South Caucasian languages (also known as
Iberian or Kartvelian) are spoken
primarily in Georgia, with
smaller groups of speakers in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Israel.
There are approximately 5.2 million speakers of this language
family group worldwide.
It is not known to be related to any other language group in the
first literary source (the inscription of Abba Antoni, composed in
ancient Georgian script at the Georgian monastery near Bethlehem) of the South Caucasian language dates back to 440
- Georgian languages
- Georgian (ქართული,
kartuli) with 4.1 million native speakers, including 3.9
million in Georgia, and about
50,000 each in Turkey and Iran, as well as
a diaspora of unknown true size (but presumed quite large) in
- Judaeo-Georgian ( ,
ebrauli, ), with about 80,000 speakers, of whom 60,000 are
in Israel, and 20,000
in Georgia. It may be considered a dialect of Georgian.
- Zan languages
- Mingrelian (მარგალური ნინა,
margaluri nina), with some 500,000 native speakers as of
1989, mainly in the Samegrelo (Mingrelia)
region of Western Georgia and (at the time) in the Gali district of eastern Abkhazia.
Mingrelian refugees from Abkhazia now live in Tbilisi and
elsewhere in Georgia.
- Laz (ლაზური ნენა, lazuri
nena), with 220,000 native speakers as of 1980, mostly in the
Black Sea littoral area of
Northeast Turkey, and with
some 30,000 in Adjara, Georgia.
language (ლუშნუ ნინ/შკა̈ნ, lušnu nin/šḳän),
with approximately 15,000 native speakers in the north-western
mountainous region of Svaneti,
These languages are clearly related, and Laz and Megrelian are
sometimes considered dialects of a single language, called "Zan".
The connection was first reported in linguistic literature by
in the 18th
century, and later proven by G. Rosen
, M. Brosset
, F. Bopp
during the 1840's. They are believed to have split off from a
, possibly spoken in the region of present-day Georgia
and Northern Turkey in the 3rd to 2nd millenniums BC.
Based on the degree of change
linguists (including A. Chikobava
, T. Gamkrelidze
, and G. Machavariani
) conjecture that the earliest
split, which separated Svan from the other languages, occurred in
the second millennium BC
earlier; while Megrelian and Laz were separated from Georgian
roughly a thousand years later, and split from each other roughly
500 years ago. However, these figures were derived using the
should be taken as tentative at best.
Judaeo-Georgian is sometimes regarded as a variant of Georgian,
modified by the inclusion of large numbers of Hebrew
and Aramaic loanwords
Its divergence from standard Georgian is comparatively
No relationship with other languages has been demonstrated so far,
not even with the North
, due to the lack of sound correspondences
between the South and North Caucasian families. Some linguists have
proposed that the Kartvelian family is part of a much larger
language family, but
both the concept of a Nostratic family and Georgian's relation
thereto are in doubt.
Certain grammatical similarities with Basque
, especially in the case system
, have often been pointed out.
However, these theories, which also tend to link the Caucasian
languages with other non-Indo-European and non-Semitic languages of
the Near East of ancient times, are generally considered to lack
conclusive evidence and must therefore be deemed purely
Any similarities to other linguistic phyla may be due to areal
influences. Heavy borrowing in both directions (i.e. from North
Caucasian to South Caucasian and vice versa) has been observed:
therefore it is likely that certain grammatical features have been
influenced as well. If the Dene-Caucasian
hypothesis, which attempts to
, North Caucasian
and other phyla,
is correct, then the similarities to Basque may also be due to
these influences, however indirect. It is now known that the
Proto-Kartvelian vocabulary was also influenced by Indo-European languages
extent, probably due to contact at an early stage between
Proto-Kartvelian and Proto-Indo-European cultures.
Social and cultural status
(kartuli) is the official language of the republic of Georgia (Sakartvelo)
(spoken by 90% of the population of this country), and the main
language for literary and business use for all Kartvelian speakers
It is written with an original and distinctive
alphabet, and the oldest surviving literary text dates from the 5th
century AD - the only Caucasian language that does possess an
ancient literary tradition. The old Georgian script seems to have
derived from Aramaic
, with Greek
Mingrelian has been written with the Georgian alphabet since 1864,
especially in the period from 1930 to 1938, when the Megrelians
enjoyed some cultural autonomy
and after 1989.
The Laz language was written chiefly between 1927 and 1937, and now
again in Turkey, with the Latin alphabet. Laz however is
disappearing as its speakers are integrating into mainstream
|"i weighed it"
- Reported Discourse: A Meeting Ground for Different Linguistic
Domains, by Tom Güldemann, Manfred von Roncado, p 3
- Ethnologue entry about the Kartvelian language
- Language in Danger, Andrew Dalby, p 38
- The Georgians, David Marshall Lang, p 154
- A Guide to the World's Languages: Classification, Merritt
Ruhlen, p 72
- The Georgians, David Marshal Lang, p 154
- Ethnologue entry about Judeo-Georgian
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th
edition (1986): Macropedia, "Languages of the World", see section
titled "Caucasian languages".