Megrelian (or Mingrelian) and Laz are two closely related Kartvelian or South Caucasian languages. Megrelians call their language margaluri nina and their native land Samargalo, Megrelia. In writing, they use the corresponding Georgian forms megruli ena and Samegrelo. The Laz call their language lazuri. Laz and Chan are synonymous ethnic terms, Chan is the term often used in Georgian histographical sources. In the Georgian tradition, Megrelian and Laz/Chan are grouped together as the two dialects of the Zan language.
Megrelian is spoken in the western parts of Georgia: on the Kolkhis lowland in the Senaki, Abasha, Khobi and Zugdidi regions, in the Gali, Ochemchire, Gulripshi, Sokhumi and Gagra regions of Apkhazeti (Abkhazia) and in the Tsalendzhikha, Chkhorotsqu and Gegechkori regions on the southern slopes of the Great Caucasus.
Laz is mainly spoken in Lazistan in the north-eastern part of present-day Turkey but also by smaller groups on the Black Sea coast of Georgia.
Megrelian is divided into two dialects: the north-western Zugdid-Samurzaqan and south-eastern Senaki dialects. In the dialect Zugdid-Samurzaqan the subdialect Dzhvar is distinguished and in the Senaki dialect the Martvil subdialect. Dialects in Laz are 1. Khopa with the subdialect Chkhala, 2. the eastern Vitse-Arkabe and 3. the western Atina with the subdialect Bulep-Artashen. The neighbouring languages have had considerable influence on Megrelian and Laz. The Georgian influence has been particularly strong on the Senaki dialect of Megrelian and the Turkish and in part Greek on Laz.
Megrelian is used in everyday communication, among the family and in all social activities, where the use of literary language is not required. It is not used as means of instruction and is not taught at school. Most Megrelians are bilingual in Megrelian/Georgian or Megrelian/Abkhaz (in particular among older and middle aged speakers in Abkhazia). Laz (Chan) in Georgia are bilingual in Laz and Georgian and those living in Turkey, in Laz and Turkish. The literary language used by the Laz speakers is Turkish, leaving Laz for use in the family and local community.
The Megrelian speech community is rather large and compactly distributed, which promotes active use of the language in the Mingrelian areas. This applies both to older and younger generations. Laz is in active use in local communities with Laz population.
Megrelian and Laz do not have any literary language. Georgian is used as the literary language for all the Kartvelian peoples of Georgia, and has been so for many centuries. For Laz speakers in Turkey, Turkish is the literary language. Presently, there are plans of creating a writing system for Laz on the basis of the Latin script. The oldest texts in Megrelian date back to the second half of the last century and beginning of the this century. They are written in the Georgian script or transcriptions. It is mainly folklore, tales, ethnographical descriptions.
Karina Vamling 2001-10-13