Georgian language


Kartuli written in Georgian script
Pronunciation [kʰɑrtʰuli ɛnɑ]
Region Georgia (Including Abkhazia and South Ossetia)
Russia, United States, Israel, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan
Native speakers
4.3 million (1993)[1]
Early forms
Old Georgian
  • Georgian
Georgian script
Georgian Braille
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by Cabinet of Georgia
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ka
ISO 639-2 geo (B)
kat (T)
ISO 639-3 kat
Glottolog nucl1302[2]
Linguasphere 42-CAB-baa – bac

Georgian (ქართული ენა tr. kartuli ena) is a Kartvelian language spoken by Georgians. It is the official language of Georgia.

Georgian is written in its own writing system, the Georgian script.

Georgian is the literary language for all regional subgroups of Georgians, including those who speak other Kartvelian languages: Svans, Mingrelians and the Laz.


Georgian is the most pervasive of the Kartvelian 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).


Main article: Georgian dialects

Dialects of Georgian are from Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi, Guria, Adjara, Imerkhevi (in Turkey), Kartli, Kakheti, Saingilo (in Azerbaijan), Tusheti, Khevsureti, Khevi, Pshavi, Fereydan (in Iran), Mtiuleti and Meskheti.


Further information: Kartvelian languages and Proto-Kartvelian
Further information: Old Georgian language
Part of a series on
Ancient Kartvelian people
History of Georgia

The history of the Georgian language can conventionally be divided into:[3]

Georgian shares a common ancestral language with Svan and Mingrelian/Laz. Georgian as separate from the other Kartvelian languages would have emerged in the 1st millennium BC in Caucasian Iberia. 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".[4]

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.[3] 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" (წამებაჲ წმიდისა შუშანიკისი დედოფლისაჲ, Tsamebai tsmidisa Shushanikisi dedoplisai) by Iakob Tsurtaveli, from the 5th century AD.

In the 11th century, Old Georgian gives rise to Middle Georgian, the literary language of the medieval kingdom of Georgia. The Georgian national epic, "The Knight in the Panther's Skin" (ვეფხისტყაოსანი, Vepkhistkaosani), by Shota Rustaveli, dates from the 12th century.

In 1629, Alphabetum Ibericum sive Georgianum cum Oratione and Dittionario giorgiano e italiano were the first two books printed in the Georgian language using movable type in Rome supported by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples of the Catholic Church for their evangelical movement in Georgian kingdoms. This marked the beginning of what is considered the Modern Georgian language.



Symbols on the left are those of the IPA and those on the right are of the Georgian alphabet.

Georgian consonants[5]
  Labial Dental/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m   n  
Plosive aspirated      
voiced b   d   ɡ  
Affricate (aspirated) t͡sʰ   t͡ʃʰ  
voiced d͡z   d͡ʒ  
ejective t͡sʼ   t͡ʃ ʼ  
Fricative voiceless s   ʃ   x 1   h  
voiced v   z   ʒ   ɣ 1  
Rhotic r  
Lateral l  
  1. Opinions differ on how to classify /x/ and /ɣ/; Aronson (1990) classifies them as post-velar, Hewitt (1995) argues that they range from velar to uvular according to context, and many other scholars treat the phonemes as purely velar. Opinions also differ on the aspiration of /t͡sʰ, t͡ʃʰ/, as it is non-contrastive.

A former distinction between /qʼ/ (ყ) and /qʰ/ (ჴ) has been lost. The glottalization of the ejectives is rather light, and in many romanization systems it is not marked, for transcriptions such as aspirated p, t, ts, ch, k and q, against the ejective series , , tsʼ, chʼ, and .


Front Back
Close i   u  
Mid ɛ   ɔ  
Open a~ɑ  [7]


Prosody in Georgian involves stress, intonation, and rhythm. Stress is very weak, and linguists disagree as to where stress occurs in words.[8] Jun, Vicenik, and Lofstedt have proposed that Georgian stress and intonation are the result of pitch accents on the first syllable of a word and near the end of a phrase.[9] The rhythm of Georgian speech is syllable-timed.


Georgian contains many "harmonic clusters" involving two consonants of a similar type (voiced, aspirated, or ejective) which are pronounced with only a single release; e.g. ბგერა bgera (sound), ცხოვრება tskhovreba (life), and წყალი ts'q'ali (water).[10] There are also frequent consonant clusters, sometimes involving more than six consonants in a row, as may be seen in words like გვფრცქვნgvprtskvni ("You peel us") and მწვრთნელი mts'vrtneli ("trainer").

Vicenik has observed that Georgian vowels following ejective stops have creaky voice and suggests this may be one cue distinguishing ejectives from their aspirated and voiced counterparts.[11]

Writing system

Road sign in Latin and Georgian
"Mshrali khidi" (dry bridge) bilingual construction signboard in Georgian and Italian in Tbilisi.

Georgian has been written in a variety of scripts over its history. Currently one, mkhedruli (military), is almost completely dominant; the others are used mostly in religious documents and architecture.

Mkhedruli has 33 letters in common use; a half dozen more are obsolete in Georgian, though still used in other alphabets, like Mingrelian, Laz, and Svan. The letters of mkhedruli correspond closely to the phonemes of the Georgian language.

According to the traditional account written down by Leonti Mroveli in the 11th century, the first Georgian script was created by the first king of Caucasian Iberia, Pharnavaz, in the 3rd century BC. However, the first examples of a Georgian script date from the 5th century AD. There are now three Georgian scripts, called asomtavruli (capitals), nuskhuri (small letters), and mkhedruli. The first two are used together as upper and lower case in the writings of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and together are called khutsuri (priests' alphabet).

In mkhedruli, there is no case. Sometimes, however, a capital-like effect, called mtavruli ('title' or 'heading'), is achieved by modifying the 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.

Modern Georgian alphabet
Letter National
a ɑ
b b
g ɡ
d d
e ɛ
v v
z z
i i
l l
m m
n n
o ɔ
zh ʒ
r r
s s
u u
gh ɣ
sh ʃ
ts t͡sʰ
dz d͡z
ts' t͡sʼ
ch' t͡ʃʼ
kh x
j d͡ʒ
h h

Keyboard layout

This is the Georgian standard[12] keyboard layout. The standard Windows keyboard is essentially that of manual typewriters.

 Tab key )
 Caps lock Enter key 
 Shift key
 Shift key
 Control key Win key  Alt key Space bar  AltGr key Win key Menu key  Control key  



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 eight 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. The verb conjugation also exhibits polypersonalism; a verb may potentially include morphemes representing both the subject and the object.


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.


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.



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 -kartv-, 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.

Georgian has a vigesimal numeric system like Basque or French, based on the counting system of 20. 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).

One of the most important Georgian dictionaries is the Explanatory dictionary of the Georgian language (Georgian: ქართული ენის განმარტებითი ლექსიკონი). It consists of eight volumes and about 115,000 words. It was produced between 1950 and 1964, by a team of linguists under the direction of Arnold Chikobava.


Word formations

Georgian has a word derivation system, which allows the derivation of nouns from verb roots both with prefixes and suffixes, for example:

It is also possible to derive verbs from nouns:

Likewise, verbs can be derived from adjectives, for example:

Words that begin with multiple consonants

In Georgian many nouns and adjectives begin with two or more contiguous consonants.

Language example

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Georgian:

ყველა ადამიანი იბადება თავისუფალი და თანასწორი თავისი ღირსებითა და უფლებებით. მათ მინიჭებული აქვთ გონება და სინდისი და ერთმანეთის მიმართ უნდა იქცეოდნენ ძმობის სულისკვეთებით.

Qvela adamiani ibadeba t'avisup'ali da t'anastsori tavisi ghirsebit'a da uplebebit'. Mat minichebuli ak'vt' goneba da sindisi da ert'manet'is mimart' unda ik'ts'eodnen zhmobis suliskvet'ebit'.[14]

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.[14]

See also


  1. Georgian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Nuclear Georgian". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 Tuite, Kevin, "Early Georgian", pp. 145-6, in: Woodard, Roger D. (2008), The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-68496-X
  4. 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 0-19-814473-3
  5. Shosted & Shikovani (2006:255)
  6. Shosted & Chikovani (2006:261)
  7. Aronson (1990) describes this vowel as more fronted than [ɑ]
  8. Aronson (1990:18)
  9. Jun, Vicenik & Lofstedt (2007)
  10. Aronson (1990:33)
  11. Vicenik (2010:87)
  12. Georgian Keyboard Layout Microsoft
  13. Skopeteas, Féry & Asatiani (2009:2–5)
  14. 1 2 About Georgia: Georgian Alphabet


Georgian edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikisource has the text of an 1879 American Cyclopædia article about Georgian language.
Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Georgian.




Literature and culture

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