When I learned the word for neighbor – “mezobeli” (მეზობელი) – I immediately noticed that it contained the word “ezo” ეზო, which means “yard.” It might not be immediately obvious to everyone what the relation is there, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch, even if you don’t happen to know that in olden times, houses in cities were organized around shared courtyards. If you shared a courtyard with someone, you had a special relationship with them by default due to the pragmatic aspects of sharing some property, and ancient systems of law (like the Jewish Mishnah, which I once studied on a lark) go into great detail about the rules governing the sharing of courtyards and the conduct permitted in courtyards. In fact, modern Jewish communities construct ritual courtyards encompassing whole neighborhoods in order to extend rules governing courtyards to larger areas.
The point is, the modern concept of a “yard” – which tends to just be a backyard, i.e. the area behind someone’s house – is a sort of degenerate form of what a “yard” used to be throughout the vast majority of human history. And this is something that I am aware of because of my odd background – anthropology, theatre history, and Jewish law are a strange triple threat of courtyard lore and I doubt all that many people share this background – but again, even without this background, I think the average person could make the leap from “yard” as we understand it to “yard” as something that you might share with a neighbor or set of neighbors, which brings me around to the point – მეზობელი appears to be derived (and in a fairly regular way) from ეზო. (I mean, I could be wrong – it’s entirely possible that this is a coincidence and not a historical fact of the language; if so, this would be a “folk etymology.”)
Anyway, I’ve pointed this out to several people in Georgia and not one of them had noticed this. And this is far from a single isolated case – actually, every time I point out the relationship between one Georgian word and another, or a Georgian word and a related foreign word, it seems to come as a surprise to the person I point it out to.
შაბათი (shabati, meaning “Saturday”) is the most obvious one – it is a clear borrowing from Hebrew “shabbat” (also meaning “Saturday”) which is notable even if you haven’t studied Hebrew, because it’s also the root of the English words “Sabbath” and “sabbatical.” (The fact that the Sabbath is observed on Sunday in Christianity due to a historical accident, kind of like the reason Georgians have two Christmases.) Another religious one is ეკლესია (eklesia, meaning “church”) which borrowed directly from Greek and also has analogues in English (ecclesiastic, meaning “related to the church,” comes to mind) and other modern languages (“iglesia,” Spanish for “church”). Finally, you have a word like ადამიანი (“adamiani,” meaning “people” or “humans”) which appears to be derived from Adam, the Biblical first man. You might remember Aslan referring to humans as “sons of Adam” and “daughters of Eve” in the Narnia books, which would prime you to pick up on the idea of referring to people through reference to the first people; or you might not.
But there’s tons, and not just related to religion – Georgian actually has a tremendous number of loanwords from English, Greek, Latin, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, German, Russian, and other languages, and the even the casual philologist will notice these in the course of studying Georgian.
So this leads me to wonder. Am I actually noticing these things more than Georgian people? If so, is it because I am explicitly looking for patterns in the language as a way of learning the language? Is it because English speakers have an enhanced sense of etymology, morphology, and word derivations as a whole? (Could this in turn be attributed to speaking a Franken-language cobbled together from Germanic and Italic roots?) Is it because I personally have a background in etymology and a broad general knowledge of relevant classical and modern languages?
One notable exception to the above observation – I find that Georgians very often know which words are Russian and are very quick to point these out, often with a tiny bit of resentment that the Russian word has supplanted the Georgian. Spitchka (match), pakhmelia (hangover), and lampuchka (light bulb) come to mind, but there are tons of these. It could be because they are more recent loans, or because of the political situation between Russia and Georgia.
So I guess I have a question for my Georgian readers – how would you describe your level of awareness of connections between related words in Georgian? Use the “ეზო” thing as an example – or for one that I consider even more obvious, what about the link between “საჭმელი” (satchmeli, food) and “ჭამე” (chame, eat!)? Are these things that you ever talk about, or study in school? Do you ever make jokes or pop-cultural references to word derivations?
Would a joke like this be possible in Georgian?
(Video: Whelmed, Clueless)