Georgian is a South Caucasian or Kartvelian language spoken by about 4.1 million people mainly in Georgia, and also in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran.
Georgian is thought to share a common ancestral language with the other South Caucasian languages. Svan is believed to have split from this language during the 2nd millenium BC, and the other languages split up around 1,000 years later.
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 (ႠႱႭႫႧႠႥႰႳႺႠ - "capital letters") or Mrglovani (ႫႰႢႥႪႭႥႠႬႨ - "rounded"), which was used until the 9th century. Asomtavruli was probably modelled on the Greek alphabet, though nobody knows who was responsible for this. Armenian scholars believe that Mesrop Mashtots' (Մեսրոպ Մաշտոց), an Armenian missionary, created Asomtavruli, while Georgian scholars believe that King Pharnavaz I (ფარნავაზი) of Kartli (Iberia) did so.
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 language, 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 1860s when Ilia Chavchavadze introduced a number of reforms.
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 - a reading grammar (PDF)
Georgian transliteration and spell checkers
Online Georgian news and radio
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