Staunton, June 21 – Most people have heard of the Mingrelians and their language only because of the so-called Mingrelian Affair Stalin was organizing against his secret police chief Lavrenty Beria, a Mingrelian, at the end of the dictator’s life. But now there is another one emerging over the question as to whether that language will survive into the future.
According to UNESCO, eleven languages in the Republic of Georgia are on the brink of extinction, including Mingrelian, Svan and Laz, which like Georgian are part of the Kvartelian family of language but which are not mutually intelligible (oc-media.org/features/analysis-lost-in-the-census-mingrelian-and-svan-languages-face-extinction-in-georgia/).
None of the three has a settled literary form, and none are officially recognized by Tbilisi, which perhaps as a result has not signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which would require a different approach to groups many Georgians view as potentially separatist and thus a threat to the state.
Those fears have been exacerbated by the promotion of Mingrelian by the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, including most intriguingly its sponsorship of a television station which broadcasts in Mingrelia (amerikiskhma.com/a/regional-minority-languages-101488904/531133.html and ekhokavkaza.com/a/26867376.html).
The Georgian government does not count the number of people on its territory who identify Mingrelian or these other languages as ones they use routinely. Instead, it actively discourages such identity – see the case of Georgian census takers working to discourage a man who wanted to list herself as Mingrelian (radiotavisupleba.ge/a/tavisupali-sivrtse-givi-karchava-1-rogor-camartva-sakstatma-ena/26774894.html).
But as David Sichinava who works for the Social Science in the Caucasus program, reports and whose report is the basis of this Window, that group’s Caucasus Barometer found that about eight percent of Georgians say Mingrelian is their everyday language, and about three percent list Svan as their native language and the one they use among themselves.
These people presumably want to keep their languages, he says, but there is little evidence they support secession (tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09668136.2014.906934 and livepress.ge/ka/akhali-ambebi/article/27390-vithkhovthsamegrelospolitikuravtonomiasaqciismonatsileebivideo.html).
Mingrelian and Svan activists are seeking to promote their respective languages: The Mingrelians maintain a Wikipedia portal and a magazine, and Svans have some book publishing and literary competitions (https://xmf.wikipedia.org/wiki/დუდხასჷლა, livepress.ge/ka/akhali-ambebi/article/34015-pirveli-megrulenovani-zhurnali-sqani-ukve-gayidvashia.html and brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004328693/B9789004328693_017.xml?lang=en).
But new research shows that younger people are increasingly adopting Georgian rather than maintaining the use of these two languages (journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0261927X14555191and brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004328693/B9789004328693_017.xml?lang=en).
If that trend continues, the Mingrelian affair of 1951 will seem even more exotic than it already does; and that language will disappear as so many now are doing in so many countries.