Georgian (ქართული ენა, kartuli ena) is the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.
Georgian is the primary language of about 3.9 million people in Georgia itself (83 percent of the population), and of another 500,000 abroad (chiefly in Turkey, Iran, Russia, the USA and Europe). It is the literary language for all ethnographic groups of Georgian people, especially those who speak other South Caucasian languages (or Kartvelian languages): Svans, Mingrelians, and the Laz. Judaeo-Georgian, or "Kivruli", sometimes considered a separate Jewish language, is spoken by an additional 20,000 in Georgia and 65,000 elsewhere (primarily 60,000 in Israel).
Georgian is the most pervasive of the South Caucasian languages
, a family that also includes Svan
(chiefly spoken in Northwest Georgia) and Laz
(chiefly spoken along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, from Melyat, Rize
to the Georgian frontier).
Dialects of Georgian include Imeretian
(in Turkey), Kartlian
(in Azerbaijan), Tush
, Fereydan dialect in Iran
Georgian is believed to have separated from Megrelian
in the first millennium BC. Based on the degree of change, linguists (e.g. Klimov
, T. Gamkrelidze, G. Machavariani) conjecture that the earliest split occurred in the second millennium BC or earlier, separating Svan
from the other languages. Megrelian and Laz separated from Georgian roughly a thousand years later.
Georgian has a rich literary tradition. The oldest surviving literary text in Georgian is the "Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik" (Tsamebay tsmindisa Shushanikisi, dedoplisa) by Iakob Tsurtaveli, from the 5th century AD. The Georgian national epic, "The Knight in the Panther's Skin" (Vepkhistqaosani), by Shota Rustaveli, dates from the 12th century.
Symbols on the left are those of the IPA and those on the right are of the Georgian alphabet
- Opinions differ on how to classify /x/ and /ɣ/; classifies them as post-velar.. Hewitt views the phonemes rather as ranging from velar to uvular according to context, and many other scholars simply treat the phonemes as purely velar.
Some features of Georgian phonotactics
- The language contains some formidable consonant clusters, as may be seen in words like გვფრცქვნი gvprckvni ("You peel us") and მწვრთნელი mc'vrtneli ("trainer").
Georgian has been written in a variety of scripts over its history. Currently one alphabet, mkhedruli ("military") is almost completely dominant; the others are mostly of interest to scholars reading historical documents.
Mkhedruli has 33 letters in common use; a half dozen more are now obsolete. The letters of mkhedruli correspond to the sounds of the Georgian language.
According to the traditional accounts written down by Leonti Mroveli in the 11th century, the first Georgian alphabet was created by the first King of Caucasian Iberia (also called Kartli), Pharnavaz in the 3rd century BC. However, the first examples of that alphabet, or its modified version, date from the 4th-5th centuries AD. During the centuries the alphabet was modernized. Nowadays there are three Georgian alphabets which are quite different from each other, so that knowing one of them can't help one read a text written in the others. These alphabets are called asomtavruli (Capitals), nuskhuri (Small letters) and mkhedruli. The first two are used together as capital and small letters and they form a single alphabet used in the Georgian Orthodox Church and called khutsuri (priests').
In mkhedruli, there are no separate forms for capital letters. Sometimes, however, a capital-like effect is achieved by scaling and positioning the ordinary letters so that their vertical sizes are identical and they rest on the baseline with no descenders. These capital-like letters are often used in page headings, chapter titles, monumental inscriptions, and the like.
- Georgian is an agglutinative language. There are certain prefixes and suffixes that are joined together in order to build a verb. In some cases, there can be up to 8 different morphemes in one verb at the same time. An example can be ageshenebinat ("you (pl) had built"). The verb can be broken down to parts: a-g-e-shen-eb-in-a-t. Each morpheme here contributes to the meaning of the verb tense or the person who has performed the verb (See Georgian grammar for a more detailed discussion).
- In Georgian morphophonology, syncope is a common phenomenon. When a suffix (especially the plural suffix -eb-) is attached to a word which has either of the vowels a or e in the last syllable, this vowel is, in most words, lost. For example, megobari means "friend." To say "friends," one says, megobØrebi (megobrebi), with the loss of a in the last syllable of the word root.
- Georgian has seven noun cases: nominative, ergative, dative, genitive, instrumental, adverbial and vocative. An interesting feature of Georgian is that, while the subject of a sentence is generally in the nominative case, and the object is in the accusative case (or dative), in Georgian, one can find this reversed in many situations (this depends mainly on the character of the verb). This is called the dative construction. In the past tense of the transitive verbs, and in the present tense of the verb "to know", the subject is in the ergative case.
- Georgian is a post-positional language, meaning that adpositions are placed after (rather than before) the nouns they modify, either as suffixes or as separate words. Many Georgian postpositions correspond to the meanings of prepositions in English. Each postposition requires the modified noun to be in a specific case. (This is similar to prepositions governing specific cases in many Indo-European languages such as German, Latin, Russian, and so on.)
- Georgian has a subject-verb-object primary sentence structure, but the word order is not as strict as in some Germanic languages such as English. Not all word orders are acceptable, but it is also possible to encounter the structure of subject-object-verb. Georgian has no grammatical gender; even pronouns are gender-neutral. The language also has no articles. Therefore, for example, "guest", "a guest" and "the guest" are said in the same way. In relative clauses, however, it is possible to establish the meaning of the definite article through use of some particles.
Georgian has a rich word-derivation
system. By using a root, and adding some definite prefixes and suffixes, one can derive many nouns and adjectives from the root. For example, from the root -Kart
-, the following words can be derived: Kartveli
(a Georgian person), Kartuli
(the Georgian language) and Sakartvelo
Most Georgian surnames end in -dze ("son") (Western Georgia), -shvili ("child") (Eastern Georgia), -ia (Western Georgia, Samegrelo), -ani (Western Georgia, Svaneti), -uri (Eastern Georgia), etc.
At least two personalities with Georgian surnames are known abroad: Eduard Shevardnadze and Joseph Stalin, whose birth name was Dzhugashvili.
Georgian has a vigesimal number system, based on the counting system of 20, like Basque or Old French. In order to express a number greater than 20 and less than 100, first the number of 20s in the number is stated and the remaining number is added. For example, 93 is expressed as ოთხმოცდაცამეტი - otkh-m-ots-da-tsamet'i (lit. four-times-twenty-and-thirteen).
Georgian has a word derivation system, which allows the derivation of nouns from verb roots both with prefixes and suffixes. For example:
- From the root -ts'er- ("write"), the words ts'erili ("letter") and mts'erali ("writer") are derived.
- From the root -tsa- ("give"), the word gadatsema ("broadcast") is derived.
- From the root -tsda- ("try"), the word gamotsda ("exam") is derived.
- From the root -gav- ("resemble"), the words msgavsi ("similar") and msgavseba ("similarity") are derived.
- From the root -šen- ("build"), the word šenoba ("building") is derived.
- From the root -tskh- ("bake"), the word namtskhvari ("cake") is derived.
- From the root -tsiv- ("cold"), the word matsivari ("refrigerator") is derived.
- From the root -pr- ("fly"), the words tvitmprinavi ("plane") and aprena ("take-off") are derived.
It is also possible to derive verbs from nouns:
- From the noun -omi- ("war"), the verb omob ("wage war") is derived.
- From the noun -sadili- ("lunch"), the verb sadilob ("eat lunch") is derived.
- From the noun -sauzme ("breakfast"), the verb ts'asauzmeba ("eat a little breakfast") is derived; the preverb ts'a- in Georgian could add the meaning "VERBing a little."
- From the noun -sakhli- ("home"), the verb gadasakhleba (the infinite form of the verb "to relocate, to move") is derived.
Likewise, verbs can be derived from adjectives:
- From the adjective -ts'iteli- ("red"), the verb gats'itleba (the infinite form of both "to blush" and "to make one blush") is derived. This kind of derivation can be done with many adjectives in Georgian. Other examples can be:
- From the adjective -brma ("blind"), the verbs dabrmaveba (the infinite form of both "to become blind" and "to blind someone") are derived.
- From the adjective -lamazi- ("beautiful"), the verb galamazeba (the infinite form of the verb "to become beautiful") is derived.
Words that begin with multiple consonants
In Georgian many nouns and adjectives begin with two or more contiguous consonants.
- Some linguists assert that almost half of the words in Georgian begin with double consonants. This is because most syllables in the language begin with certain two consonants. Some examples of words that begin with double consonants are:
- წყალი, (ts'q'ali), "water"
- სწორი, (sts'ori), "correct"
- რძე , (rdze), "milk"
- თმა, (tma), "hair"
- მთა, (mta), "mountain"
- ცხენი, (tskheni), "horse"
- There are also many words that begin with three contiguous consonants:
- თქვენ, (tkven), "you (plural)"
- მწვანე, (mts'vane), "green"
- ცხვირი, (tskhviri), "nose"
- ტკბილი, (t'k'bili), "sweet"
- მტკივნეული, (mt'k' ivneuli), "painful"
- ჩრდილოეთი, (črdiloeti), "north"
- There are also a few words in Georgian that begin with four contiguous consonants. Examples are:
- მკვლელი, (mk'vleli), "murderer"
- მკვდარი, (mk'vdari), "dead"
- მთვრალი, (mtvrali), "drunk"
- მწკრივი; (mts'k'rivi), "row"
- There can also be some extreme cases in Georgian. For example, the following word begins with six contiguous consonants:
- მწვრთნელი, (mts'vrtneli), "trainer"
- And the following words begin with eight consonants:
- გვფრცქვნი (gvprtskvni), "you peel us"
- გვბრდღვნი (gvbrdgvni), "you tear us"
- Pavle Ingorokva. Georgian inscriptions of antique.- Bulletin of ENIMK, vol. X, Tbilisi, 1941, pp. 411-427 (in Georgian)
- Zaza Aleksidze. Epistoleta Tsigni, Tbilisi, 1968, 150 pp (in Georgian)
- Korneli Danelia, Zurab Sarjveladze. Questions of Georgian Paleography, Tbilisi, 1997, 150 pp (in Georgian, English summary)
- Elene Machavariani. The graphical basis of the Georgian Alphabet, Tbilisi, 1982, 107 pp (in Georgian, French summary)
- Ivane Javakhishvili. Georgian Paleography, Tbilisi, 1949, 500 pp (in Georgian)
- Ramaz Pataridze. The Georgian Asomtavruli, Tbilisi, 1980, 600 pp (in Georgian)
- "Great discovery" (about the expedition of Academician Levan Chilashvili).- Newspaper "Kviris Palitra", Tbilisi, April 21-27, 2003 (in Georgian)