The Armenian Language

Anyone who has heard about Armenia even once, has wondered, “What language is spoken in Armenia”.

The answer is: Armenian or Hayeren. It is a language that forms a separate branch of the Indo-European language family. The ancient Armenian scripts that were used for writing before the invention of Armenian alphabet were called “mehenagir”. Examples of such kind of a script weren’t found anywhere else in the world. It was composed of 300 signs and people wrote them from right to left and upside down.

Several distinct varieties of the Armenian language can be distinguished: Old Armenian (Grabar), Middle Armenian (Mijin hayeren), and Modern Armenian, or Ashkharabar. Modern Armenian embraces two written varieties—Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian. Besides the language varieties, there are also many dialects spoken in the territory of Armenia. About 50 dialects were recognised before the 20th century. The modern Armenian language is divided into two standardized forms: Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian, which emerged in the 19th century. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Armenian language was spoken nearly by 6.7 million individuals. The majority (about 3.4 million) live in Armenia, and the remainders are scattered over different countries.

Though Armenian is the main language that is spoken in Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh, most of the people can communicate either in Russian or in English. Russian is not only spoken as a second language in Armenia, but it also serves as the mother tongue of the Russian minority.

The Armenian Alphabet

The invention of the Armenian alphabet dates back to 405 AD. At that time the monk St. Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet consisting of 36 signs. Though Armenians used to talk in their native language, they didn’t have an Armenian script to write or read in, so they had to use other languages for that. The creation of the Armenian alphabet was a key historical event for Armenian culture and Armenians, as the demand of having their own script was high, especially at that period of time.

St. Mesrop Mashtots

This new alphabet was first used to translate the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. If you have a look at the Armenian alphabet you’ll definitely notice that it’s not like other alphabets. The reason is that Mesrop Mashtots delicately worked on the creation of the alphabet and has created the Armenian alphabet as a completely unique masterpiece.

Another thing is that each Armenian letter has a corresponding number. So, very often you can see Armenian letters instead of numbers in ancient calculations. The most captivating things are Armenian calendars made of Armenian letters.

Armenian Letters: Art or Calligraphy?

Armenian letter art constitutes of the centuries’ old art of Armenian letters. Armenian letter art and its cultural expressions have been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2019. Armenian letter art has been embedded in almost every layer of the society, particularly folk art. Armenians have a long and exceptionally rich writing tradition. The proof of it is Armenian calligraphy, which has started to develop widely nowadays.

Famous Armenian calligrapher, Ruben Malayan, says that sometimes in ancient handwriting we meet manuscripts and confuse it with calligraphy. But we should distinguish manuscripts from calligraphy. Manual scripting is used to decorate already written letters giving them the shapes of birds, animals or sometimes human beings, while calligraphy is an art of working with letters. The root of calligraphy is handwriting.

Old Calligraphy

Calligraphy is a minimalist art, but at the same time, it is the peak of perfectionism. At first glance, it’s very simple – black lines painted on the white sheet. But in reality, it is a complex art, just as, for example, music. If you have written anything you can’t correct it anymore. Every little dot should be perfect. So to visualise what Armenian calligraphy is, you can watch Ruben Malayan’s beautiful video about Armenian calligraphy, combined with the song of Komitas.

Modern calligraphy

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