Gizhebi Kartuli

Hello Readers, or should I say:

Gamarjoba Mimdevrebi,

My mind has been operating in anywhere from 2-4 languages (with Spanish and Czech being of almost zero assistance) for over a month now, and Kartuli (or “Georgian” as you probably know it) is not so easily learned.

First of all, my only language training before coming to Georgia was in Spanish and Czech. Now, you may have to add a squiggly line or a hook to those letters, but for the most part the languages look similar to English and nonthreatening. I did you a favor by writing the above Kartuli in the English transcription, but let’s take a look at the actual alphabet, shall we?

Featuring 6 variations of the number 3 and 7 letters that look like a version of the English “m.” This is one of only 14 alphabets currently in use in the world and it is only used in Georgia!

I am proud to announce that I can read and write with the above alphabet with a small margin of error, even recognizing different versions of the script such as the simplified handwriting. I’m even regarded amongst the other teachers in my district as the champion of pronunciation, although there are a few sounds that I physically can’t make.

Kartuli has the French R, ღ, which was also the only sound I couldn’t make in Czech. However, if I make kind of a whispery, throaty g sound I am usually understood. The ყ, which is transcribed in English as “qkh” sounds like nothing I have ever heard before. I try to use a short-winded k sound there, but this simple looking letter is a sound virtually nonexistent outside the Middle East/Caucasian region.

This language map shows how Georgian, in the grey, is all alone in the world. The Caucasian language family is isolated to Georgia, and includes Kartuli, Svan (spoken in the mountainous Svaneti region), and Megrelo (spoken in the Samegrelo region).

There is also an interesting phenomenon in Kartuli to have different versions of a letter based on whether the sound is aspirated or not. My linguist friend explained the difference by using the p sounds in the word “apple” and “pig.” The p in pig is aspirated, meaning you let out air as you say it. There are aspirated and non-aspirated versions of p, k, t, ts, and ch in Kartuli, but I have yet to understand when to use what. That’s where my “margin of error” is in the reading and writing.

Where I am falling short on my language training is definitely the vocab department. I can count to ten, tell my host family that I want or do not want something, and point at pictures of my home family and tell them who they are looking at in Kartuli, but beyond that I am at kind of a standstill.

Chemi da, chem, chemi deda, chemi mama, da chemi sami dzmebi

I did not realize until I was writing that caption that it’s the perfect example of some of the more confusing elements of Kartuli. For one, “da” means both “sister” and “and.” Also, because this is a former Soviet country, they are known to use Russian where da means “yes.” In addition, I did not mix up my parents in that photo. The word for father is “mama” and the word for mother is “deda.” My sister made a good point when she said that babies learn to make “m” and “d” sounds before any others, so in such a far removed language, it makes sense that the words would just be switched, but it still feels very wrong to call my father “mama.”

My goal is to commit to memory three new Georgian words and one grammar rule each day. For example, “sami dzmebi” means “3 brothers.” The word for brother is “dzma” but to make a word plural in Kartuli you add the suffix “ebi” and depending on the ending maybe drop a vowel, such as the “a” in “dzma.”

Now that I’ve filled your head with information that is probably completely useless to you, let me list some of my favorite words in Kartuli!

Gogo- girl (like a go-go dancer!)

Bitchi- boy (pronounced “beachy” but still)

Mastsavlebeli- teacher

Amerikeli – American

Mshvidobisa- peaceful

Sasiamovnoa- nice to meet you

Tualeti- toilet

Vai me! – expression, like “My God!”

Sakartvelo – Georgia (country)

Kartuli- Georgian (language)

Kartveli/Kartvelebi- Georgian/Georgians (people)

Lamazi- beautiful

Tsota- very little (useful for food, alcohol, or describing knowledge of Kartuli)

Dzaghli- dog (I like anything with the “dz” sound in it)

Bednieri- happy

Gamrieli- delicious

I will give more fun facts about Kartuli as I figure it out. The best thing you can take away from this is that if I say Kartuli, I mean Georgian, and if I say Sakartvelo, I mean Georgia. And also, that this language is freaking hard.

Nakh Vamdis! (Goodbye!)

ქეისი რამი (Kacie Rahm)


Leave a comment


  1. Actually the “qkh” sound occurs in the Quecha language family of South America, which has more speakers than the Georgian family.

  2. I’m glad you know about Welsh!

  1. Middle of Nowhere | A Washingtonian in Georgia

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