A Georgian Catholic Church in Istanbul

Notre Dame de Lourdes (known in Turkish as the Bomonti Gürcü Katolik Kilisesi) is a Georgian Catholic church in the Feriköy neighborhood of Istanbul. Most Georgians being Orthodox Christians, there are not many Georgian Catholic churches in the world. Further, there were never many Georgians in Istanbul, and there are very few today. Thus the very existence of this church is twice surprising. Its continued use is also surprising. Most sources report that the congregation today is largely made up of Turks, though when I went to see the church I found an amicable group of Georgians inside.

The church was built in 1861 and extensively renovated in 1901. For further details on the church, as well as its place within the history of Georgian Catholicism, see this recent paper by Natia Natsvlishvili. It’s a very nice essay, and I don’t have much to add to it, so this post will contain mostly pictures of the church along with some comments.

georgian catholic church istanbul gate

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Turkish Phonology: Vowel Harmony

Turkish — more specifically, the standard Turkish dialect of Istanbulis a very boring-sounding language, at least superficially. What I mean by this is that it has no distinct, uniquely-identifying sounds. For example:

  • even if you don’t know any Russian, you can tell if people are speaking Russian because of its rampant palatalization (that is, its many y sounds, as in nyet);
  • Arabic is easily identifiable by its baffling array of throat sounds; and
  • Georgian (along with other Caucasian languages) is distinguished by its varieties of consonants and its many consonant clusters.

Turkish has nothing like this. It’s a very generic blend of Southern European and Middle Eastern sounds, shorn of anything remarkable. The first time I went to Turkey, I was shocked by how uninteresting the language sounded.

I still feel that way to a great extent, but it turns out that there’s a little more to the sound of Turkish than can be heard by a casual listener, namely vowel harmony, a process whereby the vowels within a word match each other in certain qualities.

turkish vowel harmony

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Sayat-Nova

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 sofiko chiaureli

Sayat-Nova as portrayed by Georgian actress Sofiko Chiaureli in The Color of Pomegranates

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The Armenian Alphabet: Pictures and Miscellanea

The Armenian alphabet is an alphabet used mostly for writing the Armenian language, though it has occasionally been used for other languages. It looks strange to me, like a cross between the Georgian alphabet and the Arabic alphabet. I don’t know if there’s any objective sense in which individual Armenian letters are actually harder to read than Georgian ones, but because of its distinct upper and lower cases, Armenian writing as a whole is probably objectively harder to learn than Georgian.

armenian alphabet transliteration

The Armenian alphabet with Eastern and Western transliterations (I think “fort” indicates aspiration rather than ejectivity)

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Four Grades of Language Borrowing

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!

georgian russian street sign

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Azeri (Turkish)

Azeri is a language spoken in Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, and Georgia. It is closely related to Turkish, and Turks and Azeris can generally understand each other without special accommodation. Indeed, there are dialects of Turkish spoken in eastern Anatolia that are closer to Azeri than they are to standard Istanbul Turkish. So it would not be amiss to say that Azeri is a dialect of Turkish. We might even go so far as to simply identify Azeri with Turkish. This is done in Iran, the northern part of which is home to more than half of the world’s Azeri speakers.

azeri iran

Iranian Azeris protesting for language rights (I think)

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Laz

The Laz (Laz: lazepe, Georgian: lazebi or ch’anebi, Turkish: lazlar) are a Kartvelian people who live in Turkey. They used to live in western Georgia (first called Colchis and later Lazica), but beginning about 1,000 years ago were driven south. Today they inhabit what is sometimes called Lazistan (Laz: lazona, Georgian: lazeti or ch’aneti), a littoral strip of Turkey stretching from about Artvin in the east to Trabzon in the west.

lazistan

I added the arrow because some readers were too lazy to find Lazistan. Get it?

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