Mesrop Machtots  (vers 361, à Hatsegats, Arménie — 17 févr. 440, à Vagharchabad, Arménie)
Մեսրոպ Մաշտոց (մօտ 361, Հացեկաց - 17 փետ. 440, Վաղարշապատ)

Armenian Apostolic Church Sainte-Marie at Décines (© Philippe Pilibossian)
Mesrop Mashtots and the flowering of Armenian culture
Jean Delisle & Judith Woodworth

According to tradition, the Armenian Church has apostolic origins, as Armenia is said to have been evangelized by two of Christ’s twelve apostles: St. Bartholomew and St. Jude (also known as St. Thaddaeus). Early in the fourth century, under the influence of St. Gregory the Illuminator (c. 240-326), Armenia embraced Christianity. Armenia’s official conversion was marked by the baptism of some four million Christians in only a few months time. This occurred in 314, just after Roman Emperors Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, tolerating the practice of Christianity, but not yet granting official recognition to the religion. Soon after, St. Gregory built an edifice over a pagan sanctuary: Echmiadzin Cathedral, the first cathedral in Christendom.

The conversion to Christianity decided the fate of the Armenians. Situated at the outer reaches of the Christian West, the Armenian people would always have a strong sense of moral independence, profound unity and undaunted cultural vitality. At the same time, they were to experience cruel isolation and suffer oppression at the hands of the Persians, the Arabs and the Turks.

In Armenia, the Scriptures were initially taught in Greek and in Syriac. Interpretation was often required during religious services. Greek and Syriac, and occasionally Pahlavi, were used for public administration since they were the only written languages. As a result, written languages were necessarily languages of translation. At the time, Armenia was under Persian domination. The Persians were opposed to the dissemination of Greek literature in the territories under their control, fearing that it would serve the interests of Byzantium. Syriac literature alone was deemed acceptable. Using foreign languages in the realms of culture and public administration had serious disadvantages. Thus, it became increasingly urgent to create an Armenian alphabet.

It was during the reign of Vramshapuh (392-414) that Mesrop Mashtots (360-441) made his invaluable contribution to Armenian culture: the Armenian alphabet, which he invented between 392 and 406. A native of Hatsekats in the canton of Taron, Mesrop held a variety of administrative and military posts at the Arsacid Royal Chancery. He had a gift for languages, speaking Greek, Persian, Syriac and Armenian. He chose to become a monk, with a mission to evangelize the province of Siunik (present-day Karabakh), where paganism was still predominant. There he founded one of his first monasteries. He then took his preaching to the province of Goghtha, to the east of Nakhichevan. Without a translation of the Scriptures, however, he found it difficult to preach in Armenian, so he sought the advice of Sahak Partev (Sahak the Great), the patriarch of the Armenian Church.

Read more: CDMF - Mesrop Machtots



History of the Congregation

In a narrow lane in the seventh district of Vienna a fine view is revealed. On top of the main door of a long building one sees a coat of arms crowned by a bishop’s mitre. It adornes the gate of the Mekhitarist monastery. For 200 years these Armenian monks have been devoted to the preservation of the Armenian heritage. Thus the monastery has grown into a unique centre of Armenian spiritual and cultural tradition. But how did it come about that Armenian-Catholic monks live just in Vienna, working and praying here according to the rule of St Benedict?

When Mekhitar of Sebaste, born in 1676, founded his congregation in Constantinople on September 8, 1701, he certainly had not the faintest notion that he would one day become one of the most important persons of the Armenian cultural history.



Mekhitar and his fellows soon left the Ottoman Empire and founded a monastery in Methoni at the southwestern point of the Peloponnese, which was then Venetian. Even at that time they adopted the Benedictine rule and Pope Clement XI confirmed them officially as Benedictines. Since then the Mekhitarists are properly called »Armenian Benedictines«. But Methoni fell to the Sultan, the monks followed the withdrawing Venetians and finally received from the Duke one of the little islands in the laguna of Venice. There at San Lazzaro they built their monastery which is a property of the congregation to this day.

In 1773 a group of the Mekhitarists separated from Venice and opened a new monastery in Trieste, which then belonged to the Habsburgs. With her privilege from May 30, 1775, Empress Maria Theresa permitted them to establish their monastery and church as well as to run their own printing-shop. When in 1805 Trieste was occupied by the French the Triestine Mekhitarists lost all their property because they were seen as Habsburg subjects. Whereas Napoleon was favourable to the Venetian brothers, the Triestine congregation had to leave Triest and seek refuge in imperial Vienna.

Emperor Francis I accepted the Triestine monks by his cabinet decree dated December 5, 1810, and granted them residence in his home town of Vienna. Initially in 1811 the Mekhitarist fathers found shelter in the deserted buildings of the old Capucine convent »Am Platzl« in the suburb of St Ulrich. In 1837 they started with the erection of new premises. The main wing of the new monastery followed the lines of the Mechitaristengasse. In 1874 two cross wings and a new church were added and so the monastery reached its present configuration. In the year 2000, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of their foundation the Mekhitarists of Vienna and those of Venice reunited into one order after having been separated for 227 years.




Mgr. Arsen AYDENIAN (7/19 January 1825, Constantinople – 8/21 July 1902, Vienna, Austria)

Արսէն Արքեպ. ԱՅՏԸՆԵԱՆ (7/19 յունուար 1825, Պոլիս – 8/21  յուլիս 1902, Վիեննա)

Linguist-grammarian, from the Viennese Mkhitarist Order, was conversant in numerous languages. He held several offices, including that of Abbot General of the Viennese Mkhitarist Order. Established the official organ Հանդէս ամսօրեայ (Monthly Journal), where he published many articles on linguistics. Aydenian’s magnum opus was Քննական քերականութիւն աշխարհաբար կամ արդի հայերէն լեզուի (Critical Grammar of the Vernacular or Modern Armenian Language) [1866], which represents a highly valuable accomplishment in Armenian language studies, playing a major role in the area of understanding the vernacular. While esteeming grabar (classic Armenian), pointing to its major importance, he insisted that vernacular Armenian corresponded to the thinking of the contemporary Armenian people and that the time had come to cede the public square to it.
Aydenian’s œuvre is gigantic and retains its relevance to this day. No grammarian has followed him, who, by their method, form or exhaustive theoretics, has surpassed him.

Translated by Y.K.

Read an article by Fr. Arsen Aydenian on Mashtots (in Armenian).

Քննական քերականութիւն աշխարհաբար կամ արդի հայերէն լեզուի (Critical Grammar of the Vernacular or Modern Armenian Language)>>

Father Serovpe DERVISHIAN (10 January 1846, Constantinople – 1 January 1892, Constantinople) 
Հ. Սերովբէ ՏԷՐՎԻՇԵԱՆ (10 յունուար 1846, Պոլիս – 1 յունուար 1892, Պոլիս)

Père Serovpeh Dervichian

Excerpted from Hrachia Adjarian’s article in Teotik’s Ամէնուն տարեցոյցը (Everyman’s Almanac), 1914, p.153 Ամէնուն տարեցոյցը.

Father Serovpe Dervishian received his education at the Viennese Mkhitarist monastery, where he joined the Order in 1864, and was anointed a priest in 1866. Even while at the monastery he studied Armenian, Greek, Latin, German and French with a singular avidity. He received his core linguistic education at the Vienna University, where he studied Sanskrit and Pahlavi. Besides these, Dervishian was familiar with Ottoman Turkish and Old Persian. Where and how Dervishian lived subsequently, and what positions he had, are unknown to me, until his death.

Dervishian’s first linguistic work was a volume in German, Das Altarmenische Ք (The Old Armenian Ք), Vienna, 1877. This opus, which is the first volume in a series of linguistic studies titled Armeniaca, includes an examination of the Armenian letter “Ք”, the etymology of all the words containing this letter and the transmutations this letter has undergone in those words. The task Dervishian had undertaken was a laborious problem, as even today the letter “Ք” has remained unsolved in many cases, in spite of the endeavors of numerous linguists (e.g., the terminal “ք” of plurals). For this reason it’s not surprising that this work of Dervishian didn’t achieve the desired success and was subjected to Hübschmann’s sharp criticism.

In 1883, he began a series of articles titled Հայերէն թուերն (“Armenian Numerals”) in the journal Երկրագունտ  (Globe), where he examined in detail the origin of Armenian numerical nouns, from one to thousand and ten thousand. Among these, the explanation given to the word երկու (two) is interesting.

In 1885 Dervishian published his masterpiece Ամէնուն տարեցոյցը (The Indo-European Protolanguage), [Constantinople]. This work is a tidy summary of Indo-European linguistics. Following a brief introduction, where the author reviews the theory of the origin of languages and the mother Indo-European tongue in general terms, he transitions to the examination of the protolanguage. In the first three chapters he segregates the interjections, onomatopoeia and euphemisms, which were things that rose later. In the next seven chapters he examines the main roots of the language, which he terms ideational roots and studies all of the inner mutations (progress, contraction, augmentation, determinative, transposition), through which the roots mutate their appearance or develop. In chapter XI he provides the pronominal roots of the indo-European protolanguage, i.e. those, of which the pronouns, prepositions and propositions, adverbs and a few important prefixes are formed. Chapters XIII and XIV present the grammar of the protolanguage, i.e., word-formation, particles, numerals, declension and conjugation. Chapter XV is the history of the civilization of the Indo-European proto-race, its family structure, its habitat, internal governance, religion, trades, etc. The last XVI chapter is the history of linguistics and particularly the history of Indo-European linguistics, as well as the homeland of the Indo-European proto-race and its physiognomy.

In 1887 Dervishian established the first Armenian linguistics journal, titled Լեզու  (Language), which was filled by him from cover to cover and which, unfortunately, lasted only a year. Լեզու did not have an extensive volume; this is the list of the Armenian linguistics articles published by the author in one year (here Adjarian enumerates fifteen titles).

After the cancellation of Լեզու, Dervishian didn’t live long, and during this time he wrote several articles is Արեւելք (East), Մասիս (Ararat), Նկար (Image) and Հանդէս ամսօրեայ. Of these, I’m familiar with:

1.      Սահմրկիլ բառին քննութիւնը (A Review of the Word “Sahmrkil”), Արեւելք, 1891, December 2.

2.        Քաղցր եւ գողտր բառերը (The Words “Kaghtsr” and “Goghtr”), Պատկեր, 1891, pp. 331-4.

3.       Մարդու անունը (The Name of Man) [where he hypothizes that the word Հայ (Armenian) previously meant “Man”], Պատկեր, 1892, pp. 147-9.

4.       Ե՞րբ մեռեալ կը համարուի լեզու մը (When is a Language considered dead?), Հանդէս ամսօրեայ, 1892, pp. 5-6.

The last two are Dervishian’s swan songs; especially the last one is only the introduction of a larger study, where the innovations ashkharhabar had introduced into grabar would be explicated, in other words the differences between ashkharhabar and grabar. – From the information provided by Յուշարձան (Obituary), it seem Dervishian also had a large piece of writing in German, Հայերէն Հ գիրը (The Armenian Հ Letter), as a continuation of Armeniaca, but this work is unpublished as of yet.

[In a long paragraph, after a quotation, Adjarian concludes: “Which linguistics school Dervishian’s linguistic ideas” belong to.]

… Dervishian doesn’t accept the divine origin of language and regards it totally as the product of the human mind. Adam’s language isn’t the mother of present languages and even if it existed, is now lost. As to the principle of all languages having a single origin, which also springs from a biblical idea and is not accepted by science, Dervishian doesn’t support it either…

Linguists are divided into two large camps: old grammarians and new grammarians. The old grammarians were those who, among sister languages accorded a singular preference to the Sanskrit language, and considered its phonetic system directly the phonetic system of the protolanguage. In their opinion, the first and primary vowel is a, followed by i and u; the protolanguage did not recognize any other vowel. This is why the old grammarians’ system is known as the a system. Linguists later realized that this theory was erroneous; none of the sister languages held an advantage over the other; since if there was a thing preserved in one, there were others preserved in the other. Speaking of vowels in particular, it was found that the Arian languages, including Sanskrit, had greatly changed. The Greeks, Latin and Armenians, etc., had preserved a more authentic representation of vowels; Sanskrit in particular had lost the e and o vowels and transformed them into a. The school of new grammarians took off from then, and today is the only dominant one.

A quick glance at Dervishian’s œuvre is sufficient to show that he belongs to the old grammarian school; all of the roots enumerated in chapter XI of his Հնդեւրոպական Նախալեզուն recognize only the vowels a, i and u.

Now let’s turn to Armenology itself.

Armenian linguistics has had two main schools, too: the Arian school and the Armenian school. Adherents of the Arian school believed that Armenian belonged to the Indo-Iranian language group, as an offshoot of this branch. All the old grammarians were of this opinion. When Dervishian was publishing his first linguistic work on the letter “Ք”, Hübschmann had already brought out his famous theory about the Armenian language, by which our language, instead of being an offshoot of the Iranian branch, was considered an independent sister of it. The new grammarians adhered to that system, which is the only dominant system today. But Hubschmann’s theory was not readily accepted by linguists. Two leading Armenologists belonging to the old system, Müller and Lagarde, disputed it to the death, always trying to defend the old system and champion it. Unfortunately, in his Հնդեւրոպական Նախալեզու, Dervishian doesn’t discuss the branches and divisions of the mother language, thus it’s not possible to directly learn his opinion on the Armenian language. For this we will take as our guide the etymology of those Armenian words, a list of which Dervishian has placed at the end of his book. The Armenian and Arian schools are differentiated from each other in particular by the fact that numerous Armenian words are native according to the first school, while for the second they are appropriated from the Iranian. Now, Dervishian says it plainly in many instances that these words are appropriations, such as, ատր, ատրագոյն, ատրուշան, ատրճանակ, դանդանաւանդ, կամար, հազար, հրաման, հրասախ, պատկանդարան, տօթ, տապակ etc. But for other words he doesn’t mention that they are appropriations and etymologizes them as native, such as անգամ, ասպատակ, առասան, աւսարդ, բաշխել, գրաւ, համակ, մարդ, մէգ, մէզ, ուխտ, վարս, տապ, etc., etc.

This shows that Dervishian had not made his final decision; he stood hesitant between the two schools. The education he had received wanted to keep him in the first one, yet his brilliant mind and his healthy judgment drew him to the second. Dervishian was finally able to abandon his prejudice and resolved to cross over to the second camp. Then he wrote one of his articles, Հայ լեզուն հնդեւրոպական, այլ ոչ արիական (The Armenian Language Indo-European and Not Arian(Լեզու, 1887, pp. 150-152]. What service did Dervishian do to the development and progress of Armenian linguistics, what contribution did he make on his part to the vast treasury of science? Unfortunately, the work Dervishian did is not a significant thing in the perspective of general science; Dervishian did not bequeath a fundamental study which explicated a scientific problem. The study of the Armenian language needs many things: A dictionary of Armenian roots, a provincial dictionary, a dictionary of synonyms, a historical dictionary, a geographical dictionary, studies of dialects, the history of the Armenian language, a history of Armenian linguistics, even an ordinary list of books and articles regarding Armenian linguistics, etc., etc. These are works, which must necessarily be done, to serve as tools for future fundamental studies. Dervishian could have prepared at least one of these, and then his name would have been always and always remembered in gratitude. Dervishian did not produce such an opus; he wrote only minor articles, many of which have a transitory significance. In them, however, Dervishian has a special merit which has to date been ignored by scholars. Dervishian has provided the accurate etymology of a group of Armenian words, which is entitled to become assets of science. European scholars, being unable to avail themselves of Armenian books, have also not seen Dervishian’s etymologies. Even Das Altarmenische Ք is little known. And many times it happens that they propose such etymologies which Dervishian had proposed years ago. Of many, I recall the etymology of the words դգալ, գդալ, տարգալ, եւ ցրիւ, ցուիք. The first, as congeneric to the Sanskrit darva (spoon), Latin trua, trûlla (ladle) words, Dervishian had previously proposed (Das Altarmenische Ք, Հնդեւրոպական Նախալեզուն), and Liden repeats (Arm. Stud. 66). The second, he had compared with the Sanskrit root sku (to cover) [Altarm. 47], which Meillet repeated independently.

However, Dervishian has another important and invaluable service to our nation. He is our teacher. A concise, portable, accessible, popular and simple book such as Հնդեւրոպական Նախալեզուն, which summarizes the whole erudition of Indo-European linguistics within it, did not exist then not only in our, but even in all of European literature. Only lately did Meringer’s Indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft (Indo-German Linguistics), Meillet’s Introduction à l’étude comparative des langues indo-européennes (Introduction to the Comparative Study of Indo-European Languages), and Thomson’s «Общее языковедение» (General Linguistics) books get published, but the first of these is very concise, the other two very extensive, yet they do not have the Indo-European etymological dictionary, which can be found in Dervishian’s work.

Dervishian’s work was that he acquainted us with linguistics, introduced to us a taste of that science, and those, in whom there was a calling for that science, he led and enlightened. I am not aware of anyone of our scribes writing about linguistics who hasn’t benefited from Dervishian’s work. There are those who know only Dervishian’s opus and do so many borrowings from it, many times without citing the author.

Speaking specifically about me, as one who has chosen Armenian linguistics as a dear field, I confess that Dervishian’s book has made a great impression on me; there have I taken my first steps, there I have received my first knowledge of linguistics. Therefore I don’t hesitate to call Dervishian my first teacher.

September 4, 1913, Nor-Nakhijevan

Hrachia Adjarian

Translated by Y.K.

Johann Heinrich Hübschmann (1st July 1848, Erfurt, Germany — 20 January 1908, Fribourg, Germany)
Եոհան Հայնրիխ Հիւպշման (1 յուլիս 1848, Էրֆուրթ, Գերմանիա — 20 յունուար 1908, Ֆրայպուրկ, Գերմանիա) 


German linguist, founder of Armenology in Germany.

He received his education in various German cities, specializing in Semitic and Oriental languages.  In March 1874 he went to the Venice Mkhitarist monastery, where he mastered Armenian. In 1875 he presented his dissertation at the Leipzig University, and in 1876 he was appointed professor in Iranian languages in Leipzig, and in 1877 at the Strasbourg University in comparative philology.

Since 1875 the center of his studies was the Armenian language. It was he who provided the final proof that Armenian was an independent branch of the Indo-European group of languages, and not a subsidiary dialect of the Iranian or Arian branch. This theory of his encountered passionate opposition at first, but today is part of the scientific field. It’s not surprising that he has earned the admiration of Armenians. Unfortunately, though, only the first part of his Armenian Grammar, entirely devoted to etymology, has been published. With its accurate observations and conclusions, this opus remains a fundamental guide to this day. His other works are The Topographical Names of Ancient Armenia, and many other works Das indogermanische Vocalsystem  (The Phonetic System of Indo-Germanic), Etymologie und Lautlehre der ossetischen Sprache (Ossetian Etymology and Phonetics), and Persischen Studien (Persian Studies). It most also be noted that he was H. Adjarian’s teacher.

He died and was buried in Strasbourg.

Translated by Y.K.

Antoine Meillet (11 Nov. 1866, Moulins - 21 Sept. 1936, Châteaumeillant)
Անթուան Մէյէ (11 նոյ. 1866, Մուլէն - 21 սեպտ. 1936, Շաթօմէյան)

Antoine Meillet

Following Hübschmann, Meillet was the linguist of international standing who accorded Armenian its correct position and value. Armenian was at the center of his interests. It’s worth noting also that he was H. Adjarian’s beneficent teacher.

First a student of Carrière, he attended Hübschmann’s lectures, then went to Vienna, to the Mkhitarist monastery, where he learned Armenian fundamentally with Fr. Dashian, 1890-1891. Subsequently, he travelled to Tbilisi, the center of Eastern Armenians, and Ejmiatzin, after which to the Venice Mkhitarist monastery, where he became a member the St. Lazar academy.

1902-1906 he was a professor of Armenian at the Paris École des langues orientales (School of Oriental Languages) and in 1906 was appointed lecturer in comparative grammar at Collège de France, where he remained for 30 years. As a result of his studies, he was associated with Indo-European languages from the beginning, and in 1903 had already published his monumental Introduction to the Comparative Study of Indo-European Languages. Among his lectures, he published Le Slave commun (Common Slavic), 1914, Grammaire du vieux perse (Grammar of Old Persian), 1916, Caractères généraux des langues germaniques (The General Characteristics of Germanic Languages), etc.

Demanding and reserved as a scientist, he was, however, a warm Armenophile and participated in all sorts of organizations beneficial to Armenians, as well as becoming an active member of the Armenian National Delegation.

With Charles Diehl and Frédéric Macler, he was the founder of La Revue des Études Arméniennes  (Review of Armenian Studies), which lasted 10 years.

Of note is his main opus on the Armenian language, first published in 1903, in Vienna, and later again in 1962, in Lisbon, to date an authoritative work.

Translated by Y.K.

Hratchia Adjarian (1876, Constantinople – 16 April 1953, Erevan)
Հրաչեայ Աճառեան (1876, Պոլիս – 16 ապրիլ 1953, Երեւան)

Hratchia Adjarian

Hratchia Adjarian is the greatest Armenian linguist; his specialty: the Armenian Language and its dialects. He is rightly considered the founder of Armenian dialectology. He arrived in Paris is 1895 and attended the linguistics courses in the Sorbonne and other institutions. He was selected a member of the Paris Linguistic Society in 1897. In 1909, under the directorship of Antoine Meillet, he received his doctoral diploma.

His publications in French:

«Croisements de mots en arménien» (Cross-breeding of Words in Armenian), Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique (Reports of the Linguistic Society) - n° X, Paris, 1898.
«Etude sur la langue laze» (A Study of the Laz Language), Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique - n° X, Paris, 1898.
«Les explosives de l’ancien arménien» (The Explosives in Ancient Armenian), La Parole ou Revue internationale de Rhinologie, Otologie, Laryngologie et Phonétique expérimentale (The International Word or Review of Experimental Rhinology, Otology, Laryngology and Phonetics), Paris, 1899.
«Gutturales issues de semi-occlusives par dissimilation» (Guttural Issues of Semi-occlusives by Dissimilation), Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique - n° XIV, Paris, 1906-08.
«Étymologies arméniennes» (Armenian Etymology), Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique - n° XV, Paris, 1908-1909.
«Classification des dialectes arméniens» (Classification of Armenian Dialects), Champion, Paris, 1909.
«Recueil de mots kurdes en dialecte de Novo-Bayazet» (Compendium of Kurdish Words in the New-Bayazet Dialect), Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique - n° XVI, Paris, 1909-11.
«Étymologies arméniennes» (suite-continuation), Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique - n° XX, Paris, 1918.
«Étymologies arméniennes», Revue Études Arméniennes, III, Librairie Paul Geuthner, Paris, 1923.

His primary Armenian works:

Հայերէն արմատական բառարան (Root Dictionary of Armenian), Ա. հրատ. (1st edition), 1926-1935:
Լիակատար քերականութիւն Հայոց լեզուի՝ համեմատութեամբ 562 լեզուներու (Comprehensive Grammar of the Armenian Language, Compared with 562 Languages), 12 հատոր (12 volumes), Հայկական ՍՍՌԳԱ հրատ. (SSRGA Publishing), Երեւան (Yerevan): 
Հայոց անձնանունների բառարան (Dictionary of Armenian Personal Names), 5 հատոր (5 volumes), Ա. հրատ. (1st edition), 1942-1962:
Հայոց լեզուի պատմութիւն (History of the Armenian Language), 2 հատոր (2 volumes), 1942-1962:
Մ. Մաշտոցի եւ գրերու գիւտի պատմութեան աղբիւրները ու անոնց քննութիւնը (The Sources of the History of M. Masdots and the Discovery of the Alphabet and their Examination), 1907:
Հայոց գրերը (The Armenian Alphabet), 1925:
As well as catalogs of ancient manuscripts.

Translated by Y.K.

Read Fr. Nerses Akinian’s article on Hratchia Adjarian (Հանդէս ամսօրեայ, LXVII, 1953, July-September, pp. 443-465.(pdf 1,3 Mo) 


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