexis of rural Dagestan that is taken as a single subsystem of modern Dagestan onomasticon of a nation-wide language as well as language representation, and toponymic code in the mentality of Dagestan language speakers.

A famous American linguist and ethnologist Sapir (1993), who put forward the hypothesis about the impact of language on the system of human ideas about the world, compared a language with a guidebook that start to play even more importance as a guiding factor in the scientific study of culture. Being a means for communication a language absorbs the spirit of an ethnic group, its mental features. It also accumulates the concepts and trends in culture and reproduces them in the mentality of the nation, influencing its world view.

Purpose of the Study

The aim of this research is to describe the combination of cultural codes, represented in the toponymy of Dagestan. For the comprehensive analysis of toponymy in the territory of Dagestan where people speak several dozens of languages, we used the material from six related languages.

The importance of this research is defined by the great interest in the communication sphere of language and culture. It was formed in the science of the XX century and currently continues to develop. The object of this interest is onomastic lexis considered in the “aspect of language participating in the creation of intellectual culture and intellectual culture taking part in forming a language” (Postovalova, 1999, p. 26).

Research Methods

A descriptive method is one of the main methods used in this research besides general scientific methods. The analysis of toponyms was carried out using etymological and comparative methods. Traditional methods, such as continuous sampling and synchronous comparative methods, areal and statistical methods were also used. They helped to compare obtained results with the findings of other scientists on the same topic.


Toponymy is an unchangeable layer of lexis that reflects the national culture and contains information about traditions, characterizing a certain language society. The semantics of toponyms reflects cultural values of ethnic groups, the historical change in cultural and value-based stereotypes of the society. “Culture is a system of historically developing supra-biological programs of human activities, behaviour, and communication that exist as a condition for reproduction and changes in social life” (Stepin, 2001, p. 183). The social experience is transferred from generation to generation in the form of signs, as the content of different semiotic systems that can vary from simple signal systems to natural languages and formalized languages of science (Lakhutin & Finn, 2001). “Toponymic lexis … is a systematic organization, where pragmatic factors, such as geographic conditions, ethnic composition, historic events and the view of the world play a major role” (Otsomieva-Tagirova, 2017, p. 152). As Magomedov (2008) notes “The toponymy of south-west Dagestan where Avar people live, especially Khunzakh, Untsukul, and Gumbet districts as well as Gergebil, Schamil, and Gunib districts to some extent is comprised mostly of proper names the meaning of which is not clear for Avar speakers. This toponymy is etymologized using Andi languages and not Avar language” (p. 120). Also, this is totally different in respect of toponymy in Kazbek district, where Avar and partially Turkic toponymy is present.

The analysis of Dagestan toponymy shows that it reflects the following cultural codes:

– topomorhic code that is expressed in geonims such as names of roads and paths indicating another object used for the creation of a toponym. This can be any microtoponym e.g. the names of small objects (tilled soils, farming areas, hayfields, pastures, forests and etc.) usually known to a limited number of people living in a particular area: Avar Нухлущобил габурлъи “A hill pass with a road”, КIудияб хIамузул нух “Big donkey road” (Gonoda village, Gunib district), Зайирбегил кьохъан нух “A road over the Zayirbega bridge”, ЦIияб кьохъан нух “A road over the new bridge” (Kazbek district);

Andi languages: Bagv. МāкIали “A road through tilled lands”, ЧIунтáб гьан//минáла “A road through a destroyed village” (Gemerso village, Tsumada district);

Darg.: Дякьурбаццела “A road with paths”, Аллагьла ккубе гьуни “A road through the bridge of Allah”, Ахъил ккубе гьуни “A road through a high bridge”, БиштIа ккубе гьуни “A road through little bridge” (Kharbuk village, Dakhadaev district).

In the names of such objects, “the big role belongs to the definition that indicates the location of an object (lower, upper, middle, last) or the name of a place where the object is located (slope, hill, etc.)” (Yusupov, 2018, p. 179).

– physical and geographical code. This code is expressed in names that characterize a toponymic object in terms of size, configuration, physical and geographic features of its appearance: Avar, Къокъисса нух “Short road”, БитIаранух “Direct road”, Шагьрáнух “Broad road”, Ххалата нух “Long road” (Amushi village, Khunzakh district);

Andi languages: Cham. СералIе мѝкъабе “Sandy roads” (Low-Gakvary village, Tsumada district), Bagv. Беххелó анча “Long stone” (Tlibisho village, Tsumada district), ГьинкI’ар илгьва “Big lake” (Tlondoda village, Tsumada district), Кьану гъун “Thick low hill” (Khushtada, Tsumada district);

Darg.: Хула бяхI “Big slope”, БалкIа кьячIив “Curved turning”, Акил гьуни “Short road”, Бухъен хъу “Long field” (Kharbuk district, Dakhada district);

Rut.: АІкьуІрды чIуб “Broad valley” (Khnyukh village, Rutul district), ХуIлаIхды майданбыр “Long meadows” (Kiche village, Rutul district), Аады раIхь “Lower road” (Rutul village, Rutul district).

– floral or botanical code that is created using the names of toponymic objects, indicating the character of vegetation landscape or separate parts of vegetation. This type of nomination is based on the names of flora that is characteristic for the territory. The toponymicon of Dagestan contains the names connected to the names of plants: Avar. ГIечул гъотIокь «Under the apple tree», ГенугъотIохъ «Near the pear tree» (Amushy village, Khunzakh district), ГенукIкIалахъ ицц “A spring-well in the gorge where pear trees grow”, Собо мегIер “The cherry mountain” (Dilim village, Kazbek district);

Andi languages: Cham. Чалáхебела “A wash with lush vegetation” (Low-Gakvary village, Tsumada district); Bagv. СІсІанáлъ байдан “A meadow of globe thistle” (Khushtada village, Tsumada district);

Darg.: Хурмар хъяб “A mountain pass with lindens”, ГIялила бирмела хьар “The lower part of the Ali asp’s region”, Суссапла бяхI “The slope of wild leek”, Буйрела бяхI “The slope of horn beech trees” (Kharbuk village, Dakhada district);

Rut.: Шыдкъыд вах “Mint deech”, ТебиргIанмыд мири “The river of foalfoot” (Rutul village, Rutul district), Макьалды чIуб “A valley with locoweed” (Khnyukh village, Rutul district), ИкIма “Among the sandthorn tress” (Khnov village, Akhtyn district), НуъкIрихед дам “Pine forest” (Khufa village, Rutul district).

– fauna code, that is expressed using fauna names, characteristic for the territory. Fauna-based names of toponymic objects are common only in the territories where they are found: Avar. Гагудал гохI “Cuckoo hill”, Макказул нохъо “Pigeon cave”, Куйдузул парас “Sheep gorge”, Гьве рехуле кIкIал “The gorge where dogs are thrown”, Царанохъо “Fox cave”, БацIил рохь “Wolf forest” (Ingishi and Mekhelta villages, Gumbet district);

Andi languages: Cham. БацIу̀лI йашал “The mountain pass of a wolf”, ГегIу̀чI “At the cuckoo’s”, ГъагъулI бáсс “Partridge rock”, КьанчIáл букъалаби “A place where hares are caught” (Low Gakvary village, Tsumada district); Tind. БацІа-Бакьахъа “At the wolf’s loins”, Гъунгъа-лълъенлла “At the water of pigeons” (Tindi village, Tsumada district); Bagv. Жужука тIандо гьачІчІ “A lowland where woodlice are thrown” (Tlibisho village, Tsumada district), ГIамá-гъара “Donkey creek” (Tlondoda village, Tsumada district);

Darg.: Синкала диркьа “Bear meadow” (Deybuk village, Dakhada district), Хъерхъала шурме “Jackdaw rocks”, БецIла курме “Wolf pits”, Хургьела хъяккурц “The gorge where dogs are thrown”, ТIумала хIулбе “Owl eyes” (Kharbuk village, Dakhada district);

Rut.: ГъуIдирды мири “Partridge river”, БарцIилере хал гьыъыд джига “The place where worms built a house” (Kiche village, Rutul district), ГIарашды кьуIджел “Snake alpine meadows” (Khnyukh village, Rutul district), ЛыIкъаI дам “Eagle forest” (Khufa village, Rutul district).

All the given fauna nominations are based on the names of animals, including those that are not common for a particular territory:

Avar. Аздагьо бахъара нохъо “The cave with a dragon picture”,

Darg.: Къапла кьялше бяхI “The slop of tiger’s paw” or “The slop with tiger’s paw marks”.

– emotional and characterological codes. These codes are represented in toponyms that act as sources of emotional influence, expressed in particular features of toponymic objects: Avar. ЦIцIорóницц “Cold well-spring” (Amushi village, Khunzakh district), ЦIцIоролицц “Very cold well-spring” (Butsra village, Khunzakh district), ЦIцIорораб лъим “Very cold water”, Бахьинлъар “Warm, calm, beautiful river” (Khunzakh village, Khunzakh district);

Andi languages: Cham. ЗāлI гъадачI “At the freezing river” (Gadiri village, Tsumada district); Tind. Гьугьунаб “Chilly” (village) (Tindi village, Tsumada district); Bagv. Зарххими “Icy” (mountain), Заруб инсс “Cold well-spring”, Къасануб инсс “Motley well-spring” (Tlondoda village, Tsumada district);

Darg.: ДугIяр ше гIиниц “The well-spring with very cold water”, Вана ше гIиниц “The well-spring with warm water”, ЛукIан ше гIиниц “The well-spring with motley water”, Къалайла ше гIиниц “The well-spring with tin water”, Гъяв-гъяв къатти “Sleepy gorge” (Kharbuk village, Dakhada district).

This code is the least active in Dagestan toponymy.

– colour code is expressed in toponyms, connected with the manes of colours. Usually, it is represented by a universal cultural triad of white – black – red: Avar. ХъахIаб нохъо “White cave”, ХъахIаб гIуро “White soil”, ХъахIаб кIкIал “White ravine”, ХъахIаб нохъодул кIкIалахъ “At the ravine of white cave”, БагIараб кьури “Red rock”, БагIархIатIикIкIал “The gorge with red clay”, БагIаркIкIал “Red gorge”, ЧIегIер гIор “Black river”, ЧIегIер рохь “Black forest”, ЧIегIер тала “Black meadow”;

Bagv.: БигIилилI беса “Red mountain” (Tlibisho village, Tsumada district).

Darg.: ХIинтIин ше бяхI “The slope of red water”, ЦIуба гIянчче бяхI “The slope of white clay”, ЦIуба гIиниц “White well-spring”, ЦIяб инихъ “dark cave” (Kharbuk village, Dakhada district);

Rut.: Джагварды бэл “White rock” (Khnyukh, Rutul district), Къара Самур “Black Samur” (Luchek, Rutul district), ЛыIхды бег “Black side” (Kiche village, Rutul district).

Such colour adjectives are quite common in the toponymy of Dagestan. However, the toponyms with other colours were also found:

Avar. ГIурччина хIор “Green lake”, Меседил гохI “Golden hill”, Меседил гъогъолI “Inside the pile of golden stones”, ХъахIил кьури “Blue rock”, ХъахIилаб нохъо “Blue cave”;

Darg.: ХьанцI къаркъа “Blue rock”, Шиниш кIа “Green leaf”, Мургье муза “Golden hill” (Kharbukh village, Dakhada district);

Rut.: Хьылынды лецI “Blue Samur” (Luchek village, Rutul district), Месгеве кьаIхь “Pink ravine” (Kiche village, Rutul district) and etc. They are very scarce.

– temporal code that indicates the lifetime of a toponymic object (long existing o new): Avar. ЦIияб росо “New village”, ЦIияб ахикь бакI “In the new garden” Алмахъалде цIияб нух “The new road to Almak”, Басрияб росо “Old village” (Dylim village, Kazbek district);

Darg.: ЦIи къватI “New neighbourhood”, ЦIи ккуби “New bridge”, (Kharbukh village, Dakhlada district);

Rut.: ЦIинды гъаI “New bridge”, Йисды раIхъ “Old road” (Luchek village, Rutul district), Тезекент “New neighbourhood” (Rutul village, Rutul district).

Usually, these names represent the binary opposition of old/new:

Avar. Басриял хабзал “Old graveyard” – ЦIиял хабзал “New graveyard”, Басрияб кьо “Old bridge” – ЦIияб кьо “New bridge” (Gortkolo and Amushy villages, Khunzakh district);

Darg.: Сагаси Дейбук “New Deybuk”, Сагаси Вихъри “New Vikry” (Kayakent district).

One and the same meanings can be represented in different languages using different codes (Dagestan in this case). The factors that lie in the basis of toponymic objects nomination can be transformed semantically. One of the examples is Avar placenames ЦIя Гьанщу (officially ЦIияб Гьамущиб ) “New Amushy” – Басря Гьанщу (officially Басрияб Гьамущиб ) “Old Amushy” (Amushy village, Khunzakh district): the village of Amushy existed in Khunzakh district until 1972. When the settlement of New Amushy appeared in the locality of Ах “Garden”, the original placename was turned into Old Amushy.


There are different cultural codes in toponymy that reveal culturally marked and pragmatically important information. They include topomorhic, physical and geographical, emotional and characterological, colour, floral, fauna, temporal cultural codes. These codes are universal for the toponymic systems of all Dagestan languages. However, the toponymic spaces of each represented language are not a closed lexical system and are defined by the model of linguistic world view, existing in the mentality of a particular nation.

The language material of Avar, Andi (Chamalal, Bagvalal, Tindi), Dargin and Rutul languages showed that different nations living in Dagestan implement these cultural codes with different intensity. In a toponymic context, they are used for pragmatic reasons. Toponymy is used for the objectification of such notions as a linear, vertical and territorial microtoponymy object, pragmatic significance and etc. which is related to a culturally marked concept of “toponymic address”.

The research results can be used in the mapping of toponymic objects. It also helps to identify the ways for future researches in toponymy and distinguish the most important territories for collection, conservation and scientific description of disappearing toponymic names given by native people of Dagestan.

The material used in this work can be utilised in linguistic works connected with studies of relations of Dagestan languages and in lexicography for creating special toponymic dictionaries. It will of use for further studies of the toponymic objects nomination as well as the development and formation of toponyms.

The factors that lie in the basis of toponymic objects nomination can be transformed semantically. One and the same meanings can be represented in different languages using different codes (Dagestan in this case).


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28 December 2019

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Alieva, Z., Yusupov, K., Ibragimova, M., Magomedov, M., & Otsomieva-Tagirova*, Z. (2019). Toponymical Ethnocultural Codes In Lexical-Semantic Field Of Relatedness. In D. Karim-Sultanovich Bataev, S. Aidievich Gapurov, A. Dogievich Osmaev, V. Khumaidovich Akaev, L. Musaevna Idigova, M. Rukmanovich Ovhadov, A. Ruslanovich Salgiriev, & M. Muslamovna Betilmerzaeva (Eds.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 76. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 2579-2585). Future Academy.