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Home : Language and Alphabet : Georgian LanguagePrinter friendly version E-mail this page to a friend
Language & Alphabet
Georgian Language
Georgian Alphabet
Georgian Phrases

Georgian Language

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Georgian (ქართული Kartuli)
Spoken inGeorgia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia
Total speakers4.1 million
Language familySouth Caucasian (Kartvelian) Georgian
Official status
Official language ofGeorgia
Regulated byno official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1ka
ISO 639-2geo (B) kat (T)
ISO/DIS 639-3kat

Georgian (ქართული ენა, kartuli ena) is the official language of Georgia.

Georgian is the primary language of about 3.9 million people in Georgia itself (83% of the population), and of another 200 thousand abroad (chiefly in Turkey, Iran, Russia, USA and Europe). It is the literary language for all ethnographic groups of Georgian people, especially those who speak other South Caucasian languages (or Kartvelian languages): Svans, Megrelians, and the Laz. Gruzinic, or "Kivruli", sometimes considered a separate Jewish language, is spoken by an additional 20,000 in Georgia and 65,000 elsewhere (primarily 60,000 in Israel).



Georgian is the most important 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 of Georgian include Imeretian, Racha-Lechkhum, Gurian, Ajarian, Imerkhev (in Turkey), Kartlian, Kakhetian, Ingilo, Tush, Khevsur, Mokhev, Pshav, Mtiul, Ferjeidan (in Iran), Meskhetian.



Georgian is believed to have separated from Megrelian and Laz in the first millennium BC. Based on the degree of change, linguists (e.g. 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.

Georgian has a rich literary tradition. The oldest surviving literary text 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.

Some linguistic features of the languages are presented in the following sections; you should refer to extended articles for detailed information on each subtopic.


Writing system

According to the traditional accounts written down by Leonti Mroveli in the 11th century, the Georgian alphabet was created by the first King of Caucasian Iberia/Kartli Pharnavaz in the 3rd century BC. However, the first examples of that alphabet, or its modified version, dates from the 4th-5th centuries AD. During the centuries the alphabet was modernized. Nowadays there are three Georgian alphabets which are quite different from each other, so that knowing one of them can't help you to read a text written in the others. These alphabets are called asomtavruli (Capitals), nuskhuri (Small letters) and mkhedruli (military). The first two are used together as capital and small letters and they form a single alphabet used in Georgian Orthodox Church and is called khutsuri (priests'). While the Mkhedruli alphabet is used for writing, the modern Georgian language does not have capital or small letters.

See also Georgian Alphabet.


Sound system


Where there are multiple consonants for a point of articulation, they are given in the following order: voiceless / voiced / voiceless ejective.

Stopp b p'
ფ ბ პ
t d t'
თ დ ტ
 k g k'
ქ გ კ
s z
ს ზ
ʃ ʒ
შ ჟ
x ɣ
ხ ღ
Affricate ʦ ʣ ʦ'
ც ძ წ
ʧ ʤ ʧ'
ჩ ჯ ჭ
Liquid l, r
ლ, რ

1/q'/ has neither non-ejective nor voiced counterparts

It is important to note that some consonants in Georgian are combination of two sounds. These are:

,ʦ (dental and affricate, voiceless aspirated)

,ʣ (dental and affricate, voiced)

,ʦ' (dental and affricate, voiceless ejective)

Also compare these similar sounds:

, k (aspirated) and , k' (ejective)

, t (aspirated) and , t' (ejective)

, p (aspirated) and , p' (ejective)

, ʧ (aspirated) and , ʧ' (ejective)

In the ejective sounds, one creates a stronger stress in the sound that follows the consonant.

In Georgian there are two sounds resembling the English -h-:

, h (fricative and glottal) and , kh (fricative and velar).

While the first one sounds the same as h in the word hotel (IPA [h]), the second one does not have an English equivalent, but is articulated in the same place as English k and g. It is the same sound as in the Scottish word loch or the name of the composer Bach (IPA [x]).

There are many consonant clusters in Georgian, while all nouns end with a vowel in the nominative case. Many nouns in Georgian begin with two consonants (see the examples section).

a - ɔ - ɛ - ɪ - ʊ -

Some features of the Georgian phonotactics.
The language contains some formidable consonant clusters, as may be seen in words like gvprtskvni ("You peel us") and mtsvrtneli ("trainer").




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 Georgian grammar for a more detailed discussion).


Syncope is a common phenomenon in Georgian. 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 cases of the noun: nominative, ergative, dative, genitive, instrumental, adverbial and vocative. An interesting feature of Georgian is that, while in almost all other languages the subject of a sentence is always 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 is a post-positional language, meaning that the adpositions are placed after the noun (most of them as suffixes and some of them as separate words) rather than being stated before it. There are several post-positions corresponding to the meanings of prepositions in English. Each post-position requires a specific case of the noun to which it is attached (this is akin to the use of prepositions in German).

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 or German. 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.



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.

Georgian has a vigesimal number system, based on the counting system of 20. In order to express a number greater than 20 and less than 100, first the number of 20's in the number is stated and the remaining number is added. For example, 93 is expressed as four-score-and-thirteen.



Word formations

Georgian has a word derivation system, which allows to derive nouns from verb roots both with prefixes and suffixes.

• From the root -ts'er- ("write"), the words ts'erili ("letter") and mts'erali ("writer") are derived.

• From the root -ts- ("give"), the word gadatsema ("broadcast") is derived.

• From the root -tsd- ("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

In Georgian many nouns and adjectives begin with two or more contiguous consonants. Because every letter in Georgian is to be pronounced, a non-native speaker may find it especially hard to say the words that begin with more than one consonant. However, since it is physically impossible to pronounce many pairs of two contiguous consonants which do not have a preceding vowel, an epenthetic vowel -ı- emerges between the two sounds. In English, the closest sound to this is in the word rhythm, which can be heard in the pronunciation of the letters -th- and -m.

When a consonant follows one of the double-sound consonants (, , ), the epenthetic -ı- is heard between the first and the second consonant, not in between the two sounds of the first consonant. For example, in the pronunciation of წქ (ts'k), the -ı- is between the s and the k; not in between the t and the s. Therefore, it is pronounced like, "tsık."

When another consonant precedes one of these, again the epenthetic vowel is heard not in between the two sounds of the consonant, but right after the first consonant. In the example of ვწერ (vts'er), "I write," the phantom vowel emerges between the letters and .

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:

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 (the epenthetic is pronounced between the first two):

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 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 this word begins with eight consonants:

გვფრცქვნი (gvprtskvni), "you peel us"

Based on: Wikipedia - Georgian language

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Page last update: 19 June, 2008