1,600 years for 38 letters

first_img In an effort to keep their language, values and customs alive in America, Armenians over the past 40 years have built about 20 schools in the Los Angeles area that serve more than 3,000 students. Greg Tufenkian and his sister – who grew up in a household with an Armenian-speaking mother and an Armenian-American father who spoke only English – attended Armenian school and now send their children to Armenian school in an effort to preserve the language. “I think we’re so lucky to have a language and an alphabet as a people, since there are so many people whose languages aren’t even spoken anymore,” said Tufenkian, a Glendale resident who sells commercial real estate. “It seems through history we’ve always been an underdog; yet we’ve always been able to regroup, refocus, survive and go forward. So preserving our language for the next generations is the least we can do to preserve our culture.” High-profile attorney Mark Geragos said he speaks enough Armenian to ask for more water, say thank you and ask how are you. But he talks to his two children about the Armenian Genocide and sends them to Armenian events, summer camps and church – to keep the culture alive in future generations. “The rule of thumb is that identification with your culture dies out in three generations, and I’m determined not to let that happen.” Armenian-Americans have been criticized as insular and ethnocentric, but determination to keep the language alive is a byproduct of historical tragedy, said Ed Finegan, professor of linguistics and law at the University of Southern California. “Because of our history – when you experience a calamity like a genocide or holocaust – you are so insecure and so paranoid that you are constantly fighting a war of preservation,” said Vahe Berberian, an Armenian writer, performer and artist. Stepan Partamian, the popular host of a controversial Armenian public-access program, argues that there’s not much to celebrate when, like Americanized Spanish or Spanglish, what’s being created in America is “Armenglish.” “Why should we celebrate 1,600 years of the Armenian alphabet when we don’t utilize it today?” he said. “Learning it will one day become more of a novelty than a necessity.” But language in fact must change and adapt in order to survive, Finegan said. “In order for a language to remain vital, it has to grow and adapt, so borrowing English or words from other languages doesn’t affect the heart of the language,” Finegan said. Despite the effort to preserve the language, some Armenians are resigned to the probability that it will one day die in America. They point out that once-vibrant Armenian communities have evaporated in India, Rome and Singapore. There are two ways a language can die, Finegan said: Its people are eliminated, or the speakers give it up for another language. But the language can survive by being used for functions more immediate to the culture – as at home, church or heritage events. “The more it can be preserved there, the more likely it will be to survive,” Finegan said. Oganesian would definitely want her children to learn Armenian. “I think it’s a connection to their heritage,” she said. “It’s always a good idea to know how to speak more languages, and any way you can give yourself more avenues by which to express yourself, the better off you are.” Naush Boghossian, (818) 713-3722 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! When Nicole Oganesian realized that her high-school Spanish kicked in while she was trying to communicate with her great-grandmother – but not the language of her ancestors – she knew it was time she learned Armenian. She saw her opportunity at the University of California, Los Angeles. After five quarters, she was able to communicate in the language she hadn’t learned growing up in an Armenian home. “I felt a frustration – not being able to communicate with family and grandparents,” said Oganesian, 26, a law student from Chino Hills. “There was no reason for me not to know how. I almost felt a duty to learn it. It just makes me feel like I can better interact, and I felt like it just made me more in tune with the culture.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Some 10 million Armenians worldwide this week are celebrating the 1,600th anniversary of their alphabet – which, along with their Christian religion, serves as a key link to preserving their cultural identity. Armenians have long believed that their alphabet was destined for them and came from a higher source, even ascribing its origin to mysticism. Mesrop Mashtots, a cleric of the Armenian royal court, is said to have dreamed the 38 letters in 405 A.D., writing them down when he awoke. Mashtots, who was interested in translating the Bible into his native tongue, is something of an icon for Armenians, with statues of him erected throughout the homeland. Most Armenians-Americans today have a poster or painting of the alphabet in their homes. More than anything, Armenians believe that their language is the basis of maintaining the culture – one that has been threatened over the years by a genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and by life in the Diaspora. last_img

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