Samvel Muradyan: “The mother language requires daily care and state care”

Ahead of Mother Language Day, in defense of the ��?golden’ Armenian language, Hayern Aysor electronic newspaper of the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia is publishing articles and interviews in which Armenian linguists, literary critics and intellectuals express their thoughts and concerns about the distortion of the Armenian language. One of those interviews was with well-known literary critic, Doctor of Philological Sciences, Doctor and Professor Samvel Muradyan.

Karine Avagyan: Dear Professor, my questions are about Mother Language Day. It is a day that, for some reason, is only celebrated on that day. What is your opinion of Mother Language Day and the current state of the Armenian language?

Samvel Muradyan: We can talk a lot or little about Mother Language Day, but the important thing is to talk about the current problems. The current state of the Armenian language is a matter of concern for us. The language that we hear on Armenian television, in Armenian soap operas, from TV hosts, speakers and in human relations, is truly a matter of concern. The current distortions of the Armenian language are due to wrong linguistic thinking, not linguistic and grammatical mistakes. The bad thing is that those distortions turn into wrong linguistic thinking. Armenians were never going to think that way. Of course, in the past, our language has been enriched on the basis of grabar (classic Armenian), middle Armenian and dialects. Even today, it continues to be enriched and grow by taking elements of dialects, and it continues to help create a beautiful literary language, and the Armenian language is like no other in terms of richness and beauty. No Armenian has the right to repent about the Armenian language. To have a civil language means to have civil citizens of the Republic of Armenia, to have the right understanding and be aware of our whole culture, history and spiritual wealth and, within that system, have the right notion of the fact that, unfortunately, we often forget.  It is no secret that the impact of a bad thing is more often greater. Vulgarity, jargon and street language are sometimes heard in very inappropriate places, and people ordinarily talk like that, thinking that they can talk any way they want to talk. No, they can’t! There is a law on language, standardized literary Armenian that is the state language of the Republic of Armenia. All the fuss about the change of orthography and restoration of the orthography of the alphabet created by Mashtots is meaningless. This is imposed on us from outside sources. We Armenians don’t need to get into that debate because the Republic of Armenia exists, there is a state literary language and a law on language that must be enforced in all parts of the republic.

Karine Avagyan: Yes! It must be enforced. However, the State Language Inspectorate, the duty of which is to enforce those laws and be consistent with the fight against distortions of the language in various spheres of our life, does not have so many powers, and its functions are limited…What should be done? Mr. Muradyan, how should we fight against the wrong use of the Armenian language, wrong accentuation and speech on television, as well as against foreign titles of films and TV series?

Samvel Muradyan: What should be done? First of all, it is necessary for the State to establish control over all linguistic functions. If I was given the opportunity and had the authority, I would set certain criteria. If a person met the conditions, I would let him or her appear on television.  We Armenians are a special nation also in the sense that we have a problem with relations with the Diaspora. Armenians of the Diaspora are at a very high risk. We must not forget that most of our brothers and sisters envision their future abroad and are mainly fluent in foreign languages. Unfortunately, I must state a fact that I recently found out. During a final state exam for the Master’s Degree at our Faculty, a great and skillful specialist from Beirut, who teaches Armenian at high schools in Beirut, regretted to say that some Armenians schools, an Armenian college and an Armenian Studies Chair were closed down and that the Armenians of Beirut don’t have the potential to train specialists and fear that, one day, Armenians from Armenia might travel to Beirut to teach Western Armenian…This is truly a serious matter of concern. We Armenians in Armenia must also think about those Armenians. Thank God, we Armenians in Armenia have a State and statehood. Those Armenians are subject to the instructions of a foreign state. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t gather every year, be present, give speeches, put a checkmark and just say words that won’t really solve any issue. Basically, as Paronyan said, we shouldn’t convene sessions and assemblies that aren’t even worth one session. We shouldn’t wait until April to see what major events will take place and then see which spheres need to undergo changes. All spheres of our life are important, but the issue of language is primary and is the first issue that requires a solution.  There was an Armenian poet named Hovhannes Grigoryan, who wrote a poem devoted to language and concluded with the following lines: “You are that, after which we will not have anything else to lose after losing you.”

Karine Avagyan: What is your opinion on the Armenian language as a literary critic, as an intellectual and as an Armenian?

Samvel Muradyan: We Armenians have an alphabet that was created by Mashtots and has been used to this day. No other language in the world has such harmony of letters and sounds. This is what German Armenologists Gudschmidt and Markvart meant when they said that the creators of the German alphabet are dwarfs compared to the creators of the Armenian alphabet – Mesrop Mashtots and Sahak Partev.

Armenian linguists and intellectuals and foreign, very famous and remarkable Armenologists, historians and poets have highly appreciated the opportunities that the Armenian language has to offer.

I am not one of those naïve to say that we should stop the flow of foreign language and stop learning them…No, of course not1 However, we must first learn the Mother Language, protect and preserve the Armenian language and speak correctly and beautifully in this perfect language. In its essence, our language is a key.

Karine Avagyan: Many linguists have tried to translate foreignisms and loan words into Armenian and sometimes they have somehow “Armenized” them…among those words are very funny translations. Who oversees this field?

Samvel Muradyan: This is a very important question. Yes, the field is motley, and sometimes we encounter phony and ridiculous translations of words in Armenian. For instance, a gynecologist has been translated into “knakhtaban” (person who diagnoses a woman), or champagne has been translated into “prpragmpik” (something that bursts)…Do you remember lecturer Minas Hyusyan, who would refer to a trauma as “zrgon” in Armenian and to a trolleybus as “srnton”? Such an obsession for pure Armenian must be rejected. We need to find appropriate and acceptable words. These are troubling issues. There is still no oversight in this field.

Karine Avagyan: Mr. Muradyan, please tell us which mass media outlet is in the worst condition in terms of literary speech?

Samvel Muradyan: Things are very bad on the Internet. When people technically can’t type in Armenian letters, they create perversions. Of course, they do type Armenian words and phrases in foreign alphabets, but most of the people who can write in Armenian letters are not too literate. Being literate doesn’t only mean knowing the alphabet. It also means to have a database of knowledge. You said good things about schools today, but I am not too satisfied because the current procedure for admission to universities is discredited. At first, it seemed to us that there would be fewer risks and fair exams, but that was not the case. This led to the creation of databases where you will find so many absurdities…In these conditions, we will see the emergence of undesired words. The knowledge given to a child must be accessible so that an Armenian schoolchild is not disappointed with the Armenian language and Armenian literature.

The mother language requires daily care and state care. The symbol and idea of the holiday is wonderful. We need to attach greater importance to Mother Language Day, and it shouldn’t just become a day that we celebrate once a year. Fortunately, the Minister of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia is so reasonable that, after visiting different parts of the Diaspora and interacting with different layers of Armenians and learning about his or that linguistic issue, she has a very good understanding of the current state of the Armenian language, but she also doesn’t have powers to solve the problems with language. So, we Armenians need to combine our efforts and solve this issue through the joint activities of reputable, interested and heartfelt linguists, intellectuals, the head of state and the Prime Minister.

Interview by Karine Avagyan

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