Blog / Why Georgian and Russian are not related Georgia, Blog | 09.05.2020

Why Georgian and Russian are not related

Most people in Georgia – the older ones anyway – understand Russian and speak the language quite well. No wonder: Georgia was part of the Soviet Union for 70 years. And its successor state, the Russian Federation, is now at least one of Georgia's most important neighbors.

For Georgians, however, Russian is a foreign language they have to learn at school. Geographical proximity to Russia is not an advantage: From a linguistic point of view, Russian is just as far removed from Georgian as Chinese, English, or almost any other language in the world.

Neither Indo-European nor Turkic language

Most languages in Europe and the Near East belong to the Indo-European language family. These include languages such as English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Serbian, Albanian, Greek, Czech, Russian, Bulgarian, Armenian, or Persian (Iran), all of which are related to each other in a certain form. There are also three languages in Europe, Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian, which belong to the Uralic language family. The third common language family in Europe is Turkish, which includes Turkish and Azerbaijani, for example. Apart from the isolated Basque language, all European languages belong to only three language families. All of them? Not quite, Georgian is still missing!

What is the Georgian language related to?

Georgian belongs to the South Caucasian language family, which is partly also called the Carthusian language family. In addition to Georgian, it also includes the languages Mingrel, Lasic, Swan, and Judeo-Georgian, the language of Georgian Jews. With almost 5 million speakers, Georgian is the most widely spoken South Caucasian language. The other four languages have significantly fewer speakers:
 + Mingrel: approx. 500'000
 + Lasic: approx. 22,000 to 250,000
 + Judeo-Georgian: approx. 70'000
 + Swan: approx. 15'000 to 30'000

So it's clear: The only languages related to Georgian are Mingrel, Lasic, Judeo-Georgian, and Swan. The Georgian language is therefore not related to any official language of a neighboring country: Turkish and Azerbaijani are Turkic languages, and Armenian and Russian are Indo-European languages.

The Caucasus – home of 40 languages

Even the other Caucasian languages are not related to Georgian. For example, Abhazian, Abasinian, Circassian, Kabardinian, and Adygean belong to the Northwest Caucasian languages. And anyone who thinks "Wow, there are quite a few languages in the Caucasus" should be told that this was far from all. There is another language family in the comparatively small area of the Caucasus: that of the North-East Caucasian languages.
Among them are Chechen, Ingush, Andish, Awarish, Didoish, Lakish, Darginish, Lesgish, Tabassaran, Batsish, and various other small languages. The three Caucasian language families comprise 40 languages spoken by a total of 9 million people. Of course, there are also Georgian loan words from different languages, including Russian and English. However, this in no way indicates a relationship between the two languages. If you still don't believe that Georgian and Russian are not related, the following table will help you. To make you understand all the words, we transcribed them.

Georgian compared to Russian

Georgian Russian English
Gamarjoba Privjet Hello
Nakhvamdis Da svidanje Good bye
Sakhli Dom House
Erti Adin One
Ori Dva Two
Sami Tri Three
Kalaki Gorad Town
Sopeli Direvnja Village
Mta Gorà Mountain
Sakartvelo Gruzija Georgia
P'uri Khleb Bread
Uk’atsravad Izvinite Excuse me
Ra ghirs? Skolka stojt? How much is it?
Amindi Pagoda Weather
Khortsi Mjassa Meat
Sadguri Vakzal Station
You see, there is no similarity between the individual words. The differences become even more visible when you compare the fonts. The Georgian alphabet - it is called Mchedruli - looks completely different from, for example, the Latin or the Cyrillic alphabet. I will go into this topic in more detail in one of my next blog articles.

Facts about the Georgian language

 + Official language in: Georgia
 + Popular in: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Greece, Iran, Russia
 + Spokesman: 4 to 5 million
 + Alphabet: Mkhedruli
 + Letters: 33
 + Consonants: 28
 + Vocals: 5
 + Cases: 7 (Nominative, Dative, Genitive, Instrumental, Adverbial Vocative, and Ergative)
Author: MyCaucasus