This new book is the first grammar of the Colchian language, especially the Megrelian dialect (also know as Mingrelian) from Georgia, that has been published since that of Jozef Q’ipshidze (1914). It is written in Georgian in the mxedruli script, which will make it initially of interest to those professional and/ or amateur linguists who already know Georgian. It has 389 pages.
The Colchian languages are unwritten, and although there are occasional collections of folktales and poetry published in Megrelian in Georgia, and Laz in Turkey, there has not been a coursebook for learning Megrelian for almost one hundred years.
It is published by the INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR THE GEORGIAN LANGUAGE (ICGL). ICGL specialize in teaching Kartvelian languages to non- Georgians.Nana Danelia and Inga Dundua (both native Megrelian speakers) are the co-authors. Rusudan Amerijibi-Mullen is the director of ICGL. She helped compile, edited the text and wrote the introduction. She is a well-known Georgian linguist who taught at Tbilisi state university for 21 years. Currently she is doing a PhD in sociolinguistics at Queen Mary University of London.
An English translation is forthcoming (due to appear later in 2007).
The book starts with an introduction which covers basic notions of the Colchian, also known as the Zan language.Many readers will in fact know of Colchetia due to the Greek story of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the golden fleece, which took them across the Black Sea to Colchetia.
The book is divided into two main parts: A theoretical grammatical study of modern Colchian language, which comprises Megrelian (spoken in Georgia) and Laz (three mutually intelligible dialects which are spoken in ‘Lazistan’, on the Black Sea coast of Turkey
Part one presents a grammatical description of Colchian (pp.11-174)), which draws mainly on the work of Cornelius Danelia, a famous Georgian linguist. Linguists differ as to their classification of Laz and Megrelian: some regard them as dialects of one language, others as sister languages. This book follows the Georgian philolological tradition and classifies them as the K’olxuri or Colchian language.There is a very thorough presentation of the background of the language. This includes in depth comparisons between the two sister languages. It needs to be mentioned that Megrelian and Laz are considered to be dialects of the Colchian language, yet there is further discussion of the three subdialects of Laz. It also needs to be mentioned that Laz is referred to as ‘Ch’anuri’ in the text. Comprehensive coverage is given to the sound-system, morphology, sound-correspondances of the two dialects, followed by the verbal system, in particular the notion of screeves, series and preverbs.
Part two presents a practical course in Megrelian (or ‘Margaluri nina’) (pp.175-339). This is followed by a vocabulary of the most important words used in the lessons (pp. 339-358).
The book ends with a selection of traditional Megrelian folktales (pp. 358-388), and finally a comprehensive bibliography.
No previous knowledge of Megrelian is assumed. The presentation of new language is both clear and logical. There are thirty-three lessons, which take the reader step-by-step through the lexis and structure of Megrelian. There are copious examples, as well as exercises for translation/ practice.
The lessons vary in length, but are concise are draw largely on a comparative teaching method, drawing on the many similarities between Georgian and Megrelian. These two languages can be compared in the same way as one might compare Spanish and Italian. They share many common words. Megrelian itself has two main dialects: Senaki and Zugdid-Samurzaqan. The lessons are based on the Zugdid-Samurzaqan dialect, due to the fact that it has the highest number of native speakers. The dialect differences in Megrelian are far fewer than in Laz, mostly sound-correspondences and a few lexical items.
This book is a very welcome addition to modern Kartvelology. The Kartvelian languages are well-known in the academic world for their impressive verbal system and interesting typological features, such as ejective consonants. Georgian is extremely well-documented, and it is not difficult for an interested linguist to gain access to material: several good grammars are available in English, German and Russian.
Megrelian is used as a spoken language in western Georgia, but Megrelians use Georgian as their literary language. As such, although it is currently not endangered, it is important to have a popular grammar and coursebook. This exciting book fills this lacuna that has existed for a long time. The last practical grammar of the Megrelian language was published in 1914, and although it was reprinted in 1990 in Tbilisi, it remains very difficult to obtain a copy. This was a seminal work, though now is dated in many ways. In addition, being written in Russian, it is less practical for many potential readers. It was also a reference grammar, and not easily used for the practical study of Megrelian. However, the promised English translation will make the Megrelian language available for study to the wider international community, both academic and interested amateurs, for the first time in its history.
Part two presents the first ever ‘hands-on’ written course in the Megrelian language (aimed at using the language, not merely for reference). As a student of Megrelian as well as Georgian, I was delighted to gain access to a systematic presentation of the language. The current text will be of interest principally to those who already speak or have a working knowledge of Georgian, but the English version will not assume prior knowledge of Georgian as a pre-requisite to successful learning. The theoretical grammatical discussion will be difficult for those with no knowledge of the sister language.
The practical course is very well-structured and guides the reader step-by-step through the learning process. It would be highly advantageous to have a teacher to explain certain nuances that occur in the sample sentences, but are not explained in detail in the text; yet, a reader well-acquainted with Georgian will, with a little perseverance, be able to appreciate these subtleties too. The lessons also compliment the theoretical part one. To gain the greatest benefit from the course, it will be necessary to read the grammatical theory in more detail, unless of course there is a teacher to hand. I would imagine that those working for non-government organizations (NGOs), businessman and even interested travellers will profit from the course, as it is highly practical and aims to teach Megrelian as a spoken language. Having said that, the book functions well at two levels, as linguists interested in Kartvelian languages at a more academic level will also draw great benefit from the theoretical discussion of Colchian dialects written by Danelia. Georgian is frequently used in typological studies, and this book also makes Megrelian and Laz available to typologists who do not speak Georgian, German or Russian.
ICGL will soon be publishing another introductory course in Megrelian, called ‘Survival Megrelian’. This will be more of a phrase-book and is intended for those needing immediate knowledge of the language. It could be used as an introduction to ‘K’olxuri ena’.
In conclusion, I really recommend this book. It will appeal to a wide audience both Georgians those of other nationalities alike.
About the reviewer:
Andrew Higgins is an experienced teacher and linguist, qualified to MA level (Applied Linguistics) from Cardiff in the UK. He is interested in phonetics, phonology, typology and Kartvelology. He is planning to study for a Ph.D. in the near future.