Definitions

alphabetic script

Armenian alphabet

The Armenian alphabet is an alphabet that has been used to write the Armenian language since the year 405 or 406. Up to the 19th century, Classical Armenian had been the literary language; since then, the Armenian alphabet is used to write the two modern, literary and spoken dialects – Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian – which were developed during the same period.

The Armenian word for "alphabet" is այբուբեն (CA, EA: [aɪbubɛn], or WA: [aɪpʰupʰɛn]), named after the first two letters of the Armenian alphabet.

The alphabet

Letter Name IPA Transliteration Numerical Value
Traditional Orthography Reformed Orthography Pronunciation Classical Armenian Eastern Armenian Western Armenian Classical Armenian
(ISO 9985)
Classical Armenian Eastern Armenian Western Armenian
Ա ա այբ [aɪb] [aɪpʰ] [ɑ] a 1
Բ բ բեն [bɛn] [pʰɛn] [b] [pʰ] b 2
Գ գ գիմ [gim] [kʰim] [g] [kʰ] g 3
Դ դ դա [dɑ] [tʰɑ] [d] [tʰ] d 4
Ե ե եչ [jɛtʃʰ] [ɛ], initially [jɛ]1 e 5
Զ զ զա [zɑ] [z] z 6
Է է է [ɛː] [ɛ] [ɛː] [ɛ] ē 7
Ը ը ըթ [ətʰ] [ə] ë 8
Թ թ թո [tʰo] [tʰ] t‘ 9
Ժ ժ ժէ ժե [ʒɛː] [ʒɛ] [ʒ] ž 10
Ի ի ինի [ini] [i] i 20
Լ լ լիւն լյուն [lʏn]2 [l] l 30
Խ խ խէ խե [χɛː] [χɛ] [χ] x 40
Ծ ծ ծա [tsɑ] [tsʼɑ] [dzɑ] [ts] [tsʼ] [dz] ç 50
Կ կ կեն [kɛn] [kʼɛn] [gɛn] [k] [kʼ] [g] k 60
Հ հ հո [ho] [h] h 70
Ձ ձ ձա [dzɑ] [tsʰɑ] [dz] [tsʰ] j 80
Ղ ղ ղատ [ɫɑt] [ʁɑtʼ] [ʁɑd] [l], or [ɫ] [ʁ] ġ 90
Ճ ճ ճէ ճե [tʃɛː] [tʃʼɛ] [ʤɛ] [tʃ] [tʃʼ] [ʤ] č̣ 100
Մ մ մեն [mɛn] [m] m 200
Յ յ յի հի [ji] [hi] [j] [h]3, [j] y 300
Ն ն նու [nu] [n] n 400
Շ շ շա [ʃɑ] [ʃ] š 500
Ո ո ո [o] [vo] [o], initially [vo]4 o 600
Չ չ չա [tʃʰɑ] [tʃʰ] č 700
Պ պ պէ պե [pɛː] [pʼɛ] [bɛ] [p] [pʼ] [b] p 800
Ջ ջ ջէ ջե [ʤɛː] [ʤɛ] [tʃʰɛ] [ʤ] [tʃʰ] ǰ 900
Ռ ռ ռա [rɑ] [ɾɑ] [r] [ɾ] 1000
Ս ս սէ սե [sɛː] [sɛ] [s] s 2000
Վ վ վեւ վեվ [vɛv] [v] v 3000
Տ տ տիւն տյուն [tʏn] [tʼʏn]5 [dʏn] [t] [tʼ] [d] t 4000
Ր ր րէ րե [ɹɛː] [ɹɛ]6 [ɾɛ] [ɹ]6 [ɾ] r 5000
Ց ց ցո [tsʰo] [tsʰ] c‘ 6000
Ւ ւ հիւն N/A7 [hʏn] [w] [v]8 w 7000
Փ փ փիւր փյուր [pʰʏɹ]9 [pʰʏɾ] [pʰ] p‘ 8000
Ք ք քէ քե [kʰɛː] [kʰɛ] [kʰ] k‘ 9000
Added during the thirteenth century
Օ օ օ [o] [o] ò N/A
Ֆ ֆ ֆէ ֆե [fɛː] [fɛ] [f] f N/A
Letter Traditional Orthography Reformed Orthography Classical Armenian Eastern Armenian Western Armenian Classical Armenian Eastern Armenian Western Armenian Classical Armenian
(ISO 9985)
Numerical Value
Pronunciation
Name IPA Transliteration

Notes

In the table above, the superscript "h" ([ʰ]) is the diacritic for aspiration in the International Phonetic Alphabet; an apostrophe ([’]) indicates an ejective consonant.

  1. As initial sound ye /jɛ/, in other respects e /ɛ/. The reason is that the y /j/ falls out in compounds e.g. եղբայր (ełbayr, /jɛʀˈbajɹ/ (brother)), but մորեղբայր (morełbayr, /moɹɛʀˈbajɹ/ (brother of the mother).
  2. Using reformed orthography, the name of <լ> is pronounced [lyun].
  3. Only in Traditional orthography when at the beginning of a word and for stems within a word.
  4. As initial sound vo /vo/, in other respects o /o/. The reason is that the /v/ falls out in compounds e.g. որդի (ordi, /voɹˈtʰi/ (son), but քեռորդի (k‘eṙordi, /kʰeroɹˈtʰi/ (son of the uncle on the mother‘s side).
  5. Using reformed orthography, the name of <տ> is pronounced [tʼyun].
  6. In practice, only Iranian-Armenians say [ɹ]; Eastern Armenians from the Republic of Armenia have shifted the Classical Armenian [ɹ] (ր) to [ɾ].
  7. In reformed orthography, this letter has been replaced with the monophthong <ու> which represents [u].
  8. Usually it represents /v/ but there are some exceptions. In Classical Armenian աւ at the beginning of a word (if followed by a consonant) represents /au/ (like in down), e.g. աւր (awr, /auɹ/, day). (Due to a sound shift in the Middle Ages this pronunciation has changed to /oɹ/ and since the 13th century written as օր (ōr); the original monophthong ու (representing /ov/ or /ou/) became /u/; the monophthong իւ (iw) represents /ju/ (the spelling reform in Soviet Armenia replaced ի (i) with յ (y) and ւ (w) with ու (ow), forming the diphthong յու).
  9. Using reformed orthography, the name of <փ> is pronounced [pʰjuɾ].

Ligatures

Ancient Armenian manuscripts used many ligatures to save space. Some of the commonly used ligatures are: ﬓ (մ+ն), ﬔ (մ+ե), ﬕ (մ+ի), ﬖ (վ+ն), ﬗ (մ+խ), և (ե+ւ), etc. After the invention of printing Armenian typefaces made a wide use of ligatures as well. It is important to note that in new orthography the և character is not a typographical ligature anymore, and must never be treated as such. It is a distinct letter and has its place in the new alphabetic sequence.

Punctuation marks

In Armenian (, ) is a comma, (: ) is the ordinary period, and (' ) is used as period for abbreviations. The question mark (՞ ) is placed between the last and the penultimate letters of the question word. The short stop (՝ ) placed in the same manner as the question mark, indicates a short pause that is longer than that of a comma, but shorter than that of a semicolon. The interjection sign (՛ ) is placed between the penultimate and last letter of the interjection. (« » ) are used for quotation marks. (՜ ) is used as the exclamation mark.

Transliteration

ISO 9985 (1996) transliterates the Armenian alphabet for modern Armenian as follows:
ա բ գ դ ե զ է ը թ ժ ի լ խ ծ կ հ ձ ղ ճ մ յ ն շ ո չ պ ջ ռ ս վ տ ր ց ւ փ ք օ ֆ
a b g d e z ē ë t’ ž i l x ç k h j ġ č̣ m y n š o č p ǰ s v t r c’ w p’ k’ ò f

In linguistic literature on Classical Armenian, slightly different systems are in use (in particular note that č has a different meaning). Hübschmann-Meillet (1913) have

ա բ գ դ ե զ է ը թ ժ ի լ խ ծ կ հ ձ ղ ճ մ յ ն շ ո չ պ ջ ռ ս վ տ ր ց ւ փ ք օ ֆ
a b g d e z ê ə t῾ ž i l x c k h j ł č m y n š o č῾ p ǰ s v t r c῾ w p῾ k῾ ô f

History and evolution

The Armenian alphabet was created by Saint Mesrop Mashtots in AD 405 primarily for a Bible translation in the Armenian language. Armenian sources also claim that Mashtots invented the Georgian and Caucasian Albanian (Old Udi) alphabets, but this is not confirmed by Georgian or other non-Armenian sources and is considered doubtful.

Various scripts have been credited with being the prototype for the Armenian alphabet. Pahlavi was the priestly script in Armenia before the introduction of Christianity, and Syriac, along with Greek, was one of the alphabets of Christian scripture. Armenian shows some similarities to both. However, the general consensus is that Armenian is modeled after the Greek alphabet, supplemented with letters from a different source or sources for Armenian sounds not found in Greek. The evidence for this is the Greek order of the Armenian alphabet; the ow ligature for the vowel /u/, as in Greek; and the shapes of some letters which "seem derived from a variety of cursive Greek.

There are four forms of the script. The erkat'agir "forged letters", seen as Mesrop's original, were used in manuscripts from the 5th to 13th century and are still preferred for epigraphic inscriptions. Bolorgir "cursive" was invented in the 10th century and became popular in the 13th. It has been the standard printed form since the 16th. Notrgir "minuscule" was invented for speed, was extensively used in the Armenian diaspora in the 16th to 18th centuries, and later became popular in printing. Šełagir "slanted writing" is now the most common form.

Although the two dialects of modern Armenian—Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian—use the same alphabet, due to the Western Armenian sound shift some letters are pronounced in a different way. This matters for the following letters (further information in the chart below):

  • Stop consonants
    • բ ([b] to [pʰ]) and պ ([p] to [b])
    • դ ([d] to [tʰ]) and տ ([t] to [d])
    • գ ([g] to [kʰ]) and կ ([k] to [g])
  • Affricate consonants
    • ջ ([d͡ʒ] to [t͡ʃʰ]) and ճ ([t͡ʃ] to [d͡ʒ])
    • ձ ([d͡z] to [t͡sʰ]) and ծ ([t͡s] to [d͡z])

The number and order of the letters have changed over time. In the Middle Ages two new letters (օ [o], ֆ [f]) were introduced in order to better represent foreign sounds; this increased the number of letters from 36 to 38. Furthermore, the diphthong աւ followed by a consonant used to be pronounced [au] (as in down) in Classical Armenian, f.e. աւր (awr, [auɹ], day). Due to a sound shift it became pronounced [oɹ], and since the 13th century it is written as օր (ōr). In Classical Armenian, աւ followed by a consonant represented the diphthong au; e.g. hawr (father's), arawr (plough), now written hôr, arôr; one word has kept aw, now pronounced av: աղաւնի pigeon; there are also a few proper names still having aw before a consonant: Տաւրռս Taurusn, Փաւստոս Faustus, etc. For this reason, today there are native Armenian words beginning with the letter օ (ō) although this letter was taken from the Greek alphabet to express the pronunciation of foreign words beginning with o [o].

From 1922 to 1924, Soviet Armenia adopted a Reformed spelling of the Armenian language. This generally did not change the pronunciation of individual letters, with some exceptions. The Armenian Diaspora (including Armenians in Lebanon and Iran) have rejected the Reformed spelling and continue to use the classical Mashtotsian spelling. They criticize some aspects (see the footnotes of the chart) and allege political motives behind the reform.

Use of the Armenian alphabet for other languages

As Bedross Der Matossian from Columbia University informs, for about 250 years, from the early 18th century until around 1950, more than 2000 books were printed in the Turkish language using letters of the Armenian alphabet. Not only Armenians read Armeno-Turkish, but also the non-Armenian (including the Ottoman Turkish) elite. The Armenian alphabet was also used alongside the Arabic alphabet on official documents of the Ottoman Empire, but was written in Ottoman Turkish. For instance, the first novel to be written in the Ottoman Empire was 1851's Akabi Hikayesi, written in the Armenian script by Hovsep Vartan. Also, when the Armenian Duzoglu family managed the Ottoman mint during the reign of Abdulmejid, they kept records in the Armenian script, but in the Turkish language.

Kipchak, Kurdish, and Arabic were also written using Armenian characters, though not in as widespread a way as Turkish.

The Armenian alphabet was an official script for the Kurdish alphabet in 1921-28 in Soviet Armenia.

Character Encodings

Unicode

The Armenian alphabet is one of the five modern European alphabetic scripts identified in the Unicode standard version 4.0. (The other modern European alphabets are Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, and Georgian.) It is assigned the range U+0530–058F.

Five Armenian ligatures are encoded in the "Alphabetic presentation forms" block (code point range U+FB13–FB17)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+FB1x                      

Obsolete

ArmSCII-8

ArmSCII-8 is the 8-bit encoding of the Armenian Standard Code for Information Interchange, developed between 1991 and 1999. It uses part of the upper 128 codes in an 8-bit encoding to represent the Armenian alphabet, leaving the lower 128 codes for another alphabetic script (often Latin or Cyrillic). This allows a single font to represent two alphabetic scripts. For example, the Latin characters could occupy part of the first 128 codes (e.g. ASCII) while the Armenian characters would occupy part of the upper 128 codes.

ArmSCII-8 was popular on the Windows 95 and Windows 98 operating systems. To be able to read in Armenian, users had to download a font that implements the ArmSCII-8 encoding. To be able to write in Armenian, users first had to download and install a freeware program that ran in the taskbar. There were two popular programs, one named KD Win, and the other called "Armenian National Language Support. With these programs, a user would be able to type in both Armenian and another alphabetic script without having to change fonts, switching between writing scripts and keyboard layouts by invoking a keyboard shortcut (often Alt + Shift).

With the development of the more advanced Unicode standard and its availability on the Windows 2000/XP/2003 and Linux operating systems, the ArmSCII-8 encoding has been rendered obsolete. Nevertheless, ArmSCII-8 can still be found in use on some websites, which have not yet made the transition to Unicode.

Arasan-compatible

Arasan-compatible fonts are based on the encoding of the original Arasan font, which simply replaces the Latin characters (amongst others) of the ASCII encoding with Armenian ones. For example, the ASCII code for the Latin character (65) represents the Armenian character <Ա>.

An advantage of Arasan-compatible fonts over ArmSCII-8 fonts is that writing does not require the installation of a separate program; once the font is installed and selected for use, one can use their QWERTY keyboard to type in Armenian. A disadvantage over ArmSCII-8 is that an Arasan-compatible font can only be used for one alphabetic script; therefore, the user must change the Font family when creating a multi-script document (e.g. both Armenian and English). Another disadvantage is that Arasan-compatible fonts only come in one keyboard layout: Western Armenian phonetic.

While Arasan-compatible fonts were popular among many users on Windows 95 and 98, it has been rendered obsolete by the Unicode standard. However, a few websites continue to use it.

The Arasan font's legacy is the phonetic Armenian keyboard layouts that ship with Windows 2000/XP/2003, which are almost identical to the Arasan keyboard layout.

Computer Fonts

The Armenian alphabet is available for use on personal computers in a variety of operating systems as installable fonts. The native Windows XP font Sylfaen implements the Unicode Armenian character set. The open source package DejaVu fonts implements the Unicode Armenian character set and is popular on Linux. Note that since they are portable, fonts from one operating system (e.g. Windows) may be installed on another (e.g. Linux).

Keyboard Layouts

An operating system can be configured to use a variety of keyboard layouts to suit the user's needs. For example, both English and Western Armenian keyboard layouts may be configured, with the user being able to switch between the two using a keyboard shortcut (often alt + shift).

Windows 2000/XP/2003

Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows 2003 ship with two Armenian language keyboard layouts: Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian. They are both based on the keyboard layout of a popular Armenian font for Windows 95 named Arasan. These keyboard layouts are generally phonetic. However, since some letters in the Armenian alphabet do not have an obvious corresponding character in the Latin alphabet, they are often approximated (for example, Խ maps to Q). Also, since there are more letters in the Armenian alphabet (38) than in Latin (26), some Armenian characters appear on non-alphabetic keys on a conventional English language keyboard (for example, շ maps to ,).

Armenian keyboard layouts for Windows 2000/XP/2003 created by third parties include the Armenian Phonetic Eastern and the Armenian Typewriter Eastern.

Use of Armenian keyboard layouts on Windows 2000/XP/2003 systems require explicit configuration by the user.

Linux

Each Linux distribution may come pre-configured with a unique set of keyboard layouts. To provide some consistency amongst themselves, Linux distributions often pull their layouts from the XKeyboard Configuration component of Freedesktop.org. As of November, 2006, Freedesktop.org contains 5 Armenian keyboard layouts, including 2 layouts identical to the ones from Windows XP. As of version 10.1, SUSE Linux supports 2 Armenian keyboard layouts; it does not include the Windows XP layouts, but it is possible to manually install these.

Use of Armenian keyboard layouts on Linux usually requires explicit configuration by the user. Users of the GNOME desktop may do so by using the GNOME Keyboard Indicator applet.

See also

References

External links

Armenian Transliteration

Unicode Support for Armenian

Armenian Online Dictionaries

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