This is a personal love letter to the Armenian written language, for looking so amazing. After all, we’re talking about a script for an Indo-European language with fairly close affinities to Greek and Albanian (though also to the Indo-Iranian family of northern India and Central Asia), that originated from a Christian country (albeit one identified with the unique Armenian Apostolic Church), which was invented by a Christian theologian, Mesrop Mashtots, in AD 405. And yet … it looks more like Thai than anything in the European linguistic family. It may have derived from one of the Pahlavi scripts of ancient Parthia, or from Greek, but in fact resembles neither. There are also some fascinating and controversial hints that Mashtots may have developed the Armenian alphabet from a local pre-Christian script.
Whatever its origins, the Armenian written language owes some of its uniqueness to the structure of the Armenian tongue and to Armenian history. For one thing, Armenian is agglutinative, with the only other Indo-European language sharing this characteristic being Persian. (Think of the long rolling words of Finnish, another aggultinative language.) It has numerous consonant clusters. It has a complicated system of noun declension, meaning plenty of noun suffixes. All this naturally influences the appearance of the script, which in its modern form has 38 letters.
Furthermore, Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet as part of an assertion of national and Christian identity at a time when western Armenia was governed by the Byzantine Empire and much of the population were pagan, especially Zoroastrian, unbelievers. And throughout Armenia’s subsequent history, despite its ancient origins, it has been little changed, and has remained a touchstone of Armenian identity through tragedies like the Armenian genocide, and the Armenian diaspora.
Indeed, some authorities on Armenian have dubbed Armenia a “bibliocracy,” uniquely dependent on its script and its written language for its identity. But history doesn’t need to be evoked to valorize the sheer fantastic beauty of the Armenian alphabet. (And thanks to the Armenian Forum for some of the samples here.)
That’s a brief Wikipedia-level tour of the Armenian written language. What a wonderful world that has such wonders in it.