Digital Georgian.

Monica Ellena reported for Eurasianet (a couple years ago, but I just saw it) on the problems faced by minor alphabets in the digital age:

Dato Dolidze’s fingers move slowly on the old handset as he writes a text message to his son. “My phone only has the Latin alphabet, so every time I text I need to translate the Georgian letters into the Latin. It’s a pain,” says the 50-something orange vendor at a Tbilisi vegetable market. While newer smartphones enable the use of the Georgian alphabet, many in Georgia – where the average wage is $333 a month – are, like Dolidze, stuck with cheaper, older phones.

Georgia’s unique alphabet is one of the unintended casualties of such digital compromises. […] “Minor languages are particularly vulnerable today thus need protection,” says Nino Doborjginidze, who heads the Institute of Linguistic Studies at Tbilisi’s Ilia Chavchavadze State University. “A lack of technology development for such languages, including Georgian, in turn, impedes international dissemination of valuable Georgian-language data surviving in different media, oral, manuscript and printed.” […]

Private initiatives have emerged to bolster Georgia’s web presence. In 2015, industrial designer Zviad Tsikolia teamed up with Georgia’s largest lender, TBC Bank, and launched the contest #WriteinGeorgian, calling on volunteers’ creativity to create new styles for the alphabetic characters. Georgians responded enthusiastically, with 160 new fonts submitted in five weeks. […]

Neighboring Armenia faces similar challenges, as it also has a unique language with an alphabet used solely for Armenian. “Transliteration is common, especially among the vast diaspora, but not only,” explains Gegham Vardanyan, editor-in-chief of the media discussion platform media.am. “It is not only the Latin script, Armenians in Russia will communicate in Armenian using the Cyrillic script. The result is just bizarre, often you just cannot understand it.”

The sample font from the #WriteinGeorgian contest shown at the top of the page is gorgeous, if perhaps impractical.

Comments

  1. Georgian fonts are an interesting beast. It’s the only bicameral alphabet that doesn’t do title casing. There’s a lowercase alphabet, mkhedruli, and an uppercase font, mtavruli, but they never mix. Part of the reason that Georgian fonts (and thus, its digital presence) is so verklempt is because mkhedruli was the only one of the two supported until Unicode 12.0. In order to support the variety of choices a designer might make, it forced a combination of crazy font hacks, as well continued use of a very old font format (to support government/official documentation).

    There are some really good talks on Georgian typography from DevFest Tbilisi 2016: the history of Georgian typograhpic case by Michael Everson and recent Unicode developments by Akaki Razmadze.

    The bit on Armenian transliteration is amusing. I have some friends with whom we will write to each other in English, but in Cyrillic, as a way of confounding friends who may be reading text messages over our shoulders, but do not speak English well (or at all).

    P.S. The “final” Write In Georgian website has the fonts for download, if so inclined.

  2. Great links, thanks!

  3. Hehe. I remember creating a Georgian font for a dot-matrix printer back in 1987 or so … I was sure the manuscript I printed is somewhere in my office, but a quick glance didn’t find it. Is it buried under other piles of papers un-churned in this digital age???

  4. David Marjanović says:

    Wow, that is gorgeous!

  5. John Cowan says:

    Mtavruli is like small caps: used for special situations. Everything can be written perfectly fine in mkhedruli. There are two other sub-scripts, asomtavruli and nuskhuri, which are used only by the Georgian Orthodox Church and are illegible to mkhedruli-literate Georgians without special training. Attempts have been made to use both asomtavruli and mtavruli as titlecase, but they have never succeeded.

  6. I always find it striking to read about Georgian names like Nino and Dato. Just because you can have long consonant clusters, doesn’t mean you always should.

  7. John Cowan says:

    Also mama ‘father’ and deda ‘mother’.

  8. @John, the whole push to add mkhedruli to the Unicode standard was specifically because it’s not a Georgian equivalent to small caps, bold, or equivalent font stylings. If anything, it’s equivalent to all caps, which we’d all agree for every other bicameral language is not merely a font style.

    I’ve always been partial to bu ბუ ‘owl’. On the flip side, I like the consonantally paired words brt’q’eli ბრტყელი ‘flat’ and mrgvali მრგვალი ’round’.

  9. Christopher Culver says:

    “I always find it striking to read about Georgian names like Nino and Dato. Just because you can have long consonant clusters, doesn’t mean you always should.”

    You might be interested in Giya Kancheli’s piece Styx for choir and orchestra, namely its libretto. The sung text is in Georgian, but it hardly looks like Georgian: as Kancheli put together words for the choir to sing, he allowed only words that lacked Georgian’s fearsome consonant clusters, as presumably that would threaten the piece’s adoption by foreign musicians.

  10. Georgian Oulipo!

  11. He should have called it გაუჩინარება [gauchinareba] ‘disappearance.’ No consonant clusters there, fortunately.

  12. Georgian is pretty mild with consonant clusters in comparison with some of its neighbours.

    Armenian has surnames like Mkrtchyan, for example.

  13. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    “I always find it striking to read about Georgian names like Nino and Dato. Just because you can have long consonant clusters, doesn’t mean you always should.”

    The only person I’ve known who I knew to be Georgian is called Nana. However, I don’t know if that’s the name on her birth certificate or just a pet name.

  14. Georgian is pretty mild with consonant clusters in comparison with some of its neighbours. Armenian has surnames like Mkrtchyan, for example.

    Are you trying to start trouble? Because Georgian isn’t going to take that lying down; they’ll throw ɡvbrdɣvnis (‘he’s plucking us’) at you, and then where will you be?

  15. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    When I last saw my Georgian acquaintance it wasn’t the moment to ask her to say ɡvbrdɣvnis, as her husband had died a little before. However, if I see her again I’ll ask her.

  16. January First-of-May says:

    Armenian has surnames like Mkrtchyan, for example.

    IIRC, it’s actually only spelled Mkrtchyan, and it’s supposed to be pronounced something like Mekertichyan – it’s just that all those epenthetic schwas don’t show up in the spelling.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    Yes, it’s important to distinguish between consonant clusters as a phonological/phonetic thing, and apparent consonant clusters that are merely the results of varying orthographic conventions. Decades ago I knew in passing a fellow surnamed Krc (maybe originally Krč, but his family had left Czechoslovakia for the U.S. in some haste circa 1968 and might have left the diacritical behind). He explained (via a stock line he had presumably had the whole U.S. phase of his childhood to polish because everyone asked him the same question) that his surname was not actually vowelless because “the R is a vowel.”

  18. And how did he say his last name? Kurtz? Kirk?

  19. J.W. Brewer says:

    Now I’m having difficulty recalling … I think through memory’s haze it was “kirch” as in rhymes-with-birch, but conceivably “kirk”? Or maybe he’d developed a willingness to tolerate several different pronunciations from the mouths of Americans w/o affirmatively correcting them, making his own preference lower-profile? It’s been 30+ years, and the final consonant was not the point of greatest linguistic interest …

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    So I knew that guy in passing way back in the ’80’s, but here’s a more widely-reported similar story from the ’90’s. https://www.ling.upenn.edu/~beatrice/humor/clinton-deploys-vowels.html

  21. Man, I could have sworn I’d posted “Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia” at some point, but apparently it’s never been mentioned here. A real Onion classic.

  22. How the natives say it (In Czech)

    https://ru.forvo.com/phrase/str%C4%8D_prst_skrz_krk/

    “Согласные [r],[l] в чешском языке являются слогообразующими (образуют слог без гласного звука). При произнесении такого слога появляется неясный звук , напоминающий русский [ы] ( этот звук нужно произносить максимально кратко).”

  23. At work we have a program called ɡvbrdɣvnis (written in the Georgian alphabet though), which separates files into chunks for processing. The word’s other meaning is “it’s tearing us apart” (like the famous line from the Room). Talking about it on conference calls is a gas.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    При произнесении такого слога появляется неясный звук , напоминающий русский [ы] (этот звук нужно произносить максимально кратко).

    That is not the case in the Czech I’ve heard. There are no prop vowels, however short; syllabic [r] is real.

    But I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s regional variation. Some kinds of FYLOSC use prop vowels before or after syllabic [r], others don’t.

    Syllabic /r/ is, of course, all over American English. I need go no further than the infamous vowelless monosyllabic squirrel. For syllabic /l/ in English, listen to this.

  25. Krč has its own page on Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kr%C4%8D

    Pronounced kr̩tʃ. I’ve never seen it as a personal name, though.

  26. J.W. Brewer says:

    Back toward the Caucasus, today’s news coverage of Mr. Mueller’s report includes a mention of “Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze.” Mr. Rtskhiladze is described in other online sources as a “Georgian businessman” or “Georgian financier,” which would seem to fit the vowel-deficient surname a bit better, but of course it is perfectly possible for an ethnic Georgian to be a citizen and/or resident of the Russian Federation and I have no idea what passport or passports Mr. Rtskhiladze may carry. I am disappointed that the mention is sufficiently minor that it is unlikely we will be treated to the entertaining spectacle of dozens of different cable tv pundits and talking heads all trying to guess how to pronounce “Rtskhiladze” over the course of the next 24 hours.

  27. J.W. Brewer says:

    David M.: I don’t know if the fellow I knew back then had enough knowledge of linguistics to know that “syllabic /r/” was not inconsistent with vowellessness, and used “r is a vowel” as a dumbed-down explanation for non-specialists, or if he was himself a non-specialist. For reasons I can’t well reconstruct this many decades later, phonology/phonetics was the piece of linguistics I was least interested in as an undergrad and as a result I didn’t pick up nearly as much of the jargon or even the concepts as I wish in hindsight I had at a time when it would have been fairly convenient to do so.

  28. J.W. Brewer says:

    To prase’s point, I can’t speak to how common or uncommon it is as a surname back in the old country, but here’s the 2015 obit for the father of the family (which as an interesting sidelight locates his birthplace in the “Czech Republic” even though that wasn’t the relevant political entity in 1928). https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nhregister/obituary.aspx?n=eugen-krc&pid=175481036

  29. David Marjanović says:

    used “r is a vowel” as a dumbed-down explanation for non-specialists

    Syllabic consonants have often been called “vocalic” in specialist literature. The French for “syllabic r” even seems to be r voyelle.

  30. “r is a vowel” in some contexts is precise and reasonable. If it functions phonologically as a vowel, you can call it a vowel: for example, if it only comes between consonants. Phonetically, the articulation is not as open as a prototypical vowel.

    For example, Yurok prkryr’ry ‘to be red’ is segmentable into CV(C) syllables, pr.kr.yr.’ry

  31. Mkhedruli developed from the church styles of writing. The letter shapes have developed forms of their own, but can still be traced back to their nuskhuri and (earlier) asomtavruli forms.

    If printing had never been invented, one could postulate a similar situation for the Latin alphabet, where the handwritten style comes to be used for everyday use (like mkhedruli in Georgian), and the more formal blackletter or gothic version of the alphabet is used for religious works (like nuskhuri) with ornate capitals (like asomtavruli) used for illumination and titles in religious books.

  32. John Cowan says:

    My favorite Georgian surname is Mgrvgrvladje. Two syllables with an eight-consonant cluster in the first. It does take real time to say such a cluster, but it does not have any syllabic consonants in it.

    Alas, almost all the ghits for this are obviously by me, possibly all of them. Perhaps I misremembered it; still, I am quite sure about the eight consonants.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    it does not have any syllabic consonants in it

    Or at least the language tries very hard not to treat them as syllabic, like French with -re and -le. Phonology vs. phonetics yet again.

  34. Lars (the original one) says:

    Otto Jespersen constructed the following sentence for a Danish popularizing book on language: Et holmbladsk lys’ styrke er større end et aspsks = ‘The strength of a candle from Holmblad is larger than that of one from Asp.’ (Asp and Holmblad were two manufacturers of candles, since merged). Any Dane should be able to say aspsks without epenthetics of any kind.

    And Swedish has öst/västkustsk, I’m sure you can find an excuse to put that in the genetive as well.

  35. Mgrvgrvladje

    It would have to be Mgrvgrvladze (-adze is a regular surname ending), but that only gets one ghit, so that’s not a name either. You’ve clearly garbled a couple of details over the years.

  36. FWIW, the people with that name that I know spell it in Bulgarian as Магърдич. Stress varies, but people usually put on the Ъ? Sometimes the И, though. How is it in Armenian?

  37. There’s a common name Mgeladze (მგელაძე); I don’t suppose you could have improved on that subconsciously?

  38. language hat: In case you were replying to me, I was talking about the Armenian name Mkrtch/yan. The Mkrtches I know spell it Магърдич. As far as I can tell from Google, when it is a family name it’s Магърдичян.

  39. No, no, I was talking to John, sorry — I haven’t been awake long!

  40. January First-of-May says:

    The one Google hit for “Mgrvgrvladze” links to a BBS archive from Dec 1992/Jan 1993, so it’s at least that old.
    Specifically, someone by the nick of “GREG TRI” mentions “his friend Akaki Mgrvgrvladze”, which presumably would be a point in favor of it possibly being a real Georgian name.

    (There was, in fact, an Akaki Mgeladze, though he apparently died in 1980. I’m not sure who “GREG TRI” is, but I doubt it’s John Cowan.)

     
    As for “Mktrchyan”, I’ve read somewhere that “Megerdichan” is an alternate option; sure enough, both “Megerdichan” and “Megerdichian” get many Google hits. There’s also an economist named Jacques Der Megreditchian.

    I’ve hedged my description as “Mekertichyan” because I’ve also read somewhere that the voiced consonants come from another Armenian dialect (whichever of West and East isn’t the standard).

  41. I was also distracted, and had not read all the comments yet; that is why I was not sure what you were replying to.
    In any case, I was thinking about the family name form, “Магърдичян”. In Bulgarian, you can’t have an iotised vowel after an affricate. So “чян” is not technically possible, but, I think, it would be produced as [ɟʌn], probably. I know _of_ one person with that surname, but he was a contemporary of my great-grandfather. I don’t know how he would have pronounced his surname himself.

  42. Specifically, someone by the nick of “GREG TRI” mentions “his friend Akaki Mgrvgrvladze”, which presumably would be a point in favor of it possibly being a real Georgian name.

    A very feeble point, since one ghit is functionally equivalent to none — the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of its having been a typo, especially since I put it into the Georgian alphabet (Mgrvgrvladze = მგრვგრვლაძე) and got “Your search – მგრვგრვლაძე – did not match any documents.” I wonder if JC can reconstruct the original from which he developed that?

  43. Correction: I was not specific enough — you can have iotised vowels after front affricates, but not after back affricates.

  44. Ah, that makes sense.

  45. John Cowan says:

    I definitely saw it in a context about Georgian’s extreme consonant clusters rather than a reference to anyone in particular.

    I am not now, nor have I ever been, someone posting as Greg Tri.

  46. January First-of-May says:

    I definitely saw it in a context about Georgian’s extreme consonant clusters rather than a reference to anyone in particular.

    This happens to be the context in which Greg Tri introduced it, which means their post was probably the original (or, at least, the presumed original as long as no earlier mention turns up, but with online stuff it’s hard to get earlier than 1992).

  47. January First-of-May : are you making a not-so-subtle reference to the Eternal September? I only got online in 1997 but I’ve heard stories.

  48. Kalmyk also has some pretty awful consonant clusters.

    this one is supposed to be unpronounceable

    “khotkhlzlhn” – ‘bending over’

  49. January First-of-May says:

    are you making a not-so-subtle reference to the Eternal September?

    I’m making a reference to the fact that the discussion where the “original” turned up is from December 1992, and that online archives from that far back are few and far between (and, IIRC, mostly from Usenet, which this one appears not to be – at least, unless it’s actually sci.lang in disguise, as opposed to an actual BBS with a similar name).
    [EDIT: turns out it was sci.lang, though dated July 1990 – see comment below]

    Incidentally, “Greg Tri” is apparently a truncation – his signature gives his full name as Greg Trice.
    (I’m not sure whether he is the same Greg Trice who complained about the RAS syndrome on alt.usage.english in 1991, but that’s the closest other Google hit.)
    [EDIT: he probably was.]

  50. January First-of-May says:

    Turns out that it actually was sci.lang in disguise, and the discussion was from 1990. I thought something looked off.

  51. That is not the case in the Czech I’ve heard. There are no prop vowels, however short; syllabic [r] is real.

    My link has a dozen sound clips of Czech speakers but no indication of regional origins or even if they are all L1

  52. January First-of-May : I tried to use Usenet in the late 90s, with the help of a friend who had used BBSes in the 80s (semi-illegally, behind the Iron Curtain). It turned out it was mostly defunct, and by the time I got enough knowledge of the protocols, it was dead as a medium. But at the time I was intermittently reading Usenet discussions and found them fascinating, James Nicoll, Charlie Stross. I was a teenager.

  53. January First-of-May says:

    I never used either Usenet or BBSes that I know of, but then I was not quite 2 years old when the Eternal September hit.
    (We do have several guides to the Internet from the mid-1990s that describe both Usenet and BBSes, so it’s possible that I did, in fact, use them at some point.)

    My earliest memories of the Internet are from 1997 or so (roughly age 5), looking over my father’s shoulder; there was one website he regularly visited that listed the number of days until Y2K, and while I don’t recall any specific numbers on that spot, I’m pretty sure that the largest I’ve seen was over 1000.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    this one is supposed to be unpronounceable

    Being natively blessed with heaps of syllabic [m n ŋ l], I can do it. But the Kalmyks don’t bother: the unstressed vowels are so predictable they aren’t written.

  55. Sixth Street might be deemed not pronounceable, except it is.

  56. I was having lunch with a friend yesterday, and this came up. He recalled taking a bus from Erevan to Tbilisi, and not perceiving any great differences in phonology along the way.

  57. “Man, I could have sworn I’d posted “Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia” at some point, but apparently it’s never been mentioned here. A real Onion classic.”

    languagehat: I actually remember that Onion article. Searching for it, this is what comes up most often: https://www.ling.upenn.edu/~beatrice/humor/clinton-deploys-vowels.html

    It must have been a reference to Dayton? As I said, I only got online in 1997 and must have been binge-reading.

  58. January First-of-May says:

    Man, I could have sworn I’d posted “Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia” at some point, but apparently it’s never been mentioned here. A real Onion classic.

    It might not have ever gotten a post to itself (that I could find, at least), but it was linked at least once in the comments.

  59. So it was, and just last year!

  60. Andrew Dunbar says:

    Wiktionary does include the epenthetic schwas in its IPA for the Armenian name, but when I look it up on Forvo, the one recording there could be called either way, depending on whether you wanted to hear epenthetic schwas or not. But to me it sounded just as it would in Georgian where I spent half a year around 2012 and asked locals to teach me to pronounce the eight-consonant-cluster-word “they peel us”. Georgians don’t perceive anything like epenthetic schwas in their but I have heard foreigners say they hear them. My interpretation is that those foreigners are skeptical because their languages don’t have such consonant clusters.

    I’m happy to accept there are no epenthetic vowels in Georgian, but instead their letter v can be pronounced varying ways along a continuum from a u-ish vowel to a bilabial v. This did seem to act a bit vowelish in the midst of consonant clusters, a context which it has in “they peel us”. So I feel that “v” can ease the pain of consonant clusters rather than having to pronounce unwritten schwas.

    There’s also nothing to say “r is a vowel” is not just a quirk of imperfect translation due to semantic category overlap. Who says the core sense of the word for “vowel” is not actually more like “syllable nucleus”? R is very common as a syllabic nucleus and is traditionally described as a vowel in Sanskrit, though in that context written “ri”. I’d wager it’s described that way in other languages too.

  61. Trond Engen says:

    epenthetic schwas

    Schwa rabhakti.

  62. though in that context written “ri”.

    Only in Hindi-influenced contexts. The scientific transcription is ṛ.

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