Armenians are very proud of their language, and rightly so. There
may be ten different ways of expressing a single emotion or thought,
and the variety is mind boggling. It is said that Shakespeare
most perfectly translates into Armenian than any other language,
for the complexity of emotions and words he used can be most closely
imitated in Armenian.
Leaving the Bard to linguists, the words and phrases we include
are the most common ones used. The pronunciation of words for
this guide uses Eastern Armenian Dialect for pronunciation and
transliteration, specifically that used in and around Yerevan.
It varies considerably from Western Armenian, and uses certain
words and expressions used in the Republic. This dialect borrows
from Russian and French. It is not pure, it is not "literately
correct", but it is the lively, knock-about language used by the
local population, and you will be understood if you use it.
If you find a "Learn Armenian" lesson tape before you come to
Armenia, be sure it is Eastern Armenian dialect. Many are Western
dialect (that spoken by most of the Diaspora) and though the spelling
and grammar are virtually the same, the pronunciations are different.
It may be more frustrating for you when you mix your own native
dialect with that of Western Armenian, and then try and use the
hybrid in speaking Eastern Armenian.
Our Transliteration System
There is no perfect transliteration system for Armenian, and
this has been the source of much argument and debate both in and
out of Armenia. We have settled on a transliteration system that
borrows from the Library of Congress System, but diverges from
it as often as not, simply because we want to simplify the pronunciation
for the untrained ear.
In our system we don’t ask the tourist to learn an international
phonetic alphabet (thank goodness!), and we have made every attempt
to equate sounds with those in common usage in English speaking
countries. Since pronunciation of vowels and consonants are Yerevan
dialect, we are not consistent with strict spelling and grammar
in our English transliteration and pronunciation guide (It would
be rather like trying to teach someone to speak with a Texas drawl
by using exact English grammar: it ain’t gonna happen). The spelling
in Armenian font is correct.
We also include both formal and slang words whenever it will
be helpful. Purists are rolling in their naugahide seats, but
for the visitor, street usage and even a Russian word or two is
going to be better understood than being absolutely correct and
Sounds: Vowels: the letter ‘a’ is pronounced ‘ah’ or ‘aw’;
the letter ‘e’ is pronounced ‘eh’ or ‘yeh’; ‘o’ sounds exactly
as you say the letter; There is a sound ‘uh’, exactly as in English.
The sound ‘oo’ is like in the word ‘cool’; the letter ‘i’ always
sounds like ‘ee’.
There is a ‘vo’ sound, which is used mostly in the beginning
of words. Within the word, the letter ‘vo’ mostly sounds like
‘o’. Diphthongs are made by combining two letters, namely, ‘A’
is made by combining the Armenian ‘e’ and ‘i’ (sounds like the
‘a’ in ‘gate’); the sound ‘ay’ or ‘ai’ (as in "aye, aye, me-matey")
is made from combining the letters ‘a’ and ‘i’ (ah-ee; like in
the word ‘mine’); the sound ‘U’ as in ‘united’ is made from combining
the Armenian letters ‘ye’ and ‘oo’.
Consonants: The letter’s ‘g’ and ‘k’ are sometimes pronounced
with the opposite sound (i.e. ‘g’ sounds like ‘k’, and ‘k’ sounds
like ‘g’) The same is true of ‘d’ and ‘t’. The letter ‘r’ at the
end of words is aspirant, and ends like a prolonged ‘h’. Thus
we write it ‘rh’. If an ‘h’ is in the middle of a word, it is
usually pronounced, but not always (i.e. artasahmantsi
sounds like "art-a-sa-h’man-tsi"). If you say it fast, and lose
the ‘h’ sound, don’t fret: so do Armenians.
Other: Armenians can make what we would call a vowel sound
by putting two consonants together. For example, the ‘g’ and ‘t’
together make a sound like our ‘get’, only it is said more quickly.
Thus ‘gtnum em’ is pronounced "ket-NOOM em" (remember the
‘k’ and ‘g’ sound switch!). Another tongue twister is ‘b’ + trilled
‘r’ + ‘n’ for the word brnel pronounced "brrrr-NEL". ‘ts’
+ ‘n’ makes a "tsen" sound.
There are many examples of this, and we include them as they
occur in the pronunciation list below.
Gargling and Clearing your throat: Both ‘gh’ and ‘kh’
are guttural sounds. ‘kh’ is more forward on the back of the tongue,
like clearing phlegm. ‘gh’ is deep in down and has more of a gargling
sound to it. If you know German, ‘kh’ sounds like the ‘ch’ in
"Bach". If you know Arabic, you’ll understand ‘gh’.
Accent: Most words are accented on the last syllable.
In our system the accented syllable or word is written with upper
case letters (i.e., ba-REV dzez puts accent on ‘REV’)
Questions: As opposed to English, the upward inflection
on a question is not at the end of the sentence, it is on the
most active part of the active word. We accent the syllable that
should have the inflection in questions with upper case letters.
In Armenian script there is a ± symbol after the syllable
that has the inflection.
If all else fails, just speak slowly and distinctly. Armenians
are so thrilled when someone has tried to use their language,
they will make every effort to understand and help.
|ai, ay = "mine"
||gt = "get"
|oo, u = "cool"
||rh = "aspirant
|a = "father"
||br = trilled "brrrright"
|ee, i = "meet"
||r = soft ‘r’
|o = "pope"
||vo = "vote" (beginning
|eh, e = "eh, what?"
||vo = "note" (middle
|ye = "yet"
||U = "United"
The apostrophe mark ’ (as in "kh’n-TREM") is not a stop or pause.
It indicates two consonants together that are part of the same
syllable, and the most common sound between the letters is a quick
‘uh’ or ‘eh’.
Note: MS IE 4.0+ users,
to see the Armenian letters, you need to have
AM font installedin your font directory (START>SETTINGS>CONTROL
PANEL>FONTS>FILE>"install new font"). ALso,
you must select "User Defined" in the View>Encoding>
menu. for ech page--such be Microsoft.