Dato Dolidze’s fingers move slowly on the old handset as he writes a text message to his son.
“My phone only has the Latin alphabet, so every time I text I need to translate the Georgian letters into the Latin. It’s a pain,” says the 50-something orange vendor at a Tbilisi vegetable market.
While newer smartphones enable the use of the Georgian alphabet, many in Georgia – where the average wage is $333 a month – are, like Dolidze, stuck with cheaper, older phones.
Georgia’s unique alphabet is one of the unintended casualties of such digital compromises.
The curvy Georgian alphabet has seduced scholars and calligraphers for centuries, most recently the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Last December, UNESCO included the Georgian alphabet in the organization’s register of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
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Monica Ellena is a Tbilisi-based freelance journalist.