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Georgian Language: A Whole New Adventure

Nini is a native speaker and knows a lot about her language and culture.

Georgian script

Georgian script

Something You Should Know

Do you know where Georgia (country) is? It's a small country in Caucasus, surrounded by Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and the Black Sea. Georgia has many things to be proud of, but the first and the most important is its alphabet, which is one of the 14 written scripts in the world and is among the 10 oldest languages still spoken in the world today. This amazing language is included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Humanity and I'm going to tell you why!

Origin of the Scripts

Asomtavruli is the oldest Georgian script. The name Asomtavruli means "capital letters", from aso(ასო)- "letter" and mtavari(მთავარი) - "principal/head". It's also known as Mrgvlovani, meaning "rounded" , as the letters have rounded shape. Despite its name, the script is unicameral, just like the modern Georgian script, Mkhedruli. The oldest Asomtavruli inscriptions found so far date back to 5th century, but recently, a new inscription was found which is way older than this and according to some researchers it brings us back to 10th century BC!

5th century inscription on Bolnisis Sioni Church

5th century inscription on Bolnisis Sioni Church

Language and Religion

Georgia is a Christian ( Orthodox) country. This religion started to establish in Georgia from the very first century, but it became country's official religion in 4th century. Christianity played a big role in country's cultural development and it wouldn't be surprising if I said that the language and literature reflected religion's symbolism and characteristics. The second Georgian script - Nuskhuri - first appeared in 9th century and became dominant over Asomtavruli in 10th century. But Asomtavruli had its comeback as the illuminated capitals. They were both used in religious manuscript together.

Nuskhuri script

Nuskhuri script

Use of Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri Today

Asomtavruli is used intensively in iconography, murals and exterior design, especially in stone engravings. Georgian linguist Akaki Shanidze made an attempt in the 1950s to introduce Asomtavruli into the Mkhedruli (3rd) script as the capital letters to begin sentences, but it did not catch on. Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri ( together - Khutsuri) are officially used by the Georgian Orthodox Church alongside Mkhedruli. Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia has called on people to use all three scripts and we are actually doing so. Asomtavruli is taught in schools and almost every Georgian ten-year-old school pupil is able to write in both scripts.

Although these two older script are not widely and officially used in management and advertisements, some Georgian restaurants or stores still use old written scripts. The reason behind this is that they look magical and stunning... Well, also owners want to impress tourists by the countless number of letters!

Restaurant name in Georgian

Restaurant name in Georgian

The Third and the Current Script

The script that we use today in everyday life is called Mkhedruli. It literally means "cavalry" or "military". Mkhedruli first appears in the 10th century. The oldest Mkhedruli inscription is found in Ateni Sioni Church dating back to 982 AD. Mkhedruli was mostly used then in the Kingdom of Georgia for the royal charters, historical documents, manuscripts and inscriptions. Mkhedruli was used for non-religious purposes only and represented "civil", "royal" and "secular" script.

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Letters Removed From the Georgian Alphabet

Currently, we have 33 letters in our alphabet, but we used to have 38! In 1879, The Society for the Spreading of Literacy among Georgians, founded by Ilia Chavchavadze, discarded five letters from the alphabet as they had become redundant.

All the letters(except უ-uni) in Georgian alphabet were used for numeracy, instead of numbers. We had our own chronological system called Qoronikoni, which was based on this kind of usage of letters.

Kartvelian Languages

Georgian is a Kartvelian language. This language family also includes other languages which are used by people living in Georgia. Those languages shared the same root in the ancient era, but then developed differently.

These languages are:

  • Svan
  • Mingrelian
  • Laz

Here I have to mention that I'm Laz and my people have a very interesting history and culture, which I'll try to write about later!

Why Is Georgian Important to the World?

Every language is unique in its own way. Georgian has many unique characteristics, that's why it's considered as the heritage of humanity. Here are few reasons why Georgian is important:

  • Georgian literature is the treasure of Christian world. Our Hagiography is rich with Biblical symbolisms and parallels.
  • Georgian is an ancient language and our chronicles have a vast information about national and world history.
  • If you're fond of Mythology, then Georgia will be your paradise. Georgia, or Kolkha( old Georgian kingdom) is mentioned in some of the Greek myths, like the myth of Argonauts. Furthermore, despite the fact that the Georgia is the Christian country, we have our own mythological world which is still part of our everyday life.
The word at the bottom of the picture says - Amirani- it's the name of the hero.

The word at the bottom of the picture says - Amirani- it's the name of the hero.

Can I Learn Georgian?

YES! Although it's ranked as "exceptionally difficult" level 4 (out of 5) language, Georgian is not as hard to learn as it seems. Foreigners are sometimes frightened because of its uniqueness, Actually, Georgian is pretty easy to catch on to. The only big difficulties are the pronunciation and the verb conjugation system. Here are some facts about the language which are quite interesting:

  • Georgian language has about 18 dialects. They share similar morphology and syntax, but they still retain their unique features.
  • Hello in Georgian means "victory"(gamarjoba) and Good morning/evening means "morning/evening of peace" ( dila/saghamo mshvidobisa).
  • The third person in Georgia doesn't have a gender - another simplicity!
  • You can tell which region a person is from by their surname/
  • Numerals are similar to French. e.g. 84 is pronounced as " four times twenty and four".
  • There are three words for "yes"- Diakh (formal), ki (informal) and ho/xo (colloquial).

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