By: Janet Shamilian
The legacy of the Armenian language is consisted of 36 letters that together form the beautiful identity of the Armenian culture. The process of studying and ultimately mastering the Armenian language accurately reflects the Armenian people: a great deal of patience is required in learning the words. Similarly, patience is a fundamental characteristic of my people. After all, we have been waiting over 97 years for justice… As with any other language, these letters form words, which arrange sentences, later transforming into powerful thoughts, which create ideas, and ultimately metamorphose into actions. This sequential build up echoes the struggles my people have gone through – picking the pieces after tragedies in order to recreate the bigger picture for future generations. The Armenian language is deep, personal, and oh so beautiful…
American society has often been described as a melting pot. While this promotes diversity, it also creates competition between assimilation and identification. These two are in fact almost antithetic. The first and most powerful element necessary for assimilation is the rapid riddance of language. Let us just continue speaking English and consequently forget our native tongue. Would anyone want to lose our cultural makeup? Surely not. However, inevitably, without any realization, we are undermining our native tongue and dissolving the core identifier of our culture. To demonstrate this, just think of the many times we have heard our grandparents disappointedly affirm, «Հայերեն խոսացեք»։ (Hayeren khosek). Almost immediately, we speak Armenian so as to avoid further criticism, uttering a few words in the language… The most worrisome component of this process is that we do not even realize that after a few brief seconds (after our grandparents are out of earshot) we are back in our comfort zone – speaking English. We have difficulties speaking a sentence of Armenian without using an English word to substitute a word we cannot translate. If we continue regressing in such an expeditious manner, speaking Armenian in the future will be anomalous.
Furthermore, the distinction between dialects in our culture creates a great divide among us. Why are we defined by our different dialects rather than our մշակույթ (culture)? Why do we need to be classified as a hayastanci, beirutsi, or parskahye? By identifying with a dialect rather than our culture, we breach what is most sacred to us – we create a void that no language can fill. We should not allow different pronunciations to dictate what ‘kind’ of an Armenian we are. We are just that – Armenian. Nothing western or eastern in that.
Luckily, there seems to be a remedy to the aforementioned problems. Let us challenge ourselves and start somewhere – by reading Armenian children’s books to familiarize ourselves with the 36 letters, by speaking in Armenian, by thinking in Armenian, by examining our written masterpieces, by viewing our beautiful art, and by learning our history. These explorations will keep us mindful of the fact that our Armenian language is and should be irreplaceable . Lastly, to truly embrace our culture, the next time someone tries to isolate you by asking what dialect of Armenian you speak, remember that your dialect does not define you. ԱԲԳ defines you.