This lesson is part of our Beginners’ guide to learning Georgian series, which also contains the following lessons:
- About the Georgian language and culture
- Georgian Alphabet & Pronunciation
- Georgian Grammar, Part 1: Noun Declension, Cases & Conjugation of Verbs
- Georgian Grammar, Part 2: Noun Suffixes, Verbal & Personal Prefixes, Motion & Medial Verbs
- Georgian Grammar, Part 3: Aorist Tense, Ergative Case & Imperative Tense
- Georgian Grammar, Part 4: Pluperfect Tense & Masdars
The Georgian alphabet used in modern Georgian is the Military Alphabet, which is the newest of four different alphabets and dates back to the 4th Century BC.
It is also the only alphabet in the world which does not recognize upper and lower case. The older Georgian alphabets have upper and lower case and are only used in some ancient historic texts as well as some liturgical texts and iconography in the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The Georgian Alphabet
|Letter||Letter name||Transcription||How to read it|
a as in father
b as in boy
g as in begger
d as in dead
e as in egg
v as in vine
z as in zebra
th as in Thomas
i or ee as in yield or green
k as in king
l as in lamp or bill
m as in mommy
n as in nun
o as in open
p as in pepper
s as in treasure
r rolled as Spanish rr
s as in mess
t as in total
u as in rule
hard ph with emphasis on p
ch like psychology
gh like how the r is pronounced in French
soft gutteral kh
sh as in fishing
ch as in chair
ts as in rats
dz as in red zebra
soft ts palatized
soft ch palatized
kh like the sound of hacking a hawker
j or dg as in joke or ridge
h as in ham
A note about the alphabet chart above. Some of the letters have some of the same sounds as exist in English and most of the Germanic and Romance languages spoken in Europe and the Americas. However other letters have sounds which are close to Middle Eastern and Central Asian languages, such as Arabic, Farsi, or some of the Urdu and Turkic based languages.
Video: Writing The Georgian Alphabet
Created by kartuli0net
Palatization does exist in Georgian. If you are familiar with many of the Slav languages, such as Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian or Polish, you are familiar with palatized or soft consonants. Typically, in the Cyrillic alphabets, such as those of Russian, Ukrainian, or Byelorussian, the ь or soft sign is usually followed by a soft consonant. The kreska, which appears as an accent mark over the c, n, or s in Polish also indicates these consonants are soft or palatized.
Typically, when a consonant is palatized, the tip of your tongue touches the palate or the roof of your mouth to pronounce that consonant. For those of you who are familiar with Polish, for example, when you see ć is almost pronounced as a c with a tinge of a ch or the ś being pronounced as a light sh. In Georgian, these include the letters წ and ჭ which is a palatized form of ts and ch. Georgian, however does not have a palatized sh, but rather, the letter შ having the normal sh pronunciation as the sh combination produces in the English language, the sz combination in Polish, or the š in Lithuanian, Czech, Slovenian, or Croatian.
Fractive consonants are consonants which are pronounced by forcing air between the top row of your front teeth and lower lip, as how we pronounce the letter f or the combination of ph or the German combination pf. Fractive pronunciation also can be created by forcing air through your mouth while holding the tip of your tongue against your top front teeth, much like how we pronounce the English combination th or the Greek letter θ or theta. Fractive pronunciation can be voiced as the pronunciation of the English v or th in the, and can also be voiceless as the letter f. Other fractive consonants are p or b.
In Georgian, this can get confusing, as Georgian does not have an f sound as in English and most modern Indo-European languages. Though the Georgian letter ფ is considered to be an f pronunciation like the Greek letter φ or fi. Consider pronouncing this letter like a hard f so it’s more pronounced like the English p. In fact, though the Georgian letter ფ is used in many words which are originally Georgian, it is always used in borrowed words where there would be the letter f yet pronounced like a p. Examples, France is საფრანგეთი which is pronounced saprangeti.
Likewise, the Georgian letter თ has a similar pronunciation to the Greek letter θ or theta but has a harder th pronunciation much like how in English the th is pronounced in Thomas. This means that the letter თ has a closer pronunciation to the English t rather than a th. Examples are Georgian words, თამაშობა, pronounced tamashoba, or თონე, which is pronounced toné.
Gutturals are consonants which are pronounced by forcing air through the throat. Examples of guttural consonants in English and most European languages include the letters g, h, r when rolled, k, and q. Georgian has more gutturals and some of them are very difficult to pronounce for non-native speakers of Georgian.
The basic gutturals in Georgian would be the letters გ which is pronounced just like the English g as in girl, get, or gate. This letter has a second guttural which is the Georgian letter ღ which has a different pronunciation. Though this letter is pronounced more like how the French roll their r, many Georgians will use the Roman g when transliterating their language in texts. Typically, the Georgian letter ღ has a similar pronunciation to the ǧ in Turkish or Azeri.
The biggest guttural challenge most non-native speakers have with Georgian is the letter ყ, which has a unique pronunciation. Typically, when we try to find a phonetic description of this letter in the Roman or Latin alphabet, we use q’ to describe it. For properly learning this letter, you will have to listen to the voice recordings and memorize this tongue twister:
ბაყაყი მყაყე წყალში ყიყინებს.
To Romanize this phrase, it would look like baq’aq’i mq’aq’e ts’q’alshi q’iq’inebs. The phrase actually means The frog croaks in the stagnant water. This tongue twister is used in Georgian schools to teach the children to properly pronounce the letter ყ. To attempt to pronounce the letter ყ, you should pronounce the French r with a soft k sound before it.
Other gutturals in the Georgian alphabet are easier to pronounce and these include the letters კ, ქ, ხ and ჰ. Basically, the letter კ is pronounced just like the English k, but slightly softer. The letter ქ is a hard kh or ch, much like Christmas, Christ, psychology, or psychiatry. It has more of a hard k pronunciation.
The Georgian letter ხ is pronounced like a softer kh. There is really no such sound in the English language, however, other Germanic and all the Slavic languages along with Greek have this sound. In German, a sound similar to ხ would be in words like machen, to make, or nach, to, towards. You could also say, if you are familiar with Greek, the Georgian letter ხ has the same pronunciation as the Greek letter χ or khi. The Georgian letter ჰ is pronounced exactly like the letter h in English.
Voiced sibilants in Georgian include the four letters ზ, ძ, ჟ, and ჯ. These letters are very easy to pronounce, as many languages have these same sounds.
The letter ზ is pronounced like the letter z as in English words like zebra, was, puzzle, etc. When it comes to the letter ძ, it too has a z sound but place the letter d in front of it. Though English does not have a dz sound to it, many Slavic languages do. For example, in Byelorussian, one is written одзін, pronounced adzeen using English phonetic pronunciation. Likewise, the Georgian letter ჟ has a zh pronunciation found in English words, such as pleasure, treasure, measure, or leisure. The Georgian letter ჯ is pronounced just like the English letter j in words like judge, jack, jump, or the English letter g in words like gym, bridge, or rigid.
Georgian vowels are rather simple. Basically, Georgian is a phonetic language, which means that typically words are pronounced like they are spelled with few exceptions. Unlike Greek, French, or English, Georgian does not have any diphthongs. Basically, the Georgian vowels include the letters ა, ე, ი, ო and უ. The pronunciation of these vowels is rather simple.
The letter ა is pronounced like the short a in English in words like far, father, yard, car, or card. There is no change in pronunciation of the Georgian letter ა. The Georgian letter ე is pronounced much like the English e in words like egg, get, bed, red, or peg. There is no change in its pronunciation.
The Georgian letter ი is pronounced like the i in most European languages or in English ee or ie. In word examples, English words with ee or ie that have the same pronunciation as the Georgian letter ი include green, greed, feed, believe, yield, or need. The Georgian letter ი can also take on the pronunciation as the English y or the j in German or Polish when placed before another vowel. For example, many borrowed words in Georgian can have this pronunciation, მანიაკი, ზიურპრიზი, or გერმანია. These words are pronounced maniaki (maniac), siurprizi (surprise), or germania (Germany).
The Georgian letter ო is pronounced much like the English long o, in words like open, cone, or hoe. The last vowel in the Georgian alphabet is the letter უ, which is pronounced like the long English u or the Greek and French diphthong, ου or ou. Examples include English words like rule, tool, pool, ruler, or rude.
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