Armenian Language

“Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs.”

 

― Nelson MandelaLong Walk to Freedom

 

Armenian Language

It is an Indo-European language. There are nearly 6 million speakers mainly in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian is also spoken by many other countries. Armenian people write Armenian by using the Armenian alphabet, created in 405 AD by Mesrop Mashtots.Some of those countries include Russia, USA, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Georgia, and Egypt.

Zoryan Ashot - "Mesrop Mashtoc" (the creator of the armenian alphabet)
“Mesrop Mashtoc” (the creator of the armenian alphabet) -Artist; Zoryan Ashot

It is the official language of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Though until the early 1990s Armenian schools taught in either Armenian or Russian, but after the USSR collapse, the Armenian language became the main one. Thus the government closed the Russian schools. Only in 2010 the government brought in Russian language education.

Notable features

  • Type of writing: alphabet
  • Direction: left to right – horizontal lines
  • Differences in the pronunciation of the letters
  • Most of the letters have numerical values

Armenian Alphabet

In the late 4th century AD, Armenian King named Vramshapuh asked Mesrop Mashtots to create a new alphabet for Armenian. Mesrop was one of the officials in his chancellery and a prominent scholar. Before the creation of Armenian alphabet, Armenian people wrote with ‘cuneiform’ scripts. These scripts were unsuitable for religious works. Thus Mestrop traveled to Alexandria. There he studied the principles of writing. Soon he came to the conclusion that the Greek alphabet was the best alphabet for usage at that time. He found that there was a nearly one-to-one correspondence between Greek and Armenian sounds and letters.

Mesrop started to teach Greek but soon understood that something was missing. So he used this model to create a new alphabet. When Mesrop was back to Armenia he presented the letters to the king in 405 AD. People loved the new alphabet.

Armenian Alphabet
Armenian Alphabet

Thus they translated Bible and published it in 405 AD. They also did translations of various books. Originally there were 36 letters in the Armenian Language. Nowadays they are 38 letters of the Armenian Alphabet.

The Armenian language has two standard forms: Eastern and Western Armenian. Eastern Armenian is spoken mainly in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia, and Iran. And Western Armenian is spoken by the Armenian Diaspora in many countries. 

The Armenian alphabet has three categories of consonant’s division. Most languages and alphabets have only “voiced” and “voiceless” consonants. Armenian differs a lot. It also has “soft voiceless” consonants.  Soft voiceless consonants are sounds pronounced softly without any aspiration. For instance, soft “T” that almost sounds like a “D”.

Though other languages combine two or three letters, the Armenian language only has one letter.  For example sh- շ, (t)ch –չ, ts-ծ, dj-ջ. This feature makes the Armenian alphabet truly unique and original.

 

Phases of the Armenian Language

Armenian can be divided into the following stages.

Old Armenian

  • Grabar – 5th century
  • Post-Classical – 5-8th centuries
  • Late Grabar – 8-11th centuries

Middle Armenian

  • Early Middle or Cilician Period – 12-14th centuries
  • Late Medium or Ashkharabar Period –  15-16 th centuries

Modern Armenian

  • Early Ashkharabar – 17-19th half of the century
  • Late Medium Period – 19th – 1920
  • Modern Armenian – 192 – till nowadays

People used Late Grabar mainly in religious and specialized literature. Mekhitarists created diverse literature genres. In 1794, people published the first Armenian periodical, called Azdarar. The classical variant took numerous words from Middle Iranian languages, primarily Parthian. It contains inventories from Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Mongol, and Persian.

In Bagratid Armenia and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia occurred a need for changing the language. Thus two more letters added to the alphabet. These letters were “օ” and “ֆ”. So nowadays the Armenian alphabet contains 38 letters.

Armenian Bible
Armenian Bible

Gregory of Narek wrote “The Book of Lamentations” in Old Armenian in the 10th century. The book is an example of the development of a literature and writing style of Old Armenian. Besides developing the literary style, he also added 1000 new words which are met in his hymns and poems. Gregory included secular themes and vernacular language in his writings. After his death, people created thematic writings from religious texts.

Evolution

Later, Hovhannes Sargavak wrote a poem and devoted to nature, love, or female beauty. Gradually, the interests of the population became bigger. Thus Konsdantin Yerzinkatsi criticized establishments and addressed the Armenian social issues. Shortly after people changed style and syntax, but fundamental changes of the grammar or the morphology of the language didn’t take place.

Soon Armenian homeland was once again divided. Russian Empire conquered Eastern Armenia and Western Armenia. Thus the search for better living conditions led many Armenians to move to Constantinople and soon Tbilisi became the center of Armenians living under Russian rule. These two cities became the primary parts of Armenian intellectual and cultural life.

New literary forms and styles reached Armenians from Europe and Ashkharhabar were created. Shortly after, on the basis of morphological and phonetic features, two major standards emerged.

  • Western standard: Immigrants crystallized the regional dialects. They chose shorter and more flexible learning from than Grabar.
  • Eastern standard: Modern Eastern was more practical and accessible than Grabar.

Thus both versions pursued Ashkharhabar. Gradually people increased the rate of literacy, even in remote rural areas. During the 20th century, both varieties prevailed over Grabar and chose new and simplified grammatical structure of the language. Though there are several morphological, phonetic, and grammatical differences, the vocabulary and rules of grammatical allow users of one variant to understand the other. The Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic used Eastern Armenian as an official language, though after the Armenian Genocide Diasporas preserved the Western Armenian dialect.

Differences between Eastern and Western Armenian

Regular differences in “Ռ” and “Ր” letters pronounced as “Ռ/R” in Western Armenian, though in Eastern Armenian “Ռ/R” is pronounced more strongly than “Ր”. Eastern Armenian has distinct sounds for the letters.

Eastern & Western Armenia
Eastern & Western Armenia

Spellings of proper names are often the same for both Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian speakers, but their pronunciations differ. Eastern Armenians say “Grigor”, “Petros”, while Western Armenians pronounce “Krikor” and “Bedros”. Generally, both of them write the names in the same way but pronounce differently.

Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian have undergone several phonetic mergers. For example, Eastern Armenians pronounce (թ) as an aspirated “t” as in “telephone”, (դ) like the “d” in “decide”, and (տ) as a tenuis. However Western Armenians pronounce both (թ) and (դ) as an aspirated “t” as in “telephone”, and the (տ) letter is pronounced like the letter “d” as in “decide”.

Though many of the Western Armenian dialects are dead some existing ones can be subdivided into several subdialects. In fact, there is no accurate linguistic border between one dialect and another because there is nearly always a dialect transition between pairs of geographically identified dialects.

Morphology

The Armenian Language
Armenian

By means of structure, Armenian corresponds with other Indo-European languages, however, the Armenian language has distinctive sounds and grammar features. This language is rich in consonants combinations. In modern Armenian spoken and literary dialects have a complicated system of noun declension.

Here the negative verbs are conjugated differently from positive ones. Armenians only add the negative “չ” to the positive conjugation.

By means of grammar, Armenian early forms have many common features with classical Greek and Latin. Modern Armenian, like Modern Greek, has changed a lot, but both of them add various analytic features.

Noun: There is no grammatical gender in Armenian, not even in the pronoun. However, there is a feminine suffix (-ուհի “-uhi”). For example, երգիչ ( “singer”) becomes երգչուհի ( female singer). The suffix -uhi does not have a grammatical effect on the sentence. There are 7 noun cases in Armenian. Here is the list.

Verb: Verbs in the Armenian language are formed with –ել, -ալ derivatives and exist in two forms, personal and impersonal. Personal forms have a person, number, time, weather, and sex. Impersonal verbs have only sex.

Phonology

Stress: In the Armenian language, the stress falls on the last syllable when the last syllable contains the definite article [ə] or [n], and the possessive articles սand դ. But there also exist exceptions that happen with words ending with the final letter է/ե and sometimes the ordinal numerals and a small number of other words.
Vowels: Armenian has six monophthongs. Here are they; ա, ե/է, ը, ի, ո/ օ, ու.
Consonants: Here is the list of the Armenian consonants; բ, գ, դ, զ, թ, ժ, լ, խ, ծ, կ, հ, ձ, ղ, ճ, մ, յ, ն, շ, չ, պ, ջ, ռ, ս, վ, տ, ր ց, փ, ք, ֆ

Armenian punctuation

The punctuation marks include;

Armenian punctuation marks
Armenian punctuation marks
  • Quotation marks
  • Colon
  • Semicolon
  • Comma
  • Full stop
  • Emphasis mark
  • Exclamation mark
  • Question Mark
  • Abbreviation Mark

Dialects and variants

Generally, the languages evolve. Armenian has many dialects. For instance, Armenians in Karabakh speak by a different dialect than Armenians living in Yerevan. It is important to realize that while Armenians in Persia speak Armenian with some characteristics that are more or less associated with Persian.

There are many historic reasons about why Armenian was divided into Eastern and Western Armenian. Some of the reasons are the establishment of a Western-oriented Armenian kingdom in Cilicia and the attempts by the USSR to assimilate Armenians, Genocide. Thus obviously there are notable differences between two variants. One of the main differences is the exact pronunciation of consonants.

Nowadays Modern Armenian can be divided into two main dialectal groups and those groups in their turn into individual dialects. Sometimes dialects can’t be intelligible. However, a fluent speaker of one of two greatly varying dialects for a period of time will be able to understand the other.

Some of the most used Western Armenian dialects currently in use include Homshetsi,  the dialects of Armenians of Kessab, Latakia and Jisr al-Shughur (Syria), Anjar, Lebanon, and Vakıflı, Samandağ (Turkey), part of the “Sueidia” dialect.

Forms of the Western Armenian Karin dialect are spoken by many people in Northern Armenia, particularly in GyumriArtikAkhuryan, Armenians in Samtskhe-Javakheti province of Georgia (AkhalkalakiAkhaltsikhe) and around 130 villages in Shirak Province.

Western Armenian dialects are currently spoken also in GavarAparan, Talin and by the large Armenian population living in Abkhazia. Armenians in Abkhazia are the first or second ethnic minority.

 

Do not forget that the development of language is part of the development of our personality. Words are the natural means of expressing our thoughts. Using language we establish an understanding between people.

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