The Georgian alphabet is an alphabet used in Georgia and (with minor exceptions) nowhere else. To most people, it looks like a fake alphabet, like something invented for a movie. Actually, most people don’t know that the Georgian alphabet exists — they assume (as I myself once did) that Georgia, like Kazakhstan and other former Soviet countries, uses Cyrillic. But if they did know about it, they would find it to be a headache-inducing jumble of squiggles.
The Georgian alphabet is really hard to learn, mainly because so many letters look the same.
By looking the same, I don’t just mean similar, like “b” and “d”. I mean that in certain fonts, it can be difficult to distinguish between letters even after spending a minute looking at them.
If you include some obsolete letters which fell out of use in the nineteenth century, the Georgian alphabet contains five characters that look like the numeral “3”.
The Georgian alphabet has more letters than the Latin alphabet (the one we use), but it doesn’t have upper and lower cases. Georgians typically use QWERTY keyboards with a standard assignment of Georgian letters to Latin keys (when two letters are assigned to the same key, the second is selected by holding down shift).
Handwritten Georgian is often easier to read than printed because handwritten letters go above and below each other, whereas printed letters are often at the same level. Although it’s often hard to read, I find the Georgian alphabet enjoyable to write.
Besides Georgian, the Georgian alphabet is sometimes used to write Mingrelian and Svan (like Georgian, members of the Kartvelian language family), and in the past it was occasionally used for languages like Chechen. A variation of the Georgian alphabet was used for Abkhaz from 1938 to 1954 as part of the Soviet attempt to Georgianize Abkhazia (due to Georgian Soviets Lavrenti Beria and Joseph Stalin).
I’ve been saying “the Georgian alphabet,” but in fact there are three Georgian alphabets which have been in use at various times. The earliest is known as asomtavruli, and the later two (which probably developed from cursive forms of asomtavruli) are nuskhuri and mkhedruli. Mkhedruli is the one that has been used for daily life since the nineteenth century. The other two are mainly used for religious purposes.
From what I gather, knowing the older alphabets well takes about the same level of education as knowing Roman numerals well, which is to say that it takes some education but not a lot.
There is also graphical similarity between these alphabets and those of Caucasian Albanian and Ethiopian.
A skeptic might think “Okay, maybe they use that alphabet for some things, but they use Cyrillic a lot too, right?” No. Today, Cyrillic is mainly found on things which are meant to be thrown away, like candy wrappers, and things which should be thrown away, like run-down old buildings. Things that are new and permanent are usually either in Georgian or Georgian / Latin.
I’ll end this post by crediting a picture source, namely the creator of the onionized Georgian alphabet.
- The Origin of the Georgian Alphabet
- Another Theory on the Origin of the Georgian Alphabet
- The Armenian Alphabet: Pictures and Miscellanea
- The Georgian Alphabet and the Arabic Alphabet