The ancient Armenian language, which is still the literary and church idiom of the Armenians, belongs to the Indo-European family, is enriched very considerably from the Sanskrit, abounds in gutturals, and has strength, flexibility, compass, and capability of expressing thought by evolving new terms from itself. The conversion of the nation to Christianity led to the introduction of certain words from the Greek, and impressed on the language a new character in several respects; the Persian and Turkish conquests produced other changes. The modern or spoken Armenian dialects differ very considerably from the ancient - the Ararat or eastern dialect less, however, than the Constantinopolitan or western dialect - chiefly in the disuse of certain words, the introduction of new words and phrases, and a change in grammatical forms, collocations of words, and idiomatic expressions. The alphabet consists of 38 letters, 36 of which were invented by the monk Mezrob about 409, and the other two added in the 12th century. In the form of the substantives generally no distinction is made to indicate gender; but besides the ordinary cases, nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, and instrumental, there are two others called the narrative and circumlocutory, formed by prefixes.
The adjective, when not closely connected with the substantive, is similarly declined, and changes its form to denote the comparative degree; but the superlative is generally shown by writing the adjective twice, or by prefixing an adverb like the English most. The verbs, divided according to their vowels into three conjugations, and having a passive voice, vary their forms to denote the present and imperfect, have two future and two aorist tenses, of peculiar form, and the usual compound tenses formed with an auxiliary verb. The other parts of speech present no noteworthy peculiarities. - Ancient Armenian literature, older than the introduction of Christianity, is now limited to a few fragments of ancient songs preserved by Moses of Chorene. With Christianity there came into Armenia a taste for Greek literature. Previous to the invention of the Armenian alphabet the language had been written in Greek, Persian, or Semitic characters; but Mezrob now instituted schools in which the new alphabet was taught, and with Isaac the catholicos sent learned men to Edessa, Constantinople, and elsewhere, to translate foreign works into Armenian. The most important result of this was the Armenian translation of the Bible by Isaac and Mezrob. begun from the Syriac, but finally made from the Greek, usually assigned to A. D. 411, but apparently completed after the council of Ephesus (431). This translation, still in use, is of much critical and more religious value, and the oldest Armenian book extant.
It was first printed at Amsterdam in 1666, under the care of Bishop Uscan, and has been often reprinted. In 1805 Zohrab and the Mekhitarists published at Venice an improved edition of this Bible from manuscript authori-ties, Zohrab's improved text of the New Testament having appeared there in 1789. The influence of Mezrob's Bible was so great that the Armenian language suddenly attained a high state of perfection and regularity, and the 5th century became the golden age of its literature. Moses of Chorene or Khoren - who studied Greek at Alexandria, and after returning to Armenia became an archbishop, and died about 488 at the reputed age of 120 years - is considered by the Armenians their first classical writer. His history or chronicle of Armenia from the time of Haig to the death of Mezrob and Isaac (printed in Lon-don in 1736, with a Latin translation) is his most famous work, and next to Mezrob's Bible the most ancient authentic Armenian book. He also wrote on rhetoric and geography, and perhaps translated into Armenian the Chroni-con of Eusebius (Venice, 1818; Latin, Milan, 1818). Contemporary with Moses of Chorene were Elisha or Eghishe, an Armenian bishop, who wrote a history of the religious wars of Vartan (a prince to whom he was secretary) with the Persians (Neumann's English transla-tion, London, 1830), David the philosopher, etc.
Armenian historical literature throws much light on the history not only of Armenia, but of all the neighboring nations (Persians, Parthians, Tartars, Arabs, &c), and deserves much more attention than it has received. The recent: history of Armenia by the vartabed Michael Tchamtchean (3 vols. 4to, Venice, 1786; afterward abridged in Armenian, Armeno-Turkish, and English) is probably their most valuable historical work in the past 500 years. The catholicos Nerses Klayetsi, who died at an advanced age in 1173, was distinguished as a theologian, sacred orator, and poet. His nephew, Nerses Lampronetsi, was a homilet-ical and liturgical writer. The Mekhitarists of San Lazaro, near Venice, have done much J since 1717 for Armenian literature, preparing and publishing editions of the Bible and of many other works, in addition to those named above; as a history of Armenian literature by their abbot Somal (1829), works on grammar, arithmetic, geography, etc, in ancient Armeni-an, a semi-monthly Armenian newspaper, translations of Freneh, Italian, German, English, and American books. etc. There are other Arme-nian printing offices and newspapers at Con-stantinople and elsewhere. Peshtimaljean prepared about half a century ago a good grammar and dictionary of the ancient Armenian language.
Another learned Armenian composed a Persian dictionary (in Persian, Armenian, and Turkish), which was published at Constantinople about the same time. But be-fore the mission of the American board was commenced (1831), comparatively little was done for the languages actually spoken or read by the Armenians. Even Peshtimaljean's school had only a spelling book and one or two other first books in the modern Armenian. But in 1861 the missionaries had translated the whole Bible into both the Armeno-Turkish and modern Armenian languages, and had published many religious, educational, and other works. Much literary progress has since been made among all the Armenians. At the close of 1871 13 newspapers - 3 of them dailies, 3 triweeklies, and 7 weeklies (one of which issues a daily bulletin) - were published in Constantinople for Armenians.