Sayat-Nova (Սայաթ-Նովա, საიათნოვა, Саят-Нова) was an Armenian troubadour poet and musician. He is an important figure in the history of Armenian literature, but he composed songs in all the major languages of the South Caucasus and maintained friendly relations with Georgians and Azeris. For this reason, it has become something of a cliche in writings about the South Caucasus to invoke Sayat-Nova as a symbol of peace and ethnic neighborliness. Besides his intrinsic importance, Sayat-Nova was also the quasi-subject of Sergei Parajanov’s brilliant film The Color of Pomegranates.
Sayat-Nova as portrayed by Georgian actress Sofiko Chiaureli in The Color of Pomegranates
When Jesus was crucified, so the story goes, Pontius Pilate affixed a sign to the cross which read “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” . On most crucifixes, this mocking title is represented by initials on a sign over Jesus’s head. On Catholic crucifixes, the sign says INRI, short for the LatinIesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum; on most Orthodox crucifixes, the sign says ΙΝΒΙ, short for the GreekIesous ho Nazoraios ho Basileus ton Ioudaion (Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ Bασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων).
Georgians, on the other hand, use their own language: ႨႬႫჀ (INMH), for Iesu Nazareveli Meupey Huriatay (იესუ ნაზარეველი მეუფჱ ჰურიათაჲ).
In the 1995 movie Goldeneye, the following exchange takes place between James Bond and the villainess Xenia Onatopp:
XO: Thank you, mister…
JB: Bond. James Bond.
XO: Xenia Sergeyevna Onatopp.
XO: Very good, Mr. Bond. You’ve been to Russia?
JB: Not recently. I used to drop in occasionally. Shoot in and out.
In fact, Xenia’s accent is not Georgian, but Russian (see video below). As I’ve discussed before, Georgian accents are fairly plodding, whereas Russian accents tend to be smooth and liquid. Probably the screenwriters chose to add this detail in order to avoid the Russian villain cliche while still keeping the story within the post-Soviet world. It also has the added benefit of signaling to the audience that Bond is worldly (“Wow, he can pick out an obscure accent, that’s some real secret agent stuff!”).
Since the nineteenth century, the Georgian language has been significantly influenced by Russian. More recently, Georgian has begun to import words from English. Consequently, some Georgians are concerned about the “purity” of their language, and prescribe the use of “Georgian” words instead of “foreign” words. But some foreignisms offend the linguistic purist more than others. In this post I’ll give four categories of foreign words and phrases which are “foreign” and “native” to different degrees, with examples in both Georgian and English.
IMPORTANT UPDATE 4/20/14: New example added to Category III!
“Tbiliso” is my favorite Georgian song. It’s also known as “Chemi Tbilisi” or “Igvidzebs Chemi Tbilisi”, which means “My Tbilisi Wakes Up”. The music was written by Liliko Nemsadze and the words were written by Irina Sanikidze. Here’s Mariam Pavliashvili performing it on Geostar(ჯეოსტარი), the Georgian version of American Idol (sadly, she was kicked off in the second week of the show’s sixth season):
The Mingrelians (Mingrelian: Margalepi; Georgian: Megrelebi) are a Kartvelian people who live in northwest Georgia, in the region of Mingrelia (Mingrelian: Samargalo; Georgian: Samegrelo).
Sounds innocuous, right? It’s not. The claim that Mingrelians constitute a “people” would be considered seditious by many Georgians, since it suggests that Mingrelians are not, in fact, Georgians. This, in turn, might lead one to suppose that Mingrelians ought to have their own independent state. That would be a big problem for Georgians, so they claim Mingrelians as their own.