Origins

Armenian is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Some linguists trace it as far back as the 4th millennium B.C. Originally, Armenian was written using Greek, Persian or Syriac scripts. These languages did not represent the complex sound system (phonology) of ancient Armenian.

In A.D. 405, Saint Mesrob Mashdots, a monk and linguist, determined to translate the Bible into Armenian, invented a unique alphabet for the Armenian language. The alphabet is said to have been transmitted to Mashdots through divine inspiration. Mashdots' original alphabet had 36 letters, though two more letters were added between the 11th and 13th centuries during the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From the start, Armenian has been written from left to right.

Endorsed by King Vramshabouh and Catholicos Sahag I (the political and religious authorities of the 5th century), the Armenian alphabet precipitated a "golden age" (Vosketar) of literature for the Armenian nation. Alongside the Christian faith, the spoken and written Armenian language has been a powerful factor in shaping and sustaining the Armenian identity. For its elegance and fidelity to sources, the Armenian translation of the Bible has been called the "queen of translations."

Speakers

Armenian is the mother tongue of approximately 9 million people, many of these scattered throughout the world as a result of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. It is the official language of the republics of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh. Armenian is preserved as a spoken idiom wherever Armenian enclaves exist, notably in the United States, Russia, Iran, France, Georgia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Argentina, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Germany, Canada, Greece, Cyprus, Austria, Brazil, Australia, Spain, and Bulgaria.

Classical Armenian

In its classical form (k'rapar) Armenian was one of the great languages used in the Near East and Asia Minor.

Classical Armenian is still used in liturgical services in the Armenian Apostolic Church throughout the world. It is the poetic dialect employed in the development of the sharagan (church hymns) and the writings of classical literary and religious scholars, such as Krikor Naregatsi (951-1003), Krikor Magistros Bahlavouni (990-1059), Hovhannes Sargavak (1045-1129), Catholicos Nerses Shnorhali (1098-1173), Mkhitar Kosh (1120-1213), Catholicos Nerses Lampronatsi (1153-1198), Vartan Aykegtsi (d. 1250), and others.

Variants

Since the 19th century, due to the division of the ancestral Armenian homeland between the Ottoman and the Russian empires, the Armenian language has been divided into two major variant forms: Western Armenian (Arevm'dahayeren) and Eastern Armenian (Arevelahayeren).

Western Armenian is spoken mainly by diasporan Armenians in Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and the American continent. Eastern Armenian (based on the Ararat and Tiflis dialects) is mainly spoken in Armenia, the former Soviet republics, as well as in Iran. Although mutually intelligible, the two variants incorporate differences in phonology, vocabulary, grammar, and orthography. Efforts are currently being made in Armenia to revert to the classical orthography.