Foreign Words Used in Armenian Language

During a two-day visit to Beirut, Lebanon Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan had a question/answer meeting with the Armenian community members. He answered a multitude of questions in a straightforward manner with some humor that was well received by the audience.

One of the questions was, what he will do to eliminate the use of the foreign words incorporated into the Armenian language in Armenia and used especially by journalists, government officers, intellectuals, etc?.

His answer was, it is up to the experts, intellectuals, linguists, etc. to study the issue, have public discussions about it, and come up with proposals that the government could study and if need be pass appropriate laws. He stressed the point that his government’s policy is always based on two principles. First, the changes will not be harmful to the general public, and second, the changes must be a necessity and beneficial for the public at large.

There are many, maybe too many, English words that I can relate to. I assume these English words are “imported” and incorporated after the independence of the Republic of Armenia in 1991. (I do not think this could have happened during the soviet times when the Russian language was dominant in Armenia).

There are also many other foreign words that I cannot relate to and assume are mostly Russian words. This could be understandable within the context that, Armenia lived under soviet hegemony for almost eighty years where the dominant language was the Russian language. But it is hard to reconcile with incorporated and usage of the English words.

Needless to say this is happening on a much larger scale in English-speaking countries like Canada, the USA, England, Australia, etc. where large numbers of Armenians live. It is mostly during conversations and less in written form, and not much could be done about it either. It is the “norm” if I may say so. But in the free and independent Republic of Armenia!?.

Here are a few samples. (All taken from recent online news outlets from Armenia. Some are even by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan himself. The Armenian equivalent in parentheses in Western Armenian is my interpretation according to my limited knowledge of the Armenian Language).

իմպլեմենտացված են. are “implemented”:  Implement (գործադրել)

ռացիոնալ մոտեցում: “rational” approach:   (իրաւացի) մոտեցում.

մանր թրեյդերներ: small “trades”:  մանր (առեւտուր)  

սիմվոլիկ համարեց։ considered it “symbolic”:  (խորհրդանշական) համարեց

հարկավոր է ադապտացնել: it is necessary to get it “adapted“:  հարկավոր է (յարմարցնել) 

էներգետիկայով լի մարդիք:  men full of “energy”:  (ներուժով) լի մարդիք

բարիկադներ պէտք է քանդել: “barricades” must be demolished:  (պատնէշներ) պէտք է քանդել. etc.

It seems it looks simple but it is anything but simple. I have no expertise to further delve into it. Prime Minister is right, this is up to the experts, be it, intellectuals, linguists, language teachers, cultural associations, etc. to rise to the challenge and make it such a public issue that the government will be forced to study and act upon the recommendation presented to them.

While writing about the Armenian language it is hard to resist the temptation to write also a few words about the English to Armenian translation that sounds very odd.

A glaring sample is a name Aurora translated as (Ավրորա). (My guess is that the letter U is translated to the letter V in the Armenian alphabet and thus, Ավրորա, without any consideration to phonetics).

Maybe it might make sense if the translator never heard the word. But Aurora Prize is a million-dollar award that is presented in Yerevan every year for the best human rights defender in the world. It is a high-profile elaborate ceremony in the English language and is widely televised. Needless to say, it was shocking to see ԱՎՐՈՐԱ next to AURORA with large letters right on the background of the stage.

Another sample is the word email written as ե նամակ instead ի նամակ. (If there was one English word that did not need to be converted to Armenian probably that word would be the word email).

Another glaring sample is the word ERIVAN which was “plastered” all over the city of Yerevan during the week-long La Francophonie summit from October 7-12. (This spelling of EREVAN most probably is a translation from Armenian to the French language!).

The event itself was a huge success that was attended by more than 3500 representatives from 83 foreign countries. The participants were full of the praise of the EREVAN ԻՐԻՎԱՆ city and enjoyed the friendly hospitality of the Armenian people in the city of  EREVAN (ԻՐԻՎԱՆ). Needless to say, there are many other words but no need to dwell on it any longer.

It is worth repeating, yes, it is a big challenge for experts and intellectuals to help keep the authenticity of the Armenian language and Armenian culture in Armenia. It cannot be done anywhere else. Only, in the free and independent Republic of Armenia where the official language is Armenian. It is long overdue.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian


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