Armenian

Language

General Introduction

Armenian belongs to the Indo-European language family. It is an independent branch, but is closely related to other languages in this language family, particularly Greek. Armenian is the official language of Armenia.

  • Currently, five to six million people speak Armenian (Grimes 1992). Approximately half of Armenian speakers today live outside their historic homeland, primarily in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and the United States. Haieren and Ashkhari are Armenian terms for the language, although the latter is somewhat erudite.

Phonology

Vowels

  • i, ʏ, u, ɛ, œ ,ə, o, ɑ

Morphology

  • Armenian is similar to other Indo-European languages in its structure, however, it does resemble some of the distinctive sounds and features of its grammar with neighboring languages of the region.
  • Armenian is rich in combinations of consonants. Both classical Armenian and the modern spoken and literary dialects have a complicated system of declining nouns, with six or seven noun cases but no gender.
  • In modern Armenian, the use of auxiliary verbs to show tense (comparable to will in “he will go”) has generally supplemented the inflected verbs of Classical Armenian.
  • Negative verbs are conjugated differently from positive ones (as in English “he goes” and “he does not go”). Grammatically, early forms of Armenian had much in common with classical Greek and Latin, but the modern language, like modern Greek, has undergone many transformations.

Nouns

  • Classical Armenian has no grammatical gender, not even in the pronoun. The nominal inflection, however, preserves several types of inherited stem classes.
  • The noun may take seven cases: nominative, accusative, locative, genitive, dative, ablative, and instrumental.

    Here is an example of how the word /daʃt/ which means ‘field’ changes based on its case marking. Remember, Armenian does not mark nouns for gender. 

    Nominative-Accusative: Subject, direct object

    /daʃt/ (singular) /daʃteɹ/ (plural)

    Genitive-Dative: Possessive

    /daʃti/ (singular) /daʃteri/ (plural)

    Ablative: Origin

    /daʃtiʦʰ/ (singular) /daʃteriʦʰ/ (plural)

    Instrumental: Means

    /daʃtov/ (singular) /daʃteɹov/ (plural)

    Locative: Location

    /daʃtum/ (singular) /daʃteɹum/ (plural)

    Western Armenian

    Western Armenian nouns have six cases: Nominative (subject), Accusative (direct object), Genitive (possession), Dative (indirect object), Ablative (origin) and Instrumental (means). Of the six cases, the nominative and accusative are the same, except for personal pronouns, and the genitive and dative are the same, meaning that nouns have four distinct forms for case. Nouns in Armenian are marked for number (singular and plural), but do not mark for gender (i.e. masculine or feminine).

    Eastern Armenian

    Eastern Armenian nouns have seven cases, one more than Western Armenian. They are: Nominative (subject), Accusative (direct object), Genitive (possession), Dative (indirect object), Ablative (origin), Instrumental (means) and Locative (position). Of the seven cases, the nominative and accusative, with exceptions, are the same, and the genitive and dative are the same, meaning that nouns have mostly five distinct forms for case. Nouns in Armenian also mark for number (singular and plural), but do not mark for gender (i.e. masculine or feminine).

    Verbs

     Verbs in Armenian have an expansive system of conjugation with two main verb types (three in Western Armenian) changing form based on tense, mood and aspect.

    Dialect Differences

    The differences between Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian include phonology; specifically, the distinction of stops and affricates, as well as syntactic and lexical differences.

    Eastern Armenian

    Shifts the plain stops and plain affricates to ejective consonants.

    • Has a three-way distinction of stops and affricates: one voiced and two voiceless — an ejective version and an aspirated one.
    • For example, Eastern Armenian has three bilabial stops: [b] , [pʼ] (ejective), and [pʰ].

      Western Armenian

      • Has only a two-way distinction — one voiced and one aspirated.
      • Has two bilabial stops: [b] and [pʰ]
      • Shifts voiced stops and voiced affricates into aspirated stops and aspirated affricates, and replaced the plain stops and plain affricates with voiced ones.
        The following is a comparison of the stops and affricates in Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian:
        • Bilabial stops
          • Eastern Armenian: [b] , [pʰ] , [pʼ]
          • Western Armenian: [b] , [pʰ]
        • Alveolar stops:
          • Eastern Armenian: [d] , [tʰ] , [tʼ]
          • Western Armenian: [d] , [tʰ]
        • Velar stops
          • Eastern Armenian: [g] , [kʰ] , [kʼ]
          • Western Armenian: [g], [kʰ]
        • Alveolar affricates
          • Eastern Armenian: [dz] , [tsʰ] , [tsʼ]
          • Western Armenian: [dz] , [tsʰ]
        • Post-alveolar affricates
          • Eastern Armenian: [dʒ] , [tʃʰ] , [tʃʼ]
          • Western Armenian: [dʒ] , [tʃʰ]

      Syntax

      • Although modern linguistic research into natural syntax attempts to systematize descriptive grammar, Armenian syntax defies the many theories (theories that have in time risen or fallen in influence) of formal syntax. We can almost state with a certain degree of certitude that Armenian language is not concerned with the grammatical debate on Syntax or the formulation of the different theories on the subject since the well structured inflections of the words in Armenian grammar provide a flexibility that endows the language with a depth of expression that is not restrained by the grammatical rules or principles of syntax and the variations in an Armenian phrase are often a matter of emphasis on one of the elements in a phrase (i.e., the action/verb, the subject of the verb or its object) or style of writing rather than a grammatical imperative.
      • For example, “I want to eat the red apple” without the addition of any other words to the English language phrase, is the only grammatically accurate way to express the desire of wanting to eat a red apple. Yet, if one is to assign the task of translating this expression into a grammatically correct Armenian, we may end up having 6 choices!
      • It has to be noted that all the expressions in the Armenian sentences are grammatically accurate and no poetic license is applied in their composition. Obviously, there are perfect grammatical explanations to elucidate the flexibility of the Armenian syntax. To cite just a few:
        • The distinctive ending of each case of the conjugation of the verbs in Armenian allows the separation of the stem of the verb from the subject and the insertion of other parts of the components of the phrase between the subject and the verb. While it is not possible to do so in English. 
        • The Accusative case of the word apple offers the possibility of placing this word almost anywhere in the phrase since the case of the declension clearly defines the role of the word as the object of the verb.
        • It is also possible to reverse the order of I want to eat (I to eat want) in Armenian since there is no grammatical obstacle to do so. The permutation of the conjugated part of the verbs (I want) and the infinite form (to eat) are not restrained by any rule of syntax or grammar.

      Word Order

      It is accurate to state that Armenian is SOV type language since these type of languages have also other characteristics that distinguish them from members of other families.

      • SOV languages have a strong tendency to use postpositions rather than prepositions.
      • To place genitive nouns before the possessed noun.
      • Within Eurasian SOV languages, adjectives are often placed before the nouns they modify.

      Common Words/Phrases (in Eastern Armenian)

      • hello (informal)- barev
      • hello (formal)- barev dzez
      • what's up?- inch ka chika?
      • how are you? (informal)-vonts es?
      • how are you? (formal)- vonts ek?
      • very well-shat lav
      • not bad-vochinch
      • please-kh'ntrem
      • thank you-kh'ntrem
      • you're welcome-sh'norhakal em/merci
      • pardon/excuse me-charjhe
      • cheers-kenats't

      Implications for the SLP

      • It is important to remember that people, regardless of their ethnicity or culture, are unique individuals who experience a varied set of experiences. These experiences may be similar to other individuals within their culture, but they could be very different. If you encounter a person from Armenia in your practice, remember that although they belong to the overarching “Armenian” culture, they are also unique individuals. Given that, the following may be helpful when working with individuals from Armenia.
      • Armenian history is riddled with events of persecution and even genocide. Remember to be sensitive when discussing politics—even current politics with an Armenian client.
      • Be sensitive when discussing Turkey or Russia.
      • A bilingual Armenian may have speech and language differences in English as a result of the transfer of phonological/grammatical rules from Armenian to English. If these rule transfers are consistent with the rules outlined in the language section, they may not indicate disorder.
      • Armenians may consider mental illness and disability as shameful, and as a result deny services or deny existing problems. SLPs working with these families must find ways to take a polyocular view, and respect this perspective, while incorporating the SLP perspectives into their practice. In recent years, however, Armenians living in the U.S may have shifted their thinking about disability, as evidenced by the Armenian Autism Center, located in Glendale, CA. SLPs are encouraged to contact such organizations for more information, should they encounter families who refuse or deny services
      • Literacy rates are extremely high in Armenia and may reflect a high value of education in Armenian culture. SLP’s working in schools may want to draw on this, and explain that services may help their child academically.
      • 95% of Armenians are Christian, belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is Eastern Orthodox. Armenians may celebrate Christmas and Easter at different times of the year than celebrated in the U.S—be careful not to schedule sessions during these celebrations and to acknowledge them.

       

        Original Contributors Claire Barnes, Katy Brandt, & Devin Dolan; Winter 2010

        Resources and References