Zan languages

South Caucasus, Anatolia
Linguistic classification:


Glottolog: zann1245[1]

The Zan languages, or Zanuri (Georgian: ზანური ენები), are a branch of the Kartvelian languages constituted by the Mingrelian and Laz languages. Some linguists consider both to be members dialects of the same, Zan, language. However, Mingrelian and Laz are not completely mutually intelligible, though speakers of one language can recognize many words of the other.

The term Zan comes from the Greco-Roman name of one of the chief Colchian tribes, which is almost identical to the name given to the Mingrelians by the Svans (a northwestern Kartvelian group). Georgian linguist Akaki Shanidze proposed the name "Colchian" for Zan.


According to a glottochronological analysis by G. Klimov, the Zan languages had split from the Common Kartvelian group by about the 8th century BC. Zan was spoken by a continuous community stretching along the Black Sea coast, from modern day Trabzon, Turkey into western Georgia.

In the mid-7th century AD, Zan speakers were split by intrusions of Georgian-speaking peoples from Iberia (eastern Georgia), driven by the Arabs, who took over the regions of Imereti, Guria, and Adjara.

Separated by geography, and later by politics and religion, northern and southern Zan eventually diverged into Mingrelian and Laz. Since the differentiation was basically complete by early modern times, it is not customary to speak of a unified Zan language today. Presently, Mingrelian is spoken by the Mingrelians primarily in Mingrelia (northwest Georgia) and Abkhazia, whereas Laz is spoken by the Laz people in Turkey (and in a small portion of Adjara, southwestern Georgia).


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Zan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
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