4.2.5 Language issues and policies
The official language of Georgia is Georgian. In the territory of Abkhazia there are two official languages – Georgian and Abkhazian.
Language has been the most sensitive problem historically for Georgia since the period of the Russian Empire and then the USSR, which pursued the policy of Russification.
The Georgian language has been one of the main uniting factors in the formation of the Georgian state.
The significant factor in Georgian national identity is that the Georgian original written language is one of the oldest written languages worldwide (it was created no later than III-IV centuries A.D.). But the oldest literary monument reached to us is dated by 5th c. AD. The Georgian alphabet is used in all dialects of the Georgian language. Only in Abkhazia has the modified Cyrillic alphabet been used since the establishment of the Soviet regime.
Two autonomous republics were formed– Abkhazia and Ajaria – which have their own language issues. Abkhazia is populated by two indigenous groups – Georgians and Abkhazs - whose linguistic difference is confirmed by the Constitution. Ajaria is populated by ethnic Georgian-Moslems, whose dialect is much closer to the literary Georgian language than the dialect of other regions and territories of Georgia, such as Mingrelia and Svanetia.
In Georgia, national minorities constitute 16.2% of the population, with the largest linguistic minorities being Azerbaijanis with 6.5% and Armenians with 5.7%. Until recently the most widespread language after Georgian was Russian.
The Constitution of Georgia obliges all departments, municipal services and users to use the Georgian language and all official versions of legislative texts must be published in Georgian. In order to promote integration of minorities and their participation in the state administration, the Ministry of Education and Science arranges intensive teaching of the official language.
The Georgian Language Programme, financed by the Ministry of Education and Sciences, was financed in the amount of 494 600 GEL in 2007, 366 000 GEL in 2008, and 1 723 900 GEL in 2009. The programme of teaching the official language in non-Georgian speaking schools was financed in the amount of 250 000 GEL in 2007 and 63 800 GEL in 2008. In 2009, this programme was replaced by the Programme of Support for Multilingual Education, with a budget 160 000 GEL.
Unfortunately, in the territories beyond the control of the government of Georgia, the teaching of the official language has been stopped and the system of education operating in Abkhazia is based on Abkhazian and Russian and, in the Tskhinvali Region, the education system is based on the Ossetian and Russian languages.
Although linguistic pluralism was at one time the subject of public discussion, the Official Language Law has not been adopted and the legislative activities have been considered impractical.
The issues of protection and development of language are within the terms of reference of the Ministry of Education and Science and the State Chamber for the Georgian Language. The latter has ceased to be an independent body since 2004 and now represents a part of the Ministry of Education and Science. The support and development of the literary language and language diversity as a cultural phenomenon are also the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture, Monument Protection and Sport.
Since 2006, responsibility for the R&D institutes under the Academy of Sciences of Georgia has been delegated to the Ministry of Education and Science. Among these institutes are significant scientific and cultural centres for research and development of Georgian culture, language and literature such as:
The Georgian language is the native language for a large number of ethnic Georgians who reside outside the country (about 5 million live in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Europe and the USA). Support and development of the Georgian language abroad is the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs via its Section for Cultural Relations and Relations with Diasporas. However, the funds assigned by the government for promotion of the language abroad are not adequate and this infrastructure requires further systematic development.
To solve this problem, the Ministry of Education and Science has implemented the Programme of Assistance for Georgian Schools Abroad, which was financed in the amount of 41 600 GEL in 2007, 45 000 GEL in 2008 and 100 000 GEL in 2009. In addition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and the Ministry of Education and Sciences, the maintenance and development of the Georgian language abroad is a field of activity addressed by the new State Minister for Georgian Diasporas with a budget in 888 400 GEL (2008).
For promotion of the Georgian language within the process of globalisation and new communication networks, there is a need to create and distribute a Georgian version of software products (MS Windows and applications of Microsoft Office). This software issue will be resolved with the Microsoft Corporation by means of a working group which has prepared the Georgian version of the computer terminology (subject to further improvement). These communication issues are the responsibility of the Department for Information Development of Georgia and the State Chamber for the Georgian Language.