Brief Information

According to the 2010 census, 459,688 Ossetians live in North Ossetia, with a total population of 712,980. In South Ossetia, there were 46,000 Ossetians, representing 90% of the population, according to the 2012 census. Significant numbers of Ossetians also live in Kabardino-Balkaria, Stavropol and Krasnodar Krai, as well as in various cities of the Russian Federation and the CIS. The total number of Ossetians in the Russian Federation is 528,515. In 2010, 451,431 people declared knowledge of Ossetic, and 92.6% of Ossetians chose Ossetic as their native language.


Apart from the Russian Federation, Ossetians also live in Turkey, Georgia, Syria and Western Europe.


The main dialects of Ossetic - Iron and Digor - show rather serious differences not only in phonetics and vocabulary, but also in morphology. The Iron dialect is spoken by approximately three-quarters of the speakers, and forms the basis of the literary language. The Digor dialect has its own literary norm.


Some scholars, along with the Iron and Digor, single out the Kudaro-Javian dialect. In its basic phonetic, morphological and lexical features, this idiom is similar to the Iron dialect, so most researchers classify it as an Iron dialect.


The generally accepted dialectal classification of Ossetic is as follows:


Iron dialect:

     Alagir tsocking variety

     Dvalsky chocking variety

     Dvalsky sockling variety

     Kurtati socking variety

     Dvalsky shocking variety

     Xanxian tsocking variety

     Roki tsocking variety


The first four accents are spread in North Ossetia, the last three in South Ossetia.


Digor dialect

Ullagkomi dialect (a mixed Iron-Digor accent)


The word "Ossetic" is derived from the name "Ossetia", which is derived from the Georgian name of Alan and Ossetic - "osi", "ovsi" (Georgian ოსები) and Georgian topoformant "-eti". From Russian the ethnonym "Ossetian" spread to other languages of the world. The Ossetians did not have a common self-name until recently. Ossetians were divided into four groups: Digorians, Irons, Tualians and Kudari.


According to V.I.Abaev the self-name of Digorians comes from an old Caucasian name of the tribe. The name of Irons is derived from Old Iranian arya 'noble' (another hypothesis: Old Iranian uira 'man, male'). There is no consensus among specialists regarding the ethnonym Tuul, Twal and Tuul'ættæ, suggesting a Georgian, local Caucasian or Indo-European origin. There is also disagreement over the self-name of Kudari; only the fact that this term coincides with the name of Kudari gorge in South Ossetia is obvious.


Religiously, Irons are Orthodox Christians and Digorians are Muslims. Both have a syncretic form that incorporates traits of traditional Ossetian religion. This folk religion derives from the ancient Iranian tradition and is characterized by monotheism.


Ossetic is a member of the Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian languages, which are members of the Indo-European language family. The closest relatives of Ossetic are Persian, Tajik, Dari, Pashto, Kurdish, Yagnobi, and the ancient languages - Avestan, Old Persian, Midian, Parthian, as well as Scythian, Alan and Sogdian. Despite genetic affinity, Ossetic demonstrates a serious difference from the related languages, due to the absence of contacts with them for more than 10 centuries and constant contacts with the languages of the Caucasus - Abkhaz-Adyg, Kartvelian and Nakh-Dagestanian, and from the late XVIII - early XIV centuries, with Russian.


Ossetians constitute the main population of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and South Ossetia. In addition, a significant number of Ossetians live in Kabardino-Balkaria, Stavropol and Krasnodar Krai, as well as in various cities of the Russian Federation and the CIS. Outside the Russian Federation there are Ossetian diasporas in Turkey, Georgia and some countries of Western Europe.

There are Ossetian diasporas in France, Canada, and the United States. There is a Yass people in Hungary, which is descended from Ossetians, but has completely switched to Hungarian. 

Language functioning

Ossetic is a state language of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania (1994 Constitution, Art. 15.1 and 15.2) and of South Ossetia (2001 Constitution, Art. 4.1), along with Russian. In RNO-Alania, the Iron and Digor dialects can be used equally as the state language.

The modern Ossetic alphabet is based on the Cyrillic alphabet and looks as follows:

Аа       Ææ     Бб       Вв       Гг        Гъгъ   Дд      Дждж            Дздз  

Ее       Ёё            Жж     Зз        Ии      Йй      Кк       Къкъ  Лл

Мм     Нн       Оо      Пп            Пъпъ  Рр       Сс       Тт        Тътъ 

Уу       Фф      Хх       Хъхъ   Цц            Цъцъ            

Чч       Чъчъ  Шш    Щщ    Ъъ       Ыы     Ьь       Ээ       Юю            Яя

At the turn of the XIX-XX centuries the written tradition of Ossetic was established and both dialects, Iron and Digor, had their own literary norm. In 1924 the decision about a unified literary language was made, and the Iron dialect was chosen as a basis, because more than 75% of Ossetians use it. At the end of the 20th century both dialects were officially recognized as equal (Constitution, Article 15.2). Currently both literary languages are used in education, literature, media, and cultural institutions.

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