12 - Early Georgian  pp. 145-165

Early Georgian

By Kevin Tuite

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HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXTS

Georgian is a member of the Kartvelian family, one of the three indigenous Caucasian language families. Its sister languages are Mingrelian and Laz, two closely related languages spoken in western Georgia and northeast Turkey, and Svan, spoken in the highlands of northwest Georgia. There has been much speculation about the relation of Kartvelian to other language families. Typological similarities with Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic and an impressive number of vocabulary items which appear to be shared with these families have led some linguists to include Kartvelian as a peripheral member of the so-called Nostratic macrofamily, a phyletic grouping encompassing many of the principal Eurasiatic language groups. Even if the Nostratic hypothesis is not correct, the Kartvelian languages show the imprint of long-standing contact with Indo-European and Semitic speech communities, going back four thousand years or more. Most specialists locate the Proto-Kartvelian speech community either in or somewhat to the south of modern-day Georgia.

Ancient Near Eastern documents as early as the twelfth–eleventh centuries BC mention tribal groups which are likely to have included Proto-Georgian speakers. The first clear indications of Georgian political entities date from the seventh–sixth centuries BC, by which time Greek colonies are installed in Colchis, on the east coast of the Black Sea, and much of Transcaucasia and Asia Minor is under Persian domination. The two major early Georgian kingdoms – Colchis in the west and Iberia in the east – began to consolidate at this time.