Georgian is a South Caucasian or Kartvelian language. It is spoken mainly in Georgia, where it is the official language. In 2016 there were about 3.4 million speakers of Georgian in Georgian. There are Georgian speakers in a number of other countries, including the Russian Federation (171,000), Turkey (151,000), Iran (64,100) and Azerbaijan (30,000).
Georgian is thought to share a common ancestral language with the other South Caucasian languages. It started to develop as a separate language during the 1st millenium BC in an area that became the Kingdom of Iberia (c. 302 BC - 580 AD). It was first referred to in writing in the 2nd century AD by the Roman grammarian, Marcus Cornelius Fronto, in a letter to the emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The Georgian language first appeared in writing in about 430 AD in an inscription in a church in Palestine in an alphabet known as Asomtavruli. Before then the main written language used in Georgia was a form of Aramaic known as Armazuli (არმაზული დამწერლობა). Two other alphabets have been used to write Georgian: Nushkhuri and Mkhedruli, which is the alphabet currently used.
The Georgian language first appeared in writing in about 430 AD in an inscription in a church in Palestine. At that time it was written with an alphabet known as Asomtavruli (ასომთავრული - "capital letters") or Mrglovani (რგლოვანი - "rounded"), which was used until the 9th century. Asomtavruli was probably modelled on the Greek alphabet, and Georgian scholars believe that King Pharnavaz I (ფარნავაზი) of Kartli (Iberia) created it.
During the 9th century, Asomtavruli was gradually replaced by a more angular alphabet known as Nuskhuri ("minuscule, lowercase"), which was used until the 11th century.
The Mkhedruli alphabet developed from Nuskhuri between the 11th and 13th centuries. The name Mkhedruli comes from the word mkhedari which means 'of horseman'.
At first Mkhedruli was used only for secular writing, while for religious writings a mixture of the two older alphabets was used. Eventually Nuskhuri became the main alphabet for religious texts and Asomtavruli was used only for titles and for the first letters of sentences. This system of mixing the two alphabets was known as khucesi (priest) writing.
Eventually the two older alphabets fell out of use and Mkhedruli became the sole alphabet used to write Georgian. However, in the writings of a linguist called Akaki Shanidze (1887-1987) and in works written in his honour, letters from the Asomtavruli alphabet are used to mark proper names and the beginning of sentences. Shanidze's attempt to popularise such usage met with little success.
The first printed material in the Mkhedruli alphabet, a Georgian-Italian dictionary, was published in 1629 in Rome. Since then the alphabet has changed very little, though a few letters were added by Anton I in the 18th century, and 5 letters were dropped in the 1879 when the Society for the Spreading of Literacy among Georgians (ქართველთა შორის წერა-კითხვის გამავრცელებელი საზოგადოება), founded by Prince Ilia Chavchavadze (ილია ჭავჭავაძე), introduced a number of reforms.
How to write and pronounce Mkhedruli alphabet:
The transcription system used here is known as the National Transcription System, and was adopted in February 2002 by the State Department of Geodesy and Cartography of Georgia and the Institute of Linguistics of the Georgian Academy of Sciences.
Information about the Georgian alphabet from Konstantin Gugeshashvili
The top row of letters on each line is in the Asomtavruli alphabet, the second row is in the Nuskhuri alphabet, and third row is in the Mkhedruli alphabet.
Qvela adamiani ibadeba tavisupali da tanasts'ori tavisi ghirsebita da uplebebit. Mat minich'ebuli akvt goneba da sindisi da ertmanetis mimart unda iktseodnen dzmobis sulisk'vetebit.
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.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Georgian language courses
Georgian - a reading grammar (PDF)
Georgian transliteration and spell checkers
Online Georgian news and radio
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