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The Armenian Language

As I said before when meeting Ruzan, I discovered that lack of a shared language can be quite a barrier when communicating. Of course being the guest, it was my responsibility to learn Armenian, not the other way round.

Fortunately, AVC had Armenian language classes for volunteers. Held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, I was in a small beginner class with other volunteers who'd started their service at the same time as me, two from Depi Hayk (Armenian for Birthright Armenia) and two others from AVC. Our teacher, Diana, spoke English well and taught in English, using the Latin alphabet to write words. The Armenian alphabet is quite complex for non speakers, so we didn't learn this at our level, and there are some differences in how people transliterate words from Armenian into Latin, so what I learned to write may not be the same as how anyone else writes Armenian in Latin, but this will give you a general idea about the Armenian language.

The first lesson covered how to conjugate words in Armenian. In Armenian all verbs in the infinitive e.g. "to speak" finish with -el or -al. When these words are conjugated to put them into a sentence this suffix becomes -um in the present tense. So the Armenian word utel (to eat) becomes utum (utum) in the present tense sentence form. Of course where a verb is used in the infinitive form then the -el/-al suffix is used instead.

To construct simple sentences in Armenian a simple pattern of [pronoun] [verb] [auxiliary pronoun] [object] is used. The pronoun and auxiliary pronoun used depend on whether the sentence is in the first, second, or third person and whether the subject is singular, or plural, giving six basic sentence forms. Unlike other languages Armenian does not have a gender distinction. The pronoun-auxiliary pronoun combinations used are: Yes ... em Du ... es Nra ... eh Menk ... enk Duk ... ek Nrank ... en

So a simple sentence in Armenian could be "yes uzum em utel basturma" or "I want to eat basturma".

Only one word they come between the pronoun and the auxiliary pronoun so to make the sentence negative a slightly different structure is used. Words are made negative by adding ch- as a prefix. As this counts as a word, this prefix is added to the auxiliary pronoun, and the verb comes after the auxiliary pronoun instead of before. So an example of a negative sentence in Armenian would be "Yes chem khoshum Hayeren" or "I don't speak Armenian".

Many words in Armenian can be turned into verbs or nouns by changing suffixes and prefixes. For example "work" can be both a verb (askatankal) or a physical place (askatank). Adding prefixes and suffixes is commonly used in Armenian to change the meaning of words in sentences. The most obvious example of this is to add -eh to the end of a noun to make it a definite, "atvorr" being any chair, whereas "atvorreh" means a specific chair. Another example is that plurals are made such by adding -er to single syllable words and -ner to longer words.

To say that I am in something, I would also add the -um suffix. So I could say "yes Canadaum em" or "I am in Canada". To say something is from something, the suffix -tsi is used so the sentence "yes Angliatsi em" means "I am from England". To say something is with something the sentence finishes with het and the -i suffix is used on the noun, you to say that you did something with me you would say "Richardi het" or "with Richard".

To make a a sentence past tense the auxiliary pronoun is changed. These are changed and used as follows depending on the first second or third person and whether the subject is singular or plural. em becomes ei es becomes eir eh becomes er enk becomes eink ek becomes eik en becomes ein

A sentence is made future tense by adding the ka- prefix to the verb used. So to save as I am going to eat something I would say "yes kautum em harissa" or "I am going to eat harissa".

Questions are slightly more complicated but a simple way question is "vortegh e" which means "where is". There is also "inch es" which means "what is", a common friendly greeting in Armenia is "inch ka chka" which roughly translates as "yo what's up" and the typical answer is "voch mi ban".

Unfortunately, I wasn't in Armenia for long enough to continue my lessons. However I was able to buy a very nice language book from the head teacher for the Armenian classes, who runs the advanced course for Armenian speakers at AVC/Depi Hayk. I also tested the mobile phone app for learning Armenian that AVC/Depi Hayk developed. So I've been able to continue some learning, even without classes or immersion in the language. This has come in handy a few times, when I ate at the Armenian Taverna in Manchester, UK, and when I had my PC Express loading job in Toronto, and we had a couple of Armenian customers who I could ingratiate myself with.

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