Armenian Language Program

Armenian (հայերեն) is the official language in the Republic of Armenia as well as the Republic of Artsakh. The Armenian language belongs to the Indo-European language family constituting its own Armenian branch. Historically having been used only within the Armenian Highlands, Armenian is currently spoken worldwide throughout the Armenian diaspora. Armenian has its own writing system, the Armenian alphabet.

Literature written in Armenian appeared in the 5th century right after the Armenian alphabet was created by Saint Mesrop Mashtots in 405 AD. The written language of the time, called Classical Armenian or Grabar (գրաբար), remained the Armenian literary language, with various changes, until the beginning of the 19th c. It contained numerous borrowings from Middle Iranian languages (primarily Parthian), Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Mongol, and Persian. The early grammatical forms had much in common with classical Greek and Latin. Many ancient manuscripts originally written in Ancient Greek, Persian, Hebrew, Syriac and Latin survive only in Classical Armenian translation.

Spoken Armenian, on the other hand, developed independently of the written language. Many dialects appeared when Armenian communities became separated by geography or politics. In the 19th c., the traditional Armenian homeland was divided into Eastern Armenia (conquered by the Russian Empire) and Western Armenia (remaining under Ottoman control). The intellectual and cultural life of the Armenian communities were consolidated in two separate centers, one in Tbilisi and the other in Istanbul. The new literary forms and styles reached Armenians living in both regions, and created a need to use the vernacular (աշխարհաբար) as the literary language instead of the now outdated Grabar. Two major standards emerged: Eastern and Western Armenian. The proliferation of newspapers and emergence of literary works in both dialects and the development of a network of schools increased the rate of literacy.

By the turn of the 20th c. both standards of the modern Armenian language prevailed over Grabar. After World War I, the newly emerged Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic used Eastern Armenian as its official language whereas the diaspora created after the Armenian Genocide preserved the Western Armenian branch.

Modern Armenian has undergone many transformations in phonology and mostly in grammar, creating a certain degree of difficulty for learners to move from Eastern standard to Western or from the modern language to the Classical. The vocabulary, on the other hand, has survived to present day and is at some extent shared by the two standard branches and the Classical Armenian. The alphabet (with two additional letters) is still used today.

The Armenian Language Program

Started in September of 2001, the Armenian Language Program intended to compliment the annual one-quarter course by a visiting Dumanian Professor in Armenian Studies, and to ensure the continuity of Armenian instruction, with an objective of further promoting and enriching Armenian Studies at the University of Chicago. The program aims at serving students, both graduate and undergraduate, as the source for Armenian language instruction as well as History and Culture. In addition, the program prepares students for research in Armenian and related Area Studies.

The undergraduates mostly take Armenian to better expose themselves to Armenian culture or visit Armenia. Those are mostly heritage learners. Some also become NELC minors. Others, mostly graduate students, take Armenian as their second or third language and focus on translations for their research (in Armenian, Byzantine, or Islamic Studies, Indo-European or General Linguistics, Archaeology, History of Religions, Post-Soviet Studies, Human Rights Studies, etc.). Knowledge of Armenian language (both Modern and Classical) is crucial for their research, they would need Classical Armenian to use the original Armenian historical sources (i.e., related to Zoroastrian religion, translations of and commentaries on Greek philosophical texts, the history of the Byzantine and Armenian Church, historical chronicles, literary works, etc. from 5th to 19th c.), as well as Modern Armenian to be able to read modern Armenian literary works, mass media or scholarly publications in their field.

Since Armenian is considered a less commonly taught language there are on average 2-4 students enrolled in each level which creates a more advantageous circumstance for the Armenian language learners facilitating their more accelerated language acquisition within 1-2 years.

Furthermore, as part of the CLC collaborative language pedagogy, starting in Autumn of 2014 Elementary and Intermediate Armenian are offered as “shared curricula” courses to include students in remote locations who are enrolled at institutions which participate in course-share program.

As for other opportunities, over the years the students enrolled in the Armenian language courses were very successful in applying and obtaining FLAS grants, Critical Language Scholarships (CLS), Fulbright and Boren fellowships, and other summer and year-long language programs to study Armenian in Armenia.


Armenian Language Program Faculty

Courses Offered

The NELC Department currently offers three levels of Modern Armenian instruction and at least one quarter of Classical Armenian per year. The Armenian language courses offered annually or as needed are as follows:

  • ARME 10101-02-03 Elementary Modern Armenian This three-quarter sequence focuses on the acquisition of basic speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in modern formal and spoken Armenian. The course utilizes the most advanced computer technology and audio-visual aids enabling students to master the alphabet, a core vocabulary, and some basic grammatical structures in order to communicate their basic survivor’s needs in Armenian, understand simple texts and to achieve a minimal level of proficiency in modern formal and spoken Armenian.
  • ARME 20101-02-03 Intermediate Modern Armenian This sequence covers a wider-range vocabulary and more complex grammatical structures in modern formal and colloquial Armenian. Each class includes a healthy balance of real-life like conversations (shopping, ordering food, asking directions, getting around in the city, banking, etc.), readings (dialogues, jokes, stories, news, etc.) and writings (e-mailing, filling forms, essays, etc.). The students can also communicate in Armenian well beyond basic needs about the daily life and obtain some level of fluency in their professional interests.
  • ARME 30101 Independent Study: Advanced Armenian The course focuses on the improvement of speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in modern formal and spoken Armenian. The course covers a rich vocabulary in modern formal and colloquial Armenian, and the most complex grammatical structures and frames. The main objective is literary fluency. Reading assignments include a variety of texts (literary works, newspaper articles, etc.). Students practice the vocabulary (newly acquired in their readings) through discussions and critical analysis of texts in Armenian. There are also enhanced writing assignments: essays on given topics, writing blogs or wiki pages, etc. The goal is to achieve an advanced level of proficiency in modern formal and spoken Armenian. The course may be tailored to individual students' reading and research needs.
  • ARME 10501 Introduction to Classical Armenian The one-quarter course focuses on the basic grammatical structure and vocabulary of the Classical Armenian language, Grabar (one of the oldest IndoEuropean languages). It enables students to achieve basic reading skills in the Classical Armenian language. Reading assignments include a selection of original Armenian literature, mostly works by 5th c. historians, as well as passages from the Bible, while a considerable amount of historical and cultural issues about Armenia are discussed and illustrated through the text interpretations. It complements the Modern Armenian language instruction and provides more profound and solid knowledge of Armenian language and its ancient dialects, targeted especially to graduate students. Recommended for students with interests in Armenian Studies, Classics, Medieval Studies, Divinity, Indo-European or General Linguistics. It is usually offered as dictated by student needs. Students may take the Classical Armenian course before or even without taking any Modern Armenian.

Advanced students can also register for Reading and Research classes in Armenian to improve their ability to read targeted academic & scholarly materials for their research. Those courses are offered on-demand.

A considerable amount of historical-political and social-cultural issues about Armenia are skillfully built into the language courses. In addition, related courses on various aspects of Armenian art, culture and literature are occasionally offered including the NEHC 20692 Armenian History through Art and Culture (offered annually).

Class Times

In scheduling first-year classes, every effort is made to make sure that interested students are not excluded because of scheduling conflicts. Second- and third-year classes are generally by arrangement, based on the mutual convenience of instructor and students.

Placement and Proficiency Exams

Prospective Armenian students (other than beginners) have to take a placement test before registering for second-year and above classes. A placement test for incoming first-year undergraduates and graduate students is usually administered during orientation week.

Please contact Hripsime Haroutunian ( with any questions concerning the time and date of the placement exam.

Additionally, a language competency exam is offered at the end of Spring quarter for those taking this course as college language requirement.

Extracurricular Activities

Aside from the formal academic curriculum, there are weekly Armenian Circle meetings (to listen to lectures on Armenian culture and history, to watch Armenian movies and documentaries on Armenia, practice Armenian language while indulging in tasty Armenian cuisine, etc.), as well as “special hands-on classes” in Armenian cuisine, field trips to community events, annual Armenian Cultural Nights (evenings of Armenian poetry recital, music performance and staging of Armenian plays by the students). Students also have opportunities to make their own presentations on Armenian art, culture, current issues or related topics.


What if I have a potential schedule conflict?

Please email the instructor ( explaining your problem.

I’d like to audit/sit-in on an Armenian course. Is that possible?

Please consider registering for the class. In rare cases, if you are absolutely unable to enroll in the Autumn quarter but have all intentions to register for the Winter and Spring quarters you may be permitted to audit the Autumn quarter class at the Instructor’s discretion. Note that you must complete all the required assignments for the course (including regular attendance).

I already have some background in spoken or written Armenian. What class should I take?

You will need to take the placement exam, so that the instructor can learn about your levels of spoken and written Armenian.