Georgian alphabet: Wikis


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This article contains Georgian text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Georgian letters.
Georgian alphabet
Georgian Alphabet Sample.svg
Type Alphabet
Spoken languages South Caucasian (Kartvelian) languages
Time period c. 430 CE to present
Unicode range U+10A0–U+10FC
ISO 15924 Geor
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

The Georgian alphabet (Georgian: ქართული დამწერლობა [kartuli damts'erloba], literally "Georgian script") is the writing system used to write the Georgian language and other South Caucasian (Kartvelian) languages (Mingrelian, Svan, sometimes Laz), and occasionally other languages of the Caucasus such as Ossetic and Abkhaz during the 1940s.[1] The Georgian language has phonemic orthography and the modern alphabet has thirty-three letters.

The word meaning "alphabet," Georgian: ანბანი [anbani], is derived from the names of the first two letters of the Georgian alphabets. The three independent alphabets have the interesting characteristic of looking very dissimilar to one another yet share the same alphabetic order and letter names. The alphabets may be seen mixed to some extent, though Georgian is officially unicameral meaning there is normally no distinction between upper and lower case in any of the alphabets.


History of the Georgian alphabets

The three forms of the Georgian alphabet
Ancient Asomtavruli version of Georgian alphabet in David Gareja Monastery.
Modern street sign in Georgian and Latin alphabets.

The writing of the Georgian language has progressed through three forms, known by their Georgian names: Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri, and Mkhedruli. They have always been distinct alphabets, even if they have been used together to write the same languages, and even though these alphabets share the same letter names and collation. Although the most recent alphabet, Mkhedruli, contains more letters than the two historical ones, those extra letters are no longer needed for writing modern Georgian.

The Georgian kingdom of Iberia converted to Christianity in the 330s AD. Scholars believe that the creation of an Old Georgian alphabet modeled upon the Greek alphabet[2] was instrumental in making religious scripture more accessible to the Georgians. This happened in the 4th or 5th century, not long after conversion. The oldest uncontested example of Georgian writing is an Asomtavruli inscription from 430 AD in a church in Bethlehem.

It has been believed [3] [4] that the Georgian alphabet was created by Mesrop Mashtots (who also created the Armenian alphabet around 405 AD). This viewpoint, based on the Armenian sources of the 5th-7th centuries, is accepted by encyclopaedias [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] , as well as by authoritative scholars [3] [4] [10] [11] . John Greppin and Russian scholar Perikhanian admit that Mesrop Mashtots was not the only creator of the Georgian alphabet, though it could not appear without his participation [12] [13] .

Georgian historical tradition attributes the invention of the Georgian alphabets to the semi-mythical Parnavaz I of Iberia in the 3rd century BC. Georgian scholars believed that the Georgian alphabet was created before Mesrop Mashtots [14] [15] [16] [17] . The modern Georgian scholar Levan Chilashvili, on the basis of dating the Nekresi inscription in eastern Georgia to the 1st-2nd century AD, claimed that Parnavaz probably created the scripts in order to translate the Avesta (sacred Zoroastrian writings) into Georgian. However, a pre-Christian origin for the Georgian scripts has not been firmly supported by archaeological evidence. According to Donald Rayfield, the assumption that the Georgian script has pre-Christian origin, is rather unfounded and was not confirmed by archaeological findings [4] . Stephen H. Rapp, too, has questioned such a dating [18] .


Asomtavruli, the historical monumental alphabet

Examples of the earliest alphabet, Asomtavruli (also known as Mrgvlovani), are still preserved in monumental inscriptions such as those of the Georgian church in Bethlehem (near Jerusalem, 430 AD) and the church of Bolnisi Sioni near Tbilisi (4th-5th centuries).

Asomtavruli (ასომთავრული,"capital letters") derives from aso (ასო, "letter, type") and mtavari (მთავარი, "main, chief, principal, head"). Mrgvlovani (მრგვლოვანი, "rounded") is related to the word mrgvali (მრგვალი, "round"). Despite its common Georgian name, this rounded alphabet was originally purely unicameral, just like the modern Georgian alphabet.

Incidentally, a unique local form of Aramaic writing known as Armazuli (არმაზული დამწერლობა, armazuli damts'erloba, i.e. the "Armazian script") existed before that, as demonstrated by the 1940s discovery of a bilingual Greco-Aramaic inscription at Mtskheta, Georgia. It is conceivable that local pre-Christian records did exist, but were subsequently destroyed by zealous Christians. Many found more palatable the idea that the medieval Georgian chronicles actually refer to the introduction of a local form of written Aramaic during the reign of Parnavaz [18] . None of these traditions seems to have much currency as, in the view of modern scholars, the only convincing explanation for the similarities has to be the same influences rather than the same creator.[19]

Asomtavruli letters
Note that some fonts for modern Georgian do not show the actual Asomtavruli forms for these letters, but instead show taller ("capitalized") variants of the modern Mkhedruli alphabet (see below).

This unicameral alphabet is still used today in some section headings and book titles, and sometimes used in a pseudo-bicameral way by varying the glyph sizes for creating capitals. Since it is no longer used for writing Georgian, it has also been reused in a creative way for writing capital letters, along with letters of one of the two other Georgian alphabets.

Nuskhuri, the ecclesiastical alphabet

The Nuskhuri (ნუსხური "minuscule, lowercase") alphabet first appeared in the 9th century. It was mostly used in ecclesiastical works. Nuskhuri is related to the word nuskha (ნუსხა "inventory, schedule").

Nuskhuri letters
ⴍⴣ, ⴓ

The forms of the Khutsuri letters may have been derived from the northern Arsacid variant of the Pahlavi (or Middle Iranian) script, which itself was derived from the older Aramaic, although the direction of writing (from left to right), the use of separate symbols for the vowel sounds, the numerical values assigned to the letters in earlier times, and the order of the letters all point to significant Greek influence on the script.[20]

However, the Georgian linguist Tamaz Gamkrelidze argues that the forms of the letters are freely invented in imitation of the Greek model rather than directly based upon earlier forms of the Aramaic alphabet, even though the Georgian phonological inventory is very different from Greek.

Like the monumental Asomtavruli alphabet, this squared alphabet was initially purely unicameral. However, it has also been used also along with the Asomtavruli alphabet (serving as capital letters in religious manuscripts) to form the Khutsuri (ხუცური "ecclesiastical") bicameral style that is still used sometimes today.

Mkhedruli, the current, originally secular alphabet

The currently used alphabet, called Mkhedruli (მხედრული, "cavalry" or "military"), first appeared in the 11th century. It was used for non-religious purposes up until the eighteenth century, when it completely replaced the Khutsuri style (that used the two previous alphabets). Mkhedruli is related to mkhedari (მხედარი, "horseman", "knight", or "warrior"); Khutsuri is related to khutsesi (ხუცესი, "elder" or "priest").

Mkhedruli letters

Like the two other alphabets, the Mkhedruli alphabet is purely unicameral. However, certain modern writers have experimented with using Asomtavruli letters as capitals, simliarly to Khutsuri script style. In some cases, this may be a conflation with the religious Khutsuri style rather than the result of a creative design choice. Georgians often consider this bicameral use of Mkhedruli an error because some Mkhedruli letters lack equivalents in the other alphabets. Others use the Mkhedruli alphabet alone in a pseudo-bicameral way, adapting letter sizes to create capital letters, known as Mtavruli for titles and headings. Mtavruli (მთავრული) means "titlecase" and is an appropriate tribute to the older Asomtavruli.

In the older Asomtavruli, the sound /u/ was represented by the digraph <ႭჃ> or as <Ⴓ>, a modified <Ⴍ>. Nuskhuri saw the combination of the digraph <ⴍⴣ> into a ligature, <ⴓ> (cf. Greek ου, Cyrillic Ѹ/). However, Mkhedruli normally uses only <უ> as opposed to a digraph or ligature, and uses <უ> instead of obsolete <ჳ> (below) to represent the value 400.

Obsolete letters

Eight of the forty-one Mkhedruli letters (shaded above) are now obsolete. Five of these, <ჱ> (he), <ჲ> (hie), <ჳ> (vie), <ჴ> (qar), and <ჵ> (hoe) were used in Old Georgian. The last three, <ჶ> (fi), <ჷ> (shva), and <ჸ> (elifi), were later additions to the Georgian alphabet.

  • <ჱ> (he), sometimes called "ei" or "e-merve" ("eighth e"). As in Ancient Greek (Ηη, Ͱͱ, ēta), it holds the eighth place in the Georgian alphabet. The name and shapes of the letter in Asomtavruli <Ⴡ> and Nuskhuri <ⴡ> also resemble Greek's tack-shaped archaic consonantal heta. In old Georgian, he was interchangeable with the digraph <ეჲ>. It represented [ei] or [ej].
  • <ჲ> (hie), also called iot'a, often marked Georgian nouns in the nominative case. In Old Georgian, it represented [i] or [j].
  • <ჳ> (vie) represented the diphthong [ui] or [uj]. It holds the same position and numerical value as Ancient Greek's Υυ upsilon, which its Asomtavruli <Ⴣ> and Nuskhuri <ⴣ> versions resemble. Its modern pronunciation is usually like <უ> [u] or <ი> [i].
  • <ჴ> (qar, har) represented [q] or [qʰ], the non-ejective counterpart to <ყ> (q'ar) above. Although this consonant is still distinguished in Svan, its modern pronunciation in Georgian is identical to <ხ> [χ].
  • <ჵ> (hoe), also called oh, represented a long <ო>, [oː].
  • <ჶ> (fi) was borrowed to represent the phoneme /f/ in loanwords from Latin and Greek such as ჶილოსოჶია (filosofia, 'philosophy'). Its name and shape derive from Greek. Its modern usage is a feature of Svan and Laz when written in the Georgian alphabet.
  • <ჷ> (shva), also called yn, represents the mid central vowel [ə]. It appears in written Mingrelian, Laz, and Svan.
  • <ჸ> (elifi) represents the glottal stop [ʔ]. Its name and pronunciation derive from Aramaic. It is used in written Mingrelian and rarely in Laz.


This table lists only the modern unicameral Mkhedruli alphabet (i.e. 33 letters that are convertible to the other two alphabets, excluding the 8 Mkhedruli letters that are now obsolete). "National" is the official transliteration system used by the Georgian government, while "Laz" is the official system used in northeastern Turkey for the Laz language.

Letters Unicode Name National ISO 9984 BGN Laz IPA
U+10D0 an A a A a A a A a /ɑ/
U+10D1 ban B b B b B b B b /b/
U+10D2 gan G g G g G g G g /ɡ/
U+10D3 don D d D d D d D d /d/
U+10D4 en E e E e E e E e /ɛ/
U+10D5 vin V v V v V v V v /v/
U+10D6 zen Z z Z z Z z Z z /z/
U+10D7 tan T t T' t' T' t' T t /tʰ/
U+10D8 in I i I i I i I i /i/
U+10D9 k'an K' k' K k K k K' k' /kʼ/
U+10DA las L l L l L l L l /l/
U+10DB man M m M m M m M m /m/
U+10DC nar N n N n N n N n /n/
U+10DD on O o O o O o O o /ɔ/
U+10DE p'ar P' p' P p P p P' p' /pʼ/
U+10DF žan Zh zh Ž ž Zh zh J j /ʒ/
U+10E0 rae R r R r R r R r /r/
U+10E1 san S s S s S s S s /s/
U+10E2 t'ar T' t' T t T t T' t' /tʼ/
U+10E3 un U u U u U u U u /u/
U+10E4 par P p P' p' P' p' P p /pʰ/
U+10E5 kan K k K' k' K' k' K k /kʰ/
U+10E6 ḡan Gh gh Ḡ ḡ Gh gh Ğ ğ /ɣ/
U+10E7 q'ar Q' q' Q q Q q Q q /qʼ/
U+10E8 šin Sh sh Š š Sh sh Ş ş /ʃ/
U+10E9 čin Ch ch Č' č' Ch' ch' Ç ç /tʃ/[21]
U+10EA can Ts ts C' c' Ts' ts' Ts ts /ts/[21]
U+10EB jil Dz dz J j Dz dz Ž ž /dz/
U+10EC c'il Ts' ts' C c Ts ts Ts' ts' /tsʼ/
U+10ED č'ar Ch' ch' Č č Ch ch Ç' ç' /tʃʼ/
U+10EE xan Kh kh X x Kh kh X x /x/
U+10EF ǰan J j J̌ ǰ J j C c /dʒ/
U+10F0 hae H h H h H h H h /h/

See also


  1. ^ "Georgian alphabet (Mkhedruli)". Retrieved 2009-04-22.  
  2. ^ "Encyclopaedia Britannica - Georgian language". Retrieved 2009-04-22.  
  3. ^ a b Lenore A. Grenoble. Language policy in the Soviet Union. Springer, 2003. ISBN 1402012985. P. 116. "The creation of the Georgian alphabet is generally attributed to Mesrop, who is also credited with the creation of the Armenian alphabet."
  4. ^ a b c Donald Rayfield "The Literature of Georgia: A History (Caucasus World). RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0700711635. P. 19. "The Georgian alphabet seems unlikely to have a pre-Christian origin, for the major archaeological monument of the first century 4IX the bilingual Armazi gravestone commemorating Serafua, daughter of the Georgian viceroy of Mtskheta, is inscribed in Greek and Aramaic only. It has been believed, and not only in Armenia, that all the Caucasian alphabets — Armenian, Georgian and Caucaso-AIbanian — were invented in the fourth century by the Armenian scholar Mesrop Mashtots.<...> The Georgian chronicles The Life of Kanli - assert that a Georgian script was invented two centuries before Christ, an assertion unsupported by archaeology. There is a possibility that the Georgians, like many minor nations of the area, wrote in a foreign language — Persian, Aramaic, or Greek — and translated back as they read."
  5. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia. Mesrob. "But his activity was not confined to Eastern Armenia. Provided with letters from Isaac he went to Constantinople and obtained from the Emperor Theodosius the Younger permission to preach and teach in his Armenian possessions. He evangelized successively the Georgians, Albanians, and Aghouanghks, adapting his alphabet to their languages, and, wherever he preached the Gospel, he built schools and appointed teachers and priests to continue his work. Having returned to Eastern Armenia to report on his missions to the patriarch, his first thought was to provide a religious literature for his countrymen."
  6. ^ Britannica. Alphabet. "The Aramaic alphabet was probably also the prototype of the Brāhmī script of India, a script that became the parent of nearly all Indian writings. Derived from the Aramaic alphabet, it came into being in northwest India. The Armenian and Georgian alphabets, created by St. Mesrob (Mashtots) in the early 5th century ad, were also based on the Aramaic alphabet."
  7. ^ Glen Warren Bowersock, Peter Robert Lamont Brown, Oleg Grabar. Late antiquity: a guide to the postclassical world. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0674511735. P. 289. James R. Russell. Alphabets. " Mastoc' was a charismatic visionary who accomplished his task at a time when Armenia stood in danger of losing both its national identity, through partition, and its newly acquired Christian faith, through Sassanian pressure and reversion to paganism. By preaching in Armenian, he was able to undermine and co-opt the discourse founded in native tradition, and to create a counterweight against both Byzantine and Syriac cultural hegemony in the church. Mastoc' also created the Georgian and Caucasian-Albanian alphabets, based on the Armenian model."
  8. ^ George L. Campbell. Compendium of the World’s Languages. — Routledge; New edition edition (May 14, 1998) — ISBN 0415160499. P. 183. "Old Georgian was written in the xucuri character, traditionally invented by Mesrop Mashtots, to whom the Armenians owe their script. In the eleventh century the ecclesiastical xucuri was replaced by the character known as the mxedruli 'civil', which is in use today. Georgian is the only Caucasian language to have developed its own script."
  9. ^ Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Merriam-Webster, 1995. ISBN 0877790426. P. 756. "Mesrob". "A collection of biblical commentaries, translations of patristic works, and liturgical prayers and hymns is credited to Mesrob, corroborating his reputation for having laid the foundation of a national Armenian liturgy. He is also credited with contributing to the origin of the Georgian alphabet."
  10. ^ Russian: «История Востока», ЗАКАВКАЗЬЕ В IV—XI вв — Институт Востоковедения РАН. "Христианизация закавказских стран имела важные последствия и для развития местной культуры. На рубеже IV-V вв. появилась армянская письменность, созданная Месропом Маштоцем. Не без его помощи были изобретены и национальные алфавиты в Грузии и Албании. "
  11. ^ Peter R. Ackroyd, C. F. Evans, Geoffrey William Hugo Lampe, Stanley Lawrence Greenslade. The Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to Jerome — Cambridge University Press, 1975 — ISBN 0521099730. P. 367. "Georgia was converted during the fourth century, tradition has it by the agency of an Armenian slave woman, and whether these details are in any measure true or not, the tradition probably indicates the source of the Georgians' knowledge of Christianity and the Christian scriptures. These did not begin to be translated into Georgian until Mesrop, provider of an Armenian alphabet, also supplied the Georgians with an adequate means of transcription for their speech."
  12. ^ Greppin, John A.C.: Some comments on the origin of the Georgian alphabet. — Bazmavep 139, 1981, 449-456
  13. ^ Russian: Периханян А. Г. К вопросу о происхождении армянской письменности // Переднеазиатский сборник. М.: Наука, 1966. Вып. 2. Стр. 127-133
  14. ^ Russian: Церетели Г. В. Армазское письмо и проблема происхождения грузинского алфавита. II // Эпиграфика Востока. М.; Л.: Изд-во АН СССР, 1949.
  15. ^ Russian: Бердзенишвили Н., Джавахишвили И., Джанашиа С. История Грузии: В 2 ч. Ч. 1. С древнейших времен до начала XIX в. Тбилиси: Госиздат ГССР, 1950.
  16. ^ Russian: Джанашиа С.Н. К вопросу о языке и истории хеттов. 1959 // Труды: В 3 т. Тбилиси: Изд-во АН ГССР
  17. ^ Russian: Tamaz Gamkrelidze. АЛФАВИТНОЕ ПИСЬМО И ДРЕВНЕГРУЗИНСКАЯ ПИСЬМЕННОСТЬ (Типология и происхождение алфавитных систем письма)
  18. ^ a b Stephen H. Rapp. Studies in medieval Georgian historiography: early texts and Eurasian contexts. Peeters Publishers, 2003. ISBN 9042913185. P. 19. "Moreover, all surviving MSS written in Georgian postdate K'art'li's fourth-century conversion to Christianity. Not a shred of dated evidence has come to light confirming the invention of a Georgian alphabet by King P'arnavaz in the third century ВС as is fabulously attested in the first text of K'C'<...> Cf. Chilashvili's "Nekresi" for the claim that a Geo. asomt'avruli burial inscription from Nekresi commemorates a Zoroastrian who died in the first/second century AD. Archaeological evidence confirms that a Zoroastrian temple once stood at Nekresi, but the date of the supposed grave marker is hopelessly circumstantial. Chilashvili reasons, on the basis of the first-/second-century date, that P'amavaz likely created the script in order to translate the Avesta (i.e.. sacred Zoroastrian writings) into Geo., thus turning on its head the argument that the Georgian script was deliberately fashioned by Christians in order to disseminate the New Testament. Though I accept eastern Georgia's intimate connection to Iran, I cannot support Chilashvili's dubious hypothesis. I find more palatable the idea that K'C actually refers to the introduction of a local form of written Aramaic during the reign of P'amavaz: Ceret'eli. "Aramaic," p. 243."
  19. ^ Unicode Demystified: A Practical Programmer's Guide to the Encoding Standard, p. 251
  20. ^ Armazi
  21. ^ a b Aronson (1990) depicts the two affricates as aspirated, though other scholars, like Shosted & Chikovani (2006) describe them as voiceless.


  • Aronson, Howard I. (1990). Georgian: a reading grammar (second ed.). Columbus, OH: Slavica.  
  • Shosted, Ryan K.; Vakhtang, Chikovani (2006), "Standard Georgian", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 36 (2): 255–264  

External links

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|250px|right|Ancient Asomtavruli version of Georgian alphabet in David Gareja Monastery by Paata Vardanshvili]] The Georgian alphabet is used to write in the Georgian language and other Kartvelian languages. The alphabet is called Mkhedruli, first said around in the 11th century.

Greek and Aramaic influences have been shown, but some Georgian scholars like Tamaz V. Gamkrelidze have said that they were freely invented in imitation of the Greek model rather than directly based upon earlier forms of the Aramaic alphabet even though the Georgian phonological inventory is very different from Greek.

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