Western Armenian & Eastern Armenian – Pronunciation Differences

Regular differences in pronunciation between Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian

Disclaimer, based on feedback: All major points and basic information are covered, but some exceptions and other nuances also exist.

Hello, and thank you for watching this video on the regular differences in pronunciation between Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian.

The Armenian language has one, unique alphabet, as you can see.

But it has two formal, literary versions: Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian.

Although, for most educated Armenians, each is mutually-intelligible with the other, there certainly are differences in vocabulary (in words), grammar, and even in orthography, due to Soviet-era spelling reforms.

But the most immediate difference is in sounds — the pronunciation of letters.

Let’s take up those letters that make up those differences.

It boils down to these five sets of three letters.

Marking them under a column each, a linguist would say that, in Eastern Armenian pronunciation, the sounds of the letters under Column I are voiceless, under Column II are aspirated — that is, they have a light “huh” breathing sound added to them, and that Column III’s letters are voiced, with a deeper or rougher sound. You’ll see what I mean in just a moment.

So, in Eastern Armenian, that first letter is pronounced [p], then [ph], and [b]. [p]-[ph]-[b]. Do you hear the pattern?

Similarly, the next rows of letters are pronounced [k], [kh], [g]

[t], [th], [d]

[ts], [tsh], [dz]

[ch], [chh], [j]

So much for Eastern Armenian pronunciation.

In Western Armenian, though, the pattern is different. Column I is what linguists would call voiced, Column II is aspirated, and Column III is also aspirated.

So we have [b], [ph], [ph] in Western Armenian,

Then, [g], [kh], [kh]

[d], [th], [th]

[dz], [tsh], [tsh]

[j], [chh], [chh]

And that was Western Armenian pronunciation.

Now, what are the differences?

Well, in Eastern Armenian, each of these fifteen letters have distinct sounds. But, in Western Armenian, the sounds for Column II match with Column III exactly, as we just saw.

That means that there are five pairs of letters in Western Armenian that have the exact same sound. Not so in Eastern Armenian.

Also note that the Eastern Armenian sounds for Column III match the Western Armenian sounds for Column I.

So, Eastern Armenian [b] — Western Armenian [b]

Eastern Armenian [g] — Western Armenian [g]

[d] in Eastern — [d] in Western

[dz] in Eastern — [dz] in Western

Eastern [j] — Western [j]

Confusing, I know. Thankfully, though, the sounds for letters under Column II match perfectly in Western and Eastern Armenian — [ph], [kh], [th], [tsh], [chh].

However, the Eastern Armenian sounds for Column I do not exist at all in Western Armenian. Many Western Armenian speakers have trouble just hearing the sounds [p], [k], [t], [ts], [ch].

And that’s these five sets of three letters.

Additionally, these two letters, they are both rolled Rs, pronounced the same in Western Armenian, as [r]. The letter on the left, though, is rolled more in Eastern Armenian, so it would be [rr] and [r].

There are some consequences to these differences. Here are a couple of them.

Knowing how to spell becomes important in Western Armenian. The letters of the Armenian language have names, which I did not mention. You have to know those names in order to know how to spell in Western Armenian. For Eastern Armenian speakers, though, simply saying the words is almost always good enough to spell correctly.

Transliteration can be inconsistent. Spelling Armenian words in other languages, using other letters, such as the Latin alphabet in English, can be tricky.

Let’s take this name in Armenian. Or, better example, its diminutive or short form.

If that were your name, would you write it in English as “Bedig” or as “Petik”?

I guess it depends on where you come from, or perhaps on where you’re going.

Wherever you call home, East or West, wherever you end up, North or South — happy Armenian pronunciation!