Archive for June, 2012

In the spirit of Saturday morning cartoons, enjoy The Lion and the Cat! This one even has subtitles.


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Today Dr. Kiziria told us about a real-life “Georgian myth”: in the now-separatist region of Abkhazia, many super-centenarians are rumored to live healthily with minimal medical care. An article published in National Geographic in the early 1970s (according to Dr. Kiziria, “a few years ago”) reported that men and women lived to be as old as 140, or…almost three times the life expectancy of Russian male today.

Dannon yogurt sought to capitalize on this pseudo-science during a brief 1970s health trend, and produced a delightful commercial, “Georgians Over 100” in 1977. I also learned that this was the first commercial for an American product filmed in the USSR. I suppose this is why it didn’t run for very long…even health benefits couldn’t convince Cold War-era Americans that the Reds could be doing anything right over there. “Agnes, did you see Jane eating that Dannon stuff? I knew she was a Communist.”

But those who have visited Georgia will know that what is not a myth is that Georgians do in fact use  mats’oni (მაწონი), a yogurt-like product, for nearly everything–including as a burn remedy and sunscreen.

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Since I first began studying Georgian language three years ago, the first question I get from people is, “So is that related to Russian?” While that almost makes sense given the two centuries of Russian hegemony in the region, one can say confidently that Georgian is not really related to anything—neither Russian, Turkish, Arabic, nor anything Indo-European. Georgian, spoken by about 4 million people, belongs to the “Paleocaucasian Ethnolinguistic Family.” This family is divided into three branches:

1) Western Caucasian, or Abkhaz-Adygean, which encompasses modern Abkhazians, Abazians, Adygeans, Circassians, and Kabardians

2) Eastern Caucasian, or Chechen-Dagestanian, which encompasses the Chechens, Ingushs and Dagestanis (Avarians, Lezgians, Darguelians, Laks etc.)

3) Southern, or Kartvelian, which encompasses three main ethnic groups: Karts (modern-day Georgians), Mingrelians, Laz, and Svans

Here is a map of South Caucasian languages, but if you really want your mind blown, check out this full map and article on Geocurrents:

The first recorded reference to spoken Georgian was made by a Roman in the 2nd century AD, but of course Georgian language probably extends much further back into history before it was identified by a foreign writer.  The evolution of Georgian into a written language was largely a consequence of the conversion of the Georgian elite to Christianity in the mid-4th century. The new literary language was constructed on an already well-established cultural infrastructure, appropriating the functions, conventions, and status of Aramaic, the literary language of pagan Georgia, along with the new national religion.

The early Georgian alphabet (known as Asomtavruli, or “capitals”) looked like this:

Today, you can find Old Georgian engraved on the surfaces of Orthodox Cathedrals, on old monuments and markers, or on Orthodox icons. Unlike the relationship between Old Church Slavonic and modern Russian, or Ancient Greek and modern Greek, the connection between Ancient and modern Georgian is actually quite strong. Most Georgian high schoolers can get through an Asomtavruli text without even as much trouble as it takes the average American high schooler to get through Shakespeare. The modern Georgian alphabet is known as “Mkhedruli” (“military,” from the word for knight or horseman), and looks like this:

The Armenians like to say that it was created when someone threw a bowl of noodles at the wall and proceeded to pick out their favorite shapes. Unlike in English, where one letter can have multiple sounds (a can signify “ah” or “ay”), Georgian letters correspond exactly to their sound. This is helpful, because the rest of Georgian language is decidedly…not helpful. In addition to learning the alphabet, getting Georgian grammar and pronunciation down is also difficult.

Consonant clusters are perhaps the trickiest part, for example:

მწვრთნელი (mtsvrtneli): trainer, coach

გვბრდღვნის (gvbrdghvnis): he’s plucking us

If this hasn’t been enough to scare you away from Georgian forever, go to my Resources page to find Georgian language learning materials.

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