Ejective affinities

This title was prompted by having seen As You Like It in Georgian.

Say ‘t’. Now make a glottal stop. Now do both at once. It’s a bit like pronouncing a word-final ‘t’ normally and enunciating it at the same time.

That’s an ejective. Georgian has six ejectives: პ (p’), ტ (t’), კ (k’), ყ (q’), წ (c’) and ჭ (č’). The peculiar thing about these ejectives is that they show up in loanwords from our common stock of Graeco-Latin-scientificocultural vocabulary. ტელევიზია (t’elevizori), or ინტერნეტი (int’ernet’i) for example.

I had a complicated explanation for why this might be. I thought it might reflect a stressed syllable in whichever source language because not every borrowed unvoiced stop, for example the initial თ in თეატრი (teat’ri) is glottalized.

There is a simpler explanation, though.

Georgian has three sets of stops, voiced and unaspirated, unvoiced and aspirated, unvoiced and glottalized and unaspirated. Russian, on the other hand, has four sets based on two features, voicing and palatalization. They are all unaspirated. I am going to assume that the borrowings have come in through Russian or from English on a Russian pattern and that palatalization is lost on borrowing.

The best match for a Russian т is in fact ტ, being unaspirated, rather than თ. Likewise with the other members of the series. Glottalization seems to be easier for Georgians than aspiration.

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