Georgian Language

Georgian Language

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Georgian (ქართული Kartuli)
Spoken in        Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia
Total speakers         4.1 million
Language family        South Caucasian (Kartvelian) Georgian
Official status
Official language of Georgia
Regulated by no official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ka
ISO 639-2 geo (B) kat (T)
ISO/DIS 639-3 kat

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

Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stop p b p’
ფ ბ პ
t d t’
თ დ ტ
k g k’
ქ გ კ
Fricative v
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
Nasal m
Liquid l, r
ლ, რ

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

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.

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