Armenian alphabet

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Armenian alphabet
Հայոց այբուբեն.svg
Languages Armenian
Creator Mesrop Mashtots
Time period
405 to present
Parent systems
modeled on Greek[1]
Child systems
Caucasian Albanian
Sister systems
ISO 15924 Armn, 230
Direction Left-to-right
Unicode alias

The Armenian alphabet (Armenian: Հայոց գրեր Hayots grer or Հայոց այբուբեն Hayots aybuben) is a graphically unique alphabetical writing system that has been used to write the Armenian language. It was introduced around 405 AD by Mesrop Mashtots, an Armenian linguist and ecclesiastical leader, and originally contained 36 letters. Two more letters, օ (o) and ֆ (f), were added in the Middle Ages. During the 1920s orthography reform, a new letter և (capital ԵՎ) was added, which was a ligature before ե+ւ, while the letter Ւ ւ was discarded and reintroduced as part of a new letter ՈՒ ու (which was a digraph before).

The Armenian word for "alphabet" is այբուբեն aybuben (Armenian pronunciation: [ɑjbubɛn]), named after the first two letters of the Armenian alphabet Ա այբ ayb and Բ բեն ben. The Armenian script's directionality is horizontal left-to-right, like the Latin and Greek alphabets.[3]


Letter Name Pronunciation Transliteration Numerical value
Classical Reformed Pronunciation Classical Eastern Western Classical ISO 9985
Classical Eastern Western
Ա ա այբ ayb /ajb/ /ajpʰ/ /ɑ/ a 1
Բ բ բեն ben /bɛn/ /pʰɛn/ /b/ /pʰ/ b 2
Գ գ գիմ gim /ɡim/ /kʰim/ /ɡ/ /kʰ/ g 3
Դ դ դա da /dɑ/ /tʰɑ/ /d/ /tʰ/ d 4
Ե ե եչ yeč /jɛtʃʰ/ /ɛ/, word-initially /jɛ/6 e 5
Զ զ զա za /zɑ/ /z/ z 6
Է է է ē1 /ɛː/ /ɛ/ /ɛː/ /ɛ/ ē 7
Ը ը ըթ ët' /ətʰ/ /ə/ ə ë 8
Թ թ թօ t'ò[4] թո t'o /tʰo/ /tʰ/ tʿ t’ 9
Ժ ժ ժէ žē ժե že /ʒɛː/ /ʒɛ/ /ʒ/ ž 10
Ի ի ինի ini /ini/ /i/ i 20
Լ լ լիւն liwn լյուն lyown /lʏn/ /ljun/ /lʏn/ /l/ l 30
Խ խ խէ խե xe /χɛː/ /χɛ/ /χ/ x 40
Ծ ծ ծա ça /tsɑ/ /dzɑ/ /ts/ /dz/ c ç 50
Կ կ կեն ken /kɛn/ /ɡɛn/ /k/ /ɡ/ k 60
Հ հ հօ [4] հո ho /ho/ /h/ h 70
Ձ ձ ձա tsa /dzɑ/ /tsʰɑ/ /dz/ /tsʰ/ j 80
Ղ ղ ղատ ġat /ɫɑt/ /ʁɑt/ /ʁɑd/ /ɫ/ /ʁ/ ł ġ 90
Ճ ճ ճէ č̣ē ճե č̣e /tʃɛː/ /tʃɛ/ /dʒɛ/ /tʃ/ /dʒ/ č č̣ 100
Մ մ մեն men /mɛn/ /m/ m 200
Յ յ յի yi հի hi /ji/ /hi/ /j/ /h/1, /j/ y 300
Ն ն նու now /nu/ /n/ n 400
Շ շ շա ša /ʃɑ/ /ʃ/ š 500
Ո ո ո vo /o/ /vo/ /o/, word-initially /vo/2 o 600
Չ չ չա ča /tʃʰɑ/ /tʃʰ/ čʿ č 700
Պ պ պէ պե pe /pɛː/ /pɛ/ /bɛ/ /p/ /b/ p 800
Ջ ջ ջէ ǰē ջե ǰe /dʒɛː/ /dʒɛ/ /tʃʰɛ/ /dʒ/ /tʃʰ/ ǰ 900
Ռ ռ ռա ṙa /rɑ/ /ɾɑ/ /r/ /ɾ/ 1000
Ս ս սէ սե se /sɛː/ /sɛ/ /s/ s 2000
Վ վ վեւ vew վեվ vev /vɛv/ /v/ v 3000
Տ տ տիւն tiwn տյուն tyown /tʏn/ /tjun/ /dʏn/ /t/ /d/ t 4000
Ր ր րէ րե re /ɹɛː/ /ɾɛ/3 /ɹ/ /ɾ/3 r 5000
Ց ց ցօ c'ò[4] ցո c'o /tsʰo/ /tsʰ/ cʿ c’ 6000
ՈՒ Ու ու N/A4 ու ow /u/ /u/ u ow N/A
(Ւ ւ) հիւն hiwn N/A5 /hʏn/ /w/ /v/5 w 7000
Փ փ փիւր p'iwr փյուր p'yowr /pʰʏɹ/ /pʰjuɾ/ /pʰʏɾ/ /pʰ/ pʿ p’ 8000
Ք ք քէ k'ē քե k'e /kʰɛː/ /kʰɛ/ /kʰ/ kʿ k’ 9000
և և4 jew N/A /jev/ N/A /ev/, word-initially /jev/ ew N/A
Օ օ օ ò1 N/A /o/ N/A /o/ ō ò N/A
Ֆ ֆ ֆէ ֆե fe N/A /fɛ/ N/A /f/ f N/A
1.^ Only used in classical orthography, word-initially and in some compound words.
2.^ Except in ով /ov/ "who" and ովքեր /ovkʰer/ "those (people)".
3.^ Iranian Armenians (a subbranch of Eastern Armenians) pronounce this letter as [ɹ], like in Classical Armenian.
4.^ In classical orthography ու and և are respectively considered a digraph and a ligature. In reformed orthography they are separate letters of the alphabet.
5.^ In reformed orthography, the letter ւ appears only as a component of ու. In classical orthography, the letter usually represents /v/, except in the digraph իւ /ju/. The spelling reform in Soviet Armenia replaced իւ with the trigraph յու.
6.^ Except in the present tense of "to be": եմ /em/ "I am", ես /es/ "you are (sing.)", ենք /enkh/ "we are", եք /ekh/ "you are (pl.)", են /en/ "they are".


Ancient Armenian manuscripts used many ligatures to save space. Some of the commonly used ligatures are: ﬓ (մ+ն), ﬔ (մ+ե), ﬕ (մ+ի), ﬖ (վ+ն), ﬗ (մ+խ), և (ե+ւ), etc. After the invention of printing Armenian typefaces made a wide use of ligatures as well. In the new orthography the character և is no longer a typographical ligature, but a distinct letter with a place in the new alphabetic sequence, before "o".


The word Աստուած Astuaç "God" abbreviated. Only the first and last letters, and the abbreviation mark ՟, are written.

Armenian punctuation is often placed above and slightly to the right of the vowel whose tone is modified, in order to reflect intonation. Armenian punctuation marks include:

  • [ «  » ] The čakertner are used as ordinary quotation marks (using all vertical, diagonal or curly forms of the English single or double quotes, placed above the baseline near the M-height of uppercase or tall lowercase letters and at the same level as accents, is strongly discouraged in Armenian as they would be too much confusable with other unrelated Armenian punctuations), and they are placed like French guillemets just above the baseline (preferably vertically centered on the middle of the x-height of Armenian lowercase letters).
  • [ , ] The storaket is used as a comma, and placed as in English.
  • [ ՝ ] The bowt' (which looks like a comma-shaped reversed apostrophe) is used as a short stop, and placed in the same manner as the semicolon, to indicate a pause that is longer than that of a comma, but shorter than that of a colon; in many texts it is replaced by the single opening single quote (a 6-shaped, or mirrored 9-shaped, or descending-wedge-shaped elevated comma), or by a spacing grave accent.
  • [ ․ ] The mijaket (whose single dot on the baseline looks like a Latin full stop) is used like an ordinary colon, mainly to separate two closely related (but still independent) clauses, or when a long list of items follows.
  • ։ ] The verjaket (whose vertically stacked two dots look like a Latin colon) is used as the ordinary full stop, and placed at the end of the sentence (many texts in Armenian replace the verjaket by the Latin colon as the difference is almost invisible at low resolution for normal texts, but the difference may be visible in headings and titles as the dots are often thicker to match the same optical weight as vertical strokes of letters, the dots filling the common x-height of Armenian letters).
  • ՜ ] The yerkaratzman nshan (which looks like a diagonally rising tilde) is used as an exclamation mark.
  • [ ՛ ] The shesht (which looks like a non-spacing acute accent) is used as an emphasis mark, and usually placed over the last vowel of the interjection word to indicates stress.
  • ՞ ] The hartzakan nshan is used as a question mark and placed after the last vowel of the question word, usually the stressed vowel.
  • [ ՚ ] The apat'arj is used as a spacing apostrophe (which looks either like a vertical stick or wedge pointing down, or as an elevated 9-shaped comma, or as a small superscript lef-to-right closing parenthese or half ring), only in Western Armenian, to indicate elision of a vowel, usually /ə/.
  • ֊ ] The yent'amna is used as the ordinary Armenian hyphen.
  • ՟ ] The pativ was used as an Armenian abbreviation mark, and was placed on top of an abbreviated word to indicate that it was abbreviated. It is now obsolete.


ISO 9985 (1996) transliterates the Armenian alphabet for modern Armenian as follows:

ա բ գ դ ե զ է ը թ ժ ի լ խ ծ կ հ ձ ղ ճ մ յ ն շ ո չ պ ջ ռ ս վ տ ր ց ւ փ ք օ ֆ ու եւ
a b g d e z ē ë t’ ž i l x ç k h j ġ č̣ m y n š o č p ǰ s v t r c’ w p’ k’ ò f ow ew

In linguistic literature on Classical Armenian, slightly different systems are in use (in particular note that č has a different meaning). Hübschmann-Meillet (1913) have

ա բ գ դ ե զ է ը թ ժ ի լ խ ծ կ հ ձ ղ ճ մ յ ն շ ո չ պ ջ ռ ս վ տ ր ց ւ փ ք օ եւ ու ֆ
a b g d e z ê ə t‛ ž i l x c k h j ł č m y n š o č‛ p ǰ s v t r c‛ w p‛ k‛ ô ev u f

History and development[edit]

History of the Armenian language
Armenian alphabet
Romanization of Armenian
The Armenian Alphabet at the Melkonian Educational Institute in Nicosia, Cyprus

The Armenian alphabet was introduced by Saint Mesrop Mashtots and Isaac of Armenia (Sahak Partev) in AD 405. Medieval Armenian sources also claim that Mashtots invented the Georgian and Caucasian Albanian alphabets around the same time. Traditionally, the following phrase translated from Solomon's Book of Proverbs is said to be the first sentence to be written down in Armenian by Mashtots:

Ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ:
Čanačʿel zimastutʿiun yev zxrat, imanal zbans hančaroy.
To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding.

Various scripts have been credited with being the prototype for the Armenian alphabet. Pahlavi was the priestly script in Armenia before the introduction of Christianity, and Syriac, along with Greek, was one of the alphabets of Christian scripture. Armenian shows some similarities to both. However, the general consensus is that Armenian is modeled after the Greek alphabet, supplemented with letters from a different source or sources for Armenian sounds not found in Greek. The evidence for this is the Greek order of the Armenian alphabet; the ow ligature for the vowel /u/, as in Greek; and the shapes of some letters which "seem derived from a variety of cursive Greek."[1] It has been speculated by some scholars in African studies, following Dimitri Olderogge, that the Ge'ez script had an influence on certain letter shapes,[5] but this has not been supported by any experts in Armenian studies.

There are four principal calligraphic hands of the script. Erkatagir, or "ironclad letters", seen as Mesrop's original, was used in manuscripts from the 5th to 13th century and is still preferred for epigraphic inscriptions. Bolorgir, or "cursive", was invented in the 10th century and became popular in the 13th. It has been the standard printed form since the 16th century. Notrgir, or "minuscule", was invented for speed, was extensively used in the Armenian diaspora in the 16th to 18th centuries, and later became popular in printing. Sheghagir, or "slanted writing", is now the most common form.

The earliest known example of the script's usage was a dedicatory inscription over the west door of the church of Saint Sarkis in Tekor. Based on the known individuals mentioned in the inscription, it has been dated to the 480s.[6] The earliest known example of usage outside of Armenia is a mid-6th century mosaic inscription in the chapel of St Polyeuctos in Jerusalem.[7] The earliest surviving manuscripts written using Armenian script date from the 7th-8th century.

Certain shifts in the language were at first not reflected in the orthography. The digraph աւ (au) followed by a consonant used to be pronounced [au] (as in luau) in Classical Armenian, but due to a sound shift it came to be pronounced [o], and has since the 13th century been written օ (ō). For example, classical աւր (awr, [auɹ], "day") became pronounced [oɹ], and is now written օր (ōr). (One word has kept aw, now pronounced /av/: աղաւնի "pigeon", and there are a few proper names still having aw before a consonant: Տաւրոս Taurus, Փաւստոս Faustus, etc.) For this reason, today there are native Armenian words beginning with the letter օ (ō) although this letter was taken from the Greek alphabet to write foreign words beginning with o [o].

The number and order of the letters have changed over time. In the Middle Ages two new letters (օ [o], ֆ [f]) were introduced in order to better represent foreign sounds; this increased the number of letters from 36 to 38. From 1922 to 1924, Soviet Armenia adopted a reformed spelling of the Armenian language. The reform changed the digraph ու and the ligature և into two new letters, but it generally did not change the pronunciation of individual letters. The Armenian Diaspora (including all Western Armenians as well as Eastern Armenians in Iran) have rejected the reformed spellings, and continue to use the classical Mashtotsian spelling. They criticize some aspects of the reforms (see the footnotes of the chart) and allege political motives behind them.

Use for other languages[edit]

For about 250 years, from the early 18th century until around 1950, more than 2000 books in the Turkish language were printed using the Armenian alphabet. Not only did Armenians read this Turkish in Armenian script, so did the non-Armenian (including the Ottoman Turkish) elite. The Armenian script was used alongside the Arabic script on official documents of the Ottoman Empire written in Ottoman Turkish. For instance, the first novel to be written in Turkish in the Ottoman Empire was Vartan Pasha's 1851 Akabi Hikayesi, written in the Armenian script. When the Armenian Duzoglu family managed the Ottoman mint during the reign of Abdülmecid I, they kept records in Armenian script but in the Turkish language.[citation needed] From the middle of the 19th century, the Armenian alphabet was also used for books written in the Kurdish language in the Ottoman Empire.

The Kipchak-speaking Armenian Orthodox Christians of Podolia and Galicia used an Armenian alphabet to produce an extensive amount of literature between 1524 and 1669.[8]

The Armenian script, along with the Georgian, was used by the poet Sayat-Nova in his Azeri poems.[9]

An Armenian alphabet was an official script for the Kurdish language in 1921–1928 in Soviet Armenia.[10]

Character encodings[edit]

The Armenian alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in version 1.0, in October 1991. It is assigned the range U+0530–058F. Five Armenian ligatures are encoded in the "Alphabetic presentation forms" block (code point range U+FB13–FB17).

On 15 June 2011, the Unicode Technical Committee (UTC) accepted the Armenian dram sign for inclusion in the future versions of the Unicode Standard and assigned a code for the sign - U+058F (֏). In 2012 the sign was finally adopted in the Armenian block of ISO and Unicode international standards.[11]

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+053x Ա Բ Գ Դ Ե Զ Է Ը Թ Ժ Ի Լ Խ Ծ Կ
U+054x Հ Ձ Ղ Ճ Մ Յ Ն Շ Ո Չ Պ Ջ Ռ Ս Վ Տ
U+055x Ր Ց Ւ Փ Ք Օ Ֆ ՙ ՚ ՛ ՜ ՝ ՞ ՟
U+056x ա բ գ դ ե զ է ը թ ժ ի լ խ ծ կ
U+057x հ ձ ղ ճ մ յ ն շ ո չ պ ջ ռ ս վ տ
U+058x ր ց ւ փ ք օ ֆ և ։ ֊ ֍ ֎ ֏
1.^ As of Unicode version 7.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Armenian subset of Alphabetic Presentation Forms[1]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+FB1x (U+FB00–FB12, U+FB18–FB4F omitted)
1.^ As of Unicode version 7.0



ArmSCII is an 8-bit character encoding developed between 1991 and 1999. ArmSCII was popular on the Windows 95 and Windows 98 operating systems. With the development of the Unicode standard and its availability on Microsoft Windows, Linux and OS X operating systems, the ArmSCII encoding has been rendered obsolete.


Arasan-compatible fonts are based on the encoding of the original Arasan font by Hrant Papazian (he started encoding in use since 1986), which simply replaces the Latin characters (amongst others) of the ASCII encoding with Armenian ones. For example, the ASCII code for the Latin character A (65) represents the Armenian character Ա.

An advantage of Arasan-compatible fonts over ArmSCII-8 fonts is that writing does not require the installation of a separate program; once the font is installed and selected for use, one can use their QWERTY keyboard to type in Armenian. A disadvantage over ArmSCII-8 is that an Arasan-compatible font can only be used for one alphabetic script; therefore, the user must change the Font family when creating a multi-script document (e.g. both Armenian and English). Another disadvantage is that Arasan-compatible fonts only come in one native keyboard layout: Western Armenian phonetic. However it is possible to have alternative keyboard layouts via the use of keyboard driver utilities.

While Arasan-compatible fonts were popular among many users on Windows 95 and 98, it has been rendered obsolete by the Unicode standard. However, a few websites continue to use it.

The Arasan font's legacy is the phonetic Armenian keyboard layouts that ship with Windows 2000-XP-2003-Vista-7-8 and Mac OS X, which are almost identical to the Arasan keyboard layout.

Keyboard layouts[edit]

The standard Eastern and Western Armenian keyboards are based on the layout of the font Arasan. These keyboard layouts are mostly phonetic, and allow direct access to every character in the alphabet. Because there are more characters in the Armenian alphabet (39) than in Latin (26), some Armenian characters appear on non-alphabetic keys on a conventional QWERTY keyboard (for example, շ maps to ,).

Eastern Armenian keyboard layout.
Western Armenian keyboard layout. It differs from the Eastern layout in that the pairs ւ-վ, բ-պ, ք-կ, and դ-տ are reversed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Avedis Sanjian, "The Armenian Alphabet". In Daniels & Bright, The Word's Writing Systems, 1996:356–357
  2. ^ True History and the Religion of India: A Concise Encyclopedia of Authentic Hinduism, Prakashanand Saraswali, Motilal Banarsidass (2002), ISBN 978-8120817890
  3. ^ Simon Ager (2010). "Armenian alphabet". Omniglot: writing systems & languages of the world. Archived from the original on 2 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  4. ^ a b c Melkonian, Zareh (1990). Գործնական Քերականութիւն — Արդի Հայերէն Լեզուի (Միջին եւ Բարձրագոյն Դասընթացք) (in Armenian) (Fourth ed.). Los Angeles. p. 6. 
  5. ^ Richard Pankhurst. 1998. The Ethiopians: A History. p25
  6. ^ Donabedian, Patrick; Thierry, Jean-Michel. "Armenian Art", page584. New York, 1989: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 978-0810906259.
  7. ^ Nersessian, Vreg. "Treasure From the Ark", p36-37. London, 2001: The British Library.
  8. ^ (Russian) Qypchaq languages.
  9. ^ Charles Dowsett, E. Peters. Sayat'-Nova. An 18th-century Troubadour: a Biographical and Literary Study. Peeters Publishers, 1997 ISBN 90-6831-795-4; p. xv
  10. ^ (Russian) Курдский язык (Kurdish language), Кругосвет (Krugosvet)
  11. ^

External links[edit]

Information on Armenian character set encoding.

Armenian Phonetic Keyboard Layout

Armenian Transliteration

Unicode Support for Armenian

Armenian Orthography converters

  • (integrated orthography converter: reformed to classical)