Language, Culture, and Religion
Through the centuries, Armenians have conscientiously retained the unique qualities of their language and art forms, incorporating influences from surrounding societies without sacrificing distinctive national characteristics. Religion also has been a strong unifying force and has played a political role as well.
The Armenian language is a separate Indo-European tongue sharing some phonetic and grammatical features with other Caucasian languages, such as Georgian. The Iranian languages contributed many loanwords related to cultural subjects; the majority of the Armenian word stock shows no connection with other existing languages, however, and some experts believe it derives from extinct non-Indo-European languages. The distinct alphabet of thirty-eight letters, derived from the Greek alphabet, has existed since the early fifth century A.D. Classical Armenian (grabar) is used today only in the Armenian Apostolic Church as a liturgical language. Modern spoken Armenian is divided into a number of dialects, the most important of which are the eastern dialect (used in Armenia, the rest of Transcaucasia, and Iran) and the western dialect (used extensively in Turkey and among Western émigrés). The two major dialects differ in some vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and orthography.
In the Soviet period, schools in Armenia taught in both Armenian and Russian; in a republic where over 95 percent of the people claimed Armenian as their native language, almost all of the urban population and much of the rural population knew at least some Russian. At the end of the Soviet period, 91.6 percent of Armenians throughout the Soviet Union considered Armenian to be their native language, and 47.1 percent of Armenians were fluent in Russian.
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