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Georgian Script

Of Iberia art thou the language,
The language of Tamar...

Irakli Abashidze

The creation of the Georgian alphabet is ascribed to King Pharnavaz reigning in the 3rd century BC. The 11lh century historian Leonti Mroveli refers to Pharnavaz as the first Georgian King credited with creating the Georgian alphabet. The development of the Georgian alphabet was yet another important facet of the emerging Georgian statehood. Pharnavaz raised the idol of Armaz, reputedly named after him, on a mountain in the vicinity of Mtskheta. Armaz is Pharnavaz's Persian name. He was of Persian extraction on his mother's side. Kartlis Tskhovreba (Georgian Chronicles) reads as follows: "Parnavaz was the first king of Kartli descended from Kartlos, who extended the Georgian language, and no more was a different language spoken in Kartli except Georgian and it was then that literation practice was developed in Georgia".

This quote from Kartlis Tskhovreba offers an overall indication that literary monuments existed in Georgia as long ago as before the birth of Christ. Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani uses the term "literator" to indicate a man of letters.

"Literation" is interpreted by Ivane Javakhishvili as the use of letters to represent sounds or words. Opinions vary on the origin of the Georgian alphabet. According to Georgian researchers (Iv. Javakhishvili, T. Gamkrelidze, R. Pataridze, T. Chkhenkeli and others), the Georgian alphabet derives from Phoenician letters or Greek alphabetic systems.

The uses to which graphic symbols were put at various stages in the course of history were vastly different. A pictorial representation of words called pictographic writing was introduced at the earliest stage. The subsequent stage brought about symbols for ideas (ideographic, i.e. logographic writing). Syllabic writing that ensued later provided a set of written symbols representing syllables.

The first, i.e. Phoenician, alphabet of 22 letters led to a simplified phonetic writing system easing graphic signs of their symbolic meaning and sophistication. Letters of the Phoenician alphabet laid the basis for archaic Greek graphics, which emerged as a result of the transformation of Phoenician letters in the 19th century BC. The classic Greek alphabet formed a radically new stage in the history of writing. It provided a graphically more attractive version of archaic Greek letters and created a monumental writing style in the 5th century BC.

The writing of the Georgian language has progressed through three graphical forms, known as: Asomtavruli (majuscule), Nuskhuri (minuscule) and Mkhedruli (secular). From a graphical standpoint, Georgian Asomtavruli is a totally different form of writing. This stylistically uniform graphical system is the work of a single master's hands. It was developed without modifying or copying the outline of any letter. An alphabetical order was established by giving each letter its numerical equivalence.

The Georgian master chose a circle and a line as basic geometric figures to shape Georgian letters from the combination of 9 elements derived from these two figures. The exception was the Georgian letter "Jan" formed by the overlapping of Jesus Christ's initials. Christ's monogram as a symbol of crucified God was incorporated into the Georgian alphabet immediately after Georgia embraced Christianity.

The graphical representation of majuscule writing, which the Georgian master based on precise mathematical calculations, is mirrored in the cosmos and ancient architectural details traced in Georgia. A square with intersecting lines and a circle inscribed inside is a recurring theme in ancient architectural constructions, including chambers and the Mtskheta Cross. Such a square symbolizes the earth's unity with the sky whereas the quadrifolium is a way to get a fascinating insight into the world. The quadrifolium in the early Christian period is identical to a four-leaf cross, which gained wide currency in the oriental Christian world.

The Georgian alphabet traversed a long and complicated path of development. The currently used alphabet, Mkhedruli, emerged through the transformation of Nuskhuri (minuscule) letters, whereas Nuskhuri derived its origin from Asomtavruli (majuscule). These changes occurred to suit the need for a simpler and more streamlined style of writing. The growing demand for books posed the necessity of economizing on time and resources.

The Nuskhuri alphabet, which owes a good deal to the graphical development of Asomtavruli letters, is characterized by interesting stylistic traits. It features a four-line system of italic lettering. Letters are uneven and joined together in flowing strokes. Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri are also known as Khutsuri (priestly script) because they were used for ecclesiastical purposes. The Mkhedruli script (largely confined to secular matters) evolved at the cost of complexity of previously used letters. Letters were written with running hand. The ancient Georgian alphabet consisted of 38 letters, of which 5 letters were later made redundant.
There used to be a copying profession in ancient Georgia. Many copiers, who excelled at painting, embellished capital letters with intricate detailing. Ornamental elements were loaded with symbolic meaning. The most recurring theme was a vine leaf. The vine has always been a powerful symbol of life in Georgia suffused with layers of divine meaning. Capital letters due to their monumental features appeared on church facades, embossed icons and in fresco inscriptions. Sizable capital letters with heavily emphasized contours grab attention from a distance. The ancient Georgian script began to be identified as majuscule only after capital letters were introduced to indicate titles and indentions.

From time immemorial our ancestors have been committed to glorifying the Georgian language. In his Praise and Glorification of the Georgian Language, the outstanding ecclesiastical figure of the 10lh century Ioane Zosime describes the Georgian language as beautified and blessed by the name of the Lord. This literary work is a magnificent hymn to the Georgian language. Moreover, buried in it is the secret of biblical prophecy and a tremendous air of expectancy for the day of the Messiah's second coming, the Last Judgment, when everyone will be judged in Georgia. Emphasis here is on the divine character of Georgian and its continuing pre-eminence among other languages of the world. The Georgian language has never lost its sacrosanct status. It is still considered to be the language of God in the universe

Doctor of Arts, Professor


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We have improved the quality of the first stage audio files, upgraded and converted all stages into sylfaen font. Files are available for download for all First stage participants who have already purchased the course upon request. New files are also included in the GLDL course package which is offered for users since January 20, 2009. Some minor changes has been made in October, 2011. We also offer new version of the course for MAC users. It is available from March 2008. Old users could download relevant files. Since the links to files have changed please write to me to get new ones.

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