Svan is the smallest and least well-known of the Kartvelian (South
Caucasian) languages. The traditional Svan homeland is in the northwest
highlands of the Republic of Georgia, and the speech community comprises
35,000 to 40,000 people. In most recent respects, Svan retains the
principal features of a Kartvelian language: subject and object agreement;
verbal marking of aspect, evidentiality and ‘version’ [similar to
active/medial opposition of Indo-European]; and a complex split-ergative
morphosyntax. On the other hand, Svan morphophonemics has become far less
transparent than that of Georgian or Laz-Mingrelian.
There is a great deal of allomorphy in noun declension and in some verbal
paradigms (e.g. in the imperfect), and the pattern of Proto-Kartvelian
verbal ablaut has been restructured in a distinctive way. Altough the
sketch is primarily concerned with the synchronic grammar of the four Svan
dialects, attention is given to certain issues in Kartvelian historical
morphology, such as quantitative and qualitative vowel alternations and the
evolution of the case system.