28 June, 2010

A few Georgian phrases

In Batumi, bilinguals who speak fluent Turkish aren't too hard to come by, and in Tbilisi the universal English proficiency average (a handful of common phrases) keeps communication functional. Still, i felt perhaps more linguistically isolated after three days in Georgia than i had during a week in Iraq. Nothing like yet another alphabet staring back at you to make you feel like a truly lazy and isolationist American. These scripts, these font families, all so… foreign. Thanks to a Macedonian friend, i had two pages of Georgian words and phrases, with English transliterations:

Hello = Gamarjoba

Thank you = modloba

What is your name? = Shen ra kvia?

Nice to meet you = Sosmonovia tqveni gacnoba

Mirza, the chummy, Turkish-speaking shoe salesman added another, indispensible phrase: Me kartuli yarvits. I don't speak Georgian.


It strikes me, encountering my fourth foreign language of the month, that there's a critical mass necessary to acquire new words. As you come to know a language, word by word its unique sonority and texture become apparent. Perhaps you can't read lips or hear snippets of conversation in noisy surroundings, but when someone tells you a new word, it will stick. Levani and i traded a slew of words - for example body parts. Arm, leg, knee, ear, nose, mouth. I remember none of them; the Georgian circuits in my brain haven't been constructed yet. But as words in any given language accumulate, it takes fewer hearings to learn new ones.

The Americans i met aboard night train #621 added one other comic observation: gamarjoba is a flexible word whose sonority gives no clue to its context. Unlike shalom, merhaba, or any of the other greetings i know, it can be used as a euphemism for almost anything - for example, "He smokes a lot of gamarjoba." Would you like some gamarjoba with that?