Armenian – one of the oldest languages
Background and status
The Armenian language is one of the oldest languages in the world, and is part of the Indo-European family of languages. Armenian is most closely related to Greek, but has many borrowed words from Pushto and Persian (Farsi). In fact, during the very early periods of its classification, Armenian was erroneously considered an Iranian language because of its large number of Iranian loan words.
Armenian is the official language of what was the smallest republic of the former Soviet Union, now the southernmost republic of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Today, five to six million people speak Armenian, although the total population of the Republic of Armenia is only 3.5 million (93% of whom are ethnic Armenian). Thus, nearly half of Armenian speakers today live outside their historic homeland, primarily in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and the United States.
Two standard dialects exist. Eastern Armenian is used in Armenia and in enclaves in Azerbaijan and Iran. Western Armenian is used by Armenians in Istanbul, Lebanon, Egypt, other parts of the diaspora, and formerly in eastern Turkey. Eastern Armenian has been influenced by two sets of Russian reforms and differs orthographically from Western Armenian.
Growth and usage
Standard Armenian is used in schools and by the media.
Armenia also has a long literary tradition, with publishing centres in Yerevan, Istanbul, and Cairo. This has helped that Armenians of the diaspora have gained renewed interest in their homeland as a result of the Armenian revolution and the establishment of the Republic of Armenia. Although many Armenians of the diaspora do not intend to return to their Armenian homeland, they consider continued use of the language of critical importance to the maintenance of a unified Armenian sense of history and identity.
Because many second generation Armenian immigrants have lost proficiency in their native language, attempts are being made to preserve their cultural heritage. Thus, the Armenian community has recently published many books that are intended to re-introduce Armenians to their mother tongue, generally the West Armenian dialect. In addition to textbooks, Armenian language newspapers are for example printed in the American cities Boston, Fresno, and New York.