The Georgian alphabet is the script currently used to write the Georgian language and other Kartvelian languages (such as Mingrelian), and occasionally other languages of the Caucasus (such as Ossetic in the 1940s).
The modern alphabet has thirty-three letters. Originally it had more, but some letters (selected cells in the tables below) have become obsolete.
The Georgian script makes no distinction between upper and lower case. However, certain modern writers have experimented with using Asomtavruli letters (see below) as capitals.
Sample text 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’anascori tavisi ġirsebit’a da uplebebit’. Mat miničebuli ak’vt’ goneba da sindisi da ert’manet’is mimart’ unda ik’c’eodnen żmobis suliskvet’ebit’.
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)
History of the alphabet
The oldest uncontroversial examples of Georgian writing are an asomtavruli inscription in a church in Bethlehem from 430 CE. Gamkrelidze 1990 (Alphabetic Writing and the Old Georgian script) argues that it must have followed the advent of Christianity in Georgia (c. 337 CE), and that the forms of the letters are freely invented in imitation of the Greek model. However, many of the letter forms are similar to contemporary Sassanian Persian and Sogdian scripts, while the left-to-right writing direction and the order of the alphabet are Greek.
Older Armenian sources attribute the alphabet to Saint Mesrop Mashtots, who is credited with the invention of the Armenian alphabet, but this is not generally accepted.
There are other interpretations. One of the more contentious is that the asomtavruli alphabet was invented in 412 BC by Georgian priests of the cult of Matra (Persian Mithra), and reformed in 284 BC by king Parnavaz I of Iberia.
The Asomtavruli alphabet is known also as Mrgvlovani (“rounded”). Examples of it are still preserved in monumental inscriptions, such as those of the Georgian church in Bethlehem (near Jerusalem, 430) and the church of Bolnisi Sioni near Tbilisi (4th-5th centuries). Older Asomtavruli inscriptions have been claimed to date from pre-Christian times, the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. These were found in Armaztsikhe (near Mtskheta) and Nekresi (in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia), in 1940 and 1995–2003 by the scientific expeditions of Simon Janashia (1900-1947) and Levan Chilashvili. The inscriptions from Armaztsikhe were investigated by Pavle Ingorokva.
The Nuskhuri (“minuscule”) or Kutkhovani (“squared”) script first appeared in the ninth century. Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri, collectively known as Khutsuri (ხუცური, or “church script”), were used together to write religious manuscripts, with the Asomtavruli serving as capital letters.
The modern alphabet, called Mkhedruli (მხედრული, “secular” or “military writing”), first appeared in the eleventh century. It was used for non-religious purposes up until the eighteenth century, when it completely replaced Khutsuri. Georgian linguists claim that the orthography is phonemic.
The Georgian alphabet
I: Asomtavruli (“capital”) or Mrgvlovani (“rounded”): oldest alphabet
II: Nuskhuri (“minuscule”) or Kutkhovani (“squared”), also Khutsuri (“church script”): mainly miniscules for Asomtavruli
III: Mkhedruli (“secular” or “military writing””): the modern alphabet
IV: names of the letters
V: numeric values of the letters
VI: Latin transcription