Proto-Armenian language

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History of the Armenian language
Armenian alphabet
Romanization of Armenian

Proto-Armenian is an earlier, unattested stage of the Armenian language that 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 earlier stages. Instead, a combination of internal reconstruction and external reconstruction, through reconstructions of Proto-Indo-European and other branches, has allowed linguists to piece together the earlier history of Armenian.


Because Proto-Armenian is not the common ancestor of several related languages, but of just a single language, there is no clear definition of the term. It is generally held to include a variety of ancestral stages of Armenian between the times of Proto-Indo-European up to the earliest attestations of Old Armenian. Thus, it is not a Proto-language in the strict sense, although the term "Proto-Armenian" has become common in the field regardless.

The earliest testimony of Armenian dates to the 5th century AD (the Bible translation of Mesrob 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 Hurro-Urartian, Greek and Indo-Iranian.


The Proto-Armenian sound changes are varied and eccentric (such as *dw- yielding erk-), and in many cases uncertain. For this reason, Armenian was not immediately recognized as an Indo-European branch in its own right, and was assumed to be simply a very eccentric member of the Iranian languages before Johann Heinrich Hübschmann established its independent character in an 1874 publication.[1]

Proto-Indo-European voiceless stops are aspirated in Proto-Armenian, a circumstance that gave rise to an extended version of the Glottalic theory, which postulates that this aspiration may have been sub-phonematic already in PIE. In certain contexts, these aspirated stops are further reduced to w, h or zero in Armenian, e.g. PIE (acc.) *pódm̥ "foot" > Armenian otn vs. Greek (acc.) póda, PIE tréjes "three" > Armenian erekʿ vs. Greek treis.

Diakonoff (1985) and Greppin (1991) etymologize several Old Armenian words as having a possible Hurro-Urartian origin:

  • agarak "field" from Hurrian awari "field";
  • ałaxin "slave girl" from Hurrian al(l)a(e)ḫḫenne;
  • arciw "eagle" from Urartian Arṣiba, a proper name with a presumed meaning of "eagle";
  • art "field" from Hurrian arde "town" (rejected by Diakonoff and Fournet);
  • astem "to reveal one's ancestry" ad Hurrian ašti "woman, wife";
  • caṙ "tree" from Urartian ṣârə "garden";
  • cov "sea" from Urartian ṣûǝ "(inland) sea";
  • kut "grain" from Hurrian kade "barley" (rejected by Diakonoff; closer to Greek kodomeýs "barley-roaster");
  • maxr ~ marx "pine" from Hurrian māḫri "fir, juniper";
  • salor ~ šlor "plum" from Hurrian *s̄all-orə or Urartian *šaluri (cf. Akkadian šallūru "plum");
  • san "kettle" from Urartian sane "kettle, pot";
  • sur "sword", from Urartian šure "sword", Hurrian šawri "weapon, spear" (considered doubtful by Diakonoff);
  • tarma-ǰur "spring water" from Hurrian tarman(l)i "spring";
  • ułt "camel" from Hurrian uḷtu "camel";
  • xarxarel "to destroy" from Urartian harhar-š- "to destroy";
  • xnjor "apple" from Hurrian ḫinzuri "apple" (itself from Akkadian hašhūru, šahšūru);
  • pełem "dig, excavate" from Urartian pile "canal", Hurrian pilli (rejected by Diakonoff).

Arnaud Fournet proposes additional borrowed words. [3]


  1. 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
  2. “Armenians” in Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture or EIEC, edited by J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, published in 1997 by Fitzroy Dearborn.
  3. Archív Orientalni. 2013. About the vocalic system of Armenian words of substratic origin. (81.2:207–22) by Arnaud Fournet

See also


  • William M. Austin, Is Armenian an Anatolian Language?, Language, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan., 1942), pp. 22-25
  • Charles R. Barton, The Etymology of Armenian ert’am, Language 39, No. 4 (Oct., 1963), p. 620
  • G. Bonfante, The Armenian Aorist, Journal of the American Oriental Society 62, No. 2 (Jun., 1942), pp. 102-105
  • I. M. Diakonoff - First evidence of the Proto-Armenian language in Eastern Anatolia, Annual of Armenian linguistics 13, 51-54, Cleveland State University, 1992.
  • I. M. Diakonoff, Hurro-Urartian Borrowings in Old Armenian, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 105, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), pp. 597-603
  • John A. C. Greppin; I. M. Diakonoff, Some Effects of the Hurro-Urartian People and Their Languages upon the Earliest Armenians, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 111, No. 4 (Oct., 1991), pp. 720-730
  • A. Meillet, Esquisse d'une grammaire comparée de l'arménien classique, Vienna (1936)
  • Robert Minshall, 'Initial' Indo-European */y/ in Armenian, Language 31, No. 4 (Oct., 1955), pp. 499–503
  • J. Alexander Kerns; Benjamin Schwartz, On the Placing of Armenian, Language 18, No. 3 (Jul., 1942), pp. 226–228
  • K. H. Schmidt, The Indo-European Basis of Proto-Armenian : Principles of Reconstruction, Annual of Armenian linguistics, Cleveland State University, 11, 33-47, 1990.
  • Werner Winter, Problems of Armenian Phonology I, Language 30, No. 2 (Apr., 1954), pp. 197–201
  • Werner Winter, Problems of Armenian Phonology II, Language 31, No. 1 (Jan., 1955), pp. 4–8
  • Werner Winter Problems of Armenian Phonology III, Language 38, No. 3, Part 1 (Jul., 1962), pp. 254–262
  • Hrachia Acharian. Etymological root dictionary of the Armenian language. Vol. I – IV. Yerevan State University, Yerevan, 1971 – 1979.
  • John A. C. Greppin and I. M. Diakonoff, Some Effects of the Hurro-Urartian People and Their Languages upon the Earliest Armenians Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 111, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1991), pp. 720–730.

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