GEORGIAN ALPHABET


The Georgian language is spoken by more than four million people. It is unique and has no similarity to any other alphabet in the world.

There are three Georgian alphabets:

  • Asomtavruli (III BC –IX AC)
  • Nuskhuri (IX-XVIII AC)
  • Mkhedruli (from X AC till today)

First two alphabets you can meet in religious inscriptions and many Georgians cannot read them. All three Alphabets are written from left to right. Initially, there were 38 letters in all three Georgian alphabets, but at the beginning of XIX century 5 letters have been removed from the modern Mkhedruli, which are no longer used in modern Georgian.

The first known Georgian texts are inscriptions from the 5th century. The Georgian national epic, the knight in the Panther’s Skin, by Shota Rustaveli, dates from the 12th century. Modern Georgian is considered to have emerged in the 17th century.

 

Modern Georgian alphabet

N Letters Name of Letter

 Transliteration

1

an a

2

ban

b

3

gan g
4 don

d

5

en e
6 vin

v

7

zen z

8

tan t

9

in

i

10 k’an

k’

11 las

l

12

man m

13

nar n
14 on

o

15 p’ar

p’

16

zhan zh

17

rae r
18 san

s

19 t’ar

t’

20

un u

21

par p

22

kan

k

23 ghan

gh

24

q’ar

q’

25

shin sh

26

chin

ch

27

stan

ts

28 dzil

dz

29 ts’il

ts’

30

ch’ar ch’
31 xan

x

32

jan

j

33 hae

h

  • The Georgian alphabet consists of 33 letters-5 vowels (numbers 1, 5, 9, 14, and 20 in the list below) and 28 consonants.
  • Each letter denotes a single sound; the letter combinations in the list above (numbers 16, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30) are used to approximate the corresponding English sounds. These combinations are used in transliterating Georgian words into English.
  • Each letter of a word is pronounced; there are no mute letters similar to the English final -e.
  • There are no capital letters.
  • The stress (very light!) is always on the first syllable.
  • Like English, Georgian is read and written from left to right.

There is no doubt that phonetically Georgian is very challenging, but don’t get discouraged if you can’t produce every sound. It’s very important to recognize and hear the difference between each sound. Unlike English, all syllables in Georgian are pronounced almost equally distinctly. In the beginning, your pronunciation might not be perfect, but with practice and time you will sound like a native speaker.

 

Let’s start with Vowels. There are 5 Vowels: ა, ე, ი, ო, უ (a, e, i, o, u)

Vowel Sound Transliteration Examples in English Georgian words
ah a Arkansas, Argentina მამა [mama] father
eh e Ecuador, Eritrea თითი [titi] finger
ee i Italy, India, Greece ენა [ena] tongue
oh o Oregon, Norway ორმო [ormo] ditch
oo u Uzbekistan, Cameroon უთო [uto] iron

Do you know that?

Parnavaz I was the first king of an ancient Georgian kingdom known as Iberia. He ruled in the 3rd century BC: 302–237 BC. He defeated Macedonians and united the east and west kingdoms and made strong centralized state. His name is connected to creation of first alphabet of Georgia. Pharnavaz is also said to have patterned his administration upon an “Iranian” model. He reigned for 65 years and was the longest ruler in Georgian history. He was the founder of first Georgian royal dynasty named Pharnavazian.

This 20 consonants (b, g, d, v, z, t, l, m, n, zh, r, s, p, k, sh, ch, ts, dz, j, h) have English equivalent and thus they aren’t too difficult to pronounce.

Vowel Sound Transliteration Examples in English Georgian words
buh b Bob, bed, boy ბებია [bebia] grandma
guh g go, goal, gun გეგმა [gegma] plan
duh d day, dog, dig დედა [deda] mother
vuh v visa, Vendee, very ვადა [vada] deadline
zuh z zebra, zoo, zigzag ზიგზაგი [zigzag] zigzag
tuh (aspirated) t Tom, ten, but თათი [tati] paw
luh l love, luck, look ლომი [lomi] lion
muh m mom, milk, man მამა [mama] father
nuh n no, never, none ნავი [navi] boat
zhuh zh pleasure, treasure ჟოლო [zholo] raspberry
ruh (rolled r) r brilliant, rat, red რა [ra] what
suh (aspirated) s Stan, salad, stain სიო [sio] breeze
puh (aspirated) f pencil, soap, soup ფაფა [papa] porridge
kuh (aspirated) k Cat, book, cook ქალი [kali] woman
shuh sh Shore შუშა [shusha] glass
chuh ch church ჩაი [chai] tea
tsuh ts Cincinnati, pizza ცა [tsa] sky
dzuh dz roads, kudzu ძიძა [dzidza] babysitter
juh j June, July, January ჯუჯა [juja] dwarf
huh h home, hair, hot ჰავა [hava] climate

Some Georgian sounds might sound similar, but they aren’t. In fact confusing with each other sometimes changes the meaning of a word. Some of these sounds are voiceless, or aspirated (when you breathe out at the same time), the others are voiced, or unaspirated (when you don’t breathe at the same time)

Consonants Sound Transliteration Examples in English Georgian words
kuh (unaspirated) k’ bake, take კალამი [kalami] pen
puh (unaspirated) p’ pepper, port საპონი [saponi] soap
tuh (unaspirated) t’ Stan, stop ატამი [at’ami] peach
tzuh (unaspirated) ts’ no English equivalent წუთი [ts’uti] minute
tchuh (unaspirated) ch’ no English equivalent ბიჭი [bich’i] boy

There are 6 pairs of consonants which sound almost identical. The first sound of each pair is voiceless, the second sound is voiced (unaspirated)

1. თ-ტ 3. ფ-პ 5. ჩ-ჭ
2. ქ-კ 4. ც-წ 6. ს-ზ

Examples:

N Pairs Transliteration Georgian words Word pronunciation Translation
1. t (unaspirated) თარი [tari] musical instrument
t’ (aspirated) ტარი [t’ari] handle
2. k (aspirated) ქარი [kari] wind
k’ (unaspirated) კარი [k’ari] door
3. p (aspirated) ფული [puli] money
p’ (unaspirated) პური [p’uri] bread
4. ts (aspirated) ცელი [tseli] grass cutter
ts’ (unaspirated) წელი [ts’eli] year
5. ch (aspirated) ჩირი [chiri] dried fruit
ch’ (unaspirated) ჭირი [ch’iri] plague
6. s (aspirated) სუსტი [sust’i] weak
z (unaspirated) ზუსტი [zust’i] precise

Do you know that?

Ilia Chavchavadze (8 November 1837 – 12 September 1907) was a Georgian figure, journalist, publisher, writer and poet who spearheaded the revival of the Georgian national movement in the second half of the 19th century and played a major role in the creation of Georgian civil society during the Russian of Georgia. He was a devoted protector of the Georgian culture from Russification. The Society for the Spreading of Literacy among Georgians, founded by Prince Ilia Chavchavadze in 1879, discarded five letters from the Georgian alphabet that had become redundant. He is Georgia’s “most universally revered hero.

Consonants Sound Transliteration Examples in English Georgian words
rrr in a throat gh French r no English equivalent ღომი [ghomi] grits
guttural sound in a throat kh Bach, Loch-Ness ხახა [khakha] throat
guttural sound deep in a throat q’ no English equivalent ბაყაყი [baq’aq’i] frog

Do you know that?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has added the Georgian alphabet to the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The nomination was submitted to UNESCO for consideration in 2015. The main goal is to underline the harmonic co-existence of three alphabets. The UNESCO official webpage reads that the evolution of Georgia’s written language has produced three alphabets – Mrgvlovani, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli – which all remain in use today. Mrgvlovani and Nuskhuri are practised and taught informally predominately by the community of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church while Georgia’s educational system, however, is based on the Mkhedruli alphabet.

Georgian letters are written in a four lined net as in English, but the letters have no slope. Some of the Georgian letters exceed the line upwards or downwards.

The Georgian Alphabet has some similar looking characters and also mirrored image letters. You need to practice to identify them.

Similar looking characters:

1. ლ-ღ-დ 3. 5. ბ-გ
2. კ-ქ-ვ 4. თ-ფ

Examples:

N Pairs Transliteration Georgian words Word pronunciation Translation
1.

l

gh

d

ლომი

ღამე

დიდი

[lomi]

[ghame]

[didi]

lion

handle

handle

2.

k’

k

v

ლეკვი

ქმარი

ვირი

[lek’vi]

[kmari]

[viri]

poppy

husband

donkey

3.

p’

h

პირველი

ჰაერი

[p’irveli]

[haeri]

first

air

4.

t

p

თუთა

ფუნჯი

[tuta]

[punji]

mulberry

brush

5.

b

g

ალუბალი

გუგული

[alubali]

[guguli]

cherry

cuckoo

Mirrored image letters:

1. მ-ნ 2. ძ-ხ 3. შ-წ 4. დ-ფ

Examples:

N Pairs Transliteration Georgian words Word pronunciation Translation
1.

m

n

მელანი

ნისლი

[melani]

[nisli]

ink

fog

2.

dz’

kh

ძაღლი

ხმალი

[dz’aghli]

[khmali]

dog

sword

3.

sh

ts’

შუა

წერა

[shua]

[ts’era]

middle

writing

4.

d

p

მადა

ფანჯარა

[mada]

[panjara]

appetite

window

 

Do you know that?

The first ever printed book in Georgian language was the Italian-Georgian Dictionary, printed in Rome in 1629 by Niceforo Irbachi (Nicholas Irubakidze-Cholokashvili), a Georgian Orthodox priest, politician and diplomat. The first printing house in Tbilisi was established in 1712 and the first books printed there were The Bible, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin by Shota Rustaveli and The Georgian Dictionary. After the annexation of Georgia by Russia in 1801 and the abolition of the Georgian Kingdom, Georgia remained a Russian province until 1918 when an independent republic was announced. During this time, Georgian did not function as a state language (until 1805, teaching Georgian at schools was also prohibited) and books were distributed only in handwritten form until 1805. The first Georgian newspaper appeared in 1819.