War, language and the tower of Babel

Previous to Russia re-asserting herself over the Georgia provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, I can’t say I knew much about Georgia. When I lived in Normandy a few years ago, I would run into a fellow from Georgia at the rock climbing gym, and he was nice enough to teach me the French rock climbing terms (He was very careful to explain that he was from Georgia, the country, not Georgia, the state—so as not to whip me into a frenzy at meeting a fellow American far from home, I suppose). That was about as much direct exposure I’ve had to Georgian culture, language, heritage, you name it.

But it seems that the ungoing Georgian struggle is a very old tale—besides talk as to whether it’s spurred on by greed for oil, greed for power, or greed for land, the New York Times hints that a lot of it —some of it— originally— is linguistic. As the Rhineland was linguistically different than France, so the would-be independent provinces are linguistically different than the rest of Georgia. As the former Yugoslavian region was divided by language, so is the Caucasus.


As with English in the new World, as with Normans in Saxony, as with Saxons in the Celtic lands they conquered—to overcome a place or a people is to bring new language or force two differing systems together; to rebel is to speak the ancient or traditional one. Being as old as language itself, this is not something that is easy to solve.

Katie Botkin
Katie Botkin is a freelance writer. She has a master’s degree in English with an emphasis on linguistics and has taught English on three continents.

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