Friday, July 9, 2010

Lesson 1

The Armenian Alphabet
Let's start with the Armenian alphabet, which was created by St Mesrop Mashtots in the beginning of the 5th century.

The alphabet created by St Mesrop consisted of 36 letters to which later, in the 11th-12th centuries, two other letters were added. St Mesrop only created the so-called uncial letters, which are the capital letters of the alphabet developed later. When publishing Classical Armenian texts we use both the capital and small letters, as in case of some other classical languages.

The alphabet's 36 letters were also used for numbers. In fact, they are sometimes used as numbers today too, for example, when denoting book chapters.

Here is the alphabet:

Ա ա - 1 --- Ժ ժ - 10 --- Ճ ճ - 100 --- Ռ ռ - 1000
Բ բ - 2 --- -Ի ի - 20 --- Մ մ - 200 --- Ս ս - 2000
Գ գ - 3 --- -Լ լ - 30 --- -Յ յ - 300 --- -Վ վ - 3000
Դ դ - 4 --- Խ խ - 40 --- Ն ն - 400 --- Տ տ - 4000
Ե ե - 5 --- Ծ ծ - 50 --- -Շ շ - 500 --- Ր ր - 5000
Զ զ - 6 --- -Կ կ - 60 --- Ո ո - 600 --- Ց ց - 6000
Է է - 7 --- -Հ հ - 70 --- -Չ չ - 700 --- -Ւ ւ - 7000
Ը ը - 8 ---- Ձ ձ - 80 --- Պ պ - 800 --- Փ փ - 8000
Թ թ - 9 --- Ղ ղ - 90 --- Ջ ջ - 900 --- -Ք ք - 9000

The two letters added later are Օ օ and Ֆ ֆ.

Today there are two traditional ways of reading Classical Armenian texts. Since there are two modern Armenian languages, Eastern and Western, Eastern Armenians read according to their phonetics, Western Armenians - according to the Western Armenian pronunciation. None of them is purely correct, if we understand as "correct" the ancient pronunciation of the letters. And this is natural, because many centuries have passed. However, the Eastern Armenian pronunciation is closer to that of Classical Armenian. I would recommend a non-Armenian learner to learn and read Classical Armenian texts in Eastern Armenian pronunciation. Western Armenians may continue reading the texts according to the phonetic rules of Western Armenian. However, when presenting the transcription of the Armenian letters and words here, I will provide both pronunciations. The first will be the Eastern Armenian pronunciation, the second - the Western Armenian.

The Classical Armenian language is usually called Grabar / Krapar.

Again on the Alphabet
Now let us learn the first letters of the alphabet:

Ա ա   ayb / ayp'
Բ բ    ben / p'en
Գ գ   gim (read "g" as in the English "get") / k'im
Դ դ   da / t'a
Ե ե   yech (pronounced as "ye" at the beginning of a word and "e" in all other positions)
Զ զ   za
Է է   e (pronounced as "e" everywhere)

As you might notice, the Classical Greek alphabet starts with the corresponding letters and sounds. Moreover, if you take from the Armenian alphabet all those letters that don't have their equivalents in Greek, what remains is nothing than the order of the Greek alphabet. And as in Greek alphabet, there are two "e"s. The linguists say the first was shorter than the other, as in Greek. Linguist Adjarian suggested that there might be such difference that existed between French è and é. Well, we can't be sure of anything now. But today these two letters sound similarly, except for the beginning of a word. 

The letter Է է in Armenian is also a noun and a verb. It means "being", "existence", "is", and is also considered to be the name of God. That is why in some Armenian icons or above the altar in the church one may see this letter. In this case it corresponds to the Greek "ΩOΝ".

The last letter of the Armenian alphabet is Ք ք (k'e). This is the letter which corresponds to Greek Χ. For example, Christ in Armenian is written with this letter. This letter sounds almost like the English "k", it's an aspirated voiceless consonant. The words of Jesus (in the Apocalypse of John), "I am the Alpha and I am the Omega," were translated into Classical Armenian as "Yes em Ayb yev yes em K'e."

Now we know one sentence in Classical Armenian. Please, remember that in Armenian the stress is usually put on the last syllable. There are exceptions but we'll talk about them later.

In scientific literature this sentence would be transcribed differently, using the IPA characters ( and following only the letters, just as it is written, and not the traditional pronunciation of the words. For example, instead of "yes" you would see there "es". But let's skip this now.

yes - I
em - am
yev - and
Yes em - I am

I think, this information is enough for the first lesson, so that you may not be overloaded.


EA pronunciation: աբա (aba),  բա (ba), գա (ga), աբբա (abba), դա (da), դա է (da e), զա (za), եզ (yez), դէ (de), բէ (be), գէ (ge), դէզ (dez), բեզ (bez), բադ (bad), էդ (ed), էգ (eg), եդ (yed), զէ (ze).

WA pronunciation: աբա (apa),  բա (pa), գա (ka), աբբա (appa), դա (ta), դա է (ta e), զա (za), եզ (yez), դէ (te), բէ (pe), գէ (ke), դէզ (tez), բեզ (pez), բադ (pat), էդ (et), էգ (ek), եդ (yet), զէ (ze).

The same with capital letters:

Աբա, Բա, Գա, Աբբա, Դա, Դա է, Զա, Եզ, Դէ, Բէ, Գէ, Դէզ, Բեզ, Բադ, Էդ, Էգ, Եդ, Զէ.

To listen to the recording of the Armenian letters, words and sentences found in this lesson, click on the following link - 

*  You may listen how the letters are pronounced and written by hand visiting the following webpage -
You'll see the alphabet there. Click on any of the letters, it will open and you'll see four buttons. The first is for hearing the letter. The second and fourth buttons are for handwriting. To go back to the alphabet for the other letters, click on the word ԱՅԲՈՒԲԵՆ (you'll understand where to click yourself too).

You may listen how the letters are pronounced also at this website -
Just click on the letter you need, an additional window will open. Then in the upper part of the window you'll see the letter, its name (written in Armenian though) and a word beginning with that letter. Click on that part of the window and you'll hear all of it. They have put some music there though, ugly and noisy at times. You can switch it off at the bottom right corner. You'll see that music small icon there to click on it and switch it off.

Also, at the website of St Nersess Seminary, you can download, for example, the first recording of this page, a proclamation -
It is called "EE na orhnestseen". Listen to it. Though Fr Daniel who reads it is a Western Armenian,  there are very few differences in that text between Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian pronunciations. So, listening to that text you'll understand how Classical Armenian sounds. There are other proclamations too on that page. There are also songs. Well, browse in that website's recordings.

Any questions, corrections, suggestions? Write, please.

No comments:

Post a Comment