Mingrelian language

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მარგალური ნინაmargaluri nina
Native to Georgia
Region Samegrelo, Abkhazia
Ethnicity Megrelians
Native speakers
344,000 (2015) [1]
Georgian script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xmf
Glottolog ming1252 [2]
Kartvelian languages.svg

Megrelian (მარგალური ნინაmargaluri nina) is a Kartvelian language spoken in Western Georgia (regions of Samegrelo and Abkhazia), primarily by the Megrelians. The language was also called Iverian (Georgian iveriuli ena) in the early 20th century. Since Mingrelian has historically been only a regional language within boundaries of both historical Georgian states and modern Georgia, the number of younger people speaking it has decreased substantially, with UNESCO designating it as a "definitely endangered language". [3]


Distribution and status

No reliable figures exist for the number of Mingrelian native speakers, but it is estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000. Most speakers live in the Samegrelo (Mingrelia) region of Georgia, which comprises the Odishi Hills and the Kolkheti Lowlands, from the Black Sea coast to the Svan Mountains and the Tskhenistskali River. Smaller enclaves existed in Abkhazia, [4] but the ongoing civil unrest there has displaced many Mingrelian speakers to other regions of Georgia. Their geographical distribution is relatively compact, which has helped to promote the transmission of the language between generations.

Mingrelian is generally written with the Georgian alphabet, but has no written standard or official status. Almost all speakers are bilingual; they use Mingrelian mainly for familiar and informal conversation, and Georgian (or, for expatriate speakers, the local official language) for other purposes.

In the summer of 1999, books of the Georgian poet Murman Lebanidze were burned in the Mingrelian capital, Zugdidi, after he made disparaging remarks about the Mingrelian language. [5]


Mingrelian is one of the Kartvelian languages. It is closely related to Laz, from which it has differentiated mostly in the last 500 years, after the northern (Mingrelian) and southern (Laz) communities were separated by Turkic invasions. It is somewhat less closely related to Georgian (the two branches having separated in the first millennium BC or earlier) and even more distantly related to Svan (which is believed to have branched off in the 2nd millennium BC or earlier). [6] Mingrelian is not mutually intelligible with any of those other languages, although it is said that its speakers can recognize many Laz words.

Some linguists refer to Mingrelian and Laz as grouped within the Zan languages. [7] Zan had already split into Mingrelian and Laz variants by early modern times, however, and it is not customary to speak of a unified Zan language today.

The oldest surviving texts in Mingrelian date from the 19th century, and are mainly ethnographical literature. The earliest linguistic studies of Mingrelian include a phonetic analysis by Aleksandre Tsagareli (1880), and grammars by Ioseb Kipshidze (1914) and Shalva Beridze (1920). From 1930 to 1938 several newspapers were published in Mingrelian, such as Kazakhishi Gazeti , Komuna , Samargalosh Chai , Narazenish Chai , and Samargalosh Tutumi . More recently, there has been some revival of the language, with the publication of dictionaries—Mingrelian–Georgian by Otar Kajaia, and Mingrelian-German by Otar Kajaia and Heinz Fähnrich—and poetry books by Lasha Gakharia, Edem Izoria, Lasha Gvasalia, Guri Otobaia, Giorgi Sichinava, Jumber Kukava, and Vakhtang Kharchilava, as well as books and magazines published by Jehovah's Witnesses. [8]



Mingrelian has five primary vowels a, e, i, o, u. The Zugdidi-Samurzaqano dialect has a sixth, ə, which is the result of reduction of i and u.

Mingrelian vowels
Front Back
High i [i][ə]) ჷu [u]
Mid e [ɛ]o [ɔ]
Low a [ɑ]


The consonant inventory of Mingrelian is almost identical to Laz, Georgian, and Svan.

Mingrelian consonants
Labial Dental Alveolar Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m [m]n [n]
Plosive voiced b [b]d [d]g [ɡ]
voiceless p [p]t [t]k [k]ʔ [ʔ]
ejective [pʼ][tʼ][kʼ][qʼ]
Affricate voiced ʒ [d͡z]ǯ [d͡ʒ]
voiceless c [t͡s]č [t͡ʃ]
ejective ċ [t͡sʼ]čʼ [t͡ʃʼ]
Fricative voiced v [v]z [z]ž [ʒ]ɣ [ɣ]
voiceless s [s]š [ʃ]x [x]h [h]
Trill r [r]
Approximant central y [j]
lateral l [l]

Phonetic processes

Vowel reduction

Certain pairs of vowels reduce to single vowels:[ clarification needed ]

  • ae and aieee
  • ao, oa and ooaaa
  • ou → uu → u

In Zugdidi-Samurzaqano dialect the vowels i and u also often reduce to ə.

Pre-consonant change of velar g

Before consonants, gr.

Positional change of uvular q' sound

In word-initial prevocalic and intervocalic positions, q' → ʔ. Before the consonant v, q' → ʔ/ḳ.

Regressive assimilation of consonants

The common types are:

  • voicing/devoicing of voiceless/voiced consonants before voiced/voiceless ones (respectively).
  • glottalization of consonants before the glottalized ones and the glottal stop.

Progressive dissimilation

If the stem contains r then the suffixes -ar and -ur transform to -al and -ul, e.g. xorga (Khorga, the village)→ xorg-ul-i ("Khorgan"). The rule is not valid if in the stem with r an l appears later, e.g. marṭvili ("Martvili", the town) → marṭvil-ur-i (adj. "Martvilian")

In a stem with voiceless affricates or voiceless sibilants, a later ǯ is deaffricated to d, e.g. orcxonǯi → orcxondi "comb", č'anǯi → č'andi "fly (insect)", isinǯi → isindi "arrow", etc.

The transformation of l

  • in all dialects of Mingrelian, before consonants lr.
  • in the Martvili subdialect in word-initial prevocalic position, l → y → ∅ and in intervocalic position l → ∅[ further explanation needed ]

Intervocalic deletion of v

Between the vowels the organic[ clarification needed ]v disappears, e.g. xvavi (Geo. "abundance, plenty") → *xvai → xvee (id.), mṭevani (Geo. "raceme") → ṭiani (id.), etc.

Phonetic augmentation n

Before the stops and affricates, an inorganic[ clarification needed ] augmentation n may appear (before labials n → m).


Megrelian is written in the Mkhedruli script.

MkhedruliTranscriptionIPA transcription



The main dialects and subdialects of Mingrelian are:

Famous speakers

Related Research Articles

In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of breath that accompanies either the release or, in the case of preaspiration, the closure of some obstruents. In English, aspirated consonants are allophones in complementary distribution with their unaspirated counterparts, but in some other languages, notably most Indian and East Asian languages, the difference is contrastive.

Georgian language Official language of Georgia

Georgian is a Kartvelian language spoken by Georgians. It is the official language of Georgia. Georgian is written in its own writing system, the Georgian script. Georgian is the literary language for all regional subgroups of Georgians, including those who speak other Kartvelian languages: Svans, Mingrelians and the Laz.

Taa language Khoisan language

Taa, also known as ǃXóõ is a Tuu language notable for its large number of phonemes, perhaps the largest in the world. It is also notable for having perhaps the heaviest functional load of click consonants, with one count finding that 82% of basic vocabulary items started with a click. Most speakers live in Botswana, but a few hundred live in Namibia. The people call themselves ǃXoon or ʼNǀohan, depending on the dialect they speak. The Tuu languages are one of the three traditional language families that make up the Khoisan languages.

The voiceless glottal fricative, sometimes called voiceless glottal transition, and sometimes called the aspirate, is a type of sound used in some spoken languages that patterns like a fricative or approximant consonant phonologically, but often lacks the usual phonetic characteristics of a consonant. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨h⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is h, although has been described as a voiceless vowel because in many languages, it lacks the place and manner of articulation of a prototypical consonant as well as the height and backness of a prototypical vowel:

[h and ɦ] have been described as voiceless or breathy voiced counterparts of the vowels that follow them [but] the shape of the vocal tract […] is often simply that of the surrounding sounds. […] Accordingly, in such cases it is more appropriate to regard h and ɦ as segments that have only a laryngeal specification, and are unmarked for all other features. There are other languages [such as Hebrew and Arabic] which show a more definite displacement of the formant frequencies for h, suggesting it has a [glottal] constriction associated with its production.

Languages of the Caucasus languages of a geographic region

The Caucasian languages comprise a large and extremely varied array of languages spoken by more than ten million people in and around the Caucasus Mountains, which lie between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

Laz language Kartvelian language spoken by the Laz people on the southeastern shore of the Black Sea

The Laz language is a Kartvelian language spoken by the Laz people on the southeastern shore of the Black Sea. It is estimated that there are around 20,000 native speakers of Laz in Turkey, in a strip of land extending from Melyat to the Georgian border, and about 2,000 in Georgia.

Svan language language

The Svan language is a Kartvelian language spoken in the western Georgian region of Svaneti primarily by the Svan people. With its speakers variously estimated to be between 30,000 and 80,000, the UNESCO designates Svan as a "definitely endangered language". It is of particular interest because it has retained many archaic features that have been lost in the other South-Caucasian languages.

Zugdidi Place in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Georgia

Zugdidi is a city in the western Georgian historical province of Samegrelo (Mingrelia). It is situated in the north-west of that province. The city is located 318 kilometres west of Tbilisi, 30 km from the Black Sea coast and 30 km from the Egrisi Range, at an elevation of 100–110 metres above sea level. Zugdidi is the capital of the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region, which combines Samegrelo (Mingrelia) and upper part of Svaneti, and the center of the Zugdidi Municipality within.

Glottalization is the complete or partial closure of the glottis during the articulation of another sound. Glottalization of vowels and other sonorants is most often realized as creaky voice. Glottalization of obstruent consonants usually involves complete closure of the glottis; another way to describe this phenomenon is to say that a glottal stop is made simultaneously with another consonant. In certain cases, the glottal stop can even wholly replace the voiceless consonant. The term 'glottalized' is also used for ejective and implosive consonants; see glottalic consonant for examples.

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Mingrelians Ethnic group

The Mingrelians are an indigenous Kartvelian-speaking ethnic subgroup of Georgians that mostly live in the Samegrelo region of Georgia. They also live in considerable numbers in Abkhazia and Tbilisi. In the pre-1930 Soviet census, the Megrelians were afforded their own ethnic group category.

Peoples of the Caucasus

The peoples of the Caucasus, or Caucasians, are a diverse group comprising more than 50 ethnic groups throughout the Caucasus region.

Georgian is a Kartvelian language spoken by about 4 million people, primarily in Georgia but also by indigenous communities in northern Turkey and Azerbaijan, and the diaspora, such as in Russia, Turkey, Iran, Europe, and north America. It is a highly-standardized language, with established literary and linguistic norms dating back to the 5th century.

The Proto-Kartvelian language, or Common Kartvelian, is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Kartvelian languages, which was spoken by the ancestors of the modern Kartvelian peoples. The existence of such a language is widely accepted by specialists in linguistics, who have reconstructed a broad outline of the language by comparing the existing Kartvelian languages against each other. Several linguists, namely, Gerhard Deeters and Georgy Klimov have also reconstructed a lower-level proto-language called Proto-Karto-Zan or Proto-Georgian-Zan, which is the ancestor of Karto-Zan languages.

Kartvelian languages Language family

The Kartvelian languages are a language family indigenous to the South Caucasus and spoken primarily in Georgia, with large groups of native speakers in Russia, Iran, the United States, Europe, Israel, and northeastern parts of Turkey. There are approximately 5.2 million speakers of Kartvelian languages worldwide. The Kartvelian family is not known to be related to any other language family, making it one of the world's primary language families. The first literary source in a Kartvelian language is the Old Georgian Bir el Qutt inscriptions, written in ancient Georgian Asomtavruli script at the once-existing Georgian monastery near Bethlehem, which dates back to c. 430 AD.

Zan languages branch of the Kartvelian languages constituted by the Mingrelian and Laz languages

The Zan languages, or Zanuri, are a branch of the Kartvelian languages constituted by the Mingrelian and Laz languages. The grouping is disputed as some Georgian linguists consider the two to form a dialect continuum of one Zan language. This is often challenged on the most commonly applied criteria of mutual intelligibility when determining borders between languages, as Mingrelian and Laz are only partially mutually intelligible, though speakers of one language can recognize a sizable amount of vocabulary of the other, primarily due to semantic loans, lexical loans and other areal features resulting from geographical proximity and historical close contact common for dialect continuums.

Laz is a Kartvelian language. It is sometimes considered as a southern dialect of Zan languages, the northern dialect being the Mingrelian language.

Mingrelian is a Kartvelian language that is mainly spoken in the Western Georgian regions Samegrelo and Abkhazia. In Abkhazia the number of Mingrelian speakers declined dramatically in the 1990s as a result of heavy ethnic cleansing of ethnic Georgians, the overwhelming majority of which were Mingrelians.

The Karto-Zan, also known as Georgian-Zan, languages are a branch of Kartvelian language family that contains Georgian and Zan languages. Svan language forms the other branch of the Kartvelian family, showing characteristic differences from Karto-Zan group. It has been hypothesized that divergence between Svan and Proto-Kartvelian language goes back as far as 19th century BCE. Georgian and Zan languages on the other hand diversified from Proto-Georgian-Zan language during 7th century BCE. Both languages share common archaic words related to metallurgy and agriculture absent in Svan.


  1. Megrelian at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Megrelian". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". www.unesco.org. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  4. "Georgia". U.S. Department of State. First paragraph, third sentence. Retrieved 9 April 2016. The United States supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, and does not recognize the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia, currently occupied by Russia, as independent.
  5. Ammon, Ulrich; Dittmar, Norbert; Mattheier, Klaus J., eds. (2006). Sociolinguistics: an international handbook of the science of language and society. Walter de Gruyter GmbH. p. 1899. ISBN   978-3-11-018418-1.
  6. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-10. Retrieved 2011-06-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. K2olxuri Ena (Colchian Language) Archived March 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  8. "იეჰოვაშ მოწმეეფიშ გიშაშკუმალირი ბიბლიური წიგნეფი დო ჟურნალეფი". jw.org. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  9. https://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100708/ap_on_re_eu/eu_georgia_oldest_person