Monday, June 27, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Armenia

Last week we checked out the linguistic landscape of Panama, which is home to languages like Spanish, Ngäbere, and Emberá. This week, we're going to learn a bit about the languages spoken in Armenia, a small country bordering Turkey.

The Official Language

Lake Sevan, the largest body of water in Armenia.
Armenia's one and only official language is Armenian, a fascinating language that is an independent branch of the Indo-European language family. It is also unique because it has its very own writing system, the Armenian alphabet, which was developed back in the 400s.

Over 2.9 million Armenians speak Armenian as their native language, which equals the vast majority of the country's population. While Russian was once the country's dominant language due to its membership in the Soviet Union, over the past few decades, Armenian has come to be the most widely used language in terms of education, business, and government. However, Russian still remains important as a foreign language, with most Armenians having some knowledge of the language.

Other Languages

The Ethnologue lists five more native languages that are used in Armenia: Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Erzya, and Lomavren. Azerbaijani, a Turkic language spoken in neighboring Azerbaijan, is the native language of approximately 161,000 Armenians. Another prominent language is Kurdish, which is spoken by about 45,000 people in Armenia, primarily members of the Yazidi ethnic group.

Armenia is also home to approximately 3,500 native speakers of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic. It is a variety of Aramaic, which served as an important lingua franca in the Middle East at various points throughout history. There are also approximately 500 native speakers of Erzya, a Uralic language that is primarily spoken in Russia.

Finally, there are about 50 remaining native speakers of Lomavren, which is used by the Lom ethnic group. It is actually a mixed language, combining aspects of Armenian and Romani.