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The Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences and the Caucasus

In Prof. George Hewitt's The Russian Imperial Academy and Western Transcaucasia (late-eighteenth century to the 1850s), published following a conference held in June 2006 at Kymenlaakso Summer University (Finland), entitled "Research and Identity: non-Russian Peoples in the Russian Empire, 1800-1855", and available for download here.

The Russian Academy and the Caucasus in the eighteenth century

Russian interests in moving south and Georgia’s political weakness and fragmentation led to contacts between the two as early as the late sixteenth century — the embassies dispatched by the tsars between 1589 and 1605 have been chronicled by W.E.D. Allen (1970). By the end of the eighteenth century, Russia was a significant player in the area, threatening the (largely Muslim) North Caucasian peoples and consolidating relations in the Transcaucasian states by the construction of the Georgian Military Highway: regular traffic between Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia and Tbilisi started around 1799. But the extent of ignorance about the Caucasus in the Russian capital before attempts were made to gather necessary information is well illustrated in Isabel de Madariaga’s book on Russia in the time of Catherine the Great: ‘Russian relations with the Caucasian kingdoms were complex and tenuous, and left a great deal to the discretion (or indiscretion) of local commanders. (So little was known about the area that when an emissary of King Solomon of Imeretia asked to be received in St Petersburg in 1768, Catherine called for maps, and found that according to some of them Tiflis was on the Black Sea, according to others, on the Caspian)’ (de Madariaga 2001.369). The first academic mission to the Caucasus was headed by Johann Anton Güldenstädt (1745-1781), with whom any study of the Academy’s activities in the Caucasus must begin, even though the dates of his travel and publication of his materials fall outside the strict remit of this conference.

1. Johann Anton Güldenstädt

Güldenstädt was born to a German family on 26 April 1745 in Riga. He studied medicine, botany and natural sciences in Berlin from 1863 and gained a doctorate from Frankfurt-am-Oder in 1767. As a twenty-three year-old naturalist and medical doctor, he was invited the following year by the Imperial Academy in St Petersburg, of which he became a full member and professor of natural science on 8 April 1771, to participate in the planned seven-man expedition to the Caucasus — Catherine the Great decreed that a number of such expeditions should be organised both to collect data on her empire and to make observations of the passage of Venus. The Caucasus group were travelling for some years (1768-1775), of which around twelve months from September 1771 were spent in Western Transcaucasia. Often afflicted with fever during his travels, Güldenstädt died in St Petersburg on 21 March 1781, aged just 36.

The two volumes resulting from the expedition were posthumously published in Güldenstädt’s name by Peter Simon Pallas and entitled Dr. Johann Anton Güldenstädt: Reisen durch Russland und im kaukasischen Gebürge (St Petersburg, Band I, 1787, XXIV+511 pp., Band II, 1791, 552 pp.); the German text with Georgian translation was published in two volumes by Gela Gelashvili (Tbilisi, 1962 & 1964).

At the end of September 1771 Güldenstädt finally crossed into Dusheti, making the southern Ossetes the first people of Transcaucasia that he encountered. On 15 October he was received by King Erek’le II, whom he accompanied into eastern Georgian regions on 21 February 1772. While here, he was able to gather information about some of the peoples of Daghestan, such as the K’ap’uch’i, Dido and Avar. Güldenstädt spent April and May exploring northern and southern regions of central Georgia. From late June he moved through South Ossetia into the north-western province of Rach’a and from there southwards into Imeretia. While in Khoni (16-17 August), he gathered information about Mingrelia and Lechkhumi from visiting Mingrelians but could not journey to Mingrelia itself, as it was too dangerous. At a meeting with Imeretia’s King Solomon on 28 August, Güldenstädt was shown lead and copper samples brought from the mountainous district of Svanetia and the source of the River Tskhenis-ts’q’ali, an occasion which Güldenstädt used to learn something of Svanetia itself. Delayed on his return to the North Caucasus by rebellious Ossetes, he finally got back to Kizlyar (virtually Russia’s capital in the Caucasus until 1863 — A.P. Berzhe, quoted by Gammer 2006.10) under Russian escort on 2 November.

Güldenstädt’s posthumous volumes are in the form of a diary, describing when he was where and what he saw there: place, soil, water, flora, fauna, insects..., population, what the locals did, etc...; interwoven within the basic descriptions are a variety of excursions (e.g. under ‘River Terek’ are described its tributaries, the fish in it, the flora along its banks, and the settlements beside it; animal- and plant-life of the Caucasus; the political geography of the Caucasian mountain-zone and information on the peoples). Güldenstädt did not ignore the languages he heard, discussing their relationships and possible origins. He had a list of words which he had translated (albeit with gaps) into the various languages in order to facilitate comparison — 290 lexical items were the most illustrated, and this number was attained for the Kartvelian family.

Pages 496 to 535 of volume II are devoted to the indigenous Caucasian materials, whilst Iranian Ossetic is included on pages 535-545. Güldenstädt classifies the indigenous languages into:

1. Kartvelian Dialects (Georgianische Mundarten): Georgian, Mingrelian and Svan (496-504 pp.);

2. Nakh Dialects (Mizdschegische Mundarten): Chechen, Ingush, Tush (Bats) (504-511 pp.);

3. “Lezgian” and Related Dialects (Lesginische und damit verwandte Mundarten): Ants’ukh, Ch’ar, Khundzakh, Dido (512-519 pp.), plus Lak, Andi and Akusha (Sprachen der Kasikumüken, Andi und Akuscha, 520-527 pp.);

4: Kabardian and Abkhaz (Kabardinische und Abassische Sprache): Kabardian and coastal vs north Caucasian Abkhaz (Kusch-hasib-Abassische vs Altekesek-Abassische, viz. Abkhaz proper vs Abaza) (527-535 pp.).

Comments on these divisions would include the observation that Laz is lacking from the Georgianische Mundarten. The Nakh group is accurately characterised. ‘Lesgian’ is a strictly incorrect designation (albeit one common at the time to refer to Daghestanian peoples and languages in general), as it is here applied to three Avar dialects (Ants’ukh, Ch’ar, Khundzakh) plus Dido from the related Didoic/Tsezic sub-family. Lak has its older designation of Kazi-kumukh; Andi is more closely related to Avar; and Akusha is a dialect of Dargwa (Dargi(n)). Amongst the myriad of Daghestanian languages, all of the Lezgic, most of the Andic, and most of the Didoic/Tsezic sub-families are missing. From North West Caucasian no mention is made of Ubykh. The vocabulary-materials are laid out according to semantic fields, the majority being nouns, with fewer adjectives, and very few verbs. Translations were obtained via translators, Güldenstädt not knowing any of the local languages or even Russian; hence, there are inconsistencies of treatment. A further source of difficulty arises out of the Roman or Gothic scripts used to present languages noted for phonetic challenges which the developing discipline of (comparative) philology and its subsidiary science of phonetics had yet to tackle. Compare, for example, the following:

(Language - Güldenstädt - Modern Transcription - Meaning)

Georgian - madsoni - mats’oni - yoghurt
Georgian - kadzi - k’atsi - man
Georgian - zikwaruli - siq’varuli - love
Mingrelian - kodschi - k’ot∫i - man
Abkhaz - isduda - j´ztw"´dA - whose is it?
Chechen - berik - b¿arg - eye

For many of the languages incorporated in his work Güldenstädt’s list represented the first time they were documented even to the extent of word-lists of this size. On the basis of his lexical comparisons, Güldenstädt was the first to make some progress in classifying the local languages and produced the oft-repeated and highly pertinent observation that ‘Mingrelian stands in the same relationship to Georgian as does Dutch to German’. He did not recognise the genetic link, now universally accepted, between Nakh and Daghestanian, Daghestan being an area Güldenstädt did not himself visit. All eight linguistic forms named under his third group he recognised as sister languages (Töchter einer Mutter, I.484), and he (quite correctly) did not include Iranian Ossetic or Turkic Kumukh and Nogay in his Caucasian groupings.

In addition to his word-lists, Güldenstädt also had translated into eighteen (half of them Caucasian) languages a series of cardinals plus twenty-two simple sentences, the first examples of connected speech recorded for Chechen, Avar, Andi and Dargwa/Dargi(n). [Çelebi in the 1640s had gathered some such examples for Abkhaz and Circassian (see Gippert 1992).] The originals of these texts are partly kept in the Güldenstädt Collection at the Russian Academy of Sciences, whilst a part are in the Adelung Fund at St Petersburg’s public library [See Chikobava (1982), which incorporates photographs of the originals.]; they were published, with minor alterations, by Julius von Klaproth in 1814. An example each for Georgian and Mingrelian would be what in general is translateable as ‘God is immortal; man’s life is short’:

Georgian: Hmerti arss uqudavi, qazi arss mzirissa zchovrebissa mkone
Mingrelian: Horomthi vauhur, qotschi syma chanzerhe

which are respectively to be transcribed and analysed as:

VmErt.i [ God.NOM[inative] ] A(.)r.s [ be.X(-PRES[ent]); older form of A(.)r.i.s. ] u.k"vd.Av.i [ PRIV[ative].die.SUFF[ix].AGR[eement] ] k"Ats.i [ man.NOM ] A(.)r.s [ be.X(-PRES[ent]) ] mtsir.isA [ slight.AGR ] tsXOvr(.)Eb.isA [ life.GEN[itive] ] m.kOn.E [ PRE[ix].have.SUFF ]

'God is immortal; man is possessor of a short life' [Georgian]

VOrOnt.i [ God.NOM ] wA.Vur(.u[.n]) [ not.die.PRES.X ] k"OtS.i [ man.NOM ] z´m(.)A [ measured time.DAT[ive] ] XAn.(t)sr.E[.n] [ be.PRES.X ]

'God does not die, man exists for a limited time' [Mingrelian]

Güldenstädt familiarised himself with historical documents, as when he was discussing the relationship between Abkhazia and Georgia, a matter of considerable relevance today: ‘In olden times the country [Abkhazia] had its own ruler, who in the Georgian chronicles is referred to as the King of the Abkhazians (King of Abkhazia). Later it belonged over a long period to the king of Georgia, who then was referred to as the King of Abkhazia and Kartli [Georgia]. At the time of this leadership Greek Orthodoxy became widespread, and a Patriarch even sat in Bich’vinta [Pitsunda], whilst in Mokvi [Mykw] and Dranda archbishops [were installed]. Later they became independent of Georgia, and there is no unitary leadership’ (vol. II). On the other hand, Güldenstädt’s contemporary comments on language-usage can throw light on modern-day arguments about the extent of the knowledge of Georgian in what are today provinces of Georgia. Having stated, for example, that ‘the Georgian province of Mingrelia and the districts of Odishi and Lechkhumi form the fourth kingdom of Georgia and have their own independent leader who carries the title Dadiani’, Güldenstädt offers the remark: ‘In Odishi they speak Mingrelian, whilst in Lechkhumi in a mixed Mingrelian-Imeretian dialect’ (vol. I), defining Odishi as lying to the north and west of Mingrelia, extending to the Black Sea, and bordering Abkhazia to the north. Sadly, those who are only interested in arguing for a centuries-old spoken tradition for Georgian in both Mingrelia and Abkhazia tend to ignore Güldenstädt’s text, which well repays study.

2. Jacob Reineggs

Although not strictly an envoy to the Caucasus on behalf of the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences, in order to understand the sequence of scholarly foreign visitors to, and observers of, western Transcaucasia on behalf of Russia mention should be made of Jacob Reineggs (see the relevant entry in vol. 8 of the 11-volume Georgian Encyclopædia and the Introduction to his 2002 Georgian translation of Reineggs’ travel-book by Gia Gelashvili). Born in 1744 in Eisleben (Germany), the originally named Christian-Rudolf Elich studied at Leipzig University, lived in Vienna for a time , and gained his doctorate in medicine at Tirnau (Hungary) in 1773. Three years later he set out for the orient and made his way via Constantinople to Georgia circa 1779. In Tbilisi he entered the service of King Erek’le II of Kartli(-K’akheti), where he not only practised medicine but introduced western systems for minting money and preparing gunpowder, becoming interested in mining practices and overseeing typographical and printing work.

Reineggs came to the attention of the Russian authorities and was appointed personal commissioner at the Court of Kartli-K’akheti by Georgij Potemkin, who thereby enlisted the western scientist in Russia’s plan to bring both King Erek’le II and his counterpart in western Georgia, King Solomon I of Imereti, into a pro-Russian orientation. As a result of his far from unsuccessful mission, which culminated in the aforementioned Treaty of Georgievsk with Catherine the Great’s Russia in 1783 — indeed, at the signing he was at the side of Pavel Sergeievich Potemkin, first Viceroy in the Caucasus and cousin of the more famous carrier of this surname — Reineggs was invited to Russia. From 1786 he was scientific secretary at the Medical College and at the start of 1787 was appointed Inspector of the Medical School at Ekaterine’s Hospital and Director of the School of Medicine and Surgery in Petersburg. He died there in 1793, having become addicted to opium. Even after leaving the Caucasus he kept up contacts with leading figures in both Georgia and Armenia.

During his time in Georgia and the Caucasus in general he became well acquainted with the whole area. His writings were published under the title Allgemeine historisch-topographische Beschreibung des Kaukasus, volume I appearing in 1796 (Gotha und St.-Petersburg) and volume II in 1797 (Hildesheim und St.-Petersburg) and contain a geographical description of the region, extensive excursions, as well as interesting observations on ethnography, history, economics, extractive industry and linguistics. He was, however, not grounded in philology, as can easily be seen in the following. Though he correctly describes the border between Abkhazia and the Georgian province of Mingrelia thus: ‘The river Engur [Ingur] splits the Abkhazians and Laz from the bestsited, fertile, sometimes low-lying, sometimes hilly and mountainous province known as Megrel or Samegrelo [Mingrelia]’, he goes on to betray the naivety of his approach to language-study by remarking: ‘Mingrelian is the name of the people residing here who have their own language; it represents a mixture of dialects of Caucasian, Greek and Georgian words.’

Given the recent charges made against the presence of Ossetes on the southern flanks of the Caucasus by Georgian nationalists in their struggle over rights to South Ossetia (still a province of Georgia in international law), Reineggs’ conclusions will be of some interest: ‘...and, in truth, they [the southern Ossetes] live even now in that area which first Pliny and then Moses Xorenatsi [an Armenian historian of the latter half of the first millennium] named as the fiefdom of the Ass and Ghossi.’

* * * * *

The Russian Academy and the Caucasus 1800-1850

The first researcher dispatched to the Caucasus by the Russian Academy in the years that fall within the purview of this conference was yet another ethnic German.

3. Julius von Klaproth

Klaproth was born in Berlin in 1783. Having published the Asiatischer Magazin in Weimar in 1802, he was invited to the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences. After accompanying a diplomatic mission to China in 1805-1806 and returning with a collection of manuscripts (Chinese and Mongol inter alia), he was sent by the Academy to the Caucasus (1807-08), spending sixteen months travelling. He began work in Paris in 1825 and died there in 1835.

His description of his Caucasian travels was published in (Halle and) Berlin in two volumes in 1812 (740 pp.) and 1814 (624 pp.) under the title Reise in den Kaukasus und nach Georgien, unternommen in den Jahren 1807 und 1808, auf Veranstaltung der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu St.-Petersburg, enthaltend eine vollständige Beschreibung der kaukasischen Länder und ihrer Bewohner, von Julius von Klaproth, Kaiserl. Russischem Hofrathe und Mitgliede der Akademie er Wissenschaften zu St.-Petersburg. An English version (Travels in the Caucasus and Georgia) came out in 1814, whilst a French translation (Voyage au Caucase et en Géorgie) appeared in 1823 in Paris.

In 1827 Klaproth published a Georgian-French and French-Georgian dictionary of some 4,000 items, which, according to Marie Brosset, seem to have been taken from the seventeenth-century word-list of the missionaries Stefano Paolini and Niceforo Irbach and from the lexicon appended to his self-tutor of Georgian by the Russian Piralof [I have no knowledge of this work other than the reference to it in Brosset]. He also undertook to write a Georgian grammar, based on the work of an Italian missionary that he had acquired, but died before he could complete it, and the task of doing so was entrusted by the Asiatic Society to Brosset, whose Elements de la langue Géorgienne came out in 1837 (reprinted in 1974 by Biblio Verlag, Osnabrück).

Klaproth did not cross into Transcaucasia until December 1807, reaching Tbilisi on 14 January 1808. He travelled in central/eastern parts until the summer, claiming to have crossed back briefly over the snowy main chain from Mozdok to Oni, capital of Rach’a, before hostility to Russia forced him to leave Transcaucasia for the last time.

Klaproth asserts that he was instructed to use and correct the materials left by his predecessors and boasts in a supplementary volume entitled Kaukasische Sprachen. Anhang zur Reise in den Kaukasus und nach Georgien (288 pp., Halle und Berlin, published in 1814 but apparently composed in 1809) to his original publication of his superiority over Güldenstädt in relation to his ability to compare Caucasian and other oriental languages.

Section One is devoted to the Daghestanian languages (Lesgische Sprachen): Avar (pp. 10- 55), Kazi-Kumukh or Lak (p. 56), Akusha or Dargwa/Dargi(n) (p. 58, with Lak-Dargwa comparisons on pp. 59-72), with mention of a fourth group named Kuraelisch = Lezgian on p. 72; pages 74 to 157 present comparative word-lists for Avar (with dialectal variants), Andi, Dido, Lak, Akusha, and Kubachi. Differently from Güldenstädt, Klaproth’s materials are set out according to the alphabetical order of the German translation-equivalents (as opposed to Güldenstädt’s ordering by semantic fields); Klaproth has up to 430 items, compared with Güldenstädt’s 275 for Avar-Dido. Pages 134-137 incorporate parallel lists for the numerals, whilst the days of the week are set out on p. 138 for Avar, Andi, Dido, Lak, Dargwa and, strangely, Chechen.

Section Two (pp. 138-175) contains materials in the three Nakh languages, though the alphabetical principle for German equivalents is not applied here. Two dialects for Chechen are represented: Karabulax and an unspecified other; for Ingush the dialect is that of Shalxa.

Section Three (pp. 176-224) illustrates Ossetic (the texts being The Lord’s Prayer, The Ten Commandments, and the Catechism) and includes an attempt to describe the declensional and conjugational systems of the language.

Section Four (pp. 225-245) presents 75 words, three phrases (‘What is X called?’, ‘What is this?’, and ‘Please’), the days of the week and some basic grammatical observations (mainly on the Kabardian dialect of Circassian).

Section Five (pp. 246-261) looks at the Abassiche Sprache, though the words and phrases represent the divergent Abaza dialect, and, on p. 261, the same phrases ‘translated by an Abaza into some other language’.

Section Six (pp. 262-270) offers some remarks on, and a few words in, Svan.

Section Seven (pp. 271-288) has examples from four local Turkic tongues.

Klaproth was acquainted with historical sources on the Caucasus (e.g. classical writers such as Strabo, Arab geographers such as Mas’udi, and the Georgian chronicles) and attempts to identify some of the historical ethnonyms with contemporary tribes.

Of his four Daghestanian language-groups Klaproth admits to having no knowledge of the Lezgic family, stating simply and accurately that their speakers reside in southern Daghestan. Whilst managing to associate around Avar Güldenstädt’s "Avar, Dido, K’ap’uch’i, and Andi", Klaproth introduces an error not made by his predecessor in wrongly ascribing to Lak the Kaitak dialect of Dargwa as well as the Lezgic language Tabasaran.

Whereas Güldenstädt basically confined himself to offering lexical materials and comments based thereon, Klaproth ventured into the realms of grammar. But this can hardly be seen as an advance in view of the superficial and erroneous nature of his observations, such as when he asserts that Avar has no grammatical gender, even though his adjectival citations shew gender agreement with their epithets. And, like many others, he allowed his expectations based on the structures of Latin and Greek of what languages should be like to influence his descriptions of these non-Indo-European tongues, assigning accusative cases to systems where no such case is attested. Another backward step in comparison with Güldenstädt is Klaproth’s belief that Abkhaz and Circassian are not genetically related, though he postulates an entirely false link between Circassian and Finnish, Ostyak and Vogul based on some superficial lexical similarities, wild speculations which reveal Klaproth’s ignorance of the fundamental principles underlying the proof of linguistic genetic affiliation (viz. systematic sound-correspondences demonstrated by strict application of the comparative method). Whilst recognising the closeness of Nakh to Daghestanian, Klaproth again draws parallelisms with Samoyed, Vogul and other Siberian forms.

Klaproth’s addendum does contain the first examples of full sentences published in printed format for Avar, Andi, Lak, Dargwa, Chechen, Kabardian and Abaza. However, these texts were not recorded by Klaproth — Güldenstädt had them already in 1775, and Klaproth took them with him on his own expedition, adding only the variant for Abaza in, as stated above, an unspecified dialect.

Interestingly, in a dispatch of 26 Nov 1836 from Simferopol to the Academy’s Secretary Frähn, the Ossetic specialist Academician Johan Sjögren charged: ‘I deem it my duty to send to the Academy evidence from which it is revealed that Klaproth did not undertake, if not all, at least most of the excursions but has composed them on the basis of the statements or written sources of others, specifically the reports on the peoples living along the Kuban and beyond for the most part and particularly from p. 206 to the end are translated word for word from a document lodged at the general HQ without a squeak about his source’ (vid. Brosset’s Bibliographie analitique 1887, p.535).

4. Marie Félicité Brosset (Jeune)

The French orientalist Marie Félicité Brosset (Jeune) (1802-1880) came to Georgian (and Armenian) studies from Chinese. Invited to Russia in 1837, he was elected to a fellowship of the Russian Academy the following year; he continued to work at the Academy until 1880, when illness took him back to France, where he died. In St Petersburg Brosset laid the foundation of Georgian (and Armenian) philology. He read a cycle of lectures on Georgian and Armenian between 1839 and 1841 at the University and Academy, but then appointment as Director of the Public Library forced him to abandon this.

Brosset had practical command of both Georgian and Armenian and contributed to the spread of the knowledge of these cultures in Western Europe in the fields of both philology and history, though his interests and writings extended to archæology, numismatics and epigraphy. In 1847-48 he travelled around Georgia and Armenia, publishing the results in three volumes entitled Rapports sur un voyage archéologique dans la Géorgie et dans l'Arménie exécuté en 1847-1848 (St Petersburg, 1849-51). He introduced the non-Georgian reading public to the native historical chronicles with his translation into French of the collection of texts known as ‘Kartlis Tskhovreba’ (Life of Kartli = Georgia), including an eighteenth-century addition to the corpus in the shape of the so-called ‘Geography of Georgia’ by Prince Vakhusht’ Bagrat’ion (member of the royal family); these translations came out in seven fascicules between 1849 and 1858.

Before Brosset arrived in Russia, he had already made a contribution to the foreign study of Georgian. It seems from what Brosset tells us that the Asiatic Society in Paris was only a few months old when it decided to place the study of Georgian top of its list of desiderata (according to a lecture by St. Martin of 6 January 1823). As a consequence they commissioned Klaproth to prepare both a grammar and dictionary. As already stated, a Georgian-French/French Georgian dictionary appeared in 1827, being based on the seventeenth-century list of 3,084 entries published in 1629 in Rome by the missionaries Stefano Paolini and Niceforo Irbach (see the 1983 facsimile reprint as part of ‘First Printed Books in Georgian’, edited by A.S. Chikobava and J.L. Vateishvili, Tbilisi, Khelovneba Press) as well as that in Piralof’s self-tutor. As for the grammar, Klaproth intended to build on a work he had found by an Italian missionary, but the project was dragged out, and by the time of his death in 1835, he had completed only 112 pages, which took him merely to the verb, which is the most demanding part of Georgian grammar. The task thus passed to Brosset, who produced his Eléments de la langue géorgienne (lvi+336 pp., Paris, 1837).

Brosset had published lithographically in Paris in 1834 a 291-page work he called L'art libéral ou Grammaire géorgienne. The book consists of seventeen chapters, each followed by illustrative material with translation. Previous works by such pioneers as the eighteenth-century Georgian patriarch Ant’on I, the seventeenth-century Italian missionary Maggio, and the eighteenth century member of the Georgian royal family Davit Bat’onishvili are considered, but Brosset bases all opinions he expresses on Georgian materials, being the first non-Georgian capable of manipulating original data.

That said, there are, quite naturally, errors of interpretation. One of these concerned the case called in Georgian motxrobiti (literally ‘narrative’), which is conventionally translated as ‘ergative’. The debate about the nature and essential function of this case continues to this day (see, for example, the discussion in Hewitt 2004), but Brosset argued for it not to be treated as a separate case at all. In the 1837 grammar the original author, Klaproth, had stated on p.13 the following: ‘Le démonstratif: moTHrobiTi mothkrobithi; c’est un nominatif qui perd ordinairement sa dernière voyelle, et prend à la fin la syllabe man.’ To this Brosset appends his '’orrective’ note on p.xxvi: ‘Le démonstratif, que les grammairiens géorgiens appellent narratif, n’est point un cas à part, puisque le pronom démonstratif explétif man se décline avec tous les cas des noms, et aux deux nombres.’ The hypothesis of a relationship between the origin of the case-endings and the third person pronoun is a justified one, but the fact is that a motxrobiti or ergative or narrative case does need to be treated as a distinct entity. Consider the example quoted by Brosset in his syntactic discussion on p.242 of the 1837 publication:

mosrnis [ it-strikes-them ] mQeC.n.i [ beast.PL[URAL].NOM[INATIVE] ] da [ and ] nadir.n.i [ game.PL.NOM ] [ arrow.ERG[ATIVE] ] [ mine.ERG ] [ thrown.ERG ]

‘My arrow when cast regularly strikes the beasts and game-animals’ where, without more ado, the Nominative argument (in fact the object) is described as the subject, and nothing is said about the true subject in the Ergative case in -man.

Though Brosset’s contribution to the study and knowledge of Georgian was immense, it is regrettable that on the matter of its genetic classification he misplaced it by categorising it as a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family — it is perhaps pertinent to recall that for many years in the nineteenth century Armenian was also placed within Indo-Iranian because of the large number of Iranian lexical items adopted by it over the centuries, but, unlike Georgian, Armenian does fall within the Indo-European family, as correctly demonstrated by Heinrich Hübschmann later in the nineteenth century, where it forms a separate branch. On Georgian’s own rich store of Iranian loans see Andronik’ashvili (1966).

Another to ascribe Indo-European status to Georgian and the sisters was the German Franz Bopp who delivered two lectures in Berlin in 1842 and 1845 which were later published firstly with the title Über das Georgische in sprachverwandtschaftlicher Beziehung (1846) and secondly entitled Die kaukasischen Glieder des indo-europäischen Sprachstammes (1847). In these he argued for an Indo-European origin for the ‘Iberian’ or ‘Georgian’ (recte ‘Kartvelian’) family that encompasses Georgian, Mingrelian, Laz and Svan. Bopp did not know Georgian, nor did he visit the Caucasus but relied both on Brosset and, for supplementary information on Georgian’s congeners, on a contemporary fellow-German who did and who provided Bopp with preliminary results of his researches on the ground. If a competent presentation of Georgian grammar (essentially its morphology) became available to Western European readers with the works of Brosset in the 1830s [This discounts the not fully competent account by Maggio from 1640.], it fell to a Fellow of the German (rather than Russian) Academy of Sciences in Berlin, namely Georg Rosen, to extend philological investigation to other Caucasian languages. Rosen’s thirty-eight-page review of Laz (Über die Sprache der Lazen) was read to the Berlin Academy on 11 November 1843 and published in 1844. On 1 October 1844 the Berlin Academy was again treated to another presentation by Rosen, to wit his second linguistic survey from the region, this time on Ossetic (Über die ossetische Sprache), whilst his third paper, delivered on 31 January 1845, gave short surveys of Mingrelian, Svan and Abkhaz (Über das Mingrelishe, Suanische und Abxasische). The last two papers were published in 1846 and entitled Ossetische Sprachlehre nebst einer Abhandlung über das Mingrelische, Suanische und Abchasische von Dr. Georg Rosen; they totalled eighty-four pages. Of these forty-three are devoted to Ossetic, including Klaproth’s lexical list, as verified by Rosen; Mingrelian is examined in nine pages (48-57), Svan in 13 (57-70), and Abkhaz in 12 (70-82). Rosen studied each of these languages on native soil, not knowing Georgian when he applied himself to Laz. He made a number of important observations, not least remarking on the relationship between Georgian’s own dialects and noting that the closeness of Laz to Mingrelian could best be viewed as assigning them co-dialectal status of a single language, as is done to this day within Georgia, where the language concerned is designated Zan; Svan he rightly saw as the most divergent of the Kartvelian sisters. Rosen commented on the closeness of Abkhaz to Circassian. Rosen hoped to locate on Abkhazian territory a tribe named ‘Azra’ by the English traveller James Stanislaus Bell, who lived among the North-West Caucasian peoples resident here and encouraged them in their war with Russia (see his justly famed two volumes Journal of a Residence in Circassia During the Years 1837, 1838, and 1839 (London, Edward Moxon, 1840)). Bell had given on p.482 of his second volume a short word-list to illustrate the languages of the three peoples he encountered, whom he named Azra, Abaza, and Adighe. Rosen failed to identify the words assigned to the so-called Azras as being in fact Abkhaz; the language styled by Bell (as indeed by Evliya Çelebi in the seventeenth century) ‘Abaza’ was actually Ubykh, and the Ubykh word for ‘Abkhaz’ was /AzÂA/; Adyghe is another term for Circassian based on the Circassians’ self-designation /A:d´VA/.

One might object to Rosen’s stadial conclusion that in terms of their structural development Abkhaz and Circassian represent an older (?more primitive) stage than that found in the Kartvelian family, just as he was wrong in deeming the first two languages, which belong, as we know, to the North West Caucasian family, as being genetically related to Kartvelian. However, he was right to distance (Iranian) Ossetic and the (Turkic) mountain-Tatar tongues (Balkar, Karachay) from the indigenous Caucasian languages, and right also to conclude that parallels such as similar soundsystems could be explained by centuries (if not millennia) of symbiosis. Interestingly, Rosen chose to write not only his Mingrelian and Svan but also Ossetic and Abkhaz examples in the Georgian script (with transcription), the best-suited naturally developed writing-system to represent any Caucasian language; for Laz he had employed Arabic (with transcription), in good Ottoman fashion. To Rosen belongs the accolade of having been the first to make these four unwritten (sc. at that time) languages the object of scholarly study and thus accessible for the first time to serious philological investigation.

Though Bopp’s attempt to associate Kartvelian with Indo-European looks like a reinforcement of the opinion somewhat earlier expressed by Brosset, the two scholars subsequently argued in print over the respective paths by which they had come to this (erroneous) conclusion. Of course, the discipline of comparative philology was still in relative infancy in Brosset’s and Bopp’s day and was yet to recognise the absolute fundamentality of the principle of strict sound-correspondence in the demonstration of genetic affiliation. Even so, it was somewhat odd that neither Brosset nor Bopp thought to search for sound-correspondences, preferring to look at such features as verb-endings and case-markers. Failure to recognise the true nature of the ergative case was an obstacle here, for Bopp tried to link the nasal ending of the ergative case in such pronominal forms as iman ‘that one’ with the accusative case’s nasal ending in Sanskrit, Greek and Latin.

Brosset delivered a reply to Bopp’s assertions, based in part on Rosen’s observations, in a lecture at the St Petersburg Academy on 1 Nov 1844. Brosset was able to correct some of Bopp’s misinterpretations of basic data and took issue with the above-mentioned analysis of the nasal ending, pointing out that the ergative/narrative could not function as object of a transitive verb, which is the essential role of the Indo-European accusative. Brosset himself had been led to his mistaken conclusion by such features as the ‘shared’ lexical stock he recognised between Georgian, Armenian, Old Persian, Avestan and Sanskrit, or what he saw as a commonality in the declensional systems between Georgian and Sanskrit and Avestan. See the last page of his 1834 publication for a summary of the relevant data.

The genetic links within the Caucasus are still debated (particularly with reference to the relationship between the North Caucasian languages); there was a period when North-West Caucasian Abkhaz was argued to be related to (even a dialect of) Georgian, but those (and there are some, especially in Georgia) proposing this today are deceiving themselves and doing so principally through political motives. As already stated, the Kartvelian family is now, almost without dissent, recognised to be an isolate, though it must be said that of all the indigenous Caucasian languages, it is the members of the Kartvelian family which have the most Indo-European ‘feel’ about them (sc. in terms of the use of fully developed subordinate clauses, something which marks them out from the rest).

5. Anton Schiefner

As Georgian is the only autochthonous Caucasian language with a long (and distinguished) literary tradition, it was hardly surprising that it should have become the focus of attention for Western orientalists, as the classification of the world’s languages got underway in the first half of the nineteenth century, winning for itself descriptions in Brosset’s grammatical monographs. If Rosen presented a smattering of materials from a handful of the other, then unknown languages of the Caucasus to his philological peers, it fell to another ethnic German, Anton Shiefner (1817-1879), from Tallinn, to produce a full (for its time — sc. without any detailed treatment of syntax) grammatical description of a North Caucasian language, work accomplished with a level of professional expertise (especially in the rigour of the analysis applied to the sound-system) that went beyond anything then available for any Caucasian language (including Georgian).

After completing his university-education in St Petersburg, Schiefner spent six months studying oriental languages in Berlin. To his pen belong such works as ‘Tibetan Studies’ and a German translation from Finnish of the Kalevala epic. A fellow of the St Petersburg Academy, he turned his attention at the close of 1853 to Bats (or [Ts’ova-]Tush), a now moribund language of the [Vei]Nakh family, spoken, then as today, in only a single village (Zemo Alvani) in eastern Georgia. Schiefner never visited the Caucasus but worked with materials sent from the region, supplemented with information provided by native speaker consultants, collaborating with the priest Giorgi Tsisk’arishvili on Bats for nine months. The first results of this collaboration were published in 1854 under the title Kurze Charakteristik der Thusch Sprache (Bulletin historico-philologique, t. XII, No. 8/Mélanges Asiatiques, t. II, 402-429). There followed in 1856 the 160-page monograph Versuch über die Thusch-Sprache oder die kistische Mundart in Tuschetien (St Petersburg). Pages 6-28 were devoted to phonetics, 29-89 to morphology, 90-104 to examples of speech with translation, 105-158 to a lexicon, and the final two pages contain a list of errata. He observed a phenomenon pertaining to the use of the ergative case (styled by Schiefner the ‘instructive’) which has attracted the attention of linguists to this day, namely that first and second person pronouns stand in the ergative with intransitive verbs, if the verb has any semantic trace of Selbstthätigkeit, to illustrate which he quotes:

As lei - 'IERG talk'
AÌ lei - 'youERG talk'
BUT o lei - 'XNOM talks'

Schiefner’s status as the pioneer at the Russian Academy for the study of the Caucasian languages was reinforced by his subsequent publications: Versuch über das Awarische (St Petersburg, 1862, 54 pp.) and Versuch über die Sprache der Uden (St. Petersburg, 1863, 110 pp.) — both Udi and Avar are spoken in Georgia, though the main Avar speech-community resides in Daghestan (N.E. Caucasus), whilst Udi is spoken in one village in South-East Georgia and also over the border in today’s Azerbaijan. In addition to these three important contributions of his own, Schiefner over the course of the next decade worked on the monographs produced by perhaps the most famous of the early investigators of Caucasian languages, the soldier-linguist Baron Pëtr Uslar (Peter von Uslar), who took advantage of his time as soldier in the Caucasus to work on a number of the languages spoken in the territories which were then either being or had recently been conquered by force of Russian arms. In addition to full descriptions of Abkhaz, Chechen, Avar, Lak, Dargwa/Dargi(n), and Lezgi (plus Tabasaran, published only in 1979 in Tbilisi from the rediscovered manuscript), Uslar was also the only person to do serious work on Ubykh before the migration of the entire population to Turkey. Before Uslar’s works appeared in the original Russian, Schiefner translated them into German, reworking the materials (especially the phonetics) in so doing and presenting them according to the order and principles he had established in his own grammars, which is often preferable to the presentation in Uslar’s Russian originals. Schiefner’s versions were published under the standard title Ausführlicher Bericht über des Generals Baron Peter von Uslar ... Studien with the relevant language-name preceding the final word of the title. The order of publication of the German versions was: Abkhaz (1863), Chechen (1864), Lak (1866), Dargwa (1871), Avar (1872) and Lezgi (1873), published in the series Mémoires de l'Académie impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg.

We have already moved beyond the strict confines of this conference’s theme, but it was important to include Schiefner as the academician who in a sense built on the work begun only in the 1770s by Güldenstädt’s commission and set the study of Caucasian languages on a path that can be recognised as truly modern. Whilst much valuable research within the Caucasus was conducted in a variety of disciplines during the nineteenth century by, or on behalf of, the Imperial Russian Academy and published in such admirable series as Sbornik Materialov dlja Opisanija Mestnostej i Plemën Kavkaza, it must not be forgotten that for most of this period the peoples of the North Caucasus were subjected to a brutal war of imperial aggression — indeed, it was military matters that brought Uslar to the Caucasus, as we have just observed. In a ‘Memorandum respecting Georgia’, marked ‘confidential’ and printed for the British Foreign Office on 24 March 1855, James Brant wrote from Erzeroum suggestions for a British protectorate for Georgia once Russia was ejected therefrom. Towards the end of his paper Brant remarked: ‘She [Russia] will be deprived of the power of attacking Turkey and Persia; and both nations, relieved from her baneful contact, will have leisure to attend to the improvements of their social institutions' (stress added — BGH; see Burdett 1996.91). History was not to follow such a course as that envisaged by Brant. If the knowledge and discoveries about the Caucasus, its peoples and languages given to the world by researchers dispatched there from the Russian Academy in the first half of the nineteenth century is placed in the scales against everything the region and its peoples have suffered from the (to quote Brant) ‘baneful contact’ with the Russian state, would the good necessarily be judged by any objective commentator to outweigh the harm?...

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