The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also Svanian, Svan), the language of the Svans, spoken by more than 35,000 people in the northwestern part of the Georgian SSR. Svanetian is related to the Kartvelian languages. It has four dialects—Upper Bal, Lower Bal, Lashkh, and Lentekh—and a number of subdialects.

Phonetic features of Svanetian include a complement of 18 vowels (a, e, i, o, u, and ə, corresponding long vowels, and ä, ü, ā̈, ṻ, ö, and ō̈) and 30 consonants. Ablaut occurs. The morphology is complex, with numerous archaic features. Noun categories are number (singular and plural) and case (nominative, dative, ergative, adverbial, genitive, and instrumental); there are postpositions and four declension variations. Verb categories are person, number, tense, (three series), mood, aspect, voice, and version. Word derivation is well developed.

Svanetian syntax is similar to that of Georgian. The sentence is typified by features of nominative and ergative constructions. Word order is subject-object-predicate, and complex sentences feature both coordination and subordination. The basic lexicon is drawn from common Kartvelian stock and derivatives thereof; there are also numerous borrowings from Georgian. Originally an unwritten language, Svanetian now uses the Georgian writing system.


Topuria, V. T. “Svanskii iazyk.” In lazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 4. Moscow, 1967.
T’op’uria, V. Shromebi, [vol.] 1. Svanuri ena: Zmna. Tbilisi, 1967.
Zhenti, S. Svanuri enis p’onetikis zirit’adi sakit’xebi: Ek’sperimentuli gamok’vleva. Tbilisi, 1949.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(51) This artistic device is used to represent the connection between a boy and the sea ('Story about the Sea' and 'Tea Party and the Love of the Sea' ('Chaepitie i liubov' k moriu')), between a boy and a pear tree (School Waltz), between the Svanetians and a mountain lake ('Sacred Lake' ('Sviatoe ozero')).