Progress on Mapping Georgian

I am currently working on preparing our Georgian program for English speakers. I will soon be traveling to Georgia to spend a few weeks working on the language myself, and in preparation for that, I have been working to learn as much Georgian as I can over the last month or so. My goal before departure is not only to complete all of the content of our forthcoming 10X program, but also to get a handle on the nominal and verbal morphology of the language.

Georgian is effectively a language isolate, meaning it is only related to a few other similar languages in the region. It has its own writing system and its own unique grammar. The grammatical system of Georgian is infamously complex. For me, however, whenever I hear that a language's grammar is complex, I get excited. Challenge accepted!

The nominal system of Georgian is actually fairly straightforward. There is no distinction of gender in the nominal system, and plural formation is very regular. While there are seven distinct grammatical cases, the case marking endings are also very regular, and are the same in the singular and the plural. This means that while there are more cases than you find in a language like Icelandic, the overall nominal system is actually simpler and more straightforward.

The verbal morphology of Georgian, however, is another story. Here is where we see some real complexity. There are effectively four different conjugations. Within each conjugation, there are 11 different tenses, grouped into three different series. Prefixes and suffixes mark the distinctions of person and number within the verbal system, and there are two main systems of prefixes and suffixes: one for subjects and one for objects. These two different systems can apply within the same verb, so for example in the first conjugation you would use subject markers in the first and second series, and you would use object markers in the third series.

The nice thing is, these prefixes and suffixes are very regular, so they apply across the entire verbal system with very little variation.

Where things get really complex, however, is in the additional verbal morphology. Georgian has what are called “preverbs”, verbal morphemes added before the personal inflection markers that can change the meaning of a verb in terms of its direction, mood, or tense. So the past tense of one verb might be formed with one preverb, while a different preverb is used to form the past tense of another verb.

As I work to wrap my head around the details of the Georgian verbal system, I am slowly getting clear on what patterns apply across the language, and what variations are specific to each verb. This will allow me to reduce a verb to a very small footprint of just a few principal parts. In other words, once I have set out the main patterns of the language, I will then be able to learn any new verb in its entirety by learning only a few different forms of that verb. With those forms, I can apply an existing pattern and generate the entire conjugation.

It will still take me a bit more time before I've got the memory palace completely set up for the Georgian verbal system in my own mind, but we are getting there!

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