Georgian scripts are unique in their appearance and their exact origin has never been established; however, in strictly structural terms, their alphabetical order
largely corresponds to the Greek alphabet
, with the exception of letters denoting uniquely Georgian sounds, which are grouped at the end.
Originally consisting of 38 letters
Georgian is presently written in a 33-letter alphabet, as five letters are obsolete. The number of Georgian letters used in other Kartvelian languages varies. Mingrelian
uses 36: thirty-three that are current Georgian letters, one obsolete Georgian letter, and two additional letters specific to Mingrelian and Svan
uses the same 33 current Georgian letters as Mingrelian plus that same obsolete letter and a letter borrowed from Greek
for a total of 35. The fourth Kartvelian language, Svan, is not commonly written, but when it is
, it uses Georgian letters as utilized in Mingrelian, with an additional obsolete Georgian letter and sometimes supplemented by diacritics
for its many vowels.
The three Georgian scripts: Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri, and Mkhedruli.
The origin of the Georgian script is poorly known, and no full agreement exists among Georgian and foreign scholars as to its date of creation, who designed the script, and the main influences on that process.
The first attested version of the script is Asomtavruli
which dates back at least to the 5th century; the other scripts were formed in the following centuries. Most scholars link the creation of the Georgian script to the process of Christianization of Iberia
(not to be confused with the Iberian Peninsula
), a core Georgian kingdom of Kartli
The alphabet was therefore most probably created between the conversion of Iberia under King Mirian III
(326 or 337) and the Bir el Qutt inscriptions
contemporaneously with the Armenian alphabet
It was first used for translation of the Bible and other Christian literature into Georgian
, by monks in Georgia and Palestine
Professor Levan Chilashvili
's dating of fragmented Asomtavruli
inscriptions, discovered by him at the ruined town of Nekresi
, in Georgia's easternmost province of Kakheti
, in the 1980s, to the 1st or 2nd century has not been accepted.
A Georgian tradition first attested in the medieval chronicle Lives of the Kings of Kartli
assigns a much earlier, pre-Christian origin to the Georgian alphabet, and names King Pharnavaz I
(3rd century BC) as its inventor. This account is now considered legendary, and is rejected by scholarly consensus, as no archaeological confirmation has been found.
Rapp considers the tradition to be an attempt by the Georgian Church to rebut the earlier tradition that the alphabet was invented by the Armenian scholar Mesrop Mashtots
, and is a Georgian application of an Iranian model in which primordial kings are credited with the creation of basic social institutions.
Georgian linguist Tamaz Gamkrelidze
offers an alternative interpretation of the tradition, in the pre-Christian use of foreign scripts (alloglottography
in the Aramaic alphabet
) to write down Georgian texts.
Another point of contention among scholars is the role played by Armenian clerics
in that process. According to medieval Armenian sources and a number of scholars, Mesrop Mashtots
, generally acknowledged as the creator of the Armenian alphabet
, also created the Georgian and Caucasian Albanian alphabets
. This tradition originates in the works of Koryun
, a fifth-century historian and biographer of Mashtots,
and has been quoted by Donald Rayfield
and James R. Russell
but has been rejected by Georgian scholarship and some Western scholars who judge the passage in Koryun unreliable or even a later interpolation.
In his study on the history of the invention of the Armenian alphabet and the life of Mashtots, the Armenian linguist Hrachia Acharian
defended Koryun as a reliable source and rejected criticisms of his accounts on the invention of the Georgian script by Mashtots.
Some Western scholars quote Koryun's claims without taking a stance on its validity
or concede that Armenian clerics, if not Mashtots himself, must have played a role in the creation of the Georgian script.
Another controversy regards the main influences at play in the Georgian alphabet, as scholars have debated whether it was inspired more by the Greek alphabet
, or by Semitic alphabets such as Aramaic
Recent historiography focuses on greater similarities with the Greek alphabet than in the other Caucasian writing systems, most notably the order and numeric value of letters.
Some scholars have also suggested certain pre-Christian Georgian cultural symbols or clan markers as a possible inspiration for particular letters.
: ასომთავრული; Georgian pronunciation: [ɑsɔmtʰɑvruli]
) is the oldest Georgian script. The name Asomtavruli
means "capital letters", from aso
(ასო) "letter" and mtavari
(მთავარი) "principal/head". It is also known as Mrgvlovani
: მრგვლოვანი) "rounded", from mrgvali
(მრგვალი) "round", so named because of its round letter shapes. Despite its name, this "capital" script is unicameral
, just like the modern Georgian script, Mkhedruli.
From the 9th century, Nuskhuri script started becoming dominant, and the role of Asomtavruli was reduced. However, epigraphic
monuments of the 10th to 18th centuries continued to be written in Asomtavruli script. Asomtavruli in this later period became more decorative. In the majority of 9th-century Georgian manuscripts which were written in Nuskhuri script, Asomtavruli was used for titles and the first letters of chapters.
However, some manuscripts written completely in Asomtavruli can be found until the 11th century.
Form of Asomtavruli letters
In early Asomtavruli, the letters are of equal height. Georgian historian and philologist Pavle Ingorokva
believes that the direction of Asomtavruli, like that of Greek, was initially boustrophedon
, though the direction of the earliest surviving texts is from left to the right.
In most Asomtavruli letters, straight lines are horizontal or vertical and meet at right angles. The only letter with acute angles
is Ⴟ (ჯ jani
). There have been various attempts to explain this exception. Georgian linguist and art historian Helen Machavariani believes jani
derives from a monogram of Christ
, composed of the Ⴈ (ი ini
) and Ⴕ (ქ kani
According to Georgian scholar Ramaz Pataridze, the cross-like shape of letter jani
indicates the end of the alphabet, and has the same function as the similarly shaped Phoenician
), Greek chi
(Χ), and Latin X
though these letters do not have that function in Phoenician, Greek, or Latin.
From the 7th century, the forms of some letters began to change. The equal height of the letters was abandoned, with letters acquiring ascenders and descenders.
In Nuskhuri manuscripts, Asomtavruli are used for titles and illuminated capitals
. The latter were used at the beginnings of paragraphs which started new sections of text. In the early stages of the development of Nuskhuri texts, Asomtavruli letters were not elaborate and were distinguished principally by size and sometimes by being written in cinnabar
ink. Later, from the 10th century, the letters were illuminated. The style of Asomtavruli capitals can be used to identify the era of a text. For example, in the Georgian manuscripts of the Byzantine
era, when the styles of the Byzantine Empire
influenced Kingdom of Georgia
, capitals were illuminated with images of birds and other animals.
Decorative Asomtavruli capital letters, მ
(m) and თ
(t), 12–13th century.
From the 11th-century "limb-flowery", "limb-arrowy" and "limb-spotty" decorative forms of Asomtavruli are developed. The first two are found in 11th- and 12th-century monuments, whereas the third one is used until the 18th century.
Importance was attached also to the colour of the ink itself.
Asomtavruli letter დ
) is often written with decoration effects of fish
The "Curly" decorative form of Asomtavruli is also used where the letters are wattled or intermingled on each other, or the smaller letters are written inside other letters. It was mostly used for the headlines of the manuscripts or the books, although there are complete inscriptions which were written in the Asomtavruli "Curly" form only.
Handwriting of Asomtavruli
The following table shows the stroke order and direction of each Asomtavruli letter:
: ნუსხური; Georgian pronunciation: [nusxuri]
) is the second Georgian script. The name nuskhuri
comes from nuskha
(ნუსხა), meaning "inventory" or "schedule". Nuskhuri was soon augmented with Asomtavruli illuminated capitals
in religious manuscripts. The combination is called Khutsuri
: ხუცური, "clerical", from khutsesi
"), and it was principally used in hagiography
Nuskhuri first appeared in the 9th century as a graphic variant of Asomtavruli.
The oldest inscription is found in the Ateni Sioni Church
and dates to 835 AD.
The oldest surviving Nuskhuri manuscripts date to 864 AD.
Nuskhuri becomes dominant over Asomtavruli from the 10th century.
Form of Nuskhuri letters
Nuskhuri letters vary in height, with ascenders and descenders, and are slanted to the right. Letters have an angular shape, with a noticeable tendency to simplify the shapes they had in Asomtavruli. This enabled faster writing of manuscripts.
Asomtavruli letters ო
) and ჳ
). A ligature of these letters produced a new letter in Nuskhuri, უ uni
Note: Without proper font support, you may see question marks, boxes or other symbols instead of Nuskhuri letters.
Handwriting of Nuskhuri
The following table shows the stroke order and direction of each Nuskhuri letter:
Use of Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri today
Asomtavruli is used intensively in iconography
, murals, and exterior design, especially in stone engravings.
Georgian linguist Akaki Shanidze
made an attempt in the 1950s to introduce Asomtavruli into the Mkhedruli script as capital letters to begin sentences, as in the Latin script, but it did not catch on.
Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri are officially used by the Georgian Orthodox Church
alongside Mkhedruli. Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia
called on people to use all three Georgian scripts.
Mkhedruli is bicameral
, with capital letters that are called Mkhedruli Mtavruli (მხედრული მთავრული) or simply Mtavruli (მთავრული; Georgian pronunciation: [mtʰɑvruli]
). Nowadays, Mtavruli is typically used in all-caps
text in titles or to emphasize a word, though in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was occasionally used, as in Latin and Cyrillic scripts, to capitalize proper nouns or the first word of a sentence.
Mkhedruli first appears in the 10th century. The oldest Mkhedruli inscription is found in Ateni Sioni Church
dating back to 982 AD. The second oldest Mkhedruli-written text is found in the 11th-century royal charters of King Bagrat IV of Georgia
. Mkhedruli was mostly used then in the Kingdom of Georgia
for the royal charters
, historical documents, manuscripts and inscriptions.
Mkhedruli was used for non-religious purposes only and represented the "civil", "royal" and "secular" script.
Mkhedruli became more and more dominant over the two other scripts, though Khutsuri (Nuskhuri with Asomtavruli) was used until the 19th century. Mkhedruli became the universal writing Georgian system outside of the Church in the 19th century with the establishment and development of printed Georgian fonts.
Form of Mkhedruli letters
Mkhedruli inscriptions of the 10th and 11th centuries are characterized in rounding of angular shapes of Nuskhuri letters and making the complete outlines in all of its letters. Mkhedruli letters are written in the four-linear system, similar to Nuskhuri. Mkhedruli becomes more round and free in writing. It breaks the strict frame of the previous two alphabets, Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri. Mkhedruli letters begin to get coupled and more free calligraphy develops.
Example of one of the oldest Mkhedruli-written texts found in the royal charter of King Bagrat IV of Georgia
, 11th century.
Modern Georgian alphabet
The modern Georgian alphabet consists of 33 letters:
Letters removed from the Georgian alphabet
- ჱ (he) /eɪ/, Svan /eː/, sometimes called "ei" or "e-merve" ("eighth e"), was equivalent to ეჲ ey, as in ქრისტჱ ~ ქრისტეჲ krist'ey 'Christ'.
- ჲ (hie) /je/, also called yota, appeared instead of ი (ini) after a vowel, but came to have the same pronunciation as ი (ini) and was replaced by it. Thus ქრისტჱ ~ ქრისტეჲ krist'ey "Christ" is now written ქრისტე krist'e.
- ჳ (vie) /uɪ/, Svan /w/ came to be pronounced the same as ვი vi and was replaced by that sequence, as in სხჳსი > სხვისი skhvisi "others'".
- ჴ (qari, hari) /q⁽ʰ⁾/ came to be pronounced the same as ხ (khani), and was replaced by it. e.g. ჴლმწიფე became ხელმწიფე "sovereign".
- ჵ (hoe) /oː/ was used for the interjectionhoi! and is now spelled ჰოი. Also used in Bats for the /ʕ/ or /ɦ/ sound.
All but ჵ (hoe
) continue to be used in the Svan alphabet
; ჲ (hie
) is used in the Mingrelian
alphabets as well, for the y-sound /j
/. Several others were used for Abkhaz
in the short time they were written in Mkhedruli script.
Letters added to other alphabets
Mkhedruli has been adapted to languages besides Georgian. Some of these alphabets retained letters obsolete in Georgian, while others required additional letters:
Handwriting of Mkhedruli
The following table shows the stroke order and direction of each Mkhedruli letter:
ზ, ო, and ხ (zeni, oni, khani) are almost always written without the small tick at the end, while the handwritten form of ჯ (jani) often uses a vertical line, (sometimes with a taller ascender, or with a diagonal cross bar); even when it is written at a diagonal, the cross-bar is generally shorter than in print.
- Only four letters are x-height, with neither ascenders nor descenders: ა, თ, ი, ო.
- Thirteen have ascenders, like b or d in English: ბ, ზ, მ, ნ, პ, რ, ს, შ, ჩ, ძ, წ, ხ, ჰ
- An equal number have descenders, like p or q in English: გ, დ, ე, ვ, კ, ლ, ჟ, ტ, უ, ფ, ღ, ყ, ც
- Three letters have both ascenders and descenders, like þ in Old English: ქ, ჭ, and (in handwriting) ჯ. წ has both ascender and descender in print, and sometimes in handwriting.
There is individual and stylistic variation in many of the letters. For example, the top circle of ზ (zeni) and the top stroke of რ (rae) may go in the other direction than shown in the chart (that is, counter-clockwise starting at 3 o'clock, and upwards – see the external-link section for videos of people writing).
Other common variants:
- გ (gani) may be written like ვ (vini) with a closed loop at the bottom.
- დ (doni) is frequently written with a simple loop at top, .
- კ, ც, and ძ (k'ani, tsani, dzili) are generally written with straight, vertical lines at the top, so that for example ც (tsani) resembles a U with a dimple in the right side.
- ლ (lasi) is frequently written with a single arc, . Even when all three are written, they're generally not all the same size, as they are in print, but rather riding on one wide arc like two dimples in it.
- Rarely, ო (oni) is written as a right angle, .
- რ (rae) is frequently written with one arc, , like a Latin ⟨h⟩.
- ტ (t'ari) often has a small circle with a tail hanging into the bowl, rather than two small circles as in print, or as an O with a straight vertical line intersecting the top. It may also be rotated a bit clockwise, with the small circles further to the right and not as close to the top.
- წ (ts'ili) is generally written with a round bowl at the bottom, . Another variation features a triangular bowl.
- ჭ (ch'ari) may be written without the hook at the top, and often with a completely straight vertical line.
- ჱ (he) may be written without the loop, like a conflation of ს and ჰ.
- ჯ (jani) is sometimes written so that it looks like a hooked version of the Latin "X"
Several letters are similar and may be confused at first, especially in handwriting.
- For ვ (vini) and კ (k'ani), the critical difference is whether the top is a full arc or a (more-or-less) vertical line.
- For ვ (vini) and გ (gani), it is whether the bottom is an open curve or closed (a loop). The same is true of უ (uni) and შ (shini); in handwriting, the tops may look the same. Similarly ს (sani) and ხ (khani).
- For კ (k'ani) and პ (p'ari), the crucial difference is whether the letter is written below or above x-height, and whether it's written top-down or bottom-up.
- ძ (dzili) is written with a vertical top.
Ligatures, abbreviations and calligraphy Asomtavruli is often highly stylized and writers readily formed ligatures
, intertwined letters, and placed letters within letters or other such monograms
A ligature of the Asomtavruli letters Ⴃ Ⴀ (და, da) "and"
Nuskhuri, like Asomtavruli, is also often highly stylized. Writers readily formed ligatures
and abbreviations for nomina sacra
, including diacritics called karagma
, which resemble titla
. Because writing materials such as vellum
were scarce and therefore precious, abbreviating was a practical measure widespread in manuscripts
by the 11th century.
A Nuskhuri abbreviation of რომელი (romeli) "which"
A Nuskhuri abbreviation of იესუ ქრისტე (iesu kriste) "Jesus Christ"
Mkhedruli, in the 11th to 17th centuries also came to employ digraphs to the point that they were obligatory, requiring adherence to a complex system.
A Mkhedruli ligature of და (da) "and"
Georgian scripts come in only a single typeface
, though word processors can apply automatic ("fake") oblique
formatting to Georgian text. Traditionally, Asomtavruli was used for chapter or section titles, where Latin script might use bold or italic type.
In Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri punctuation, various combinations of dots were used as word dividers
and to separate phrases, clauses, and paragraphs. In monumental inscriptions and manuscripts of 5th to 10th centuries, these were written as dashes, like −, = and =−. In the 10th century, clusters of one (·), two (:), three (჻
) and six (჻჻) dots (later sometimes small circles) were introduced by Ephrem Mtsire
to indicate increasing breaks in the text. One dot indicated a "minor stop" (presumably a simple word break), two dots marked or separated "special words", three dots for a "bigger stop" (such as the appositive
name and title "the sovereign Alexander", below, or the title of the Gospel of Matthew
, above), and six dots were to indicate the end of the sentence. Starting in the 11th century, marks resembling the apostrophe and comma came into use. An apostrophe was used to mark an interrogative word, and a comma appeared at the end of an interrogative sentence. From the 12th century on, these were replaced with the semicolon (the Greek question mark
). In the 18th century, Patriarch Anton I of Georgia
reformed the system again, with commas, single dots, and double dots used to mark "complete", "incomplete", and "final" sentences, respectively.
For the most part, Georgian today uses the punctuation as in international usage of the Latin script
This table lists the three scripts in parallel columns, including the letters that are now obsolete in all alphabets (shown with a blue background), obsolete in Georgian but still used in other alphabets (green background), or additional letters in languages other than Georgian (pink background). The "national" transliteration is the system used by the Georgian government, whereas "Laz" is the Latin Laz alphabet
used in Turkey. The table also shows the traditional numeric values of the letters.
Use for other non-Kartvelian languages
Ossetian text written in Mkhedruli script, from a book on Ossetian folklore published in South Ossetia in 1940. The non-Georgian letters ჶ [f] and ჷ [ə] can be seen.
Old Avar crosses with Avar
inscriptions in Asomtavruli script.
The Georgian letter ⟨ღ
) is often used as a love or heart symbol
The Georgian letter ⟨ლ
) is sometimes used as hands or fists on Internet ( ex: ლ(╹◡╹ლ) )
Mtavruli letters were added in Unicode version 11.0 in June 2018.
They are capital letters with similar letterforms to Mkhedruli, but with descenders
shifted above the baseline
, with a wider central oval, and with the top slightly higher than the ascender
Before this addition, font creators included Mtavruli in various ways. Some fonts came in pairs, of which one had lowercase letters and the other uppercase; some Unicode fonts placed Mtavruli letterforms in the Asomtavruli range (U+10A0-U+10CF) or in the Private Use Area
, and some ASCII-based ones mapped them to the ASCII capital letters.
Georgian characters are found in three Unicode blocks. The first block (U+10A0–U+10FF) is simply called Georgian. Mkhedruli (modern Georgian) occupies the U+10D0–U+10FF range (shown in the bottom half of the first table below) and Asomtavruli occupies the U+10A0–U+10CF range (shown in the top half of the same table). The second block is the Georgian Supplement (U+2D00–U+2D2F), and it contains Nuskhuri.
Mtavruli capitals are included in the Georgian Extended block (U+1C90–U+1CBF).
Mtavruli is defined as the upper case, but not title case
, of Mkhedruli, and Asomtavruli as the upper case and title case of Nuskhuri.
There is no non-Unicode character encoding for Georgian, which prevents non-Unicode applications from being able to support the Georgian script.
Below is the standard Georgian-language keyboard layout, the traditional layout of manual typewriters
Gallery of Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli scripts.
Gallery of Asomtavruli
Gallery of Nuskhuri
Nuskhuri of 8th to 10th centuries
Nuskhuri of Jruchi Gospels, 13th century
Nuskhuri of the 11th century
Nuskhuri by Nikrai
, 12th century
Gallery of Mkhedruli
- ^ Oldest found Georgian inscription so far. Exact date of introduction is unclear.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j Unicode Standard, V. 6.3. U10A0, p. 3
- ^ a b c d e f g Seibt, Werner. "The Creation of the Caucasian Alphabets as Phenomenon of Cultural History".
- ^ Hüning, Vogl & Moliner 2012, p. 299.
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- ^ Koryun (1981). "The life of Mashtots". armenianhouse.org. Translated by Bedros Norehad. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
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- ^ Greppin 1981, pp. 449–456.
- ^ ქსე, ტ. 7, თბ., 1984, გვ. 651–652
- ^ შანიძე ა., ქართული საბჭოთა ენციკლოპედია, ტ. 2, გვ. 454–455, თბ., 1977 წელი
- ^ კ. დანელია, ზ. სარჯველაძე, ქართული პალეოგრაფია, თბილისი, 1997, გვ. 218–219
- ^ ე. მაჭავარიანი, მწიგნობრობაჲ ქართული, თბილისი, 1989
- ^ პ. ინგოროყვა, „შოთა რუსთაველი“, „მნათობი“, 1966, No. 3, გვ. 116
- ^ რ. პატარიძე, ქართული ასომთავრული, თბილისი, 1980, გვ. 151, 260–261
- ^ ივ. ჯავახიშვილი, ქართული დამწერლობათა-მცოდნეობა ანუ პალეოგრაფია, თბილისი, 1949, 185–187
- ^ ე. მაჭავარიანი, ქართული ანბანი, თბილისი, 1977, გვ. 5–6
- ^ ელენე მაჭავარიანი, ენციკლოპედია „ქართული ენა“, თბილისი, 2008, გვ. 403–404
- ^ ვ. სილოგავა, ენციკლოპედია „ქართული ენა“, თბილისი, 2008, გვ. 269–271
- ^ ივ. ჯავახიშვილი, ქართული დამწერლობათა-მცოდნეობა ანუ პალეოგრაფია, თბილისი, 1949, 124–126
- ^ ივ. ჯავახიშვილი, ქართული დამწერლობათა-მცოდნეობა ანუ პალეოგრაფია, თბილისი, 1949, 127–128
- ^ a b კ. დანელია, ზ. სარჯველაძე, ქართული პალეოგრაფია, თბილისი, 1997, გვ. 219
- ^ გ. აბრამიშვილი, ატენის სიონის უცნობი წარწერები, "მაცნე" (ისტ. და არქეოლოგ. სერია), 1976, No. c2, გვ. 170
- ^ კ. დანელია, ზ. სარჯველაძე, ქართული პალეოგრაფია, თბილისი, 1997, გვ. 218
- ^ ე. მაჭავარიანი, ქართული ანბანი, თბილისი, 1977
- ^ "Lasha Kintsurashvili: About Georgian calligraphy". Archived from the original on 2012-05-14. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
- ^ (in Georgian) ილია მეორე ერს ქართული ენის დაცვისკენ კიდევ ერთხელ მოუწოდებს Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine საქინფორმ.გე
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