Reconstruction ofArmenian languages

Proto-Armenian is the earlier, unattested stage of the Armenian language which has been reconstructed by linguists. As Armenian is the only known language of its branch of the Indo-European languages, the comparative method cannot be used to reconstruct its earlier stages. Instead, a combination of internal and external reconstruction, by reconstructions of Proto-Indo-European and other branches, has allowed linguists to piece together the earlier history of Armenian.


Proto-Armenian, as the ancestor of only one living language, has no clear definition of the term. It is generally held to include a variety of ancestral stages of Armenian between Proto-Indo-European and the earliest attestations of Classical Armenian.

It is thus not a proto-language in the strict sense, but "Proto-Armenian" is a term that has become common in the field.

The earliest testimony of Armenian is the 5th-century Bible translation of Mesrop Mashtots. The earlier history of the language is unclear and the subject of much speculation. It is clear that Armenian is an Indo-European language, but its development is opaque.

In any case, Armenian has many layers of loanwords and shows traces of long language contact with Anatolian languages such as Luwian and Hittite, Hattic, Hurro-Urartian languages, Semitic languages such as Akkadian and Aramaic, and Iranian languages such as Persian and Parthian. Armenian also has been influenced to a lesser extent by Greek and Arabic.[1]

Phonological development of Proto-Armenian

The Proto-Armenian sound changes are varied and eccentric (such as *dw- yielding erk-) and, in many cases, uncertain. That prevented Armenian from being immediately recognized as an Indo-European branch in its own right, and it was assumed to be simply a very divergent Iranian language until Heinrich Hübschmann established its independent character in 1874.[2]

The development of voicing contrasts in Armenian is notable in being quite similar to that seen in Germanic, a fact that was significant in the formation of the Glottalic Theory. The Armenian Consonant Shift has often been compared to the famous Grimm's Law in Germanic, because in both cases, Proto-Indo-European voiceless stops became voiceless aspirates (with some complications with regard to Proto-Indo-European *p), the voiced stops became voiceless, and the voiced aspirates became voiced stops.[3] Meanwhile, Armenian shares the vocalization of word initial laryngeals before consonants with Greek and Phrygian:[4] Proto-Indo-European *h₂nḗr ("man", "force") renders Greek anḗr, Armenian ayr from a Proto-Armenian *aynr[5] and Phrygian anar ("man"), which may be compared to Latin Nero and neriōsus ("strict"), Albanian njeri, Persian nar, Sanskrit nara, and Welsh nerth.

In certain contexts, the aspirated stops are further reduced to w, h or zero in Armenian: Proto-Indo-European (accusative) *pódm̥ "foot" > Armenian otn vs. Greek (accusative) póda, Proto-Indo-European *tréyes "three" > Armenian erekʿ vs. Greek treis.

PIE consonants in Armenian[6]
PIE Armenian Special Developments
*p h Ø (before o), w (after vowel), pʿ
*t tʿ t (after sibilant), y (between vowels),

d (after R), Ø (before consonant), w (before R & between back-vowels),

n (PIE *-nt > Arm. n)

*ḱ s š (PIE *ḱw > Arm. š), w (before r),

Ø (before consonant)

*k kʿ x (PIE *kH > Arm. x),

g (PIE *[R]k > Arm. g) čʿ (PIE *ky > Arm. čʿ)

*kʷ čʿ x, g, kʿ
*b p
*d t [r]k (PIE *dw > Arm. [r]k)
*g k c
*gʷ k c
*bʰ b w (between vowels)
*dʰ d ǰ (PIE *dʰy > Arm. ǰ)
*ǵʰ j z
*gʰ g ǰ
*gʷʰ g ǰ, ž
*s h s (after consonant or before obstruent), Ø, -kʿ
*h₁ Ø e-
*h₂ h a-, Ø
*h₃ h a-, Ø
PIE vowels in Armenian[6]
PIE Armenian Special Developments
*a a
*e e a (adjacent to *h₂)
i (before h₁ or nasals)
o (after *h₃)
u (before *h₃)
*i i
*o o
*u u


The origin of the Proto-Armenian language is subject to scholarly debate. The Armenian hypothesis would postulate the Armenian language as an in situ development of a 3rd millennium BC Proto-Indo-European language,[7] while the Kurgan hypothesis suggests it arrived in the Armenian Highlands either from the Balkans or through the Caucasus. The arrival of such a population who spoke Proto-Armenian in the Armenian Highlands is assumed to have occurred sometime during the Bronze Age[8][9] or at the latest, during the Bronze Age Collapse around 1200 BC, according to this theory.[10]

One of the theories about the emergence of Armenian in the region is that Paleo-Balkan-speaking settlers related to Phrygians (the Mushki or the retroactively named Armeno-Phrygians), who had already settled in the western parts of the region before the Kingdom of Van was established in Urartu,[11][12][13] had become the ruling elite under the Median Empire, followed by the Achaemenid Empire.[14] The existence of Urartian words in the Armenian language and Armenian loanwords into Urartian[15] suggests early contact between the two languages and long periods of bilingualism.[8][10][9]

According to the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture:

The Armenians according to Diakonoff, are then an amalgam of the Hurrian (and Urartians), Luvians [Luwians] and the Proto-Armenian Mushki who carried their IE [Indo-European] language eastwards across Anatolia. After arriving in its historical territory, Proto-Armenian would appear to have undergone massive influence by the languages it eventually replaced. Armenian phonology, for instance, appears to have been greatly affected by Urartian, which may suggest a long period of bilingualism.[16]

Findings in Armenian genetics from 2019 reveal heavy mixing of groups from the 3000s BC until the Bronze Age Collapse. Admixture signals seem to have decreased to insignificant levels after c. 1200 BC, after which Armenian DNA remained stable, which appears to have been caused by Armenians' isolation from their surroundings, and subsequently sustained by the cultural, linguistic and religious distinctiveness that persists until today.[17] The connection between the Mushki and Armenians is unclear as nothing is known of the Mushki language. Most modern scholars have rejected a direct linguistic relationship with Proto-Armenian if the Mushki were Thracians or Phrygians.[18][19][20][21] Additionally, recent findings in genetic research does not support significant admixture into the Armenian nation after 1200 BC, making the Mushki, if they indeed migrated from a Balkan or western Anatolian homeland during or after the Bronze Age Collapse, unlikely candidates for the Proto-Armenians.[22][23] However, as others have placed (at least the Eastern) Mushki homeland in the Armenian Highlands and South Caucasus region, it is possible that at least some of the Mushki were Armenian-speakers or speakers of a closely related language.[24] Some modern studies show that Armenian is as close to Indo-Iranian as it is to Greek and Phrygian.[25][18][19]

An alternate theory suggests that speakers of Proto-Armenian were tribes indigenous to the northern Armenian highlands, such as the Hayasans, Diauehi or Etiuni. Although these groups are only known from references left by neighboring peoples (such as Hittites, Urartians, and Assyrians), Armenian etymologies have been proposed for their names.[26] While the Urartian language was used by the royal elite, the population they ruled was likely multi-lingual, and some of these peoples would have spoken Armenian. This can be reconciled with the Phrygian/Mushki theory if those groups originally came from the Caucasus region or Armenian Highlands.[24]

See also


  1. ^ "Armenian language resources | Etymology of Armenian language".
  2. ^ Karl Brugmann, Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen (1897) Das Armenische (II), früher fälschlicherweise für iranisch ausgegeben, von H. Hübschmann KZ. 23, 5 ff. 400 ff. als ein selbständiges Glied der idg. Sprachfamilie erwiesen
  3. ^ Fortson, Benjamin W. 2004. Indo-European Language and Culture. Page 340-41.
  4. ^ Fortson, Benjamin W. 2004. Indo-European Language and Culture. Page 342, 402
  5. ^ Fortson, Benjamin W. 2004. Indo-European Language and Culture. Page 342.
  6. ^ a b Matasovic, Ranko (2009). A Grammatical Sketch Of Classical Armenian. Zagreb. pp. 10–15.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ Gamkrelidze, Tamaz V.; Ivanov, Vyacheslav (1995). Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and Proto-Culture. Part I: The Text. Part II: Bibliography, Indexes. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-081503-0.
  8. ^ a b Mallory, J. P.; Adams, Douglas Q. (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 30. ISBN 978-1884964985. OCLC 37931209. Armenian presence in their historical seats should then be sought at some time before c 600 BC; [...] Armenian phonology, for instance, appears to have been greatly affected by Urartian, which may suggest a long period of bilingualism.
  9. ^ a b Robert Drews. Militarism and the Indo-Europeanizing of Europe. Routledge. 2017. p. 228.|quote="The vernacular of the Great Kingdom of Biainili was quite certainly Armenian. The Armenian language was obviously the region's vernacular in the fifth century BC, when Persian commanders and Greek writers paired it with Phrygian. That it as brought into the region between the early sixth and the early fifth century BC, and that it immediately obliterated whatever else had been spoken there, can hardly be supposed; [...] Because Proto-Armenian speakers seem to have lived not far from Hurrian speakers our conclusion must be that the Armenian language of Mesrop Mashtots was descended from an Indo-European language that had been spoken in southern Caucasia in the Bronze Age."
  10. ^ a b Greppin, John A.C. and Igor Diakonoff Some Effects of the Hurro-Urartian People and Their Languages upon the Earliest Armenians, Oct–Dec 1991, pp. 727.[1]
  11. ^ (in Armenian) Katvalyan, M. and Karo Ghafadaryan. Ուրարտու [Urartu]. Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1986, vol. 12, pp. 276–283.
  12. ^ Samuelian, Thomas J. (2000). Armenian origins: an overview of ancient and modern sources and theories. Iravunq Pub. House.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Redgate, Anne Elizabeth (2000). The Armenians. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-631-22037-4., p. 50
  15. ^ Petrosyan, Armen. The Armenian Elements in the Language and Onomastics of Urartu. Aramazd: Armenian Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 2010. (
  16. ^ "Armenians" in Adams, Douglas Q. (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-884964-98-5.
  17. ^ Haber, Marc; Mezzavilla, Massimo; Xue, Yali; Comas, David; Gasparini, Paolo; Zalloua, Pierre; Tyler-Smith, Chris (2019-12-30). "Genetic evidence for an origin of the Armenians from Bronze Age mixing of multiple populations | European Journal of Human Genetics". European Journal of Human Genetics. 24 (6): 931–936. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2015.206. PMC 4820045. PMID 26486470. S2CID 3331584.
  18. ^ a b Vavroušek P. (2010). "Frýžština". Jazyky starého Orientu. Praha: Univerzita Karlova v Praze. p. 129. ISBN 978-80-7308-312-0.
  19. ^ a b J. P. Mallory, Douglas Q. Adams. (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. p. 419. ISBN 9781884964985.
  20. ^ Brixhe C. (2008). "Phrygian". The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 72.
  21. ^ Kim Ronald I. Greco-Armenian. The persistence of a myth // Indogermanische Forschungen. — 2018. — 123. Band. — S. 247–271.
  22. ^ Haber, Marc; Mezzavilla, Massimo; Xue, Yali; Comas, David; Gasparini, Paolo; Zalloua, Pierre; Tyler-Smith, Chris (2015). "Genetic evidence for an origin of the Armenians from Bronze Age mixing of multiple populations". European Journal of Human Genetics. 24 (6): 931–6. bioRxiv 10.1101/015396. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2015.206. PMC 4820045. PMID 26486470.
  23. ^ Wade, Nicholas (2015-03-10). "Date of Armenia's Birth, Given in 5th Century, Gains Credence". The New York Times.
  24. ^ a b The Mushki Problem Reconsidered
  25. ^ Clackson, James P.T. (2008). "Classical Armenian". The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 124.
  26. ^ Armen Petrosyan (January 1, 2007). The Problem Of Identification Of The Proto-Armenians: A Critical Review. Society For Armenian Studies. pp. 46, 49. Retrieved 23 November 2018.


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