Armenian: Modern Eastern Armenian

Armenian: Modern Eastern Armenian. By Jasmine Dum-Tragut. (London Oriental and African language library 14.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. xv, 742. ISBN 9789027238146. $195 (Hb).

Reviewed by Michael W. Morgan, Mumbai, India

Armenian is the only known representative of the Armenian branch of Indo-European. Classical Armenian (Grabar) is documented from the fifth century, and the modern language has two varieties, each with its own literary standard: Western (‘Turkish’) Armenian and Eastern Armenian, the official language of Armenia. Eastern Armenian is the subject of Jasmine Dum-Tragut’s comprehensive reference grammar.

The grammar consists of six chapters. Ch. 1, ‘Phonology’ (13–59), discusses phonotactics, orthography and pronunciation, alternations, and intonation. Armenian has tripartite plosive and affricate series: voiced, voiceless aspirated, and plain (in some dialects glottalized) voiceless, as in Kartvelian, Ossetic, and Kurmanji. Word stress patterns resemble West Oghuz Turkic.

Ch. 2 (60–310) details Armenian morphology. Structurally Armenian is closer to Turkic than Indo-European, with agglutinative noun morphology (stem+plural+case+definite article), possessive suffixes (used also to express agents of non-finite verb forms), and no gender. Armenian has several declension classes and five noun cases: nominative, dative, instrumental, ablative, and locative. In lieu of an accusative case, the dative is used for human and the nominative for non-human direct objects. As the genitive has merged with the dative except for pronouns, the dative has a wide range of adnominal and adverbial usages.

Verbs are classified by semantic, morphological, clause, aspect/Aktionsart, and diathesis type. Armenian has a number of tense-aspect and mood forms based on present and perfect-aorist stems, a rich system of eight non-finite forms, and analytical (participle plus auxiliary) tense forms. The aorist is the only synthetic tense in Armenian. Negation is by prefix.

Syntax is the topic of Ch. 3 (311–644). In addition to pro-drop and nominative case, the subject is also expressed by the dative in the typologically interesting partitive subject construction. Transitivization and detransitivization, simple and complex sentence patterns, and constituent order are discussed in considerable detail. The subsection ‘Special constructions’ (498–554) is of particular interest for typology, presenting a number of innovative syntactic constructions atypical of Indo-European languages.

Ch. 4 (645–82) treats word formation. Armenian has extensive series of productive prefixes and suffixes. It also makes extensive use of compounding and reduplication, including intensive adjectives with Turkic-like reduplication of initial CV with /p/ or /s/ in the coda. Abbreviations, including extremely productive acronyms, clippings, stump compounds, and hypocoristics, are also discussed.

The final two chapters deal with topics traditionally dealt with in pedagogical works. Punctuation is presented in Ch. 5 (683–716). In addition to the various punctuation marks placed at the end of clauses, Armenian also indicates intonation through question, stress, and exclamation marks on the appropriate word/syllable. The short final chapter, ‘Lexicon—Structured semantic fields’ (717–23), presents five semantically-related  lists of color terms, body parts, time expressions, numbers, and kinship terminology. This last is bifurcal-collateral and includes Turkish loans for maternal uncle’s wife and brother, presumably indicating inter-ethnic marriage.

Although this is a grammar of Standard Eastern Armenian, both written and colloquial, frequent reference is made to Classical Armenian and eastern dialectal forms. Copious illustrative examples from an extensive corpus of written and spoken material are found throughout, and all forms and examples are given in both Armenian script and transliteration.