Identification. Ethnically speaking, the Laks are the descendants of Caucasie peoples who have inhabited central Daghestan since at least the Bronze Age. The Laks are closely related ethnically, linguistically, and culturally to the Dargin, Kubachin, and Kaitak peoples of central Daghestan; they are more distantly related to the various Avar peoples, Lezgins, Tsakhurs, Rutuls, and Tabasarans of highland Daghestan.
Since the 1920s the Laks have been known by the general ethnonym "Lak." Russian variants are "Laktsy" and "Kazikumukhtsy." The term "Lak" may derive from the ancient Daghestani people called "Leki" (however, this term may have referred to a different group or to a variety of peoples). Prior to the Russian Revolution, most northern Caucasian peoples, like the Laks, had no specific self-designation as an ethnic group, but rather referred to themselves by tribe, clan, religious group, or territorial designation. This is reflected in the numerous and diverse ethnic designations applied by the neighbors of the Laks to them. The Avars call them "Tumaw" (pl., "Tumal"); the Dargins "Vuluguni" or "Vulechuni" (depending on the local Dargin dialect); and the Lezgins "Yakholshu."
Location. The Laks live primarily in the basins of the upper Kazikumukh, Tleusarakh, and Khatar rivers in Lak and Kuli districts in the mountainous central region of Daghestan. Other settlements are found in Tsudakhar, Akusha, Rutul, Kurakh, Charoda, and Dakhadaev districts in central Daghestan. In this region of high mountains and plateaus dissected by many rivers and their tributaries, there is little rainfall and drought conditions are common. In Daghestan, a very poor region, good agricultural land is rare. There are few forests, but scrubs, bushes, and weeds abound. Transhumant sheepherding was the traditional life-style of the majority of Laks, whereas local artisanry provided the basis of village and town life. The Laks also have a long history of economic out-migration to neighboring areas (the highest rate among all Daghestanian peoples). In 1944 many Laks were resettled in the steppes and foothills north of the Andi ridge in what is now Novo-Lakskiy (New Lak) District in the far northeastern part of Daghestan.
Demography. According to the 1979 census there were 100,148 Laks living in the USSR (of whom 83.3 percent lived within the Daghestan ASSR). Although the Laks are reputed to be the most linguistically Russianized of all of the peoples of Daghestan, in 1979 only 4.1 percent of the Laks listed Russian as their native language (95.0 percent listing Lak). Most Laks, however, are also fluent in Russian, and many also speak Avar, Kumyk, Dargin, Lezgin, or Azeri. The Laks are among the most multilingual peoples in the former Soviet Union.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Lak language belongs to the Dargino-Lak (Lak-Dargwa) Group of the Northeast-Caucasian (Nakh-Daghestanian) Language Family, which also includes Dargin, Kubachi, and Kaitak. There are five distinct dialects of the Lak language: Kumukh, Ashti Kuli, Balkhar, Vitskh, and Vikhli.