Proto-Armenian is the earlier, unattested stage of the Armenian 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 its earlier stages. Instead, a combination of internal and external reconstruction, by reconstructions of Proto-Indo-European and other branches, has allowed linguists to piece together the earlier history of Armenian.
Proto-Armenian, as the common ancestor of only one language, has no clear definition of the term. It is generally held to include a variety of ancestral stages of Armenian between Proto-Indo-European and the earliest attestations of Classical Armenian.
The earliest testimony of Armenian is the 5th-century 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.
The Proto-Armenian sound changes are varied and eccentric (such as *dw- yielding erk-) and, in many cases, uncertain. That prevented Armenian from being immediately recognized as an Indo-European branch in its own right, and it was assumed to be simply a very divergent Iranian language until Heinrich Hübschmann established its independent character in 1874.
The Proto-Indo-European voiceless stops are aspirated in Proto-Armenian. That gave rise to an extended version of the glottalic theory that the aspiration may have already been subphonemic in Proto-Indo-European.
In certain contexts, the aspirated stops are further reduced to w, h or zero in Armenian: Proto-Indo-European (accusative) *pódm̥ "foot" > Armenian otn vs. Greek (accusative) póda, Proto-Indo-European 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.
Diakonoff (1985) and Greppin (1991) etymologize several Old Armenian words as having a possible Hurro-Urartian origin:
- agarak "field" from Hurrian awari "field";
- ałaxin "slave girl" from Hurrian al(l)a(e)ḫḫenne;
- arciw "eagle" from Urartian Arṣiba, a proper name with a presumed meaning of "eagle";
- art "field" from Hurrian arde "town" (rejected by Diakonoff and Fournet);
- astem "to reveal one's ancestry" from Hurrian ašti "woman, wife";
- caṙ "tree" from Urartian ṣârə "garden";
- cov "sea" from Urartian ṣûǝ "(inland) sea";
- kut "grain" from Hurrian kade "barley" (rejected by Diakonoff; closer to Greek kodomeýs "barley-roaster");
- maxr ~ marx "pine" from Hurrian māḫri "fir, juniper";
- pełem "dig, excavate" from Urartian pile "canal", Hurrian pilli (rejected by Diakonoff);
- salor ~ šlor "plum" from Hurrian *s̄all-orə or Urartian *šaluri (cf. Akkadian šallūru "plum");
- san "kettle" from Urartian sane "kettle, pot";
- sur "sword", from Urartian šure "sword", Hurrian šawri "weapon, spear" (considered doubtful by Diakonoff);
- tarma-ǰur "spring water" from Hurrian tarman(l)i "spring";
- ułt "camel" from Hurrian uḷtu "camel";
- xarxarel "to destroy" from Urartian harhar-š- "to destroy";
- xnjor "apple" from Hurrian ḫinzuri "apple" (itself from Akkadian hašhūru, šahšūru).
Arnaud Fournet proposes additional borrowed words.
- 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
- “Armenians” in Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, edited by J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
- Archív Orientalni. 2013. About the vocalic system of Armenian words of substratic origin. (81.2:207–22) by Arnaud Fournet
- Adjarian, Hrachia. Etymological root dictionary of the Armenian language, vol. I–IV. Yerevan State University, Yerevan, 1971 – 1979.
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- 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.
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- 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