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Svan, together with several other languages, belongs to the South Caucasian or Kartvelian language family. Svan occupies a special position in the Kartvelian family. Due to its early departure from the rest of the language family it has both retained a great amount of archaisms and developed a lot of innovations.


According to the most recent statistics (1997), the number of speakers of Svan does not exceed 30,000 people today, with ca. 15,000 speakers of Upper Svan and less than 12,000 speakers of Lower Svan dialects (there are no reliable numbers available for speakers of the Kodori region which belongs to Abkhazia; the esteemed number is about 2,500). Contrasting this with the data given by Džaošvili (1968) according to whom the number of inhabitants of Upper and Lower Svanetia was more than 32,000 in the 1960ies, we can easily see that there has been a steadily decrease of speakers of Svan in recent times. All speakers of Svan are bilingual speaking Georgian alongside Svan, with the latter being used as a familiar means of communication only while Georgian is the language of administration and school teaching everywhere in the Svan speaking areas. It is clear from historical sources that the impact of Georgian has lasted for centuries, with Christianization serving as a primary stimulus.

The verb

The morphemic composition of the verb is as follows:

 [preverb]0 + [S/O1=[ver2=[[root3]a=intr/caus4=plural5=sm6]b=impf7=tns/md8]c=S9=num10]d

Structural levels:

  • a. Verb root (internal changes due to ablaut not shown).
  • b. Components occurring in nonfinite as well as finite verb forms: root, causative formant (slot

4), pluralizer (slot 5), series marker (slot 6). All of these components occur in verbal nouns, save the intransitive formant (-(e)n ).

  • c. Components indicating verb class and screeve: the above plus the version vowel (slot 2),

imperfect-stem formant (slot 7) and tense/mood vowel (slot 8).

  • d. The fully-inflected finite verb: all of the above with the addition of the Set S/O person

agreement prefix (slot 1), the Set S person agreement suffix (slot 9) and the number agreement suffix (slot 10).

Person agreement affixes

Distinction between inclusive and exclusive 1st person is morely formally elaborated in Svan than in Georgian.

PersonSet SSet O
Sg.3(l)- -s, *-a?(l)-x-
Pl.1 exclusivexw- -(š)dn-
Pl.1 inclusivel- -(š)dgw-
Pl.2x- -(š)dǯ- -x
Pl.3x- -x-x


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