Svan is the native language of about 30,000 Svans, an ethnic subdivision of the Georgian people, living in the mountains of Svaneti, i.e. in the districts of Mestia and Lentekhi of Georgia, along the Enguri, Tskhenistskali and Kodori rivers. Some Svan speakers live in the autonomous republic of Abkhazia; although conditions there make it difficult to reliably estimate their numbers, they are thought to number only around 2,500 individuals.
The language is used in familiar and casual social communication. It has no written standard or official status; most speakers also speak Georgian, the country's official language, and use it as their literary and business language. There is no official instruction in Svan, and the number of speakers is declining due to the dispersal of the Svan population in the face of increasing economic hardship. The language is regarded as being endangered, as proficiency in it is limited among young people.
Svan is the most differentiated member of the four South Caucasian (Kartvelian) languages, and is not intelligible with the other three (Georgian, Laz, and Mingrelian). Svan is believed to have separated from them in the 2nd millennium BC or earlier, about one thousand years before Georgian branched off from the other two.
|Stop||pʰ b pʼ|
ფ ბ პ
|tʰ d tʼ|
თ დ ტ
|kʰ g kʼ|
ქ გ კ
|Affricate||ʦʰ ʣ ʦʼ|
ც ძ წ
|ʧʰ ʤ ʧʼ|
ჩ ჯ ჭ
Its morphology is less regular than that of the other three sister languages, and there are notable differences in verbal inflections.
The Svan language is divided into the following dialects and sub-dialects: