‘He Wasn’t Able to Understand What I Was Saying’: The Experiences of Returnees’ Speaking Western Armenian in ‘Eastern’ Armenia

University of Technology, Sydney (UTS)
Publication Type:
Journal Article
PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, 16, (1-2), pp. 120-140
Full metadata record
Since Armenia’s independence in 1991, thousands of diasporans have made the decision to return and settle in the ancestral homeland. The returnees, who speak Western Armenian, one of the two standardised forms of modern Armenian, are switching to the use of Eastern Armenian, the official variant of the homeland. Using two determinants of language perception—standardisation and vitality—this paper analyses the reactions received by thirty returnees who emigrated from nine countries, when speaking Western Armenian to an Eastern Armenian-speaking society. The vitality of the language shows signs of increasing through an encouragement by locals aware of the language’s historical significance, and an admiration of its ‘beauty’ and terminology. A heightened vitality has led returnees to feel confident about its use during social interactions and the possibility of the standard being incorporated into the nation’s linguistic narrative. However, confusion and ridicule due to a differing pronunciation, vocabulary, terminology, and the inability to be understood by some in Armenian society, has led to discomfort by returnees who are shifting to the usage of Eastern Armenian. At present, the use of Western Armenian in the homeland remains within the confines of family, friends and returnee circles. Despite the changing status of Western Armenian through a notable welcoming of the language into the linguistic narrative of the country, some segments of Armenian society do not perceive Western Armenian as an acceptable standard for broader use in Armenian society and national institutions. The homeland’s  inconsistent, and at times questionable, acceptance of the language perpetuates the status quo that Western Armenian remains an unacceptable standard within the homeland and for use only in the diaspora.
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