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Armenian orthography reform

The Armenian orthography reform occurred between 1922 and 1924 in Soviet Armenia and was partially reviewed in 1940. Its main features were neutralization of classical etymological writing and the adjustment of phonetic realization and writing.[1]

This orthographic reform is not to be confused or associated with the 13th-century alphabet extension introducing letters օ and ֆ.

The original orthography is now known as the classical orthography (Armenian: դասական ուղղագրութիւն dasakan uġġagrut'yun) and is sometimes referred to as Mashtotsian orthography (մաշտոցեան ուղղագրութիւն), after Mesrop Mashtots, who invented the Armenian alphabet in 405 AD.

Acceptance and evaluation

Today it is the officially used orthography for the Armenian language in Armenia, and widely used by Armenian communities in Georgia and Russia.

It was rejected by the Armenian diaspora, most of which speak Western Armenian, including the Armenian communities in Iran, which also speak Eastern Armenian and still use the classical orthography of the Armenian alphabet. It is still doubted if the reform resulted in orthography simplification.

Some authors hold that changes introduced into the Armenian alphabet actually simplified writing; for example, the alternation of the letters ‹o› and ‹ո› inside words was finally regulated.[2]


One of the most significant and successfully achieved policies of the former Soviet Union was the rise in the overall population's literacy, which began in the early 1920s. That was most probably the urgent need that was one of the reasons for reforming the orthography. With a variety of other educational reforms, the reformed orthography resulted in a literacy rate of 90% in the country by the early 1950s.

Pursuing faster progress, some other nations of the Soviet Union changed their scripts from Arabic (Central Asian nations) and Latin (Moldova) to Cyrillic in the same period.

Considering the vast panorama of the linguistic reforms carried out on the whole territory of the Soviet Union, the Armenian case is undoubtedly among the less radical ones.[2]

This process was initiated in January 1921, when the historian Ashot Hovhannisyan, then Minister of Education of Armenian SSR, organized an advisory meeting to encourage education and fight illiteracy, as required by the Soviet likbez policy. During this consultation, the linguist and philologist Manuk Abeghyan proposed a number of orthographic changes that denoted a radical departure from the general norm in use since the Middle Ages. Abeghyan's position was not new: in fact, he had written extensively on the issue since the late 1890s. Indeed, this document, which was accepted by a special committee in 1921, presented the same theses of another paper Abeghyan read in 1913 in Echmiadzin. Hovhannisyan's successor, the translator and journalist Poghos Makintsyan, continued to work in this direction, forming a new committee in February 1922. Instead of transmitting the committee's conclusions, Makintsyan directly presented Abeghyan's proposal to the Soviet of Popular Commissars. On March 4, 1922, under the chairmanship of Aleksandr Myasnikyan, the reform was officially decreed.[2]


Since pronunciation has changed, the spelling was modified to follow the modern pronunciation.

Changes can be summarized as follows:

  • Letter of diphthong replacements (classical/reformed): յ/հ, ու/վ, ոյ/ույ, եա/յա, եօ/յո, իւ/յու.
  • Elimination of the silent յ at the end of a word
  • The digraph ու /u/ becomes the 34th independent letter of the alphabet.
  • The letters է and օ were deleted from the alphabet but reinstated in 1940.[3] Since then, they are written only at the beginning of a word and in compound words. ե or ո are used respectively in their places. The only exceptions are ով /ɔv/ "who" and ովքեր /ɔvkʰɛɾ/ "those (people)" and the present tense of "to be": եմ /ɛm/ "I am", ես /ɛs/ "you (sg.) are", ենք /ɛnkʰ/ "we are", եք /ɛkʰ/ "you (pl.) are", են /ɛn/ "they are".
  • The letter ւ is no longer an independent letter and appears only as a component of ու. In its place, վ is written.
  • The ligature և was initially abolished, but in 1940, it became the 37th independent letter of the alphabet. Some words originally written with եվ are now written with it.
  • In the conjugation of verbs, in both the indicative and the conditional modes, կ is added directly, without an apostrophe before vowels or ը before consonants.

Reception and review

Reform met immediate, unfavorable reactions. Notably, the poet Hovhannes Tumanyan, chairman of the Union of Armenian Writers, expressed his discontent in a letter to the Soviet of Popular Commissars, written in May 1922. Later on, many objected to the reform, asking the restoration of traditional Armenian spelling. Ch․ S. Sarkisyan's requested to correct the mistakes of the 1922 reform: “Armenian spelling now urgently needs the elimination of the mistakes made in 1922, that is, the abolition of those changes that were introduced into the alphabet”. As a consequence, on August 22, 1940, the linguist Gurgen Sevak (1904-1981) promoted a second reform of Armenian orthography, which marked a partial return to Mesropian spelling.[2]


These reforms, which were part of the likbez policy carried out by the Soviets, have deeply affected not only the Eastern Armenian alphabet, but also the set of rules and conventions governing writing and word formation. [2]

Since the establishment of the third Republic of Armenia in 1991, there has been a fringe movement in some Armenian academic circles to reinstate the classical orthography as official in Armenia.[4] Some members of the Armenian Church in Armenia also support the use of the classical orthography.[5] However, neither official circles nor the general population or pedagogical and scientific communities in Armenia supports reversing the reform.[6]

Nevertheless, since 1991 the ligature և is oftentimes intentionally avoided in some print media, where եվ or եւ is used instead.

In modern Armenia, the 1922 orthography reform is still perceived as a heavy burden, insofar as it undermines the relationship between the two diasporas and the homeland. [2]


Classical spelling Reformed spelling IPA
script translit. script translit.
հայերէն hayerēn հայերեն hayeren [hɑjɛˈɾɛn]
Յակոբ Yakob Հակոբ Hakob [hɑˈkɔb]
բացուել bacʿuel բացվել bacʿvel [bɑt͡sʰˈvɛl]
քոյր kʿoyr քույր kʿuyr [ˈkʰujɾ]
Սարգսեան Sargsean Սարգսյան Sargsyan [sɑɾɡəsˈjɑn]
եօթ tʿ յոթ yotʿ [ˈjɔtʰ]
ազատութիւն azatutʿiwn ազատություն azatutʿyun [ɑzɑtutʰˈjun]
տէր tēr տեր ter [ˈtɛɾ]
Արմէն Armēn Արմեն Armen [ɑɾˈmɛn]
Արմինէ Arminē Արմինե Armine [aɾmiˈnɛ]
խօսել xōsel խոսել xosel [xɔˈsɛl]
Սարօ Sarō Սարո Saro [sɑˈɾɔ]
թիւ tʿiw թիվ tʿiv [ˈtʰiv]
Եւրոպա Ewropa Եվրոպա Evropa [jɛvˈɾɔpɑ]

See also


  1. ^ Dum-Tragut, Jasmine. (2009). Armenian : modern Eastern Armenian. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co. ISBN 9789027288790. OCLC 593240232.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Marchesini, Irina (2017-11-03). "Russian (1917-1918) and Armenian (1922) Orthographic Reforms. Assessing the Russian Influence on Modern Armenian Language" (PDF). Studi Slavistici: Studi Slavistici XIV • 2017–. doi:10.13128/studi_slavis-21944.
  3. ^ (Russian) Archived 2021-02-27 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Khacherian, L. G. (1999). History of Armenian Orthography (V - XX cc.). Los Angeles: Yerevan Press.
  5. ^ Fr. Mesrop Aramian (October 14, 2006). "Restoring the Orthography of the Armenian Nation: A Task for Our Generation". Vem. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  6. ^ ORTHOGRAPHY, STATE & DIASPORA: A Political Analyst's View on Unified Spelling Problem Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine by Haroutiun Khachatrian

Armenian Orthography converters

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Armenian orthography reform
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