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Georgian (ქართული ენა) is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus region of south-eastern Europe.

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 United States and the rest of Europe). Georgian is the most numerous of the South Caucasian languages, a family that also includes Svan, Megrelian (mainly spoken in Northwest Georgia) and Laz (chiefly spoken along the Black Sea coast of Turkey). It is the literary language for all regional subgroups of the Georgian ethnic group, including those who speak other South Caucasian or Kartvelian languages: Svans, Mingrelians, and the Laz. Judeo-Georgian, sometimes considered a separate Jewish language, is spoken by an additional 20,000 people in Georgia, 60,000 in Israel and about 5,000 elsewhere.


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Georgian is believed to have separated from Svan and Mingrelian/Laz in the first millennium BC. Based on the degree of change, some linguists 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 (the ancestors of the Georgians) addressing the emperor Marcus Aurelius in their incomprehensible tongue.[1]

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.[2] 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 tsmidisa Shushanikisi dedoplisay) 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.


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The phrases below may contain links to corresponding articles in Wikipedia. Symbols on the left are those of the IPA and those on the right are of the Georgian alphabet.

Georgian consonants[3]
  Labial Dental/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive aspirated
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate plain t͡s t͡ʃ
voiced d͡z d͡ʒ
ejective t͡sʼ t͡ʃʼ
Fricative voiceless s ʃ x1 h
voiced v z ʒ ɣ1
Rhotic r
Lateral l
  1. Opinions differ on how to classify /x/ and /ɣ/; Template:Harvcoltxt classifies them as post-velar, Template:Harvcoltxt argues that they range from velar to uvular according to context, and many other scholarsTemplate:Who treat the phonemes as purely velar.


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Front Back
Close i u
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open a~ɑ[5]


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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").

Writing system

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Georgian has been written in a variety of scripts over its history. Currently one alphabet, mkhedruli or "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 I of Iberia 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 or priests' alphabet.

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.


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  • 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 Wikipedia:Georgian grammar for a more detailed discussion.)


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  • In Georgian morphophonology, 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 lost in most words. 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.


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  • 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.


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  • Georgian is a post-positional language, meaning that adpositions are usually 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, and Russian.)
  • 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 (a/the/some). 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.

Morphosyntactic alignment

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Georgian syntax and verb agreement are largely those of a nominative–accusative language. That is, the subject of an intransitive verb and the subject of a transitive verb are treated alike when it comes to word order within the sentence and their agreement marks in the verb complex. Nominative–accusative alignment is the most common in the world's languages, and is found in all Western Indo-European languages (such as English, German, and French).

However, Georgian case morphology (that is, the declension of nouns using case marks) does not always coincide with verbal alignment. Georgian has often been said to exhibit split ergativity; morphologically speaking, it is said that it mostly behaves like an ergative–absolutive language in the Series II ("aorist") screeves. That means that the subject of an intransitive verb will take the same case markings as the direct object of a transitive verb. However, this is not a fully accurate representation.

This is because Georgian has yet another level of split ergativity. In the aorist series, intransitive verbs behave differently. Second conjugation verbs behave as would normally be expected in an ergative language: the subject is declined in the least-marked case, the nominative case (terminologically equivalent in this instance to absolutive cases in other languages). Third conjugation verbs behave as if they belonged to an accusative system: the most-marked case (the ergative) marks the subject. The division between second and third conjugations is a convenient way to remember the difference, but in fact they both contain intransitive verbs, and as a whole the behaviour of these verbs follows an active alignment. In an active language, intranstive verbs are subdivided into two classes. The division is usually based on semantic criteria regarding the nature of the subject and the verb; for example, if the subject identifies an agent (an active or intentional performer of the action of the verb), then it might be marked with one case (e.g. the ergative), while if the subject identifies an experiencer of the event or one who does not actively initiate it, then it might be marked with another case (e.g. the absolutive or nominative). What might be called the "most active" case, then, marks the subject of a transitive verb, while the "least active" or "most patientive" case is that used to mark a direct object. This is precisely what happens in Georgian, in the restricted environment of the second or third conjugation verbs in the aorist series.

In Georgian, the classification of verbs according to the agentive or patientive nature of their subject has to do with performing an action, regardless of whether the subject is in control or not. (There are some exceptions to this: weather verbs and verbs of emission of light and sound are usually zero-place predicates, and thus have no agent at all.) The division between classes is conventional and rigid; each verb receives the class that typically corresponds to it. Where the subject is typically an active performer, it is marked as ergative, even if in some specific instances the action might be outside the control of the subject. Therefore, Georgian active alignment is said to be of the "split-S" type.


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Word formations

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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

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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:
    • About this sound 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"


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  1. Braund, David (1994), Georgia in Antiquity; a History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 B.C. – A.D. 562, p. 216. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198144733
  2. Tuite, Kevin, "Early Georgian", pp. 145-6, in: Woodard, Roger D. (2008), The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 052168496X
  3. Template:Harvcoltxt
  4. Template:Harvcoltxt
  5. Template:Harvcoltxt describes this vowel as more fronted than [ɑ]


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  • Aronson, Howard I. (1990), Georgian: a reading grammar (second ed.), Columbus, OH: Slavica
  • 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)
  • Hewitt, B. G. (1995), Georgian: a structural reference grammar, Amsterdam: John Benjamins
  • Hewitt, B. G. (1996), Georgian: a Learner's Grammar, London: Routledge
  • Pavle Ingorokva. Georgian inscriptions of antique.- Bulletin of ENIMK, vol. X, Tbilisi, 1941, pp. 411–427 (in Georgian)
  • Ivane Javakhishvili. Georgian Paleography, Tbilisi, 1949, 500 pp (in Georgian)
  • Kiziria, Dodona (2009), Beginner's Georgian with 2 Audio CDs, New York: Hippocrene, ISBN 0-7818-1230-5
  • Kraveishvili, M. & Nakhutsrishvili, G. (1972), Teach Yourself Georgian for English Speaking Georgians, Tbilisi: The Georgian Society for Cultural Relations with Compatriots Abroad
  • Elene Machavariani. The graphical basis of the Georgian Alphabet, Tbilisi, 1982, 107 pp (in Georgian, French summary)
  • Ramaz Pataridze. The Georgian Asomtavruli, Tbilisi, 1980, 600 pp (in Georgian)
  • Price, Glanville (1998), An Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe, Blackwell
  • Shosted, Ryan K.; Vakhtang, Chikovani (2006), "Standard Georgian", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 36 (2): 255–264
  • "Great discovery" (about the expedition of Academician Levan Chilashvili).- Newspaper Kviris Palitra, Tbilisi, April 21–27, 2003 (in Georgian)
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