(For your convenience, all Georgian and Greek characters in this writeup are in transliteration, except when necessary to show character shapes. When Georgian characters are used, they are in the Khutsuri script, which Unicode misleadingly refers to as `uppercase'.)
The Georgian language has had three major scripts. The first, Asomtavruli ("capital letter", also known as Mrglovani "rounded"), is first recorded in the 5th century, and is now more or less extinct. Khutsuri (ecclesiastical) appeared about 400 years later, and appears to be a more angular form of Asomtavruli. Mkhedruli, or "soldier's" script, appeared in the thirteenth century, and eventually replaced Khutsuri in secular use. Khutsuri continued to be used in ecclesiastical contexts long after it had fallen into secular disuse---compare with Glagolitic and Cyrillic. Mkhedruli resembles a cursive form of Khutsuri, though some characters changed siginificantly.
While Georgian is not Indo-European, its scripts share features with Greek, indicating likely borrowing. The character forms of Khutsuri and Asomtavruli are in a few cases quite similar to their Greek counterparts:
- P (Ⴔ: par/phar) is very similar to Greek phi (Φ)
- K (Ⴕ: kar/khar) resembles Greek chi (&Chi), rotated 45 degrees
- O (Ⴍ: on) looks like Greek omicron (Ο) with a tail
Also note that G, E, and V (gan, en, vin), though they do not immediately resemble their Greek counterparts, are very similar to one another. Recall the similarities among Greek gamma, epsilon, and digamma/waw: Ⴂ Ⴄ Ⴅ vs Γ Ε Ϝ.
The alphabet may be derived from a cursive Greek script, though I have no evidence of this at the moment. Others have suggested that the Georgian scripts are based in part on Middle Iranian.
There was, however, almost certainly some direct or indirect Greek influence on the early Georgian alphabet. Observe, for example, the order of the two (brackets indicating more or less obsolete characters):
- A B G D E V Z (EY/Ē) T I K' L M N (Y) O P' ZH R S T' (WI/Ü) U P K GH Q' SH CH TS DZ TS' CH' KH Q J H (OW/Ō) -- Georgian
- A B G D E (W) Z Ē TH I K L M N X O P (TS) (Q) R S T Y PH KH PS Ō -- Greek
Of course, Georgian has many more phonemes than Greek, and thus needs more letters to represent them all. The similarity of the common part, however, is much too strong to ignore.
Consider the correlation between the three series of obstruents in Greek (B, P, PH; D, T, TH; and G, K, KH) and the characters in corresponding positions
in the Georgian alphabets. Note that:
- Georgian voiced stops (B, G, D) correspond to Ancient Greek voiced stops (B, G, D). In Greek these later became voiced fricatives.
- Georgian ejectives (P', K', T') correspond to voiceless unaspirated stops (P, K, T).
- Georgian aspirates (P, K, T) correspond to Ancient Greek aspirates (PH, KH, TH). In Greek, these later became voiceless fricatives.
This may indicate that the borrowing happened when Greek TH, PH, KH were still aspirated stops. However, the first known occurrence of a Georgian alphabet (Asomtavruli) dates to about 430CE, by which time the Greek aspirate and voiced stops were already fricative.
One possibility is that the script was explicitly based on an obsolete version of Greek. Note that Georgian V is where Greek once had digamma (thanks to Gritchka for pointing this out). Digamma, also known as waw, was pronounced `w' or `v', so this makes sense. Georgian ZH takes up the space once occupied in Greek by san/sampi; the pronunciation of san is somewhat unclear. Likewise, the obsolete Georgian Y and Greek xi stand in the same position, though there was nothing in common between their sounds. Interestingly, the Gothic alphabet, which is definitely derived from Greek and is about 50 years older, has `j' (pronounced like english `y') in the same position.
In Unicode, Georgian is allocated the range U10A0-U10FF. This range includes both the Mkhedruli and Khutsuri scripts, as well as some obsolete Mkhedruli characters.
Sources and references:
- Omniglot (http://omniglot.com/writing/georgian.htm)
- Gritchka, private conversation
- `Greek Alphabet', Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com/wiki/Greek_alphabet)
- The Georgian Language (http://www.armazi.demon.co.uk/georgian/)
- `The Armenian alphabet and Georgian scripts compared with the Greek and the Hebrew alphabet' (http://titus.fkidg1.uni-frankfurt.de/didact/caucasus/geoarmsc.pdf)