When a language creates--as it does--a community within the present,
it does so only by courtesy of a community between the present and the past.
Christopher Ricks


The core element of the vocabulary of a language is the root words. Hratchia Adjarian’s etymological dictionary of Armenian reveals the following:

- Indo-European origin: 964*
- Loan words: 4015**
- Etymologically undetermined origin: 3680
- Etymologically uncertain: 2224
* Since Adjarian’s compilation this number has been revised and currently stands at 1040 words.
** For a perspective on the ratio of loan words, the percentage of loan words in Modern English is 98%.

The significant number of root words classified as “uncertain” or “undetermined is only a challenge of attribution since they do not belong to the vocabulary of the Indo-European or other neighboring languages. They reflect and testify to the itinerary of the speakers of Armenian in a larger landscape that was the birthplace of many civilizations.

A close scrutiny of the loan words in the Armenian language is essentially a demonstration of the close contacts between Armenians and their neighboring peoples.

The greatest lexical borrowing is from Sanskrit/Persian, amounting to 1405 root words. Here, de Lagarde was able to capture the essence of the borrowings and recognized the three layers of influence in a span of over 15 centuries, whereas earlier linguists, omitting the possibility of the loan-words, thought of Armenian as an offshoot of Old Persian.

Armenian is often described as closer to Greek than any other language. This assertion, however, is not substantiated by etymological evidence. Historical and archeological evidence attest to the existence of Hellenic culture in the Armenian homeland by the 4
th century BC. Armenian kings minted coins in Greek letters and Greek was the language of the court during the reign of Dickran the II, (96-56 BC.) Yet, the number of loan words in the present Armenian vocabulary that are derived from Greek is less than 200 root words. Ironically, the adoption of Christianity by the Armenians in 301 AD created a cultural obstacle to the Sanskrit/Persian/Parthian elements that existed for almost a millennium and accelerated the introduction of Greek words into Armenian through the translation of theological and ecclesiastic literature from Greek into Armenian.

In addition to the Greek and Persian exchanges, Armenian contains borrowings from other languages. Some of the borrowed vocabularies are from Hittito-Luwian, which was extinct by the turn of the 1st millennium BC. Examples of the Hittite vocabulary are:

Hurrian, a language that was extinct around 1200 BC, is not considered a Semitic or an Indo-European language and, in general, is classified as a close affiliate of Urartian. Some linguists have included it within Alarodian family of languages. Some of the borrowings from Hurrian are:

Unexpectedly, given the close cultural connection between the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and the Crusaders as well as other exposure to Latin, few Latin borrowings exist. This may well be the result of the maturity of the Armenian language that was already developing a secular outlook.

Loan words in a given language are common phenomena. They are primarily an indication of close contacts between cultures and people that enriches the vocabulary. In the case of the Armenians, there is a difference. They were able to assimilate and ultimately absorb the borrowed vocabulary into their own language without necessarily altering Armenian morphology or syntax, which maintained a stability that is evident through preservation of the Indo-European base. This stability by way of lexical creativity is perhaps best demonstrated by the richness of compound and derivative words in Armenian.

There is also another remarkable aspect to the etymology of Armenian language: An average knowledge of Modern Armenian is enough to read and fully understand the Armenian Bible that was written between 420 and 450 AD. This is largely due to the stability of the vocabulary that reached us almost intact. It is highly probable that this stability was already in existence before the creation of the Armenian alphabet as attested by the fragments of epic poems dating back to the Oral Period (pre 5th cent. AD) and were cited by Moses of Khoren in his book. As a matter of fact the Oral Period occupies a special place in the history of Armenians and their culture. It was during this era that the first stories were created and transmitted from one generation to another. They told the stories of Haig, the ancestor of Armenians who gave them their name (Hye, in the Armenian language), as well as the epic poems that narrate the birth of the god Vahakn, the legend of Ara the Handsome, and many other tales that constitute the historical and cultural identity of a people who shared and continue to share a set of common values, faith, customs and above all a language that conveys the collective memory of a nation.

Akkadian was a Semitic language that was used in Mesopotamia and East of Asia Minor between 2500 and 1500 BC. Subsequently, several dialects were derived and became known as Neo-Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian (1000-600 BC). Historically, Urartu was a formidable foe to the Assyrians until the demise of Assyria in mid-sixth century while the successors of the Uratians had close contacts with the Babylonians who reigned for only two centuries. Some of the borrowings are:

Aramaic is the original language of large sections of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezra, and is the main language of the Talmud. Yet, considering the nature of the loan words, Armenian borrowings seem to transcend the confines of religious vocabulary, indicating earlier contacts with the cultures that used this language in addition to the fact that it was the lingua Franca by which the Persian Empire communicated with subjugated people

Perhaps Arabic influence was the last significant layer of borrowed words in the Armenian language. Between the 7th and 11th centuries, the close historical connections that were often turbulent coincided with the Golden Age of Arabic culture. Among the words that were borrowed in this period we can note: