Languages of Armenia
|Languages of Armenia|
|Minority languages||Kurdish/Yazidi, Assyrian, Greek, Russian (officially recognized by the ECRML)|
|Main foreign languages||basic knowledge (2012):
|Sign languages||Armenian Sign Language|
During the seventy-year Soviet era (1920-1991), the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and the neighboring Georgian SSR and Azeri SSR were the only republics where the so-called titular language had official status along with Russian. As of today, Russian is still, by far, the best known foreign language among the Armenian population. English is gaining popularity in recent years. French and several other languages have also begun to be studied and used. Kurdish is the largest minority language of Armenia spoken by the Yazidi minority. Other minority languages recognized by the Armenian government are Assyrian, Greek and Russian.
Status of Armenian
Armenian is a major language used in education, administration and public life. Armenian belongs to an independent branch of the Indo-European language family and uses a unique 39-letter alphabet invented in the 5th century.
Because of political and historical reasons, Russian is the most common foreign language spoken by the majority of Armenians. English is the second and the fastest growing foreign language in Armenia.
Universities in Russian, English and French exist in the Armenian capital Yerevan. Study courses are available in numerous languages in Armenian universities, most notably the Yerevan State Linguistic University.
|Armenian-Russian bilingualism in Soviet Armenia|
Russian is by far the most common foreign language in Armenia. Although its level of competence have significantly decreased since Armenia's independence in 1991, in 2010, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have reported that about 70% of Armenia's population has the ability to speak Russian. A 1999 study showed that about 40% of the population is fluent in Russian. Russian language television stations (four as of 2003) and newspapers are widely available in Armenia. A 2012 opinion poll showed that 94% of Armenians have basic knowledge of Russian, with 24% having advanced knowledge, 59% intermediate knowledge and 11% having beginner lever knowledge of the language.
The current territory of the Republic of Armenia, was annexed by the Russian Empire in early 19th century. Since then Russian has been of high significance in the life and history of Armenia. Basically, from 1828 to 1918 and from 1921 to 1991 all official nomenclature was done in Russian, because it was the administrative language of those periods.
Rapid Russification started during the Soviet period, particularly after Stalin's coming to power in mid-1930s, when Russian became lingua franca of the Soviet Union. Until 1990 the Russian language was widely applied alongside with Armenian. In 1988, nearly 100,000 Armenian students within the republic attended Russian-language schools. Russian was the main language of academic research, despite that fact that Armenia's constitution has recognized Armenian as the official language. By the 1980s over 90% of Armenia's administrative paperwork was conducted in Russian. A large number of Armenian intelligentsia members sent their children to Russian-language schools, which was considered to be harmful to the future of Armenian.
Since 1991 the situation changed radically, in concern of studying it at secondary and high school as a general subject. In practice, almost at all educational institutions the process of teaching was performed in Armenian, even at Russian departments of colleges and universities. Thus, the Russian language lost its statute of a second mother tongue and was classified as a foreign language. All these factors brought forth changes of the language functioning structure in real time conditions. The absolute number of students of the Russian language was significantly decreased.
The 2001 census revealed 29,563 people with Russian as their native language, from which 14,728 were ethnic Armenians. Many Armenian refugees from Baku and other cities of Azerbaijan only speak Russian.
The popularity of English has been growing since Armenia's independence in 1991. From year to year, more people tend to learn English. In contrast to the last decades, the number of Armenian schools teaching English have grown gradually. English is still far behind Russian in terms of knowledge among Armenians. According to a 2012 poll, 40% of Armenians have basic knowledge of English with only 4% having advanced proficiency of English, 16% intermediate and 20% beginner level. However, English is more preferable for Armenians than Russian. 50% of Armenians think that English should be taught in public secondary schools compared to 44% preferring Russian.
The American University of Armenia, an affiliate of the University of California, was established in 1991 and offers instruction leading to a master's degree in eight fields of study and teaching English as a foreign language. By offering these programs in English, AUA strives to become accessible to qualified individuals from other countries in the region.
Other foreign languages common in Armenia include French, German, Italian, Spanish, Persian. Since 2008 Armenia is an associate member of the Francophonie and became its full member in October 2012. A university named Fondation Université Française en Arménie (French University in Armenia) was founded in 2000 according to the agreement between Armenian and French governments. With 600 students, the UFAR is the largest French university in a non-French speaking country.
Yazidis are the largest minority in Armenia. According to the 2001 census 40,620 people identified themselves as Yazidis and 1,519 as Kurds. The same source showed 31,310 people with Kurdish as their native language.
The 2001 census revealed 29,563 people with Russian as their native language, from which 12,905 were ethnic Russians.
The first language that was recorded to be spoken in the Armenian Highland is the Hurrian language, which was spoken in the Mitanni and parts of the Armenia from around 2300 BC and had mostly vanished by 1000 BC.
The Urartian language followed it. Urartian was spoken by the inhabitants of the ancient kingdom of Urartu that was located in the region of Lake Van, with its capital near the site of the modern town of Van, in the Armenian Highland, modern-day Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey. It was probably spoken by the majority of the population around Lake Van and in the areas along the upper Zab valley. First attested in the 9th century BCE, Urartian ceased to be written after the fall of the Urartian state in 585 BCE, and presumably it became extinct due to the fall of Urartu. It must have been replaced by an early form of Armenian, perhaps during the period of Achaemenid Persian rule, although it is only in the fifth century CE that the first written examples of Armenian appear.
From the 7th century BC up to the 1870s, when Armenian was generally recognized as a separate branch of the Indo-European family, Armenia was considered to be part of the Persian civilization. Persian language in general and Parthian, the northwestern extinct dialect, in particular had great influence on Armenian.
According to the 1897 Russian census top languages spoken in the Erivan Governorate, roughly corresponding to the current territory of Armenia, were Armenian (441,000), Turkic (referred to as Tatar prior to 1918; 313,176), Kurdish (49,389), Russian (13,173), Assyrian (2,865), Ukrainian (2,682), Polish (1,385), Greek (1,323), Jewish (not specified, mostly Yiddish; 850), Georgian (566).
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- Wilhelm, Gernot. 2008. Hurrian. In Woodard, Roger D. (ed.) The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. P.106: "We do not know when the language became extinct, but it is likely that the collapse of what had survived of the empire until the end of the seventh or the beginning of the sixth century BCE caused the language to disappear."
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- Clackson, James P. T. 2008. Classical Armenian. In: The languages of Asia Minor (ed. R. D. Woodard). P.125. "The extralinguistic facts relevant to the prehistory of the Armenian people are also obscure. Speakers of Armenian appear to have replaced an earlier population of Urartian speakers (see Ch. 10) in the mountainous region of Eastern Anatolia. The name Armenia first occurs in the Old Persian inscriptions at Bīsotūn dated to c. 520 BCE (but note that the Armenians use the ethnonym hay [plural hayk‘] to refer to themselves). We have no record of the Armenian language before the fifth century CE. The Old Persian, Greek, and Roman sources do mention a number of prominent Armenians by name, but unfortunately the majority of these names are Iranian in origin, for example, Dādrši- (in Darius’ Bīsotūn inscription), Tigranes, and Tiridates. Other names are either Urartian (Haldita- in the Bīsotūn inscription) or obscure and unknown in literate times in Armenia (Araxa- in the Bīsotūn inscription)."
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