Language vs. Spirit

Garen Yegparian
Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

BY GAREN YEGPARIAN

The last few years have seen a resurgence of attention paid to the importance of Armenian, its use and continued viability, especially in the Diaspora and with a bit more emphasis on the Western branch of the language.

As with all matters, as solutions and ways forward are sought, not all ideas presented prove workable, nor all perspectives appropriate to the task at hand. I encountered one such worrisome conception in a recent article (written in Armenian). Here. Let my affirm my awareness of the irony of addressing issues regarding the Armenian language in English. In this case it is perhaps doubly, (or perhaps inversely?) ironic, as you’ll see.

Let me also affirm that I am an emphatic supporter of the maximal use of Armenian possible in our Diaspora’s life, a difficult, yet achievable goal. In fact, many of those in my circle of friends and acquaintances would probably describe me as a pain-in-the-tush when it comes to insisting on, encouraging, or promoting use of Armenian in our daily, at least social, interactions. I really frown on the disuse and incomplete use of Armenian by those who are perfectly competent in the language. You’ll see why this is relevant and important to state.

Among the many good ideas presented and appropriate concerns addressed in the article, was one very destructive one. To boot, the sense I got was that the author treated the matter mockingly and scornfully. The oppositional placement of Armenian language and Armenian spirit is what so worries me. The author harks back to a time, some three decades ago when this issue was hotter. Some argued that it was more important to have Armenians in spirit than by language.

But, the problem lies in the very formulation of this question. It’s an example of the clichéd apples to oranges comparison. Language is one component of culture, along with architecture, art, dance, folklore, food, history, music, poetry, prose, religion (in some cases), sculpture, song, etc. Spirit is something that simultaneously undergirds and is supported by the preceding list.

Plus, language, unlike most of the other items in the list, requires a form of use that is intense, requires regularity, and most of all, MUST HAVE A REASON OR UTILITY. Enjoying a French dish, or gaping at Egyptian architecture, honoring Persian monotheism, worshipping the Hebrews’ god, getting titillated by Indian sexual texts, or (make up your own example) does not require everyday use. Language does. If you don’t need it for work, play, or some other reason, you won’t use a particular language, it’s just too difficult. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it proposition.

What is that reason, that motivation, in the case of Armenian? In Armenia, it is clearly the practical consideration that it is the language of the land, and pretty much everything is done in Armenian (though the ruinous effect of Russian, courtesy of seven Soviet decades, is frighteningly apparent in daily speech). Obviously, scholarly work in the field of Armenian studies also requires use of the language. Yet, what is to support Armenian, make it necessary, useful, in the Diaspora? In some large communities where a concentrated Armenian ghetto exists, the practical consideration comes into play, much like in the homeland. But that is not situation in which the preponderance of Disaporan Armenians live. So, why should a fifteen-year-old bother with the language? It’s not needed for school, work, play, or any other major component of life, except perhaps to communicate with older generations – and that is obviously time-limited. So what’s the motivation to use, and even more so, use WELL, the language of our nation for such a teenager, or two decades later the same person as a parent with her/his own children?

SPIRIT! Armenian spirit. Once that human being is inspired by and engaged with the life of our nation in whatever way, then s/he has a REASON to speak and use, maximally, our language. That’s how we will perpetuate Armenian in the Diaspora, not in any other way. I am the best example of this process that I know of. Had I not become engaged, hooked, inspired – somehow had the fire of my Armenian spirit ignited – I never would have bothered to strengthen my Armenian language skills. I would have seen no REASON to do so.

To argue that language is so important because of its (inarguable) ability to connect members of a nation that it must be the starting point to identity and engagement in the nation is to drive a wedge between those who don’t know/speak Armenian (often through no fault of their own) and those who do. That approach could push (and has in the past) a mass of otherwise potentially excited, engaged, and heartfelt Armenians away from our communities and our nation.

Let’s not debase one of the most important aspects of our national existence by needlessly turning it into a bone of contention, a target of people’s antipathy. Rather, let’s do everything we can, with all the tools available to us to expand, maintain, and restore (as relevant to each person’s and community’s case) use of our Armenian language.

Americana/Caruso Update
It worked. The billionaire bully Rick Caruso and his mixed use project’s (Americana) management agreed to allow advertising for the movie “Architects of Denial”—something they had rejected just two weeks ago. That inspired articles, the beginnings of a boycott, some two dozen speakers calling for action by the Glendale City Council at its latest meeting, and expressions of solidarity and support by our elected officials. One person reported on Facebook going to the Americana specifically to observe and reported seeing no Armenians. The cynic in me says that’s the reason why on the morning of Thursday August 17th, the Glendale ANCA was informed of the change in course regarding advertising for the film by the Americana, with additional promises of cooperation made. Thus, the press conference called for that morning by the Glendale ANCA became more of a happy event. However, I don’t trust these types of operations and the Americana should be watched as by a hawk for the foreseeable future.

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5 Comments

  1. State of Emergency said:

    I believe some Armenians avoid speaking Armenian because they’re self conscious of their dialect and incorrect use of certain words. They feel it reflects on their background and status in society. Speaking English, Russian, or any other language masks everything.

  2. Edward Demiraiakian said:

    You diplomatically skirted the problem of Eastern Armenian, and its dire straits. It os so Russified, that even those of us that speak ,read and write Western Armenian cannot but get an approximate sense of its meaning. Western Armenians, do not know Russian, and after the Genocyde, the general consensus, was to avoid using Turkish words. Ie. Avanag instead of esheg, or hayvan instead of anasoon, or herades intead of televizor, or shokegark onstead of train, etc. We succeeded to a great degree, but we come to a place where we, Western Armenians are powerless. And I mean the gramatical changes whereby Armenia deviated from Barskahay Alfabet. It is so pervasive, that when some Eastern Armenians write in English, they invert the G and the K’s, the B and the T, etc. One has to guess at the context. Alltogether, it makes nearly ompossible to understand.
    A few days ago, I was watching a history video in Eastern Armenian, Great subject, great presentation, great photography. You could tell it was a great video. So I blogged, rather insensitively that what was the point in that work, when only a narrow number of people “in your village” understand the dialect. I upset someone who admonished me that the narrator was a graduate of the highest schools in Armenia. I agree, but of what use, if no one understands?
    Also, the language translation programs, translate from one language to another. They don’t work when one language is pepperred with non Armenian words. Just sayan…..

  3. Arthur said:

    I agree with you and speaking Armenian. The day the diaspora forgets how to speak Armenian is the day we lose as Armenians. I this happening in my lifetime (im 31) in about thirty years or so. More and more diasporans are not speaking Armenian because its easier to communicate with their countrys language and are more exposed to it.

    What helps me in not forgeting how to read in Armenian is the fact that I follow IG accounts from Armenia who write using the Armenian Alphabet. This helps me to read and remember how to read. I read better and faster English then I do Armenian. But I am putting in the work to speak and read Armenian as much as I can, and its working, because of my SPIRIT and love for being who I am!

    P.S. – we need to talk more about ALL diasporans moving back to Armenia one day! Just imagine for a moment if 7-8 million diasporan Armenians move back to Armenia with whatever money we get by selling all of our assets; we would turn Armenia into Gold! A stronger and smarter country!

  4. Edward Demiraiakian said:

    There are many who are able to start the trend. Mostly the retirees, who have a steady income, and not dependent on finding work. A robust Gerriatric care medical system would do much for the economy and the general health of the population. The IT industry is great, but the health care, dental care industry would be very beneficial.

  5. Norig B Karakashian said:

    We need to unite both dialects. Eastern Armenian is closer to Classical Armenian in many ways, so that would form the majority of the foundation; it shouldn’t be too difficult for our compatriots in Armenia to adapt. Nevertheless, Western Armenian has some usage and many grammatical standards that are essential in keeping us connected with our past.

    If the diaspora can’t communicate with the homeland, we’ll be moribund. And our nation certainly can’t afford to have more emigrants from the Republic of Armenia to come and fill the language gap here in the US.

    P.S. I’m a speaker of Western Armenian who has an interest in both dialects.

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