Language Pollution Persists

 Editorial, 18 November 2015

In early and mid-19th century great efforts were made by dedicated Armenian scholars and writers (Khachadour Apovian, Alishan, etc.) to remove foreign, particularly Turkish and Persian words, from Eastern and Western Armenian. In the previous several centuries Persian and Ottoman occupation had degraded the language to a point where it could no longer be called Armenian. Thus many of Sayat Nova’s “Armenian” songs (in late 18th century) were a mishmash of three or more languages… “Qalam sirem; daftar sirem; hayat sirem…” sang the great Armenian poet and troubadour so as to be understood.  Apovian, Alishan and Co. was mostly successful in removing the foreign detritus. Cleansing the language helped in the flowering of modern Armenian in Constantinople and in Tbilisi. Unfortunately, the 19th century reawakening of Armenian literature wasn’t bestowed with a name–unlike the previous renaissances (the Golden Age in the 5th century and the Silver Age in the 12th).

 Editorial, 18 November 2015

In early and mid-19th century great efforts were made by dedicated Armenian scholars and writers (Khachadour Apovian, Alishan, etc.) to remove foreign, particularly Turkish and Persian words, from Eastern and Western Armenian. In the previous several centuries Persian and Ottoman occupation had degraded the language to a point where it could no longer be called Armenian. Thus many of Sayat Nova’s “Armenian” songs (in late 18th century) were a mishmash of three or more languages… “Qalam sirem; daftar sirem; hayat sirem…” sang the great Armenian poet and troubadour so as to be understood.  Apovian, Alishan and Co. was mostly successful in removing the foreign detritus. Cleansing the language helped in the flowering of modern Armenian in Constantinople and in Tbilisi. Unfortunately, the 19th century reawakening of Armenian literature wasn’t bestowed with a name–unlike the previous renaissances (the Golden Age in the 5th century and the Silver Age in the 12th).

During Soviet rule once again unwelcome foreign words began to creep our language—Eastern Armenian of Armenia because of Russian and Soviet influence (kolkhoz, gomgous, bardya, brosbekt, etc.). The invasion of these offensive words became so acute that some Diaspora Armenians had difficulty comprehending Eastern Armenian. Understanding “Yerevanneh Khosoum” radio station’s programs could sometime become a challenge to Armenians living away from the homeland.

With Armenia’s independence, it was natural for Diaspora Armenians to hope and expect that the intrusive foreign words would be expunged from Eastern Armenian. The mop-up would serve two main purposes: purify the language; improve communication between the speakers of Eastern and Western Armenian.

Sadly, that expectation was premature. Not only has the Republic of Armenia neglected the important –if not sacred–mission but it has added any number of new alien words. These days apparently no one can speak on Armenia TV or radio without inserting “termin”, “tema” and “actsia” and other lexicological carpetbaggers.

Such words as agder, norm, normadiv, etnigagan, kenedigagan, agatemiagan, radio, dekhnigagan, bragdigan, fizgouldourayee, spordee, mandatner… These intruders are not culled from Yerevan newspapers or the conversations of Yerevan residents. Believe it or not, they are in ARMENIA’S CONSTITUTION which declares Armenia to be a sovereign state right at the outset. What better signal that the RoA government has no interest in reversing the alien lexical tsunami?

The Armenian language, like other languages, has over the centuries absorbed many non-Armenian words. It has a vast number of Persian/Iranian words (see Adjarian’s Dictionary of Word Roots”) mostly because Persia, for centuries, occupied or dominated Armenia. As late as the early 19th century there was such an abundance of Persian words in our language that some Western scholars believed Armenian was an off-shoot of Iranian. The Armenian language, like other languages, has also borrowed words because we didn’t have the Armenian equivalents. But after a quarter century of independence and a huge native vocabulary the government of the Republic of Armenia has no reason to use alien words.

More than most other nations, Armenians consider their language an essential element of their identity. Latin Americans speak Spanish, Portuguese and English; North Americans speak English and Spanish. Many sub-Sahara Africans mostly speak English or French. The languages used in the Americas and in the sub-Saharan countries are tertiary to the identity of the speakers. Armenians are not in the same boat: a tiny nation like Armenia needs every help to protect its identity.

We are lucky to have our own indigenous language: a language we have nursed and enriched for three millennia– at least. It’s a beautiful, logical and agile language which a number of linguists in the 19th and 20th centuries nominated as the ideal international language. Why go and pollute the masterpiece that’s the Armenian language? Why stain the language St. Sahag, St. Mesrob, Kachn Vartan, and Raffi spoke?

It’s, of course, glaringly ironic that this is written in non-Armenian. Diaspora’s recent and unfortunate history compels us to use English, French, Arabic, and Spanish to be understood by fellow Armenians. However, the situation is not the same in Armenia. The Armenian government, educational establishments, and citizens are under no pressure to use odar words.

It’s an oft-repeated ominous forecast that, according to the United Nations, the endangered Western Armenian will die within 50 years. If the science-based prediction becomes reality, it makes it even more imperative that Eastern Armenian retain its purity. If some Armenians in Armenia believe that using foreign words makes them sophisticated, “international”, progressive, broad minded… they’re grossly mistaken. Every time they insert a foreign word in the language Argishti, Dikran, Vahan, Ashod, Roupen, and Antranig proudly spoke they betray their forefathers and compromise their identity.

9 comments
  1. Another Thought-Provoking Editorial

    Every year Marriam-Webster ,Oxford and other dictionaries present new words that have come into the language. A government body or the influential dictionaries do not introduce these words into the language. The words just come about. Someone, somewhere, somehow comes up with the word or slang which catches the people’s fancy–especially nowadays because of the WWW–and ends up as legitimate word or expression to be included in dictionaries.

    What I do not know is how do foreign Armenianized words come into the Armenian language. Lately they seem to proliferate by the day. Do they come about the same way as new words come into English or are they introduced into the Armenia language by a government body that oversees the language? It would not surprise me if there is a such a body as a remnant of the Soviet era where central planning was the driver of every aspect of life. 

    It is important to know how these words proliferate in the Armenian language if we are to make a dent in saving our language from the onslaught of these words. If the Diaspora can put an end to this practice it would be a remarkable achievement.

    In the language debate we also need to prioritize. I find cleansing the language from such words far more important than going into the murky academic debate as to whether the words should be spelled with the latter-day but entrenched Apeghian system or the naturally evolved Mesrobian spelling.

    Keghart.com has distinguished itself with such thought-provoking editorials. Well done.

  2. Language Pollution

    I could not agree more…Western Armenian is the language of our culture, history, literature…even with its smattering of Turkish and other words used for everyday alnguage.  I understand the Gulbenkian Foundation has committed significant money to assure it does not "die in fifty years".

    It is not helpful or a positive sign that a country which depends heavily on tourism, derides those from the Diaspora who come to Armenia speaking Western Armenian.  We are told Western Armenian is incorrect and we are criticized for attempting to clarify what we are hearing and not understanding.

    A country nearly entirely dependent on the generosity of its Diaspora should make every effort to return to the Western Armenian roots of its polluted language.

    That they do just the opposite and with arrogance is part of the major problem facing Armenia's future.

    1. EdK writes: “A country nearly

      EdK writes: "A country nearly entirely dependent on the generosity of its Diaspora should make every effort to return to the Western Armenian roots of its polluted language."

      Republic of Armenia is not quote "nearly entirely dependent….", blah, blah, blah. 
      RoA has a PPP GDP of $24 Billion (2014).
      The Annual Armenia Fund Telethon generates about $20 million.
      More often than not, about 50% of that is donated by wealthy Russian-Armenians. 
      About 80% of private  remittance coming into RoA is sent from Russia by Armenians going there to work during the year.
      They speak Eastern Armenian.
      So where did you get the idea that RoA is "entirely dependent" on Western Diaspora i? 

      That kind of haughty attitude is most likely the reason you are supposedly "derided". 

      One more thing: those who live in RoA and NKR, no matter what dialect they speak, are the ones who fought to preserve what little of our homeland is left in this world after 1991 Independence. 
      Remember: No Artsakh, No Republic of Armenia.
      No Armenia, No Armenian diaspora: without the anchor of the Motherland, we in the Diaspora will drift away in the fast ocean of foreign lands and disappear. 
      Together with our Western Armenian dialect. 

      And why not to  learn speak both Eastern and Western Armenian. Lots of Armenians do.
      Why do people create unnecessary friction amongst us ?

  3. Foreign Words

    At a recent gathering which featured speakers from Armenia, I heard the following words: financagan reezorsneruh, mandat (e), coalitsya, gonsdrucdive, congret (concrete), gorrubtsia (corruption), deenamic, evective, standaard, derrorism, reform, sdradigagan, brofessional, brotest, bodentsyal, brocess, mekanism, brogressive,obozitsya, brezident, bro (pro), tendens, broject, businessmen, majority, gonservative, goncebt.

    1. Armenianized words

      Vahram

      It will be interesting to know what gathering are you referencing? Was it a conference devoted to the state of the Armenian language in Armenia?

      Vahe

      1. Reply to Vahe

        Vahe,
        The gathering was not about the Armenian language, culture or history. It was about political matters.

  4. Why a middle tongue?

    What annoys me most is that Russian, with all its mispronunciation of  foreign (including Armenian) words, is quasi-officially considered the sole interface between Armenian and other languages.  A vivid and quite important case is Artsakh, which is known as “Nagorno Karabakh” to all — except the French who call it Haut Karabagh. Why can’t we (including Keghart) call it Upper (or Mountainous) Gharabagh (and not Karabakh) in English, and its/their equivalents in other languages and ask the world to do the same?  
     
    What’s more, the interface is a two-way appliance that imports foreign, mostly European words, and often proper nouns, in a Russianized pronunciation into Armenian and as "Russian" giving them an aura of “legitimacy”.  That’s how you come across : շոումեն [sho’ou-men] (a showman), its plural շոումեններ [sho’ou-men-ner], ռենգեն[ren-gen] (X ray, after Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen), դիսպետչերական [dis-pet-chair-a-kahn] (board meeting), Գիտլեր [Git-ler] (Hitler), Րաբին Գուդ [Raw-bin Good] (Robin Hood) and a long list of brand new "Armenian"  words and names.
    1. Transliteration from Russia

      The Russian language, like other languages, has shortcomings. For example, the sound "H" doesn't exist in Russian. "G" is their substitute. So Haroutune becomes Garoutoon. Perhaps Hye is Gye. Also because during Russian occupation/dominance, they spelled Yerevan as Erevan, to this day many maps and books around the world identify the capital of Armenia as Erivan.

  5. Dilution of Eastern Armenian language

    A couple of years ago on a TV program in Armenia, an Armenian linguist discussed the future of  Eastern Armenian. Already existing Armenian words were rapidly being replaced by English words. The linguist indicated that if this process continues, 90% of the Armenian vocabulary would be replaced by English words within 100 years.

     

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