4.14. Armenian

4.14.1. Armenian evolution

Proto-Armenians apparently formed as an amalgam of the Hurrians (and Urartians), Luvians, and the Mushki, after arriving in its historical territory during the Iron Age. Armenian phonology seems to have been greatly affected by Urartian, which may suggest a period of bilingualism.

The most prominent features of Proto-Armenian include (Fortson 2010; Kim 2018):

·       Satemisation trends (different outcomes before front vowels):

o   Velars become palatovelars under certain circumstances: *k→*kj, *g→*gj, *gh→*gjh.

o   Labiovelars become (and merge with) plain velars: *kw→*k, *gw→*g, *gwh→*gh.

·       Palatalisation:

o   Palatovelars became fricatives *kj→*s, *gj→*c, *ghj→*.

o   *gh →*ǰ before *e or *i, e.g. *gwhermo- → Arm. ǰerm ‘heat’.

·       Armenian consonant shift (akin to Germanic):

o   Word-internally, *bh and *p had been weakened to *.

o   Plain voiceless stops become voiceless aspirates: *t → *th, *k → *kh.

o   Voiced stops become voiceless stops: *b→*p, *d→*t, *g→*k.

o   Voiced aspirates become voiced stops: *bh→*b, *dh→*d, *gh→*g (the outcome of *gh is obscured because of the palatalisation rule, see above).

·       Syllabic liquids developed an a before them. Word-finally, syllabic nasals became -n.

·       Glides change: *i̯ mostly disappeared; *u̯ became *g word-initially, via an intermediate *gw; in consonant clusters it shows *su̯→ *kh, *ku̯→ *sk, *du̯→ *rk, etc.

·       *s → *h, a Graeco-Armenian feature.

·       Short vowels mostly remain intact, but i and u are deleted in non-word-initial unaccented syllables. Long vowels became short and changed.

·       At some point in prehistoric Armenian accent is fixed on the penultimate syllable.

Morphological features include:

·       Moderate simplification of inherited morphology: Seven cases are distinguished, although no single noun or pronoun distinguishes them all.

·       Dual is lost everywhere.

·       Grammatical gender is lost.

·       The verbal system is similar to the inherited LPIE, but few forms are inherited:

o   Perfect and imperfect disappeared. Imperfects were transferred over to the aorist category.

o   Present and aorist stems survived, and they expressed an opposition not only in tense (non-past vs. past), but also in aspect (imperfective vs. perfective). The aorist is for the most part a continuation of the PIE imperfect.

o   A new imperfect was created, as well as present and aorist subjunctive.

o   Mediopassive inflection is distinguished by a stem change.

o   Only one participle is found.

The earliest inscriptions in Old Armenian date from the period of the creation of the Armenian alphabet by Mesrop Maštocʿ ca. AD 406. Even though only one dialect is documented, Armina was a Persian province ca. 500 BC, so other dialects may have existed by the time when Old Armenian was spoken. A Common Armenian language may be thus dated to the centuries around 500 BC.

4.14.2. Hurro-Urartian contacts

The following are examples of likely Hurro-Urartian loans (Greppin and Diakonoff 1991):

·       Arm. agarak ‘field’ from Hurrian awari ‘field’.

·       Arm. ałaxin ‘slave girl’ from Hurrian al(l)a(e)ḫḫenne.

·       Arm. arciw ‘eagle’ from Urartian Arṣiba, a proper name with a presumed meaning of ‘eagle’.

·       Arm. astem ‘to reveal one's ancestry’ from Hurrian ašti ‘woman, wife’.

·       Arm. caṙ ‘tree’ from Urartian ṣârə ‘garden’.

·       Arm. cov ‘sea’ from Urartian ṣûǝ ‘(inland) sea’.

·       Arm. kut ‘grain’ from Hurrian kade ‘barley’ (rejected by Diakonoff; closer to Greek kodomeús ‘barley-roaster’).

·       Arm. maxr ~ marx ‘pine’ from Hurrian māḫri ‘fir, juniper’.

·       Arm. pełem ‘dig, excavate’ from Urartian pile ‘canal’, Hurrian pilli (rejected by Diakonoff).

·       Arm. salor ~ šlor ‘plum’ from Hurrian *s̄all-orə or Urartian *šaluri (cf. Akkadian šallūru ‘plum’).

·       Arm. san ‘kettle’ from Urartian sane ‘kettle, pot’.

·       Arm. sur ‘sword’, from Urartian šure ‘sword’, Hurrian šawri ‘weapon, spear’ (considered doubtful by Diakonoff).

·       Arm. tarma-ǰur ‘spring water’ from Hurrian tarman(l)i ‘spring’.

·       Arm. ułt ‘camel’ from Hurrian uḷtu ‘camel’.

·       Arm. xarxarel ‘to destroy’ from Urartian harhar-š- ‘to destroy’.

·       Arm. xnjor ‘apple’ from Hurrian ḫinzuri ‘apple’ (itself from Akkadian hašhūru, šahšūru).

For a revision of potential Anatolian loanwords, see Martirosyan (2017). For a revision of potential Indo-Iranian cognates and Indo-Aryan or Iranian loanwords, see Martirosyan (2013).

4.14.3. Schleicher’s fable in Proto-Armenian

aicikʰ jēokh-ekhe

aicikʰ ohir gelman ohukhi gotʰi

jēons haechau;

aidon erkhum anduran acuntʰan,

aidon berinan meca,

aidon mardon šuti berantʰi.

aicikʰ jēoicho asach:

“imon kirti kelestʰ,

ainron gitantʰei jēons hecantʰan.”

jēokh asachin: “lú(sr) aicikʰ!

meron kirti kelest gitantʰei,

ainrokʰ, tinsainrokʰ, gelmambi aicich

arnetʰi heur zgestun ǰermon,

aicich-ekhe ohukhi estʰ gelman.”

aisoi lu̯eal aicikʰ arton phaxeau.


·       This tentative version includes a language older than Old Armenian, before the regular loss of final syllables. However, these hypothetic lost syllables are represented as from an unstable period (in subscript), already disappearingsimilar to how Modern French retains mute final syllablesbecause it is unclear how they were exactly before their loss, and how much their loss might have influenced the reconstructed morphology and vocabulary as used in the text. A risky assumption, for example, is that endings in *-s after vowels were generalised in *-kh, inferred from Arm. otkՙ ‘feet’ ~ Gk. pódes; in Arm. 1st pl. verbal -mkՙ ~ Lat. -mus, Ved. -mas; or Arm. erekՙ < *trēs < *trees- ‘three’.

·       A common word for ‘horse’ is OArm. ji <*ghitós, originally an epithet cognate with Skr. háya <*ghéos, probably a poetic word belonging to the ‘language of the gods’. Arm. ēš < *hekos evolved to mean ‘donkey, ass’ most likely in Proto-Armenian, possibly due to the relevance of this animal in the Armenoid homeland near the Caucasus.