LivingWithCaucasians is a blog describing the life of an American family in Caucasian Georgia, and it’s a great read if you happen to be interested in that part of the world. Some bits involving language (no permalinks—it’s Blogger):
Saturday, December 13, 2003
Consumer Culture in Georgia: Maybe You Should Rethink That Product Name
The desire to adopt Western consumer culture, as misguided as you and I might think that is, proceeds at a fair clip here in the former Soviet Union. Here in Georgia, there is a triple barrier: language. And not just language, alphabet, too. There are three distinct written languages here: mkhedruli (kartuli/Georgian), Cyrillic (Russian), and Latin (English). There are several other written languages that are around on a regular basis, depending on which consumer product you are dealing with: Armenian and Farsi, as well as the other languages that use Cyrillic—Ukrainian, Uzbek, Kazakh, etc.
Everyone (except the Armenians and Azeris and members of various isolated mountain tribes who live inside the borders of Georgia) speaks kartuli. Most everyone speaks at least some Russian; the younger folks are mostly learning English rather than Russian in school. TV is about half and half kartuli/Russian, so even if they aren’t taking it in school, the kids learn a bit of Russian by watching. The population is only about 4 million, so there’s clearly not a huge indigenous consumer product manufacturing industry. Russia is a LOT closer than the U.S., so as a trading partner, it’s obviously first in line. BUT English is cooler than Russian.
What all this means is that many products have to be labeled in at least two languages. Most of the imported food products we buy in the supermarket have a photocopied label in kartuli strategically scotch-taped over the only area where there might be any product information we might like to read. But hey, it’s their country…
And just as I feared, I am having to buy food in open air markets, with no prices posted, speaking none of the local languages. But many of the food names are cognates for something I’ve heard before: puri is bread, chai is tea, kave is coffee, rhvino is wine. And I have learned lots of the names of things that have cognates only on other planets: milk is rdze, butter is karaki, beer is ludi. And people in the markets are kind.