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 Origin of the Indo-European languages: Part VI

Armenian and Hellenic groups


Hi, Andrés Muni again. The following document has plenty of names: names of languages, regions, countries, etc. I have attempted to translate all those names into English properly to a certain extent, but since my knowledge of English language is limited, I maybe made some mistakes. Besides, some of them are in Spanish, because I do not know their respective translation.

If you note some errors or know a translation for a certain word, please e-mail me in order to correct the mistake or translate the word. I have marked with an asterisk the words with a problematical translation.

In this document, we will go deeper into the development of Armenian and Hellenic languages. Well, let us get down to work.


 Armenian group

The Armenian group is situated in a mountainous area which is bounded by (1) Mesopotamia, (2) the meridional Caucasian valleys and (3) the southeastern coast of Black Sea. This language arrived in the region known as Armenia about the seventh century A.D. The most ancient handwriting in Armenian language is a translation of the gospels written in the ninth century A.D. According to the tradition, the Armenian language was created at the beginning of the seventh century A.D. by a cleric, whose name was Mashtots (or Mastoc), in order to make the translations of the Sacred Scriptures easier and make Armenia completely independent from Greek and Syrian Churches.

The Armenian alphabet consists of 36 characters (signs partly based upon Greek characters) which are a masterpiece as far as phonetic accuracy is concerned. The ancient Armenian is the language by which the Holy Bible was firstly translated in Armenia. It is the classical language (called "grabar" in Armenian) and is based on a dialect that is spoken in the Taron region, on the shores of lake Van. During the Middle Ages, an abundant historical and theological literature written in ancient Armenian language was developed. Currently, it is spoken in Armenian territory, Azerbaijan, Turkey and some regions of Iran, as well as in Verdana, Russian regions of the Don river, ancient Minor Asia (Alexandretta and Smyrna), Bulgaria, Egypt and USA

The modern Armenian language can be divided into two groups: (1) Western (or Armenian from Turkey): it comprises the languages from Erzurum, Mush (or Muş), Van, Diyarbekir, Akn (currently called Kemaliye) and Sivas. (2) Eastern (or Armenian from Russia): it comprises the languages from Yerevan, Tbilisi and Karabakh (or Nagorno-Karabakh), and also those of the western coast of Caspian Sea.

There are no documents about the Armenian language before the fifth century A.D. There was a strong Iranian influence on the vocabulary, because Armenia was dominated by a Parthian aristocracy since 66 to 387 A.D. When the comparative grammar of the Indo-European languages was carried out, it was thought that the Armenian language should be added to the Iranian group. However, the German linguist whose name was H. Hübschmann showed that the Armenian group was independent from the other ones. There is no neighboring group having a close relationship to the Armenian one as there is between the Baltic and the Slavic groups or between the Latin and Celtic ones. In other words, the Armenian language is isolated in the Indo-European family. Maybe this isolation would come to an end if the languages pertaining to two peoples were to be known a little better. Those two peoples had settled down in the north of the Hellenic civilization and their names were: (1) Thracian-Phrygian and (2) Macedonian. Unfortunately, only rare linguistic documents (glosses and proper nouns in Thracian and Phrygian languages respectively) have survived to this day. Nonetheless, it is an Indo-European language, no doubt about it. The Macedonian language is not known in depth yet. Certain linguists tend to see in it a particular form (and quite divergent indeed) of the Hellenic group. By the way, let us study the Hellenic group now.


 Hellenic group

This group is generally known as "Greek group". The regions comprehended by the present group were inhabited by peoples belonging to a unknown race that spoke a likewise unknown language. Unfortunately, only the names of these peoples could be kept: Pelasgians, Leleges, Dryopes (or Dryopians) and Carians. The Pelasgian language was still spoken during the 5th century A.D. along the coast of Thrace, to the south of Propontis (current sea of Marmara) and in such islands as Imbros and Lemnos.

The substratum over which the Greek language spread was really diverse. That is why its grammatical structure and vocabulary contain so many innovations. The most ancient Greek inscriptions were found at Abu Simbel (Egypt) and narrate the expedition of Psamtik the Second, king of Egypt during the war against Ethiopia in 591 BC. Since the fifth century BC on, the amount of Greek inscriptions increased and extended throughout the entire Hellenic world. They are valuable testimonies in order to trace the history of the Greek language. At the time of the oldest documents, the Greek language appears in the form of different dialects. Thus, a delicate problem of dialectal distribution, which does not admit an exact solution, is posed.

The manner in which the Greek dialects were formed and spread results from historical facts that determined the way in which the towns and cities grouped themselves and had influence on one another. The migrations, consisting of clearly different groups, not only were successive but they occurred at regular intervals. So, there is in the Hellenic civilization a big mess of dialects and practically there is no "pure" dialect. The purest ones are to be found in regions through which the principal immigratory routes did not run (e.g. the Arcadian dialect spoken in the Peloponnesus, or the Lesbian dialect spoken in certain islands). However, the dialects pertaining to ancient Greece can be divided into four major groups:

a) Ionic-Attic: This is the most important group from the literary viewpoint. The Ionian region was the first one which developed a flourishing civilization in the Hellenic world. Since the seventh century BC, the Ionic language was, in Asia Minor, a literary one. The Attic dialect, spoken in Athens, brought about, during the fifth and fourth centuries BC, a wonderful literature whose light even today keeps shining over the entire civilized world.

b) Achaean: Only three dialects derived from it (Arcadian, Cypriot and Pamphylian) have survived.

c) Aeolic or northeastern dialect: It comprises three major dialects known as Thessalian, Boeotian and Lesbian. The Lesbian dialect was very important in the seventh and sixth centuries BC as a literary language.

d) Doric or western dialect: It comprises a great deal of local dialects which are very different from each other. For example: the dialects of Corinth, Megara, Laconia, Messenia, Crete and Sicily.

Some other dialects of northwestern Greece might also be added to Doric group. For instance: Phocian (of Delphi), Locrian, Acarnanian and Elean (of Olympia) dialects, which were spoken in the Peloponnesus.

However, all those various dialects constituting the ancient Greek language did not survive. From the fourth century BC, all of them were summarized into the common Hellenic language (he koiné dialektós -- that is, the "Koiné" dialect), whose background is the Attic dialect. The modern Greek language has arisen from the Koiné and contains nowadays many local dialects because the original unity of the Koiné was in turn broken up. The most ancient document in modern Greek language is to be found in the New Testament. But it is difficult to exactly trace the development of this spoken language.

The Byzantine Greek language is simply an artificial imitation of the classic Greek language. For years the Christian Church kept it a puristic language (katharévusa) as close as possible to the ancient Koiné and very different from the spoken Greek language (Romaic). At present, the Greek language is widely spoken in --apart from the continental Greece-- the islands of Ionian and Aegean Seas, the ancient coast of Asia Minor and around Smyrna... and even up to Cappadocia (Caesarea). It is also spoken along the coast of the Black Sea, in the south of Italy, in Corsica and Egypt.

In the ancient times, to the northwest of the Balkans there was the Illyrian group, which also comprised other two groups: Venetian and (in the south of Italy) Messapian. Although it is not sure that the Albanian language was derived from the ancient Illyrian language or any other one of that group, its geographical position urges us to place it there. Of the Indo-European dialects, the Albanian one was belatedly recognized indeed. This language consists of two main dialects, whose limit of influence is marked by the course of river Shkumbin. To the north, we find the Gheg dialect, which is spoken by the Malisors (or Malësors) and Mirditas. To the south, we find the Tosk dialect (spoken in regions of Calabria). In Greece, there were also Albanian settlements that did leave traces, specially in the ancient Greek city of Attic (Eleusis).


 Concluding remarks

I apologize again for the inevitable mistakes in translating some rare terms into English. I invite you once again to e-mail me if you detected an error and really know how to correct it. Still, it has been a short but interesting document with some information about two important linguistic groups. The Hellenic group, specially, has had a tremendous influence on western civilization. Hence its study is extremely important for you to understand many things about the present western culture.

Next document will deal with the Sumerian civilization. I hope my task bring bliss and enlightenment to your life. Best wishes.


 Further Information

Andrés Muni

This document was conceived by Andrés Muni, one of the two founders of this site, and conversant with linguistics.

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