Svan language

Svan language

The Svan language (ლუშნუ ნინ/შკა̈ნ, lušnu nin/šḳän; სვანური ენა, svanuri ena) is a language spoken in Northwest Georgia.

Distribution

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.

History

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.

Phonology

Consonants

  Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stop pʰ b pʼ
ფ ბ პ
tʰ d tʼ
თ დ ტ
kʰ g kʼ
ქ გ კ
qʰ qʼ
ჴ ყ
ʔ
Fricative f v
ჶ ვ
s z
ს ზ
ʃ ʒ
შ ჟ
x ɣ
ხ ღ
h
Affricate   ʦʰ ʣ ʦʼ
ც ძ წ
ʧʰ ʤ ʧʼ
ჩ ჯ ჭ
Nasal m
n
       
Liquid l, r
ლ, რ
j
w

Vowels

  Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close [i ]

i
[iː ]
ი̄
ī
[y ]
უ̈
ü
[yː ]
უ̄̈
ű
    [u ]

u
[uː ]
უ̄
ū
Close-mid   [eː ]

ė
    [ə ]¹

ə
     
Open-mid [ɛ ]

e
[ɛː ]
ე̄
ē
[œ ]
ო̈
ö
[œː ]
ო̄̈
ő
  [ɔ ]

o
[ɔː ]
ო̄
ō
Open [æ ]
ა̈
ä
[æː ]
ა̄̈
ã
    [a ]

a
[aː ]
ა̄
ā
   
Bold letters are standard in all dialects.

  1. Freely varies between [ə] and [ɨ]
  2. Diacritics not normally written

Features

Familial features

Like all languages of the South Caucasian family, Svan has a large number of consonants. It has agreement between subject and object, and a split-ergative morphosyntactic system. Verbs are marked for aspect, evidentiality and "version".

Distinguishing features

Svan retains the consonant /qʰ/ (voiceless aspirated stop), and the glides /w/ and /j/. It has a larger repertoire of vowels than Georgian; the Upper Bal dialect of Svan has the most vowels of any South Caucasian language, showing both long and short versions of // plus //, a total of 18 vowels (Georgian, by contrast, has just five).

Its morphology is less regular than that of the other three sister languages, and there are notable differences in verbal inflections.

Dialects

The Svan language is divided into the following dialects and sub-dialects:

  • Upper Bal (about 15,000 speakers): Ushgul, Kala, Ipar, Mulakh, Mestia, Lenzer, Latal.
  • Lower Bal (about 12,000 speakers): Becho, Tskhumar, Etser, Par, Chubekh, Lakham.
  • Lashkh.
  • Lentekh: Kheled, Khopur, Rtskhmelur, Cholur

Books

  • Kevin Tuite, Svan. Université de Montréal. ISBN 3-89586-154-5.

External links

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