Two Dialects of the Armenian Language, Eastern and Western Armenian

Two Dialects of the Armenian LanguageAfter over a thousand years and a half of being used as the written means of communication in the Armenian language, Classical Armenian or Grabar (literally “literary” – “through using letters”, “written”) would be gradually replaced during the 19th century. The spoken Armenian language has been naturally changing as such over the years.

The amount of written and published works in what is called Middle Armenian demonstrates the evolution of grammar and vocabulary from one region and era to another.

When the primary events relating to the efforts of modernizing and reforming the Armenian language occurred, Armenians were mostly under two empires, the Ottoman in the west and the Russian in the east. This caused two formal, literary, and official versions or dialects of the Armenian language to develop. Western Armenia would be based on the Constantinople dialect, while Eastern Armenian would be founded on the dialect of the Ararat plateau. Persian Armenians also use Eastern Armenian, though in a rather distinct form. As a whole, modern Armenian is referred to as Ashkharhabar (Ashkharhapar in Western pronunciation, meaning “through/of the world”, that is, “worldly”, “laic”, “not of the Church”).

With a strong grasp of the language(s), both forms of the Armenian language can be mutually-intelligible. But in reality, most of the Armenian speakers face difficulties in understanding the other dialect due to a large number of differences in sounds, not to mention that grammars and vocabularies differ as well. And because Eastern Armenian underwent an orthography reform in the Soviet years, the spelling in the Republic of Armenia and the former USSR differs from that of Western Armenian. This also means that Persian Armenians using Eastern Armenian use the pre-reform spelling, which is identical to the spelling in Western Armenian.

These differences between two Armenians didn’t prevent one prominent American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead (who admittedly had an Armenian son-in-law), from presenting the idea that the Armenian language could be used as an international language. Mead expressed that though in the context of the UN International Co-operation Year in 1965, proposing the use of a natural language as an international standard. This was suggested to be done as opposed to artificial languages such as Esperanto, which had been made for international use specifically.

In the late 1960s, neither of the Cold War superpowers could and would accept a language immediately associated with the other side. Speaking most of the major languages in the world, Armenian speakers could be found in both the Communist world and in the West. And obviously, nothing came from that plan. But if it did, which one of the dialects would be chosen? And if it did, would the literal meaning of “Ashkharhabar” come to fruition?

Examples of differences between Eastern and Western Armenian

Western Armenian & Eastern Armenian – Pronunciation Differences

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Distribution of Armenian dialects in the Ottoman and Russian Empires, according to Adjarian’s “Classification des dialectes arméniens” published in 1909; many dialects disappeared as a result of the Armenian Genocide and due to other demographic and social shifts of the 20th century.

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