Armenian

The Hidden Languages of Flowers

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As spring unfolds, the fragrant beauty of the season draws us in. We take walks in nature. For the more ambitious, we plant gardens. For the less ambitious, we carefully select bouquets to brighten our living spaces. But flowers are much more than merely decorative. For centuries, cultures around the world have looked to flowers, and their significance is far-reaching. Flowers are sacred. Flowers are inspiration. Flowers are hope. This spring, let’s take a brief botanical tour and explore the many languages of flowers in different cultures.

 

Armenia and the Forget-Me-Not

անմոռուկ [anmoṙuk]

The Armenian Genocide of 1915 – known by Armenians as Medz Yeghern (the great crime) or Aghet (catastrophe) –  resulted in the deaths of as many as 1.2 million Armenians. In 2015, the purple forget-me-not flower or anmoṙuk (անմոռուկ) became the official emblem in observance of the Armenian genocide. The black center of the flower represents the dark past while the light purple petals represent the unity of today’s Armenian communities worldwide. Five dark purple petals paint the future and illustrate the five continents where Armenian genocide survivors resettled. Finally, the golden inner area symbolizes light and hope. And it’s not just flowers that shed light on the hope that runs through Armenian culture – learn more about it and discover the richness of Armenian folk dances to dig deeper.

 

Egypt and the Blue Lotus

نيلوفَر [nilufar

Once scattered along the shores of the Nile River in Ancient Egypt, the blue lotus is known by many names, including the blue water lily and the sacred lily. The ancient roots of the lotus flower or nilufar (نيلوفر) are unmistakable, as it is frequently depicted on tomb walls and other ancient Egyptian artwork. The blue lotus even appears on King Tutankhamen’s tomb! This flower is also associated with numerous Egyptian deities, such as Osiris and Ra. Additionally, the flower has psychoactive properties and was once used to treat insomnia and anxiety. Truly, many flowers have a special place in the Arabic language. For example, moonflower or ya [q]amar (يا قمر) has long been used as a romantic term of endearment.

 

France and Lavender 

lavande 

Lavender has long been lauded for its homeopathic benefits. The harvesting of lavender in Provence (a region in the south of France, particularly known for its fields of lavender) is a source of regional pride and centuries-long tradition. Small farms harvest the crop for use in perfumes, oils, soaps, and more. If you find yourself in France between mid-June and mid-August, it is well worth your while to visit a lavender field in full bloom. From Les Lavandes de Champelle in the hilltop town of Sault to the sacred silence of Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, experience une rêverie mémorable

 

Iran and the Damask Rose

گل محمدی [gol-e Mohammadi] or گل سرخ [gol-e sorkh]

From perfume to medicine, rose water has many uses. Iran’s annual Rose Water Festival in Kashan attracts visitors from Iran and the world over. Named for the Syrian city of Damascus where Europeans stumbled across the flower during the Middle Ages, this flower is thought to have its origins in central Asia and Iran. Thus, the flower holds a special place in Persian culture. Every spring the Kashan county of Iran is blanketed in soft, velvety roses. During the festival, thousands of pounds of gol Mohammadi (گل محمدی) or Mohammadi rose are picked to distill into rose water. The centuries-old distillery process known as golab-giri involves boiling the rose petals for hours in copper pots. So, whether you wish to soothe a sore throat or sample the Persian sweet faloodeh, this festival is not to be missed. Planning to attend? Learn how to introduce yourself and start with ‘hello’.

 

Palestine and the Poppy

شقائق النعمان  [shaqeeqah an-nu’mān]

A national flower of Palestine, the poppy or shaqeeqah an-nu’mān (شقيقة النعمان) grows abundantly in fields during the springtime. Not surprisingly, it represents the relationship between Palestinians and their land. Additionally, this flower is steeped in history, signifying bloodshed from wars. As a result, the poppy appears frequently in Palestinian art and literature. Flowers and other nature-inspired motifs are also on display in Palestinian embroidery work or تطريز (taTriiz). Now more than ever, the poppy takes on special significance. On December 15th, artists and activists created an installation of more than 20,000 red paper poppies in front of the New York Stock Exchange, each poppy laid in remembrance of a Palestinian life lost. 

 

Russia and Lily of the Valley

Ландыш [landysh]

Lily of the Valley or landysh (Ландыш) was a favorite flower of Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. In fact, Feodorovna and Nicholas II once gifted Queen Alexandra a Lily of the Valley Fabergé egg cast in gold, and embedded with diamonds and pearls. The flower is also found in the Russian legend of Sadko when Lilies of the Valley grew out of tears shed by his spurned lover the sea princess Volkhova. This legend is depicted in the 1898 opera Sadko by Rimsky- Korsakov. Want to learn more about Russia’s rich cultural history? Try a language lesson with one of our native instructors for free!  

 

Kurdistan and the Daffodil

nergiz

The daffodil or nergiz can be found spilling from the streets of the Kurdistan region every January through April. This cheerful yellow and white flower is a symbol of spring and is an important part of the Kurdish holiday of Newroz, which is the Kurdish New Year. Friends and family enjoy gifting these flowers to their loved ones. In this way, the daffodil, which is also a symbol of Kurdish nationalism, is a token of one’s affection. It’s no wonder that this flower features prominently in traditional Kurdish clothing, as well as traditional Kurdish tattooing or deq.

 

Ukraine and the Sunflower

Соняшник [soniashnyk]

Sunflowers – or soniashnyk in Ukrainian – have grown in Ukraine since the mid-18th century. The pervasiveness of the sunflower is undeniable. From sunflower seeds as a popular snack to profitable sunflower oil exports, the sunflower has become an unofficial national symbol. Most significantly, it has been a longstanding symbol of peace. When Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in 1996, sunflowers were planted in celebration at the Pervomaysk missile base. 

 

Venezuela and the Orchid

Flor de Mayo

Also known as Flor de Mayo, the orchid is the national flower of Venezuela. In fact, this flower actually inspired the construction of Venezuela’s pavilion at the 2000 World Fair Expo in Hanover. Venezuelan architect Frutas Vivo designed The Flor de Venezuela or the Flor de Hanover. The structure consists of 16 huge petals that open and close. (Each petal measures at least 33 feet or 10 meters long!) After the Expo, the famed Flor was moved in stages to Barquisimeto in northwest Venezuela. Want to delve deeper? Try a Refugee Voices session with our Venezuelan Language Partners.

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endangered languages by continent and status

Language Endangerment and How to Fight It

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In a world characterized by linguistic diversity, each language serves as a unique expression of culture, identity and heritage. However, the numbers of speakers of some languages are declining; these “mother tongues” are not being taught anymore. When this happens, the language becomes “endangered.” These endangered languages are at risk of disappearing forever, taking with them centuries of cultural wisdom, knowledge and tradition. Happily, we now have a better understanding of how and why this happens and what we can do to prevent it.

Sometimes it is debatable whether a language is actually endangered or not, as this topic is studied by different branches of social science such as linguistics and anthropology, and the experts don’t always agree. However, there are common characteristics and guidelines to identify vulnerable languages. Being informed on this topic is important to help us all work to preserve the cultural heritages these languages are associated with.

The languages that we often classify as “endangered” are often spoken by indigenous or minority communities around the globe, and they are at risk of disappearing as their speakers either pass away or transition to using other languages that have higher prestige, more social advantages (such better job or migration opportunities) or are imposed or favored by a government, institution or educational system. The next generations become bilingual, speaking both the community language and the favored language, but at some point they tend to pass on only the favored language to their own children.

When a language no longer has any native speakers, it is considered a “dead language.” If this language is not spoken even as a second language, it is classified as an “extinct language.” Even if a dead language is still studied through recordings or written materials (as for example with Latin or Ancient Greek), it is still considered extinct unless there are proficient speakers. While there are over 7,000 languages in the world today, experts expect 1,500 of them to be gone by the end of this century.

This bar chart, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, shows UNESCO’s count of languages spoken on each continent and their endangerment status as of 2019.

While languages have always been dying through human history, the current rate of decline has accelerated due to factors such as globalization, mass migration, cultural assimilation, imperialism, (neo)colonialism, and linguicide — the intentional suppression or eradication of a language. It is estimated that 45% of the world population speaks one of only a handful of “majority” languages, such as English, Spanish or Chinese. The rest of the population speaks “minority” languages; these are not necessarily endangered (many of them aren’t), but the numbers certainly put things into perspective.

Ethnologue is the go-to resource for linguists looking for speaker statistics of all the world’s languages (it also demonstrates the familial relationships between languages). UNESCO also has multiple projects documenting the languages of the world, such as the World Atlas of Languages, and it also has an atlas which focuses specifically on vulnerable or endangered languages; so does Google, with the Endangered Languages Project. Here you can find information and resources on endangered languages divided by country, but you can also find materials and resources written or spoken in these languages.

To get a better idea of what makes a language endangered, let’s consider the cases of two NaTakallam languages: Western Armenian and Kurdish.

Western Armenian is one of the two main varieties of the Armenian language (the other is Eastern Armenian; both dialects are offered by NaTakallam). Despite sharing a nearly identical vocabulary, the notable disparities in pronunciation and grammatical structures between the two variants are substantial enough to make an argument that the two varieties are different languages—though they are mutually intelligible. Western Armenian is based on the dialect spoken by the Armenian community living in present-day Turkey—a population which declined sharply due to its genocide and forced displacement by the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

The language today is spoken mainly by the Armenian diaspora living in Turkey, Georgia, Lebanon, Iraq and the United States, but being a “diaspora language” puts it in danger, as people are more inclined to speak and pass on the language of the country they are living in. Turkey has recognized Armenian as a minority language with certain rights since the Treaty of Lausanne in 1925, but the degree to which this treaty meets modern international standards for minority language rights has been disputed. Armenian within Armenia, of course, is not endangered, but it is the Eastern Armenian variety which predominates in this country.

The Armenian alphabet is unique to its language and has a rich calligraphic history, as this example page from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows.
A Kurdish woman displays traditional Kurdish clothing. Photo by Daroon Jasm.

Another vulnerable language offered by NaTakallam is Kurdish. Like Armenian, debate exists over whether Kurdish can be considered one language or a group of related languages; its various dialects are often not easily mutually intelligible. Only Zazaki is unanimously considered to be endangered, but while Kurdish is spoken in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and beyond, it is only recognized as an official language in Iraq, and this is the only country where Kurdish-language education is available. Since the Kurdish population faces different degrees of discrimination across the countries in which they live, the language can’t always be spoken freely by its community.

Luckily, language decline can be reversed; if enough people are interested in the culture and in the language itself, it can be revitalized. Many people with an immigrant background or from minority communities take an interest in their roots and want to know more about the language their parents or grandparents spoke, so they teach themselves or engage in other efforts to revitalize a language. Such revival efforts are still ongoing everywhere in the world for various languages, and it’s too soon to say whether or not they will take off, but any community that takes an interest in keeping its culture alive has definitely taken the first step to success.

If you’re interested in learning more about endangered languages in general, we recommend you check out The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice and Sustaining Linguistic Diversity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alice Zanini is a copywriting intern at NaTakallam. She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in linguistics and Middle Eastern studies. Her research focus is on sociopolitical and sociolinguistic issues in modern Turkey and the Persian-speaking world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mikaela Bell is a freelance editor and content writer with a background in anthropology and linguistics. An American based in France, she is also fond of reading, cooking, studying languages, fibercrafts and Irish stepdance.

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dancers performing Armenian folk dances

The Rich Tradition of Armenian Folk Dance

Reading Time: 5 minutes

With around three thousand years of history, Armenia is steeped in culture and tradition, and Armenian folk dance (պար; bar) is a prime example of the country’s diversity. Each region has its own style and each of them has a special meaning, associated with rituals, traditions and faith. They are also a way to express emotions. Traditionally, many dances are performed in traditional Armenian dress (the տարազ or taraz) and involve props such as masks or knives.

Music is, of course, an important part of a dance. Armenian folk dance music is performed on folk instruments: the դուդուկ or ծիրանափող (duduk or tsiranapogh, a wind instrument made out of apricot wood, similar to a flute); the զուռնա (zurna, another wind instrument made out of wood, but closer to a clarinet); and the Դհոլ (dhol, a type of drum common not just in eastern Europe but also across Asia).

Armenian musicians

Originally gender mattered when dancing; women and men performed different dances. Nowadays, however, everyone can participate regardless of their gender. The dances serve as a vibrant expression of people’s entire lives, encapsulating their history, values and prayers, as well as moments of joy and sorrow. They are passed down through generations and remain an integral part of social gatherings like weddings and festivals. Even within the Armenian diaspora, there is a concerted effort to preserve and perpetuate these dance traditions, ensuring their continuation beyond the country’s borders.

Let’s have a closer look at the most famous Armenian folk dances:

Kochari

The Քոչարի or kochari is a lively, energetic dance that is believed to be one of the oldest traditional dances of Armenia.There are different versions depending on where you live, but it was inspired by the movement of rams fighting against each other. Initially the kochari symbolized a military victory and was performed by men, but nowadays it is performed during different celebrations by people of any age, gender and social status. The dancers hold each other’s hands in a line, shoulder to shoulder, and dance in a circle. The first person in the line holds a handkerchief and spins it. (The discerning reader may notice similarities to the Levantine دبكة, debka.) Kochari dancers often wear traditional costumes, which can vary depending on the region of Armenia they come from. In 2017, the kochari was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List as a dance that “provides a sense of shared identity and solidarity, contributes to the continuity of historical, cultural and ethnic memory, and fosters mutual respect among community members of all ages.”

Want to give it a try? Check out this kochari tutorial!

Shalakho

The շալախո or shalakho is a dynamic, acrobatic dance known throughout the Caucasus region. There are different versions depending on the region, and the dancers also differ: in some areas it is only danced by women, only by men, or by women and men together. The most common variation is with two or more men “competing” to attract a woman’s attention. The male dancers use swords or sticks as props and perform fast-paced, energetic movements that involve jumping, kicking and spinning, while the women move in a more soft and delicate manner, with shorter steps. The shalakho is typically accompanied by the zurna.

Tamzara

The Թամզարա or tamzara is a traditional dance that originated in the Western region of Armenia, which is now part of Turkey. It is typically performed at weddings by men and women, who hold hands and move in a circular motion while crossing steps and swinging their arms. The music for the tamzara is usually provided by a dhol, and the dance is often accompanied by singing.

Yarkhushta  

The Յարխուշտա or yarkhushta is a war dance typically performed by men. The name probably comes from the union of the Farsi Persian words یار (yar), meaning “companion” or “lover,” and khusht, a small dagger. It involves quick, fast-paced movements, including high jumps and kicks performed to the sound of a dhol and zurna, and originally it was likely accompanied by war cries.The key element of the dance is a forward movement, in which participants rapidly approach one another and vigorously clap the palms of the dancers in the opposite row.

Like the tamzara, the yarkhusta originates in Sasun, in Western Armenia, now Turkey. However, many inhabitants of that area were displaced due to persecution and settled in the Talin region, in today’s Armenia, bringing their culture with them. In the 1930s, a famous ethnographer named Srbuhi Lisitsian, who taught in Yerevan, visited the villages of Talin to study their dances. He was the one who made the yarkhusta known to the whole country of Armenia. Most researchers say that the dance has medieval origins, while others argue that it dates back to Armenia’s pre-Christian period, but scholars agree that the dance has gone through almost no changes during the centuries.

We couldn’t decide between these two examples — why not comment and tell us which you prefer?

Berd

Finally, the բերդ, berd, or բերդապար, berdapar, whose name means “fortress,” is another famous Armenian military dance originally performed by men. Its name comes from a move performed during the dance, in which the dancers stand on top of each other’s shoulders to create a “fortress.” Originally from the old Armenian city Vaspurakan, near the Van Lake in Western Armenia, people say that before becoming a dance it was a game named Գմբեթախաղ or gmbetakhagh, which means “dome game.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alice Zanini is a copywriting intern at NaTakallam. She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in linguistics and Middle Eastern studies. Her research focus is on sociopolitical and sociolinguistic issues in modern Turkey and the Persian-speaking world.

ABOUT THE EDITOR: Mikaela Bell is a freelance editor and content writer with a background in anthropology and linguistics. An American based in France, she is also fond of reading, cooking, studying languages, fibercrafts and Irish stepdance.

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5 Ways to Say “I Love You” in Western Armenian

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Blog contributors: Nairy Kouyoumjian, Lucy Davis, and Maria Thomas.

The month of love may be well behind us but everyday is a new opportunity to spread love! Armenian has two main dialects – Eastern and Western – and even more ways to say “I love you”. Though the two main dialects are mutually intelligible, they have been evolving separately over the last 100 years in their own unique ways.

Here are our top 5 phrases to spread the love with Western-speaking Armenians around the world!

1. Դուն իմ աշխարհն ես (Toun im ashkharhnes)
Meaning “you are my world,” this is also the name of a famous song by Armenian-American singer Paul Baghdadlian, known as the King of Love Songs.

2. Սիրելիս (Sirelis)
This word, meaning “my darling” or “my beloved,” is a simple one to memorize and use with your loved ones! Use this expression (and the others listed!) to tell someone how much you care for them.

3. Կեանքս (Gyankes)
This more figurative way of expressing love, meaning “my life,” uses the same word as you would use to talk about life in a general sense.

4. Սիրտս (Sirdes)
To round out our list we have Սիրտս meaning “my heart.” It is commonly used when talking with a lover, friend or family member with affection.

5. Քեզ կը սիրեմ (Kez geh seerem)
This is the most straightforward way to express your adoration of someone in Eastern Armenian, translating directly to “I love you.”

Here’s another bonus expression: Սէրս Քեզ Կու տամ (Seres kez gou dam). This phrase translates to “I give you my love,” which you might use interchangeably with Քեզ կը սիրեմ (Kez geh seerem) i.e. “I love you.”

Interested in learning more Western Armenian? Sign up for NaTakallam Sessions today, or give the Gift of Language to a loved one! At NaTakallam, every language session contributes to the livelihoods of our skilled tutors from displaced backgrounds.

Join a session today, learn a language and make an impact!

 

This piece was contributed by Nairy Kouyoumjian, Lucy Davis, and Maria Thomas:
Content support: Nairy Kouyoumjian is a Syrian-Armenian Language Partner with NaTakallam teaching Arabic and Western Armenian. She loves teaching her native languages in a fun and engaging way! During her sessions, she combines the basic rules of the language with discussions about her life and her culture! In her free time, she enjoys reading and doing voluntary social work.
Copywriting: Lucy Davis is a Communications and PR Officer with NaTakallam. She is currently pursuing a dual Bachelor’s degree in economics and literature. She loves cooking, doing puzzles, and traveling to new places.
Copyediting: Maria Thomas is a copywriter with NaTakallam. She is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in art history. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, powerlifting and going on hikes.

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5 Ways to Say “I Love You” in Eastern Armenian

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Blog contributors: Anahid Jouljian, Lucy Davis, and Maria Thomas.

The month of love is coming to an end, but that’s no reason to stop celebrating love! Armenian communities around the world mark the holiday of Trndez, also known as Candlemas Day in some parts of the world, in February. What’s more, these celebrations are followed by another Armenian festival, St. Sargis Day – providing even more reasons and ways to share love.

Learn 5 phrases about love in Eastern Armenian with NaTakallam and find out more about these unique holidays!

1. Իմ պաշտելիս (Im bashdelis)
This phrase, meaning “my adorable,” might be used on Trndez, when it is customary for newlyweds to help build a large bonfire in the church courtyard and leap over it together.

2. Իմ մի հատիկս (Meg hadiges)
This is a beautiful way to tell someone you love them, meaning, “my one and only.” On Trndez, celebrating love is not just for newlyweds but for families and people in all stages of life. During the bonfire, people light candles to bring the fire back to their own households.

3. Թանկագինս (Tangakeenes)
This translates to “my precious” but don’t worry, it’s not a reference to the Lord of the Rings! You can use this expression to tell someone how much you care for them.

4. Սիրելիս (Sirelis)
This one word phrase meaning “my darling” or “my beloved” can be added into any phrase to make it loving. According to tradition on St. Sargis Day, young people should eat a small salty snack called aghi blit before going to sleep, and in their dreams, they will see their future soulmate offering a glass of water.

5. Սիրում եմ քեզ (Seeroum em kez)
This is the most straightforward way to express your adoration of someone in Eastern Armenian, translating directly to “I love you.”

Interested in learning more Eastern Armenian? Sign up for NaTakallam Sessions today, or give the Gift of Language to a loved one! At NaTakallam, every language session contributes to the livelihoods of our skilled tutors from displaced backgrounds.

Join a session today, learn a language and make an impact!

This piece was contributed by Anahid Jouljian, Lucy Davis, and Maria Thomas:
Content support: Anahid Jouljian is a Lebanese-Armenian Language Partner with NaTakallam teaching Western Armenian. As a result of the pandemic and Lebanon port blast, Anahid moved to Yerevan with her family in March 2020. In her 25 years of teaching, Anahid’s lessons have helped the Armenian diaspora around the world get back in touch with their roots. Today, she is also an editor in the Memory Documentation Project of The Armenian Program of the Gulbenkian Foundation.
Copywriting: Lucy Davis is a Communications and PR Officer with NaTakallam. She is currently pursuing a dual Bachelor’s degree in economics and literature. She loves cooking, doing puzzles, and traveling to new places.
Copyediting support: Maria Thomas is a copywriter with NaTakallam. She is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in art history. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, powerlifting and going on hikes.

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