Proto-Armenian language

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History of the Armenian language
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Proto-Armenian is the earlier, unattested stage of the Armenian language which has been reconstructed by linguists. As Armenian is the only known language of its branch of the Indo-European languages, the comparative method cannot be used to reconstruct its earlier stages. Instead, a combination of internal and external reconstruction, by reconstructions of Proto-Indo-European and other branches, has allowed linguists to piece together the earlier history of Armenian.


Proto-Armenian, as the common ancestor of only one language, has no clear definition of the term. It is generally held to include a variety of ancestral stages of Armenian between Proto-Indo-European and the earliest attestations of Classical Armenian.

It is thus not a proto-language in the strict sense, but "Proto-Armenian" is a term that has become common in the field.[citation needed]

The earliest testimony of Armenian is the 5th-century Bible translation of Mesrop Mashtots. The earlier history of the language is unclear and the subject of much speculation. It is clear that Armenian is an Indo-European language, but its development is opaque.

In any case, Armenian has many layers of loanwords and shows traces of long language contact with Indo-Aryan Mitanni, Anatolian languages such as Luwian and Hittite, Semitic languages such as Akkadian and Aramaic, and the Hurrio-Urartian languages.

Phonological Development of Proto-Armenian[edit]

The Proto-Armenian sound changes are varied and eccentric (such as *dw- yielding erk-) and, in many cases, uncertain. That prevented Armenian from being immediately recognized as an Indo-European branch in its own right, and it was assumed to be simply a very divergent Iranian language until Heinrich Hübschmann established its independent character in 1874.[1]

Modern studies[2][3][4] show that assertions about the proximity of Greek and Phrygian with Armenian are not confirmed in the language material. Instead, they assert that the Armenian language is as close to Indo-Iranian languages as it is to Greek and Phrygian.[4]

In certain contexts, the aspirated stops are further reduced to w, h or zero in Armenian: Proto-Indo-European (accusative) *pódm̥ "foot" > Armenian otn vs. Greek (accusative) póda, Proto-Indo-European *tréyes "three" > Armenian erekʿ vs. Greek treis.

The Armenians according to Diakonoff, are then an amalgam of the Hurrians (and Urartians), Luvians and the Mushki. After arriving in its historical territory, Proto-Armenian would appear to have undergone massive influence on part the languages it eventually replaced. Armenian phonology, for instance, appears to have been greatly affected by Urartian, which may suggest a long period of bilingualism.[5]

PIE consonants in Armenian[6]
PIE Armenian Special Developments
*p h Ø, w, pʿ
*t tʿ y, d
*ḱ s š ( PIE *ḱw>Arm.š), Ø
*k kʿ x, g, čʿ
*kʷ kʿ x, g, čʿ
*b p
*d t
*g k c
*gʷ k c
*bʰ b w
*dʰ d ǰ
*ǵʰ j z
*gʰ g ǰ
*gʷʰ g ǰ, ž
*s h s, Ø, *kʿ
*h₁ Ø e-
*h₂ h a-, Ø
*h₃ h a-, Ø

Diakonoff (1985) and Greppin (1991) etymologize several Old Armenian words as having a possible Hurro-Urartian origin:

  • agarak "field" from Hurrian awari "field";
  • ałaxin "slave girl" from Hurrian al(l)a(e)ḫḫenne;
  • arciw "eagle" from Urartian Arṣiba, a proper name with a presumed meaning of "eagle";
  • art "field" from Hurrian arde "town" (rejected by Diakonoff and Fournet);
  • astem "to reveal one's ancestry" from Hurrian ašti "woman, wife";
  • caṙ "tree" from Urartian ṣârə "garden";
  • cov "sea" from Urartian ṣûǝ "(inland) sea";
  • kut "grain" from Hurrian kade "barley" (rejected by Diakonoff; closer to Greek kodomeýs "barley-roaster");
  • maxr ~ marx "pine" from Hurrian māḫri "fir, juniper";
  • pełem "dig, excavate" from Urartian pile "canal", Hurrian pilli (rejected by Diakonoff);
  • salor ~ šlor "plum" from Hurrian *s̄all-orə or Urartian *šaluri (cf. Akkadian šallūru "plum");
  • san "kettle" from Urartian sane "kettle, pot";
  • sur "sword", from Urartian šure "sword", Hurrian šawri "weapon, spear" (considered doubtful by Diakonoff);
  • tarma-ǰur "spring water" from Hurrian tarman(l)i "spring";
  • ułt "camel" from Hurrian uḷtu "camel";
  • xarxarel "to destroy" from Urartian harhar-š- "to destroy";
  • xnjor "apple" from Hurrian ḫinzuri "apple" (itself from Akkadian hašhūru, šahšūru).

Arnaud Fournet proposes additional borrowed words.[7]

Vyacheslav Ivanov argues the complete fallacy of all the constructions of I. M. Dyakonov regarding the origin of the ethnonym "hay" and other issues of the Armenian ethnogenesis[8]

Modern studies[edit]

New comparative studies show that the Armenian language is closest to Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavonic, and the similarities in the development of Armenian with Greek and Phrygian are random and independent of each other[9].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Karl Brugmann, Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen (1897) Das Armenische (II), früher fälschlicherweise für iranisch ausgegeben, von H. Hübschmann KZ. 23, 5 ff. 400 ff. als ein selbständiges Glied der idg. Sprachfamilie erwiesen
  2. ^ Vavroušek P. (2010). "Frýžština". Jazyky starého Orientu. Praha: Univerzita Karlova v Praze. p. 129. ISBN 978-80-7308-312-0.
  3. ^ J. P. Mallory, Douglas Q. Adams. (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. p. 419. ISBN 9781884964985.
  4. ^ a b Clackson James P.T. (2008). "Classical Armenian". The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 124.
  5. ^ “Armenians” in Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, edited by J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  6. ^ Matasovic, Ranko (2009). A Grammatical Sketch Of Classical Armenian. Zagreb. pp. 10–15.
  7. ^ Archív Orientalni. 2013. About the vocalic system of Armenian words of substratic origin. (81.2:207–22) by Arnaud Fournet
  8. ^ Иванов Вяч. Вс. (1983). "Выделение разных хронологических слоев в древнеармянском и проблема первоначальной структуры текста гимна Вахагну" (PDF) (4) (Историко-филологический журнал ed.). Ереван. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Kim Ronald I. Greco-Armenian. The persistence of a myth // Indogermanische Forschungen. — 2018. — 123. Band. — S. 247–271.


  • Adjarian, Hrachia. Etymological root dictionary of the Armenian language, vol. I–IV. Yerevan State University, Yerevan, 1971 – 1979.
  • Austin, William M. (January 1942). "Is Armenian an Anatolian Language?". Language. 18 (1): 22. doi:10.2307/409074.
  • Barton, Charles R. (October 1963). "The Etymology of Armenian ert'am". Language. 39 (4): 620. doi:10.2307/411956.
  • Bonfante, G. (June 1942). "The Armenian Aorist". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 62 (2): 102. doi:10.2307/594462.
  • Diakonoff, Igor (1992). "First evidence of the Proto-Armenian language in Eastern Anatolia". Annual of Armenian linguistics. 13: 51–54.
  • Diakonoff, I. M. (October 1985). "Hurro-Urartian Borrowings in Old Armenian". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 105 (4): 597. doi:10.2307/602722.
  • Greppin, John A. C.; Diakonoff, I. M. (October 1991). "Some Effects of the Hurro-Urartian People and Their Languages upon the Earliest Armenians". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 111 (4): 720. doi:10.2307/603403.
  • Meillet, Antoine (1903). Esquisse d'une grammaire comparée de l'arménien classique. Impr. des PP. mékhitharistes.
  • Minshall, Robert (October 1955). "'Initial' Indo-European */y/ in Armenian". Language. 31 (4): 499. doi:10.2307/411362.
  • Kerns, J. Alexander; Schwartz, Benjamin I. (July 1942). "On the Placing of Armenian". Language. 18 (3): 226–228. doi:10.2307/409558.
  • K. H. Schmidt, The Indo-European Basis of Proto-Armenian : Principles of Reconstruction, Annual of Armenian linguistics, Cleveland State University, 11, 33-47, 1990.
  • Werner Winter, Problems of Armenian Phonology I, Language 30, No. 2 (Apr., 1954), pp. 197–201
  • Werner Winter, Problems of Armenian Phonology II, Language 31, No. 1 (Jan., 1955), pp. 4–8
  • Werner Winter Problems of Armenian Phonology III, Language 38, No. 3, Part 1 (Jul., 1962), pp. 254–262

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