A “critical language” is a term used by the U.S. Department of State to designate languages for which there is a significant demand, but which also has few qualified American speakers. The list of languages changes over time as ethnic and political situations develop.
Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Marathi, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish, and Urdu.
The Army’s ROTC Project Go Scholarships also list Dari, Hausa, Kazakh, Tajik, Tatar, Swahili, Turkmen, Uzbek, Uyghur, and Wolof.
My question is, why is Azerbaijani on there and not Georgian? I imagine there are a few statistical reasons: Georgian is only spoken by about 4 million people, and not even all people in Georgia speak Georgian. Additionally, Georgian is completely unrelated to Turkic, Slavic, Semitic, or Indo-European languages–so learning Georgian will not give you a substantial leg-up when you go to study another language later (although it does have many loanwords from Turkish, Russian, and Persian).
But I think there are compelling strategic reasons for the U.S. to support Georgian language study:
- since the mid-2000s, the U.S. has worked closely with Georgia to promote security and counterterrorism. Recent military collaborations including IMET, GTEP, and GSSOP have led to Georgia being referred to as the West’s, or more specifically, America’s, “foothold” at the crux of potential Russian and Middle Eastern conflicts
- Georgia has received 1.7 billion in aid from the U.S. government since 1991 (it is one of the largest benefactors of American assistance), and groups like USAID continue to have heavy involvement
- many fewer Georgians know Russian than was true ten years ago, particularly young people
- Georgia has been the largest per capita contributor of forces in the U.S.-led mission to Afghanistan. This year it has surpassed Australia as the largest non-NATO contributor of forces
- the White House stated the administration would continue to support Georgia (although Georgia and the U.S. sometimes disagree about what exactly this entails), as formalized by the Charter on Strategic Partnership.
If the government really is interested in creating a “beacon of democracy” in a very helpful strategic location, it makes sense to put at least some funding into Georgian language training.