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The Armenian Language
18 June 2013
The Armenian Language

The Armenian Language
By Karen Politis Virk
Language Connections

Armenian belongs to an independent branch of the Indo-European language family which has about 6.7 million speakers worldwide, the majority of which live in Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Southern Caucasus. It is an official language of the country of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and has official minority language status in Cyprus, Poland and Romania. A significant number of Armenian speakers are also found in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, Cyprus, Poland and Romania.

Classical and Middle Armenian: The first Armenian script dates back to the 5th century, when the first forms of the language were written in Classical Armenian. According to linguists, Indo-Iranian appears to be most closely related to Armenian. While Armenian contains many Indo-European roots, its phonology has also been influenced by other neighboring Caucasian languages.  This influence has changed over time, and between the 11th and 15th centuries with the evolution of the language known as Middle Armenian, many loanwords were adopted from Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Latin.

Armenian Dialects: During the 19th century, when the country was divided between the Russian and Ottoman Empires, two main forms of the language emerged: Eastern and Western Armenian.  Western Armenian developed among Armenians who had moved to Constantinople, while Eastern Armenian became the spoken language among Armenians living in Tbilisi, Georgia. Today Eastern Armenian is spoken mainly in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia and Iran; while Western Armenian is spoken primarily by the Armenians living in the diaspora. Although there are some differences between the two dialects including pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, they are more or less mutually intelligible. To date, many newspapers and schools have been established in each of the dialects, and there has been an extensive amount of literature written in modern Armenian rather than in the Classical Armenian language.

Russian Language Schools: During the Soviet era (1920-1991), Armenian had official status along with Russian in what was known as the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. Of the three Southern Caucuses Republics - Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia - it was the most successful in maintaining official status for both Russian and its dominant local language. There are several reasons for this including the fact that Armenia is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries with strong political ties to Russia and the former Soviet Union. As a result, Armenian is spoken as a first language by an overwhelming majority of the population while Russian is the most spoken second language. Moreover, the Russian language is considered to have the most favorable standing in Armenia if compared to other satellites of the former Soviet Union.  In Armenian schools every student is expected learn at least two foreign languages: Russian, which is mandatory, plus one other European language. Today Russian is taught in schools starting in the second grade and is a part of the curriculum for first year university students.

Until the early 1990’s, schools in Armenia taught in either Russian or Armenian.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, the number of Russian schools declined initially. This was primarily due to a legislative ban on education in foreign languages initiated in the early 1990s. The ban was lifted in 2010, and a number of Russian schools were re-established. The main difference between new foreign-language schools, as opposed to Russian schools during the Soviet Era, is that in the new schools there is equal teaching of Armenian language, literature and history as that found in national schools.

Today, Russian in Armenia remains the most spoken second language, followed by English, and French, as well as several minority languages such as Kurdish, Assyrian, and Greek.  Armenia has always been considered a Russian ally, both during and after the Soviet Era. With similar positions on the majority of international affairs, and Russia’s military support of the Armenia particularly against neighboring Azerbaijan, there is a continued bond that exists between the two countries.  Despite recent tendencies towards greater westernization, the relationship between Armenia and the Russian Federation continues to be strong and mutually beneficial. Thus, Armenians living in Armenia still consider Russian the second most important language after Armenian.  With continued political, military, and economic contact between Yerevan and Moscow, for most Armenians, not speaking Russian is almost unthinkable.





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