The Georgian Alphabet

June 6th, 2013

The Georgian alphabet is actually three alphabets, thought the most modern is completely dominant.

Three Amigos

What’s curious about the Georgian alphabet is that there are more than one. There are, in fact, three – but despite the fact that they look quite different in the way the letters are formed, their letters occur in the same order and are known by the same letter names.

The generic word for alphabet in Georgian is ანბანი (anbani), which is composed of the first two letters of the names of the three alphabets in use. Even more confusing, the three alphabets are sometimes mixed within one written work! The Georgian alphabet is, in fact, one of the more interesting linguistic elements I’ve had the pleasure of investigating, merely for its messy and adventurous nature.

Asomtavruli

The asomtavruli alphabet is the oldest form of Georgian writing and is what you’ll find in ancient books and on ancient monuments in the region. The letter “A” looks like “Ⴀ”. The word literally means “capital letters” and it has no lowercase form. You still encounter this alphabet today in certain uses, such as typesetting book titles or other stylistic flourishes.

Nuskhuri

This alphabet emerged in the 9th century and was mainly used in hagiography or the studies of Christian saints, which often uses specialised ‘holy’ alphabets. You rarely encounter Nuskhuri today, but it does turn up from time to time.

Mkhedruli

By far the most common Georgian Alphabet is Mkhedruli, which literally means military. It first emerged in the 11th century and became the more or less default form of the alphabet in the 19th century. Like it’s predecessors, it has no lowercase, but some modern writers have used Asomtavruli letter as capitals when writing in Mkhedruli, to mixed success and reception.

Latin in Georgia

It’s quite common to post everything in both Mkhedruli and Latin transcriptions in modern Georgia; for example you will see signs for both “თბილისი” and “Tbilisi” when driving the roads in Georgia. While this means you don’t necessarily have to memorise the alphabet in order to understand where you are, it’s not universal at all, so don’t rely on it!

The Georgian alphabet is challenging and beautiful, with a rich history that’s honoured every day by the remarkable fact that all three of its ancient alphabets are still in use to some extent! Personally, I love the idea of using the oldest form as capital letters, even though it is purely ornamental.

Image courtesy 1.bp.blogspot.com/

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