Extended Latin: Khinalug

A language you won’t use to post on social media

May 2, 2024

This piece is a part of our large series focusing on the languages that are not discussed nearly as much as they should be. This list includes languages with their own unique scripts, such as Georgian or Armenian, as well as languages using extended Cyrillic and Latin. We’re preparing this series using research on extended Cyrillic which we conducted in partnership with Type Journal.

You can find more content on the subject on our Instagram As some members of our team are living in Russia we have to follow the Russian law. According to the law, every time we post links to Instagram or Facebook we have to mention the fact that these socials belong to Meta, which was recognized as extremist by the Ministry of Justice if the Russian Federation under the hashtag #tt_extended.

Khinalug village

Khinalug is a language spoken by approximately 2,000 people. All of them are the original inhabitants of Khinalug, a village in Northern Azarbaidjan located 2,200 metres above sea level. Khinalug is the official language of the place, yet it is mostly used at home or informally among the residents within the village. For written communication, Khinalug residents use Azerbaijani which is also the language spoken in class at local school, while Khinalug is taught as a separate subject. Children of preschool age tend to speak Khinalug; when it comes to older people, the literary Azerbaijani language is only spoken by those who work outside the village.

Khinalug village is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Khinalug is officially registered in the UNESCO list of endangered languages, as a ‘severely endangered’ one.

10 Khinalug village. Image: Cekli829, © Wikimedia Commons

Alphabets of the 20th century

Linguists have repeatedly attempted to come up with an alphabet to represent all 77 sounds of Khinalug, 59 consonants and 18 vowels, as accurately as possible. The language was first mentioned in the 1887 book Der Kaukasus und seine Völker (Caucasus and its Folks) by Roderich von Erckert. Erckert classifies it as one of the Dargin languages but does not mention anything about the local writing system. Soviet linguists later defined it as an unwritten language.

In 1949, the village was visited by linguist Yunus Desheriyev. Ten years later he published the book based on the results of this expedition, Khinalug Language Grammar. He told about 19 grammatical cases and four genders as well as suggested using a Cyrillic-based alphabet. Desheriyev used digraphs, trigraphs, and tetragraphs to record unique Khinalug phonemes.

1 digraphs, trigraphs, and tetragraphs from the Khinalug Language Grammar book

2 A summer morning in Khinalug (short novel) from the Khinalug Language Grammar book

In 1972, another linguist Alexander Kirbik published the book Grammar Fragments of the Khinalug Language. He proposed using a Latin-based alphabet of 63 letters. However, this alphabet proved to be too complicated and didn’t catch on in the village.

3 Words in Khinalug translated into Russian (meaning to cover, to comfort, to stretch, to loose, to explain and to open respectively).
From the Grammar Fragments of the Khinalug Language book

In the late 20th century, poet and local school director Rahim Alxas adapted the Lezgin Cyrillic alphabet to the needs of recording the Khinalug language. He used this alphabet to write his books and develop textbooks.

4 Layla and Majnun poem in Khinalug. Translated by Rahim Alxas

Alphabets of the 21st century

In 2007, a group of linguists from Moscow State University led by Alexander Kirbik teamed up with Khinalug school teachers to develop yet another version of the alphabet. This was, as in Kibrik’s Grammar, an alphabet using the Latin script, but Moscow scientists decided to introduce digraphs instead of ligatures that had been proposed earlier. The team even came up with a Khinalug keyboard layout, but the village residents found this alphabet inconvenient.

Five years later, Elnur Mammadov, a student at Goethe University Frankfurt who was born and raised in Khinalug village, and professor Monika Rind-Pawlowski developed an alternative alphabet. In their project, they built on the research of Khinalug phonetics conducted by Kirbik’s team.

The Mammadov and Rind-Pawlowski alphabet is now used on the village road signage for navigation and in school textbooks. It is also used by an online Khinalug translation service .

7 A brochure about Khinalug

Khinalug alphabet (from a school textbook)

8 A book by Rahim Alxas printed with contemporary Khinalug alphabet


All characters of the modern Khinalug alphabet exist in Unicode, however, Tt with a dot above and Pp with a dot above are only used in Gaelic, Ss with a circumflex — in Esperanto, and Xx with a circumflex — in Aleut and Haida languages. As type designers rarely address support for these languages, the full range of Khinalug alphabet letters is only present in typefaces featuring all IPA International Phonetic Alphabet, an alphabet system of phonetic notation based on the Latin script, used by linguists to create transcriptions of the spoken words characters. One can find such typefaces, for example, in the collections of SIL, a non-profit organisation that works to preserve dying languages (Charis, Andika), Typotheque (Lava, November, October), Google Fonts (Noto).

Since on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter diacritics in the letters Xx with a circumflex and Pp with a circumflex shift downward or to the right, Khinalug won’t work for posting on social media.


Special thanks to artist and researcher Nilya Musaeva for the idea of this article and invaluable inputs to it.