Proto-Armenian language

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 Classical 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 fifth century (the 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 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 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 subphonemic 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.

The Armenians according to Diakonoff, are then an amalgam of the Hurrians (and Urartians), Luvians and the Mushki. After arriving in its historical territory, Proto-Armenian would appear to have undergone massive influence on part 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.[2]

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

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


  • Adjarian, Hrachia. Etymological root dictionary of the Armenian language, vol. I–IV. Yerevan State University, Yerevan, 1971 – 1979.
  • Austin, William M. (January 1942). "Is Armenian an Anatolian Language?". Language. 18 (1): 22. doi:10.2307/409074. 
  • Barton, Charles R. (October 1963). "The Etymology of Armenian ert'am". Language. 39 (4): 620. doi:10.2307/411956. 
  • Bonfante, G. (June 1942). "The Armenian Aorist". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 62 (2): 102. doi:10.2307/594462. 
  • Diakonoff, Igor (1992). "First evidence of the Proto-Armenian language in Eastern Anatolia". Annual of Armenian linguistics. 13: 51–54. 
  • Diakonoff, I. M. (October 1985). "Hurro-Urartian Borrowings in Old Armenian". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 105 (4): 597. doi:10.2307/602722. 
  • Greppin, John A. C.; Diakonoff, I. M. (October 1991). "Some Effects of the Hurro-Urartian People and Their Languages upon the Earliest Armenians". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 111 (4): 720. doi:10.2307/603403. 
  • Meillet, Antoine (1903). Esquisse d'une grammaire comparée de l'arménien classique. Impr. des PP. mékhitharistes. 
  • Minshall, Robert (October 1955). "'Initial' Indo-European */y/ in Armenian". Language. 31 (4): 499. doi:10.2307/411362. 
  • Kerns, J. Alexander; Schwartz, Benjamin I. (July 1942). "On the Placing of Armenian". Language. 18 (3): 226–228. doi:10.2307/409558. 
  • 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
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