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The Georgian Language

Introduction

The Georgian language or “Qartuli”, as it is called by the native speakers, is the official language of Georgia. Approximately 4.2 million native speakers are identified as living in Georgia. As a country, it stretches from the Black Sea to the Alazani basin. Different dialects of the Georgian language can be found in Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey, but numerous Georgian communities are also present all over the world with, arguably, the most influential community in Russia.

Origins

Studies of the origins of the Georgian language lead us back to ancient times. According to a fairly disputable comparison of alphabets and common traits, Georgian is connected to the Common Kartvelian Language, which is dated approximately 2000 years BC. According to some scholars, the Kartvelian language later split into Svan and Common Georgian-Zan, which further divided into the languages of Georgian, Mingralien and Laz. According to historic records, the origin of the Georgian language can be traced back to the III century BC. During the reign of King Parnavaz, the first Georgian alphabet (Asomtavruli) was created. According to the legend, King Parnavaz looked at the sun and saw a vision of strange rounded letters, which consequently formed the first Georgian Alphabet.

The first traces of the Asomtavruli script were found on the ancient remains of Georgian churches. However, the first actual records written using the Georgian Asomtavruli alphabetdate back to the 5th century AD. One of the main literature creations of the 5th century is the “Martyrdom of Shushanik” (Shushanikis Tsameba) written by Iakov Tsurtaveli. This example of hagiographical literature has been preserved until the present day, and is one of the main elements of the Georgian literature and school educational programme taught in the Georgian schools.

The Georgian alphabet did not remain unchanged, as in the 9th century AD the Nuskhuri script was introduced. The first examples of literature found in the Nuskhuri script date back to the 10th century AD: “Martyrdom of Abo Tbileli” (Abo Tbilelis Tsameba), etc.

The final transformation of the alphabet, took place in the 11th century AD. Around this time, the Mkhedruli script was born. This script is considered to be the most complete and economical script in the history of Georgia and again, has been preserved until the present day. The Mkhedruli script contains as many letters as the sounds in the spoken language, which makes it simple and economic. It also has no parallel in any other language and, therefore, is one of the 14 existing alphabets in the world.

Dialects

The Georgian language has up to 17 known dialects, which on the basis of shared features can be divided into two main groups: an eastern and a western group. They differ from each other in certain aspects of phonology, morphology, syntax, and vocabulary, but all retain an overall set of features which are not dissimilar to the standard language. Some of the dialects were influenced by the languages spoken by neighboring countries. For instance, Ingilo, spoken in a part of the Alazani river valley that is now in Azerbaijan, has been influenced by Azerbaijani and by Avar, while Klarjian has come under the influence of Turkish, the dominant language of the region in which it is spoken. The Persian influence on the Fereidan dialect of the Georgian language is a special case, as the latter is spoken today in Iran by the descendants of Kakhetians who were deported there by the Safavid monarch Shah ’Abbas I in the seventeenth century. Also other forms of dialects can be found in the mountainous regions of Georgia, where natives simplified the Georgian language by turning it into a form of a dialect.

Literature

Except for the hagiographical literature discussed above, Georgia boasts strong and influential literature masterpieces such as “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” (Vepkhis Tkaosani) written by Shota Rustaveli in the 12th century AD. This literary treasure is written in one of the most difficult poetic forms known, the shairi (4-line stanza with monorhyme and long lines of 15 or 16 syllables) and is considered one of the masterpieces of medieval European literature. It has been translated into many languages: English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, Hindi and Arabic to name just a few. It was also one of the first books printed in Georgian (1712 AD.) along with the Holy Bible.

Interesting Facts

  • Georgian is ranked 120th in respect to the number of people speaking the language. This is based on the population of native speakers (4.2 million).
  • Georgian does not distinguish between 'he/him', 'she/her' and 'it' and, although only the masculine form is used in the translations, either of the other two pronouns can usually be substituted.
  • The Georgian verb invariably includes an implicit subject and – if transitive – one or more objects, whether or not these are always expressed in English. For example, the Georgian verb ga-u-gzavn-i-s means ‘he will send it to him’; the verb itself incorporates all three persons, ‘he’, ‘it’, and ‘him’.
  • In 1629, Georgian script was cast in moulds in Rome for the first time and it was then that in 1629 the "Georgian-Italian Dictionary" and the "Georgian alphabet with prayers", compiled by Stephano Paolini and Nikiphore Irbach (Cholokashvili) were printed. In 1643, in Rome, "Georgian Grammar" by Francisco-Maria Majio was printed, and Nuskhuri, Asomtavruli and Mkhedruli were used.
  • In 1705, in Moscow under the guidance of the King Archil II Nuskhuri and Khutsuri types were cast, in which "Davitni" was printed. In 1712, in Georgia, in the printing-house of Vakhctang VI "The Knight in the Panther's Skin" by Shota Rustaveli was printed. In this same printing-house were also printed "New Testament" and "The Bible".

Links of Interest


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