As of today, Russian is still, by far, the best known foreign language among the Armenian population. English is gaining popularity in recent years. French and several other languages have also begun to be studied and used. Kurmanji is the largest minority language of Armenia spoken by the Yazidi minority. Other minority languages recognized by the Armenian government are Assyrian, Greek, and Russian.
Armenian is a major language used in education, administration and public life. Armenian belongs to an independent branch of the Indo-European language family and uses a unique 39-letter alphabet invented in the 5th century.
Because of political and historical reasons, Russian is the most common foreign language spoken by the majority of Armenians. English is the second and the fastest growing foreign language in Armenia.
Universities in Russian, English and French exist in the capital city of Armenia, Yerevan. Study courses are available in numerous languages in Armenian universities, most notably the Yerevan State Linguistic University.
|Armenian-Russian bilingualism in Soviet Armenia|
Russian is by far the most common foreign language in Armenia. Although its level of competence have significantly decreased since Armenia's independence in 1991, in 2010, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have reported that about 70% of Armenia's population has the ability to speak Russian. A 1999 study showed that about 40% of the population is fluent in Russian. Russian language television stations (four as of 2003) and newspapers are widely available in Armenia. A 2012 opinion poll showed that 94% of Armenians have basic knowledge of Russian, with 24% having advanced knowledge, 59% intermediate knowledge and 11% having beginner lever knowledge of the language.
The current Republic of Armenia, was annexed by the Russian Empire in the early 19th century. Since then Russian has been of high significance in the life and history of Armenia. Basically, from 1828 to 1918 and from 1921 to 1991 all official nomenclature was done in Russian, because it was the administrative language of those periods. In the early 20th century, it was estimated that only 3-4% of Armenians could read or speak Russian.
Rapid Russification started during the Soviet period, particularly after Stalin's coming to power in the mid-1930s, when Russian became lingua franca of the Soviet Union. Until 1990 the Russian language was widely applied alongside Armenian. In 1988, nearly 100,000 Armenian students within the republic attended Russian-language schools. Russian was the main language of academic research, although Armenia's constitution has recognized Armenian as the official language. By the 1980s over 90% of Armenia's administrative paperwork was conducted in Russian. A large number of Armenian intelligentsia members sent their children to Russian-language schools, which was considered to be harmful to the future of Armenian.
Since 1991 the situation changed radically, in concern of studying it at secondary and high school as a general subject. In practice, almost at all educational institutions the process of teaching was performed in Armenian, even at Russian departments of colleges and universities. Thus, the Russian language lost its statute of a second mother tongue and was classified as a foreign language. All these factors brought forth changes of the language functioning structure in real time conditions. The absolute number of students of the Russian language was significantly decreased.
The 2001 census revealed 29,563 people with Russian as their native language, from which 14,728 were ethnic Armenians. Many Armenian refugees from Baku and other cities of Azerbaijan only speak Russian.
According to the 2011 Armenian Census 23,484 people or 0.8% of Armenia's citizens spoke Russian as their first language, 11,859 of the speakers were Armenians, 10,472 speakers were Russians, and the other 1,153 were of other ethnicities. In addition to those who speak Russian as a first language, 1,591,246 people or 52.7% of Armenia's citizens speak Russian as a second language.
The popularity of English has been growing since Armenia's independence in 1991. From year to year, more people tend to learn the English language. In contrast to the last decades, the number of Armenian schools teaching English have grown gradually. English is still far behind Russian in terms of knowledge among Armenians. According to a 2012 poll, 40% of Armenians have basic knowledge of English with only 4% having advanced proficiency of English, 16% intermediate and 20% beginner level. However, English is more preferable for Armenians than Russian. 50% of Armenians think that English should be taught in public secondary schools compared to 44% preferring Russian.
The American University of Armenia, an affiliate of the University of California, was established in 1991 and offers instruction leading to a master's degree in eight fields of study and teaching English as a foreign language. By offering these programs in English, AUA strives to become accessible to qualified individuals from other countries in the region.
According to the 2011 Armenian Census 107,922 Armenian citizens or 3.6% of Armenia's population can speak English as a second language. 107,002 of the English-second language speakers are ethnic Armenians, the other 920 are of other ethnicities.
Other foreign languages common in Armenia include French, German, Italian, Spanish, Persian. Since 2008 Armenia is an associate member of the Francophonie and became its full member in October 2012. A university named Fondation Université Française en Arménie (French University in Armenia) was founded in 2000 according to the agreement between Armenian and French governments. With 600 students, the UFAR is the largest French university in a non-French speaking country.
According to the 2011 Armenian Census there are 10,106 people who speak French as a second language (10,056 of the speakers are ethnic Armenians), 6,342 people who speak German as a second language (6,210 of the speakers are ethnic Armenians), 4,396 speakers of Persian (4,352 of the speakers are ethnic Armenians), and 29,430 people speak other languages as a second language (25,899 of the speakers are ethnic Armenians). Many Armenians speak Azerbaijani as a second language, since the country welcomed 370,000 Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, including the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast during the Nagorno Karabakh War, which lasted from 1988-1994.
Yazidis are the largest minority in Armenia. According to the 2001 census 40,620 people identified themselves as Yazidis and 1,519 as Kurds. The same source showed 31,310 people with Kurdish as their native language.
According to the 2011 Armenian Census, there were 37,403 Kurds (35,272 Yezidis and 2,131 non-Yezidi Kurds) in Armenia. 33,509 of Armenia's citizens speak Yezidi Kurdish as a first language (31,479 reported Yezidi while 2,030 reported as Kurdish). 32,688 of the speakers were ethnic Kurds, while the other 821 Kurdish-language speakers were non-Kurds (777 were ethnic Armenians).
The 2001 census revealed 29,563 people with Russian as their native language, from which 12,905 were ethnic Russians.
According to the 2011 Armenian Census, there were 11,862 Russians in Armenia, 10,472 of them speak Russian as a first language, the other 1,390 Russians speak other languages as their first language (1,328 Russians speak Armenian as a first language). Other than ethnic Russians, 13,012 non-Russians speak Russian as a first language (11,859 of them are ethnic Armenians and the other 1,153 Russian speakers are of other ethnicities. In addition to those who speak Russian as a first language, 1,591,246 people or 52.7% of Armenia's citizens speak Russian as a second language
According to the 2011 Armenian Census there were 2,769 Assyrians in Armenia. There are 2,402 people who speak Assyrian Neo-Aramaic as a first language, 2,265 of the speakers are ethnic Assyrians, while the other 137 speakers are of other ethnicities (125 are ethnic Armenians).
According to the 2011 Armenian Census there are 1,176 Ukrainians in Armenia. There are 733 people who speak Ukrainian as a first language in Armenia, 606 of them are ethnic Ukrainians, the other 127 Ukrainian speakers are of other ethnicities (106 of them are ethnic Armenians).
According to the 2011 Armenian Census there are 900 Greeks in Armenia. In the 1970s the Greek community of Armenia numbered 6,000, but many emigrated to Greece, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Like other small communities, the Greeks of Armenia speak mostly Russian, though many especially of the older generation have the ability to speak Pontic Greek, a Greek dialect, native to the southern shore of the Black Sea (the Black Sea Region of modern-day Turkey). The 2011 Armenian Census did not cite the number of people who speak Greek as a first language, though it can be known that it is more than 733, because Ukrainian was the language with the least number of speakers reported.
The first language that was recorded to be spoken in the Armenian Highland is the Hurrian language, which was spoken in the Mitanni and parts of the Armenia from around 2300 BC and had mostly vanished by 1000 BC. The Urartian language followed and was spoken by the inhabitants of the ancient kingdom of Urartu that was located in the region of Lake Van, with its capital near the site of the modern city of Van in the Armenian Highland, modern-day Turkey. It is argued on linguistic evidence that proto-Armenian came in contact with Urartian at an early date (3rd-2nd millennium BC), before the formation of the Urartian kingdom. It was probably spoken by the majority of the population around Lake Van and in the areas along the upper Zab valley. First attested in the 9th century BCE, Urartian ceased to be written after the fall of the Urartian state in 585 BCE, and presumably it became extinct due to the fall of Urartu. Some speculate it have been replaced by an early form of Armenian, although it is only in the fifth century CE that the first written examples of Armenian appear.
Armenian was generally recognized as a separate branch of the Indo-European family, Armenia was considered to be part of the Persian language by western scholars until the 1870s when it was recognized as a separate Indo-European language. Greek and Syriac were the languages of the Armenian Apostolic Church from the day of its creation (301 AD) to 405 AD, when Mesrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet.
According to the 1897 Russian census top languages spoken in the Erivan Governorate, roughly corresponding to the current territory of Armenia, were Armenian (441,000), Turkic (referred to as Tatar prior to 1918; 313,176), Kurdish (49,389), Russian (13,173), Assyrian (2,865), Ukrainian (2,682), Polish (1,385), Greek (1,323), Jewish (not specified, mostly Yiddish; 850), Tat (709), Georgian (566).
Undoubtedly, a knowledge of Russian is advantageous to the Armenians, yet after 75 years, it is estimated that only three or four per cent, of them read or speak Russian.
Even for now, however, it seems difficult to deny that the Armenians had contact, at an early date, with a Hurro-Urartian people.