Ellen Barry has a surprisingly good article in Sunday’s NY Times that starts by talking about the difficulties of Georgian—”its ridiculous consonant clusters (‘gvprtskvni’ [‘you peel us’–LH]); its diabolical irregular verbs” (having studied Georgian, I was able to assure my appalled wife that the description was, if anything, understated)—and goes on to describe the rest of the region:
Some 40 indigenous tongues are spoken in the region — more than any other spot in the world aside from Papua New Guinea and parts of the Amazon, where the jungles are so thick that small tribes rarely encounter one another. In the Caucasus, mountains serve the same purpose, offering small ethnicities a natural refuge against more powerful or aggressive ones.
As a result, there is a dense collection of ethnic groups, the kind of arrangement that was common before the Greek and Roman empires swept through the plains of Europe and Asia, shaping ethnic patchworks into states and nations, said Johanna Nichols, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley.
Aside from Nichols, an expert on the area, she quotes Bill Poser of the Log, and you can read his take on it here (he has a nice linguistic map of the Caucasus). The one thing that bothered me in Barry’s piece was the reference to Georgian as “a language whose closest relative, some linguists say, is Basque”: Larry, thou should’st be living at this hour!
The story ends with this horrifying anecdote:
Dr. Dybo has yet to hear from a library in Tskhinvali, which held a magisterial lexicon of the Ossetian language that was compiled over the course of many years. It’s a single manuscript, never transferred to a computer.
She is not sure, she said, but she thinks it burned up on Aug. 8.
War: What is it good for?