Georgian Consonants Again

Because I know you are all so interested, I’m going to write more about Georgian consonants. Last time I talked about some specific consonants. This time I will talk about Georgian consonant clusters.

They are large, frequent, and horrible. I hate them, especially when they come at the beginnings of words. The problem is not so much that I can’t say them as it is that I can’t hear them when other people say them. Because I am practically illiterate, this leaves me with a serious misunderstanding of many words.

A good example of this is the Georgian word for milk, rdze. You (the Anglophone reader) might read this word as erdzay, as if it rhymed with bird say. Sadly, this is not correct. The r is a flicking Spanish r, and there is no vowel in front of it. You might then think that it pronounced like rudzay, with a short, noncommittal u, but this is also incorrect. There really is no vowel in the word until the e. Because the three consonants are squished together so tightly, I can only ever hear the last one. This means that I incorrectly hear the word as zay. But the same also goes for the Georgian word for sun, mze. I cannot reliably distinguish between these two words, since in each case I can’t hear the initial consonants.

On the other hand, even in those cases where I can hear the consonants, I will still misinterpret them if they are unfamiliar. An example of this is the word tskhelia, which means “it is hot.” Recall that the kh here is a throaty Arabic (or Scottish) sound. I can hear it, but I can rarely interpret it correctly. Thus I thought that this word was strelia, and nobody could understand me when I said it.

Georgians like to point out that words in their language are spelled just as they sound. This no is consolation to me whatsoever because I have no goddamn idea how any word really sounds. There is the word for sheep, which I thought was zwari. In fact the word is tskhwari. More insultingly, there is the word for sea. I thought it was zwa, but perversely they managed to slip in the voiced kh: zghwa.

shavi zwa black sea

Why can’t they just call it the Black Sea?

It’s one thing to have consonants that are hard for foreigners to say. I get that. After all, we ourselves have both the voiced and unvoiced th. But the least they could do is have the common courtesy to isolate them from each other so that I could at least have a fighting shot at saying them right. Sure, we have words like strengths and bathes, but how often does anyone really say those?


11 thoughts on “Georgian Consonants Again

  1. I can almost always pronounce a Georgian word if I see it written first (minus any featuring the qkh sound). Consonant clusters don’t freak me out because I studied Czech, which also has a lot of them. There is an entire sentence in Czech with no vowels, “Strč prst skrz krk” (the c with hook is “ch”) and it means to stick your finger in your throat and make yourself throw up. Kind of an onomatopoeia right?

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  5. The common explanation for them is the fact in the proto language, stress fell on the final syllable of any word. So syllables before were reduced and reduced until the vowels dropped off completely, that and the fact the older language had more complex sounds which devolved into sequences plus the grammar of the language came to rely more and more on suffixes which would lead to either a complex set of rules for assimilation at the expense of the crystal agglutination of georgian affixes or tolerating more clusters to keep things “segmentable”.
    For comparison, look at a Navajo verb: di-ʼa-ni-sh-ł-bąąs: diʼnisbąąs.
    A navajo grammar book will devote pages to the hundreds of rules on how affixes assimilate and the dozens of exceptions while with georgian: v-ts’er-t: vts’ert. Quite standard.

  6. This is the very topic I wanted to read! Now that I think about it, I feel the same kind of Hmm?! with the English word “two-fifths”.

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