The History of the Georgian Language

June 6th, 2013

Georgian has a very old, unbroken history that dates back to the earliest years of human civilisation.

Ancient Georgian

Georgian is one of the oldest continuously spoken languages in the world today. It’s part of the Caucasian family of languages, a language family that’s interesting in itself for being largely disconnected from the rest of the languages in the world. With roots in the Caucasus region of the world, this family of languages didn’t experience the widespread migration so many other languages went through. For example, the Uralic languages managed to stretch all the way from southern Asia to Finland! But the Casucasion languages have remained in the Caucasus area for their entire history.

Georgian as a distinct language can be traced back to at least the fifth century in recognisable form, which is remarkable. Consider that modern English only dates back to the 14th century! Strangely, the earliest evidence of Georgian is found on a stone plaque located in Palestine, of all places, dated to the fifth century CE.

What’s interesting about this is the fact that Georgian was already being written out in the earliest form of the Georgian alphabet. This early script was probably based on the Greek alphabet by way of the Aramaic alphabet, and displayed fast evolution as later inscriptions were found. Georgian was already an established and mature language at this early date.

Georgian Evolution

Georgia and the surrounding regions were located at a crucial geographical point on the earth, a crossroad where many different cultures met as trade and economic ties brought travellers, missionaries, and merchants. As a result, you can literally see Georgian adopting the sounds, words, and grammar of other languages, including Turkish, Arabic, and even Greek, among many others.

This process combined with the deep, unbroken roots of the language have conspired to make Georgian one of the most unique and interesting languages in the world, simultaneously clearly linked to its earliest forms and yet obviously much changed and altered through centuries of evolution and cultural exchange. It remains unique in its sound and structure, and represents an unbroken chain from the earliest days of human civilisation.

The process of borrowing that Georgian has undergone also represents a clear record of cultures coming into contact with each other and reacting to new ideas. From a linguistic and historical perspective, there are few languages that are as rich and interesting as Georgian!

Image courtesy geocurrents.info

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