Georgian Alphabet and Script

Georgian Alphabet and Script

Georgian alphabet (Mkhedruli)


The Mkhedruli alphabet developed from an older Georgian alphabet known as Nuskhuri between the 11th and 13th centuries. The name Mkhedruli comes from the word mkhedari which means ‘of horseman’. The Nuskhuri alphabet developed from the Asomtavruli alphabet.

At first Mkhedruli was used only for secular writing, while for religious writings a mixture of the two older alphabets was used. Eventually Nuskhuri became the main alphabet for religious texts and Asomtavruli was used only for titles and for the first letters of sentences. This system of mixing the two alphabets was known as khucesi(priest) writing.

Eventually the two older alphabets fell out of use and Mkhedruli became the sole alphabet used to write Georgian. However, in the writings of a linguist called Akaki Shanidze (1887-1987) and in works written in his honour, letters from the Asomtavruli alphabet are used to mark proper names and the beginning of sentences. Shanidze’s attempt to popularize such usage met with little success.

The first printed material in the Georgian language, a Georgian-Italian dictionary, was published in 1629 in Rome. Since then the alphabet has changed very little, though a few letters were added by Anton I in the 18th century, and 5 letters were dropped in the 1860s when Ilia Chavchavadze introduced a number of reforms.

Mkhedruli is easier to understand and write of course, because its more rounded and economical. We were learning Asomtavruli handwriting in school, because famous poems were written in ancient Georgian.

Notable features

  • Type of writing system: alphabet
  • Direction of writing: left to right, horizontal
  • When printed, Mkhedruli letters are not connected at all, though they can be in cursive handwriting.
  • The headline letters are used for titles and headlines.
  • Georgian has no symbols for numerals. Each letter has a numerical value as well as a phonological one, but Indic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc) are normally used.
  • The order of the Mkhedruli letters is based on that of the Greek alphabet. The Georgian consonants with no Greek equivalents come at the end of the alphabet.

Used to write

Georgian (ქართული ენა), a Kartvelian or South Caucasian language spoken by about 4.1 million people mainly in Georgia (საქართველო), and also in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, USA and Uzbekistan

Mingrelian (მარგალური ნინა), a South Caucasian language spoken in northwestern Georgia by perhaps half a million people.

Laz (ლაზური ნენა), a South Caucasian language closely related to Mingrelian and spoken in Turkey and Georgia by about 33,000 people.

Svan (ლუშნუ ნინ), a South Caucasian language with about 30,000 speakers mainly in the northwest of Georgia.

Abkhaz (აფხაზური ენა), a Northwest Caucasian language, was also once written with the Mkhedruli alphabet, but is now written with the Cyrillic alphabet.

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