Georgian ქართული ენა kartuli ena is the official language of Georgia. Georgian formed independently from any other language and therefore bears no resemblance to any languages other than those that branched from Georgian and developed alongside it, called the Kartvelian languages.
With that being said, the Georgian language is just one of four actively spoken Kartvelian languages. The other language are Mingrelian (spoken in Samegrelo, Georgia), Svan (spoken in Svaneti, Georgia), and Laz (spoken in the Rize area of Turkey)
** Abkhazia and South Ossetia are parts of Georgia.
Of the three other non-Georgian Kartvelian languages, Mingrelian has the largest number of speakers.
Mingrelian is to Georgian what Spanish is to Italian–Georgian and Mingrelian have similar roots and a similar grammatical structure, but differ on the pronunciation especially vowels.
Svan is spoken in Georgia’s Svaneti region and is more similar to Mingrelian than it is to Georgian. It has a few thousand speakers, most of whom are older. As such, it is at risk of dying .
Today, the region is in Turkey’s region of Rize and has a few thousand Georgians, although exact estimates are unknown.
Laz broke away from Georgian before Svan, Mingrelian, and Georgian diverged from each other, making Laz to be the most distant of the Kartvelian languages.
The current Georgian script ქართული დამწერლობა kartuli damtserloba is the third iteration of the Georgian script.
The first script is called Asomtavruli ასომთავრული. This script was developed in the 5th century C.E. and can be seen carved into the walls of Bolnisi Church, which is the oldest Christian structure in Georgia.
The name of the alphabet comes from the words “ასო” aso (letter), “მთავარი “mtavari” (main/primary), and -ური (an adjectival ending) and was used primarily for clerical writing and carving into stone.
The word “Sakartvelo” (Georgia in Georgian) written in Asomtavuri, Nuskhuri, and Mkhedruli
The second Georgian script is called Nuskhuri ნუსხური and comes from “ნუსხა” nuskha (timetable/roster) and -ური and was used predominantly for clerical and ecclesiastical purposes. Nuskhuri closely resembles the
modern Armenian script as that they are both very angular with many letters resembling the Latin letters m, n, u, and h. This was done in an attempt to simplify the Asomtavruli script.
The current Georgian script is called Mkhedruli მხედრული and is derived from მხედარი (horseman/rider/cavalryman) and -ური.
Unlike the first two scripts, the Mkhedruli script is exceptionally curvy, allowing its users more artistic and calligraphic liberty.
A quote from Shota Rustaveli’s chef d’oeuvre ვეფხისტყაოსანი Knight in the Panther’s Skin, written in the Mkhedruli script.
The first is that, like English, there is no grammatical gender.
This feature extends to pronouns, where there is a single word for the English pronouns, he, she, and it. Words like “boyfriend/girlfriend” lack gender as well.
The second unique grammatical feature of Georgian is its case system.
Unlike Slavic languages and Germanic languages which have case systems (this means that adjectives and nouns agree with each other depending on their usage in a sentence, such as if the word is the direct or indirect object, possessive, or is directional, such as in, to, from, and around).
The Georgian system is composed exclusively of suffixes that are attached to the nouns to which they are referring.
This translates to 11 different suffixes, in lieu of prepositions. This means that, unlike English, which has a, in, to, at, from, about, with, or Russian, which has в, на, из, о and с/со, Georgian only has suffixes.
The third unique grammatical feature is perhaps its most challenging–its verbal system. Georgian verbs don’t conjugate, instead they have pronoun markers that are placed at either the beginning or end of the verb stem.
Like nouns, Georgian verbs use a system of prefixes to determine the aspect (perfective or imperfective) and suffixes to determine the mood (subjunctive, conditional, optative, past, and indicative).
Additionally, Georgian verbs can tell not only the subject of the verb (the person or thing acting) but also the direct object (the one that the verb is acting on). For example, მახსოვხარ makhsovkhar translates to “I remember you.”
“I love you” is written as one verb--miq’varkhar
The fourth unique grammatical feature is that Georgian is an agglutinative language. This means that Georgian uses suffixes, prefixes, and roots to make its words.
For example, the word გადასასვლელი “gadasasvleli” (crosswalk) comes from the verbal prefix გადა-, which is used for verbs that deal with crossing things, such as translating (crossing language), the prefix სა-, which means “place of” and the adjectival suffix -ელი, which is used to denote animate adjectives. As such, the Georgian word “crosswalk” literally means “the place where living things cross.”
A more well-known example is the word თავისუფლება “tavisupleba” (freedom/liberty). This word has two parts–თავი “tavi” which means both head and self (such as “myself, herself) and უფლება “upleba” which translates as civil right. This means that the Georgian word for freedom/liberty literally means “the rights on the self” or “the self’s rights.”
This can make learning new and/or unfamiliar words easier since it is usually easy to infer the meaning if the roots, prefixes, and suffixes are already known.
The Georgian language is the pride of the Georgian people.
So much so that in Batumi there is a large tower that has a double-helix in the shape of DNA wrapping around it with the Georgian alphabet on the strands, representing that Georgian is the DNA of Georgia.
This is because, despite Georgia frequently being occupied by foreign empires throughout most of its history, its language has been a constant unifying force.
Despite Georgian not having sounds such as “th” or f,” its alphabet has allowed it to easily adopt foreign words. Words like თეატრი “theater” take advantage of Georgian having two Ts (ტ and თ).
This means that, like English, Georgian has been able to adapt to the language of its occupier.
Part of Georgians ability to survive is their ability to adopt the culture of their occupier.
This is obvious to anybody who visits Tbilisi, as each district of the city looks like it came from a different country, and this is largely true since each district has been built by its occupier.
This is perhaps the most obvious example of Georgians’ coping mechanism.
Throughout Georgia’s history, its language has been able to act as a unifier against an often tumultuous and violent time, making it one of Georgia’s few institutions and icons that have withstood the test of time and still remain pure to its origin.
Here are a few Georgian tongue-twisters for those brave enough!
(** hint: make sure to roll the r)
თეთრი თრითინა თეთრ თოვლზე თრთოვებს
Tetri tritina tetr tovlze trtovebs
კაპიკი გაკაპიკებულა, საკაპიკეში ჩაკაპიკებულა
k’ap’ik’i gak’ep’ik’ebula, sak'ap'ik'eshi chak'ap'ik'ebula
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