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Understanding these 5 words will help you understand georgians

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Language often acts as a lens into the soul of a society; it is through language that a society’s culture, voice, and mentality manifests. This is thanks to a combination of factors, such as word order, the usage of active and passive voice, and word formation. When combined, all of these factors can help us learn about how a society views and interacts with the world around it along with how it views broad ideas, such as authority, freedom, and individuality.

Word formation is perhaps the most insightful tool that can be used to study the close connection between a language and its speakers. Analyzing word formation is especially enlightening in agglutinative languages— languages that mix together prefixes, suffixes, and roots to make their words. Luckily, Georgian is one such language.

Below are five words that we believe are exceptionally informative on the soul of the Georgian people.

1: ქართველობა Kartveloba “Georgian-ness”

ქართველობა “Kartveloba” is the Georgian term for “Georgian-ness.” This word has two parts—ქართველი kartveli, which is the term for Georgian people, and the suffix -ობა

-oba, which is similar to the English suffix -ness, as in “kindness” and “happiness.”

There is no precise definition of this word, however, when asked to define ქართველობა “Kartveloba,” Georgians frequently use the same three themes: Love of the Nation, Freedom, and Democracy.

ქართველობა Kartveloba is a complex and broad cultural term
ქართველობა Kartveloba "Georgian-ness" is a term that attempts to define what it means to be Georgian

Love of the Nation is synonymous with love and respect for Georgian tradition. When Georgians speak of respecting their traditions, they often define these traditions as studying Georgian literature, learning Georgian dances and songs, and understanding Georgian history.

Freedom is the second part to this word. However, freedom is often difficult for Georgians to define. When Georgians are pressed as to what freedom means, they typically respond by saying that each person possesses the right to speak without fear of violence, the right to practice religion without hindrance, and the freedom to develop one’s personality.

The third most common answer to define ქართველობა Kartveloba is democracy. In the context of Georgian society, democracy is the application of the two previously mentioned components of Georgian society-- democracy allows for the broad cultural aspects (Love of Nation) of Georgian society to be connected with the individualist (Freedom) component.

a peaceful demonstration in Tbilisi
Peaceful demonstrations, such as this, are commonplace in Georgia

2: თავისუფალი tavisupali “Free”

After reading that freedom is such an important part of ქართველობა Kartveloba “Georgian-ness” it kind of makes sense to put this word on the list. However, this word speaks to a much deeper level of Georgians’ values.

The word for “free” is Georgian is actually a compound word composed of two words. The first word is თავი tavi, which is the Georgian word for “head” but also means “person” (think of the English phrase “counting heads” to mean “counting people”) along with also being the word for ”self” as in “myself”.” In თავისუფლება, the word for “oneself” is in the genitive/possessive case. The second word is უფალი, upali, which comes from the word უფალი—meaning “Lord.” This means that the word “Freedom” means “oneself’s Lord.” Furthermore, the word for უფლება upleba means “rights” as in “civil rights” and “human rights.”

თავისუფლების მოედანი Liberty Square in Tbilisi
თავისუფლების მოედანი Liberty Square in Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi

Think about that. The Georgian word for “Freedom/Liberty” literally means “oneself’s rights” or “oneself’s Lordship.” This shows that, opposed to English, Russian, or French, which have their own words for such an abstract idea, the Georgian people have directly connected Freedom/Liberty to the idea of individuality.

3: მთავრობა mtavroba “Government”

This word may seem odd, but stick with me for a moment. The word for “Government” in Georgian comes from the word მთავარი mtavari which means “primary,” or “main” and the suffix -ობა -oba which is like the English suffix -ness (goodness) or -ship (citizenship). This means that the word for “Government” in Georgian means “primary-ness.”

This shows that, in the Georgian mind, the government’s role in society is to be a primary/main institution in society.

This, opposed to gouvernment in French and government in English, where the word for “Government” comes from “to govern” which is a synonym for “to direct/to rule” or, even more poignantly, the Russian word for “Government”—правительство pravitel’stvo which comes from the word правда pravda meaning “Truth.” Yikes!

Parliament of Georgia on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi
The Georgian parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue

4: მშვიდობა mshvidoba “Peace”

This word comes from the word შვიდი shvidi “Seven” and the suffix -ობა -oba meaning this word means “seven-ness.” What? Where’s the connection between “Peace” and the number seven? The answer comes from ancient Georgian society (Ancient Greek times), when Georgian society was pagan. Back then, the ბორჯღალო borjghalo was the equivalent to the cross as a religious symbol.

The ბორჯღალო borjghalo is has seven prongs in the shape of a circular spiral. Each prong represents a diety—the Moon მთოვარე mtovare, Mercury ჯუმა juma, Venus მთიები mtiebi, Mars მარიხი marikhi, Jupiter დია dia, Saturn ზუალი zuali, and the Sun ჰელიო helio. The symbol represents the universe in balance, harmony, and, well, peace.

Borjghalo, and ancient Georgian symbol
The seven-pronged Borjghalo is an ancient Georgian symbol

5: თვალსაზრისი tvalsazrisi “Standpoint/Aspect”

Again, this might seem like an odd choice, but there’s a good reason why this word is on this list. The word is a compound word of the word თვალი tvali meaning “Eye” and აზრი azri “Opinion.” This word best translates as “of the eye’s opinion.”

Much like the word for “Freedom/Liberty” this word gives us a bit of an insight into the Georgian psyche. It shows that Georgians are aware that one’s standpoint and interpretation of reality comes not from fact, but from one’s own experiences. Again, this points that Georgians are keenly aware of the importance of individual experiences in the creation of opinions, epistemologies, and outlooks.

Individualism is an essential part of Georgian culture
Individualism is an essential part of Georgian culture

There are many other words that give good insights into the Georgian mentality, making this list subjective and far from exhaustive. With that having been said, hopefully after having read this, you’ll have a little more insight into Georgian culture, and, in particular, that certain….thing….that makes this culture unique.

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