Georgian is the most important of the South Caucasian languages, a family
that also includes Svan and Megrelian (chefly spoken in Northwest Georgia)
and Laz (chiefly spoken along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, from Trabzon to
the Georgian frontier).
almost 4 million people in Georgia, and also by some 40 thousand people in
Kartuli in Georgian)
Dialects of Georgian include Imeretian,
Racha-Lechkhum, Gurian, Ajarian, Imerxev (in Turkey), Kartlian, Kakhetian,
Ingilo, Tush, Khevsur, Mokhev, Pshav, Mtiul, Ferjeidan (in Iran), Meskhetian.
Georgian is believed to have separated from
Megrelian and Laz in the third millennium BC. Based on the degree of change,
linguists (e.g. G.Klimov, T.Gamkrelidze, G.Machavariani) conjecture that the
earliest split occurred in the second millennium BC or earlier, separating
Svan from the other languages. Megrelian and Laz separated from Georgian
roughly a thousands years later.
Georgian has a very rich
literary tradition. The oldest surviving literary text in Georgian is the
"Martyrdom of Saint Shushaniki, of the Queen" (C'amebaj c'midisa
Shushanik'isi, dedoplisa) by Iakob Tsurtaveli, from the 5th century AD.
The oldest form of the
Georgian script, the Asomtavruli ("capital") alphabet, was invented in 412
BC by Georgian priests of the cult of Matra (Persian Mithra). The
Asomtavruli alphabet was reformed in 284 BC by king Farnavaz I of Iberia. It
is still mistakenly attributed by many to Saint Mesrob Mashtots, who
invented the Armenian alphabet.
The modern alphabet, called Mkhedruli (მხედრული,
"secular" or "military writing"), first appeared in the 11th century. It was
used for non-religious purposes up until the 18th century, when it
completely replaced Khutsuri. Georgian linguists claim that the orthography