One Influence? Multiple Influences? Or None?

This week I get to play linguist. Of Armenian, no less, while writing in English, an irony not lost on a friend who actually reads this stuff. My concern this time is about other languages’ influence on Armenian usage and vocabulary. This is most obvious in the idioms people translate directly. In Armenia we have the "havakel"–gather–of phone numbers borrowed from Russian. In the English-speaking world we have the "tnel"–put–of clothes (that’s what’s left when you’ve got a language that’s not as wont to use pronouns). These and others sound as ridiculous to the Armenian ear as "j’ai faim"–I have hunger–does when directly translated from French to English. This creeping influence is quite insidious. I first noticed it 23 years ago when visiting Greece and was among Armenia’s my own age–20-somethings. I was thrilled at the extent to which my co-generationists spoke Armenian relative to what I was accustomed to in the U.S. But something was off. Their speech was fluent Armenian, but some phrases sounded weird. It took a while to realize what was going on. They had so internalized Greek idioms and usage that it was a natural part of their speech. Another aspect is vocabulary. As new words enter the world’s lexicon, usually, though not always, through the scientific/technical realm and consequently through European and Greco-Latin based languages, we face a dilemma: Use those terms outright or develop our own? If we use the terms, should they come to us as already modified through Russian or directly? If we create our own, should the mindset be the already-Russian-influenced usage in Armenia, elsewhere, or through some cooperative effort of Homeland and Diaspora? Why does all this matter? Because to shape language is to shape thought. Part of the uniqueness of nations is each one’s mode of thought as embodied in its language. To lose this would be a significant loss to our culture. As it is, Western Armenian is in deep trouble. The choices posited in the title reduce to only two, realistically. It’s impossible in today’s world to have no influences on our language. But to have only one influence, in this case Russian by virtue of its role in the life of the current two Armenian republics, is to become Russified, albeit slowly. But how are we to manage multiple influences? Some forum, likely web-based will have to be created. As we converse, we’ll hear things that sound weird to us in the Armenian speech of compatriots under the influence of a different language. These observations along with new concepts and things needing words as labels could be posted and then discussed for adoption or rejection. It would actually be fun and democratic in ways that the web enables. It’s time to start paying attention to our language again. It’s precious and should not be allowed to fall by the wayside.

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