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About Georgian Language

Georgian (ქართული ენა, pronounced [kʰɑrtʰuli ɛna]) is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.

Georgian is the primary language of about 3.9 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad (chiefly in Turkey, Iran, Russia, the USA and the rest of Europe). It is the literary language for all regional subgroups of the Georgian ethnos, including those who speak other South Caucasian or Kartvelian languages: Svans, Mingrelians, and the Laz. Judaeo-Georgian, sometimes considered a separate Jewish language, is spoken by an additional 20,000 in Georgia and 65,000 elsewhere (primarily 60,000 in Israel).

Classification

Georgian is the most pervasive of the South Caucasian languages, a family that also includes Svan and Megrelian (chiefly spoken in Northwest Georgia) and Laz (chiefly spoken along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, from Melyat, Rize to the Georgian frontier).

Dialects

Dialects of Georgian include Imeretian, Racha-Lechkhumian, Gurian, Adjaran, Imerkhevian (in Turkey), Kartlian, Kakhetian, Ingilo (in Azerbaijan), Tush, Khevsur, Mokhevian, Pshavian, Fereydan dialect in Iran in Fereydunshahr and Fereydan, Mtiuletian, Meskhetian.

History

Georgian shared a common ancestral language with and is believed to have separated from Svan and Mingrelian/Laz 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.

The earliest allusion to spoken Georgian may be a passage of the Roman grammarian Marcus Cornelius Fronto in the 2nd century AD: Fronto imagines the Iberians addressing the emperor Marcus Aurelius in their incomprehensible tongue.

The evolution of Georgian into a written language was a consequence of the conversion of the Georgian elite to Christianity in the mid-4th century. The new literary language was constructed on an already well-established cultural infrastructure, appropriating the functions, conventions, and status of Aramaic, the literary language of pagan Georgia, and the new national religion. The first Georgian texts are inscriptions and palimpsests dating to the 5th century. Georgian has a rich literary tradition. The oldest surviving literary work 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.

The history of Georgian can conventionally be divided into:

  • Early Old Georgian: 5th-8th centuries
  • Classical Old Georgian: 9th-11th centuries
  • Middle Georgian: 12th-18th centuries
  • Modern Georgian: 18th-21st centuries

Writing system

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 5th century AD. Over many centuries, the alphabet was modernized. There are now three completely different Georgian alphabets. 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, called mtavruli (title or heading), 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.

Morphology

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.

Morphophonology

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.

Inflection

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.

Syntax

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.

Vocabulary

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 (Georgia).

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. The ending -eli is a particle of nobility, equivalent to French de, German von or Polish -ski. At least two personalities with Georgian surnames are known abroad: Eduard Shevardnadze and Joseph Stalin, whose birth name was Dzhugashvili. In the 1990s, English football club Manchester City had a number of Georgian players with these surname endings, such as Georgi Kinkladze, Murtazi Shelia, Kakhaber Tskhadadze and Mikhail Kavelashvilli.

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).

 

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