Kutaisi Communication Forms – A Brief Sociolinguistic Analysis




Author: Nia Kutchava

Linguistic ethnography is a broad concept that encompasses both linguistic and ethnographic approaches to studying the language features and communication of a specific society or group. Simply put, people possess an extensive range of linguistic repertoires, drawing from and adapting language symbols, enriching them with new meanings, using them in different contexts, and even altering their form or content. Such events determine that the mentioned diversity can, in some cases, manifest as the development of dialects, the establishment of specific grammatical forms, or the peculiarities of pronouns. Numerous studies have demonstrated that language has its own hierarchy, economy, and even gender. Within the framework of linguistic ethnography, research has been conducted showing, for example, how language portrays, talks about, addresses, and communicates with women in a specific vernacular, explained through historical context, cultural frames, and a sequence of events. There are also numerous hypotheses concerning the phenomenon of selecting specific forms from the linguistic repertoire and using them as a means of communication, particularly the notion that people of different genders, social standings, or other identity markers attach greater significance to the symbolism of language, employing forms that transcend the practical purpose of communication to emphasize the social capital, power dynamics, and balance among members of society. The diversity of linguistic ethnography and the fact that in some societies we encounter the alternation of two languages in communication depending on people’s social status, or find an awareness of spiritual and secular spheres and the division of spheres of influence into two different languages within one society – the combination of such empirical data highlights that a language in space and society does not exist independently and separately from history, culture, a shared past, and the symbols formed from it. However, each manner of using language involves the intersection of numerous social factors and identity markers. In sociolinguistic studies, a special place should be reserved for the city, where rituals, codes, and communication means necessary for maintaining urban dynamics are created daily. The language used in cities is not uniform and should not be considered a system with separate rules characterized by repetitive and regular changes; rather, it is an experience reflecting both an attempt at constant adaptation to new situations and the ongoing development and formation of new forms connected with the cultural context. This article focuses on urban sociolinguistics, which we will explore through the example of Kutaisi.

In Kutaisi, the city’s language exists parallel to the literary language and creates its own dimension, with several important distinctions and features evident in Kutaisi speech. While often following Georgian literary language, there are exceptions. For instance, nouns with consonant bases often decline differently than in literary Georgian because the nominative “i” is perceived as the base, identifying consonant-based names similarly to vowel-based ones. For example, we often hear, that something was done  by “Vakhtangi” instead of “Vakhtang,” “Nodari” instead of “Nodar,” or “Merabi” instead of “Merab.” In Kutaisi speech, suffixes also feature specific changes, such as the suffix “-tvis” (for) becoming “-tvin,” for instance, “chemtvis” (for me) changes to “chemtvin” (identical meaning). The cultural context and local social events uniquely define such changes in colloquial speech. There is a false and stereotypical notion that speech features exist independently and that certain groups of people simply tend to “distort” the literary language. In reality, the formation of urban colloquial speech is the result of a much more complex chain of events. It is interesting to consider the colloquial language of Kutaisi’s youth. Youth colloquial speech is often identified with slang forms and neologisms, with new words appearing in the language. Newly established words may also be borrowed from foreign languages. In conversations among Kutaisi’s youth, there is a noticeable tendency toward abbreviation and simplification of words. Foreign words are also adapted into forms characteristic of Georgian verbs and used in everyday conversation. Distinctive forms in the language of the youth are important from a sociolinguistic analysis perspective, as they reveal significant values that are relevant and substantial for the youth and a specific generation. According to various theories, an adolescent becomes a member of two language groups: one offered by adults, which in turn reflects adult values, standards, norms, and needs, and the other – the colloquial language of the youth, which results in the generation’s realization of their own identity, separation from the legacy created by adults, formation of their own relationships and attitudes toward social events. Therefore, youth colloquial speech should be seen as a result of self-identification, rethinking, and reevaluation of the past, as well as an expression of individualism, agreement with the old system of norms, or their rejection. Accordingly, young people’s preference for specific speech forms reveals their social protest, defines the boundaries of conformity, and suggests an attempt to create a subculture. The elimination of informal but implicit censorship in colloquial speech by the youth, often expressed in the use of words deemed unacceptable by adults for logical or illogical reasons, is to some extent a commentary by young people on social issues and events, on practices they consider outdated and useless.

In discussing the codes of Kutaisi communication and social interactions, the reality seen from the perspective of the “familiar stranger” theory is intriguing. The dynamics of relationships with “familiar strangers” represent a distinct form of communication. This theory, attributed to Stanley Milgram, was interested in the idea of collective patterns. For instance, people, especially when traveling on public transport, often remember specific individuals with whom they have nothing associated other than a particular shared experience, although this experience is so regular that simple observation becomes a memory due to the repetition of the event. For example, suppose two completely unfamiliar people travel to work by the same route at the same time using the same mode of transport. In that case, they develop the ability to recognize each other without any other emotional connection. A completely unfamiliar person can easily become part of our daily lives. Nonetheless, according to Milgram, people often leave such connections as “frozen relationships,” i.e., they avoid declaring the process of remembering and recognizing because they do not dare to make an emotional investment in case of failure, although various social interactions can be clearly observed in the dynamics of these individuals. In Kutaisi, depending on the population size and the city’s characteristics, many people consistently head to one specific point – the city center. Here, acquiring new acquaintances is especially common, thanks to remembering and recognizing people, often resulting in a sense of peace expressed in the realization that you seemingly know an unfamiliar person well, and even when using public transport together, you do not expect any surprises from this dynamic. The expressions of body language or speech used concerning “unknown familiars” are interesting. In Kutaisi, such relationships are relatively easy to find, as the number of people remembered as a result of such processes is sufficient for each passenger, thereby reducing the risk of emotional investment, and dialogues with “unknown familiars” can easily extend beyond the formal short sentences often used in public transport. Accordingly, people often perceive the absence and loss of the need for anonymity with “unknown familiars” as a characteristic of the city itself, considering that the sense of ease and immediacy is inherent to the city, although, through rationalization, we can easily see a series of social events and influences. The immediacy, the sense of proximity observed in the city, and the use of informal colloquial speech are based on the theory of communication with “familiar strangers” involving already remembered people, and it is precisely in this way that the aforementioned idea is expressed in Kutaisi’s reality. Observing the characteristics of the city, its culture, and social or linguistic events, we discover that each of them has its own unique context and features that are inseparable from urban life, specific situations, and social dynamics.