Georgian language

Georgian (ქართული)
Spoken in: Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia
Region: Europe, Asia, North America
Total speakers: 7.5 million
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Caucasian

 South Caucasian

Official status
Official language of: Georgia
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1ka
ISO 639-2geo (B) / kat (T)
See also: LanguageList of languages

Georgian (also Kartvelian; Kartuli in Georgian) is the official language of Georgia, a republic in the Caucasus. For the origin of the name, see the Georgia article.

Georgian is the primary language of about 4,000,000 people in Georgia itself (83% of the population), and of another 3.4 million people abroad (chiefly in Turkey, Russia, USA and Europe with smaller communities in Iran and Azerbaijan). It is the literary language for all ethnographic groups of Georgian people, especially those who speak other South Caucasian languages (Svans, Megrelians, and the Laz).


The language

Linguistic classification

Template:IPA notice 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.

History of the language

Georgian is believed to have separated from Megrelian and Laz in the third 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 very rich literary tradition. The oldest surviving literary text in Georgian is the "Martyrdom of Saint Shushaniki, the Queen" (Tsamebay tsmindisa Shushanikisi, dedoplisa) by Iakob Tsurtaveli, from the 5th century AD.

Linguistic features

  • Georgian is a phonetic language, meaning that it is read exactly as it is written.
  • The language contains some formidable consonant clusters, as may be seen in words like gvprtskvni ("You peel us") and mtsvrtneli ("trainer"). 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 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 upto 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).
  • 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 it is in English or other Germanic languages such as 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).
  • 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, megobrebi (megobrebi), with the loss of a in the last syllable of the word root.
  • 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-twenty-and-thirteen.


See Georgian grammar


See Georgian alphabet



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

  Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stop ფ/ ბ/ პ თ/ დ/ ტ   ქ/ გ/ კ 1 
Fricative ს/ ზ შ/ ჟ   ხ/ ღ
Affricate   ც/ ძ/ წ ჩ/ ჯ/ ჭ      
Liquid   ლ, რ        

1 has neither non-ejective nor voiced counterparts

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

  • , "ts" (dental and affricate, voiced)
  • , "dz" (dental and affricate, voiceless aspirated)
  • , "ts' " (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)
  • , "č" (aspirated) and , "č' " (ejective)

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

In Georgian there are two kinds of -h-:

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

While the first one sounds the same as h in the word hotel, the second one does not have an English equivalent. This sound is formed in the back of the tounge in the larynx. Arabic language also has this sound.

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



See also: Georgian in Iran


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"), 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 gamoprena ("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'asauzmob ("eat a little breakfast") is derived (The preverb ts'a- in Georgian could add the meaning "VERBing a little."
  • From the noun -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 noun -brma- ("blind"), the verbs dabrmaveba (the infinite form of both "to become blind" and "to blind someone") are derived.
  • From the noun -lamazi- ("beautiful"), the verb galamazeba (the infinite form of the verb "to become beautiful") is derived.
  • From the noun -sakhli- ("home"), the verb gadasakhleba (the infinite form of the verb "to relocate, to move") 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 two contiguous consonants which do not have a preceding vowel, a phantom 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, in the pronunciation of e in the word butter, and in the pronuncation of train between the letters t and r.

When a consonant follows one of the double-sound consonants (, , ), the phantom -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 phantom 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, (tkheni), "horse"
  • There are also many words that begin with three contiguous consonants (the phantom vowel 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"

Common phrases

External links and references


  • Georgian Website / Portal with info on Georgian culture and language (
  • Table copied from pgdudda's website.
  • online Georgian Grammar (
  • Pavle Ingorokva. Georgian inscriptions of antique.- Bulletin of ENIMK, vol. X, Tbilisi, 1941, pp. 411-427 (in Georgian)
  • 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)
  • Elene Machavariani. The graphical basis of the Georgian Alphabet, Tbilisi, 1982, 107 pp (in Georgian, French summary)
  • Ivane Javakhishvili. Georgian Paleography, Tbilisi, 1949, 500 pp (in Georgian)
  • Ramaz Pataridze. The Georgian Asomtavruli, Tbilisi, 1980, 600 pp (in Georgian)
  • "Great discovery" (about the expedition of Academician Levan Chilashvili).- Newspaper "Kviris Palitra", Tbilisi, April 21-27, 2003 (in Georgian)bg:Грузински език

ca:Georgi da:Georgisk (sprog) de:Georgische Sprache et:Gruusia keel es:Idioma georgiano eo:Kartvela lingvo fr:Gorgien it:Lingua georgiana ka:ქართული ენა li:Georgisch lv:Gruzīnu valoda nl:Georgisch ja:グルジア語 no:Georgisk sprk pl:Język gruziński pt:Lngua georgiana fi:Georgian kieli sv:Georgiska


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