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Home > Language
   
Pronunciation

 

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 dont 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 aint 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 unintelligible.

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 letters 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-hman-tsi"). If you say it fast, and lose the h sound, dont 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, youll 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.

Crip Sheet:

ai, ay = "mine" gt = "get"
oo, u = "cool" rh = "aspirant ending"
a = "father" br = trilled "brrrright"
ee, i = "meet" r = soft r
o = "pope" vo = "vote" (beginning of word)
eh, e = "eh, what?" vo = "note" (middle of word)
ye = "yet" U = "United"

The apostrophe mark (as in "khn-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 ARIAL 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.


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