What is it that distinguishes the Armenians of Dikranagerd from other Armenians? Certainly, they have
their own dialect which has been characterized, by some, as jargon or slang. But other Armenians have their
own parpar as well, yet they are not set apart as emphatically because of it.
Do the Dikranagerdtsis suffer from a separateness complex that can be traced back to the great wall that
enclosed their city of Diarbekr, which has made them so clannish? If you ask them they will tell you that
the great wall was designed not to keep the Dikranagerdtsis in but all others out.
Dikranagerdtsis have a reputation for being kefjis and not without cause. But their kef is not restricted
to formal eating, drinking, and dancing that takes place at a hantes. No, they look to have a good time
even when hard at work; and this is where their language plays a critical part.
To them humor is a way of life and no opportunity is lost to turn an apt phrase or even coin an odd
expression in order to wring out every ounce of humor that is latent in a situation. And why not? The young
are frivolous, yes, and the middle-aged look down with gravity on frivolity. But the oldsters thank God for
each moment of laughter that comes their way. So, if you will, Dikranagerdtsis can be classified as
the “old ones.” And what’s more, they play the part well, as if (true or not), they are all progeny of King
Dikran the Great.
So what if Dikran's city is truly in a different location from Diarbekr, known in ancient times as Amida?
And so what if the Dikranagerdtsis call themselves Kaghakatsis (city folks)? Even the villagers referred to
themselves as “Kaghkatsis” because they came from the environs of the BIG CITY.
Children of Dikranagerdtsi parents who all spoke their dialect at home were hard-pressed in their youth by
non-Dikranagerdtsis who poked fun at them for their queer way of speaking. But I hereby take it upon myself
to defend the people and their language against their critics. Many of these critics can boast of schooling
beyond the level of many of those they criticize, but true education is often lacking, otherwise they would
appreciate and take great joy in encouraging the preservation of Armenian folklore in which dialects play a
You may have heard a Dikranagerdtsi speak of standard Armenian (Ashkharapar) as Krapar. There’s a reason
for this. Krapar (classical Armenian), as the word suggests, is the written language, and so it is not
surprising that Dikranagerdtsis use the word to distinguish the written tongue from the oral tongue, their
Admittedly, the Dikranagerdsi dialect is replete with non-Armenian words and phrases, notably Turkish, but
with a liberal sprinkling of Arabic, and some European borrowings, such as banyo, cravat, and furun. To the
charge of mixing Turkish with Armenian, my father’s generation defended themselves on the grounds that it
was the Armenians who beautified the Turkish language. Certainly, the most notable composers and performers
of Turkish music were Armenian, so it’s likely that any Turkish poetry of note was written by an Armenian.
This coincides with the fact that, in the old country, all the artisans were Armenian.
But, back to the congruence of the Armenian and Turkish tongues — can one deny that the greatest poet who
ever lived, and acknowledged to be the world over, Shakespeare, wrote in a language that was Teutonic in
structure but romance language in content? In other words, the syntax and grammar of English are based on
the German plan, whereas its vocabulary is mostly French-Latin. Who is to say, based on its track record,
that the future of Turkish-Armenian might not have been the language of great artistry?
Ignorance has its limits, all the way down to zero, but knowledge has no limits. As we continually add to our
fund of knowledge, our perceptions change, and often for the better.
This principle, when applied to language, makes us realize that a first contact with a foreign tongue can be
unrewarding, but familiarity often produces genuine appreciation and even fondness. So my task is to inform the
reader of things that may alter his natural apathy to Armenian dialects, notably the polyglot version of Armenian
known as the Dikranagerdtsi dialect.
When a non-Dikranagerdtsi first hears the dialect of Dikranagerdtsis spoken, he is rudely introduced to the
vowel sound of the letter “a,” such as in the English word “hat,’ a sound that does not exist in standard
Armenian. It can occur in hatz, the word for bread, or in mazza, the word for appetizer, where the vowel sound
in standard Armenian for the former is “ah” and for the latter “eh.” Then there comes the transposition of the
vowel sounds “ee” for “eh” and vice versa, and finally, the transposition of the vowel sound “oo” for “o” and
vice versa. Makes for quite a bit of confusion, wouldn’t you say?
The late Srpazan Hrant Khachadourian (God rest his soul) was descended from a Sassountsi father and a
Dikranagerdtsi mother, although she didn’t regularly use parpar at home. When he was in the presence of us
“Diks,” he would try to participate in the banter, but his imperfect knowledge of the dialect would show
through. It became clear from his renderings that he was under the impression that all words in standard
Armenian that contained the “o” vowel sound should be pronounced “oo” and all words that contained the “oo”
vowel sound should be pronounced “o.” So I took the opportunity on one such occasion to bring him up short in
good-natured fashion. I said:
Ya sim! Mink toori digheh, tor g’usink; pori digheh poor g’usink; paits poori digheh, furun g’sink!
(Nyeh, usem! Menk toori deghuh, tor g’usenk; pori deghuh, poor g’usenk; paits poori deghuh, furun g’usenk!)
Translated into English, it would go something like this: Look, I say! For “door” we say “door”; for “belly,”
we say “belly,” but for “oven,” we say “oven.”
An entire volume has been published in Armenia documenting the differences in vowel sounds between standard
Armenian and the Dikranagerdtsi dialect. However, there is much more to be taken into account, such as uses
that reflect a carry-over from classical Armenian; borrowings from Arabic, Turkish, and Persian; words or
phrases uniquely Dikranagerdtsi. Usages that reflect a carryover from classical or formal Armenian are often
to be found in words or names where the Greek “L” sound has entered Armenian with a “gh” sound. Examples are
agh (salt) for “al,” Ghooghas for “Lucas,” Ghazaros for “Lazarus,” Yeghiazar for “Eliazar,” and Boghos for
“Paulos” (Paul). The Greek “mel,” a prefix for many words in English signifying “sweet” or “honey” is to be
found in the Armenian word meghr. So it is not surprising to hear Dikranagerdtsis say Ankghieren for Anklieren
(English), the Krapar being Hankghiaganun.
A curious illustration has to do with the verb To Be. In standard Armenian, To Be is rendered ullal, whereas
the past tense is rendered yeghav. Notice the change from “L” to “Gh.” A familiar phrase is Oosh lini, noosh
lini (Let it be late so long as it’s sweet.) Dikranagerdsis would say Togh oosh eghnah, togh anoosh eghnah.
Most Armenian fables begin with "Or mi geghna ch’eghna..." (Once there was and there wasn't.)
A minor digression may be in order here. Dikranagerdtsis and non- Dikranagerdtsis alike translate the name
Garabed to Charles. I don’t know how it got started, but it’s off the mark. Garabed is used to describe John
the Baptist, the risen Elijah and the predecessor of Jesus Christ who foretold his coming, hence the
“Forerunner.” If Charles (Latin form Carolus) were to be rendered into Armenian, it would very likely be
Garoghos. It may be that both names have the diminutive Garo in common, which caused someone to make the
Dikranagerdtsis also use the classical form when enumerating. For example, seven and a half (yot oo ges is
rendered yotnooges). While on this aspect of the subject, we may as well take a look at some usages that are
more appropriate or even more correct than standard Armenian. Non-Dikranagerdtsis say sorvil for “to learn.”
However, Dikranagerdtsis say sovril, which is closer to the academic description of the word. Non-
Dikranagerdtsis say anoti for hungry, but Dikranagerdtsis say kughtsadz. Kaghtsadz may be a better word for
hungry, reserving anoti for starving. A child is referred to as tukhmar, which is not too far-fetched. Dukhmar
A pure language, one that has not borrowed from any other, probably does not exist, at least not in this day
and age. At one time, there may have been some, that have produced the known family of languages. There are
some academicians who believe Sanskrit to be the progenitor of Indo-European languages, where Armenian can be
found. The nearest cousin to classical Armenian, according to scholarly research, is a dead language known as
Thraco-Phrygian, the language of a locale in the ancient Greek world from which the forerunners of the
Armenians are supposed to have originated. There are others who would claim that the Armenian language has more
in common with Persian than any other. Certainly the IAN endings of family names is quite prevalent among
Iranians and possibly may have foreshadowed the common IAN ending of Armenian family names. It’s curious,
therefore, that modern Armenian, an Indo-European language, should have dialects that borrow so heavily from
Turkish and Arabic. This is certainly true of Dikranagerdtsi. However, there is one very important point that
should be emphasized, and that has to do with the way that the Armenian dialects have taken Turkish and Arabic
and put their own stamp on it. Many Armenian borrowings from Turkish are not pronounced the same way. Here are
some examples which may apply to more than just the Dikranagerdtsi dialect:
ace, one-spot: birli/billi
bravo, well done!: aferin/afarum
coarse bath mitt: kese/kisah
druggist, pharmacist: ejzajuh/aziachi
later, afterwards: sonra/sona
nail (iron): muh/mikh
shallow tub: leghen/lagan
stair, ladder: merdiven/nardivan
to pinch: kusturmak/kurustil
trey, three-spot: uchli/oushli
Lest we give too much credit to the Turks, we should bear in mind that the Turkish language of Anatolia
borrowed heavily from Arabic, especially in the realm of medicine, mathematics, art, science and music. Look
at how English has borrowed from Arabic. The English word ADMIRAL comes from AMIR-AL-BAHR (LORD OF THE SEA),
CIPHER comes from SIFR (ZERO), ALGEBRA comes from AL-JABR (REDUCTION OF PARTS TO A WHOLE).
Examples of Turkish borrowings from Arabic that readily come to mind are:
sa’at for watch or clock;
fouroun for oven;
kassab for butcher;
nakash for embroiderer;
hakim for commander or physician;
and almas for diamond.
According to the late Lt. Col. Harry Sachaklian, a retired career U.S. military officer who was stationed in
Turkey for a length of time, the only words in the Turkish vocabulary that are native Turkish are military
terms. The rest are all borrowed. Now, that may be an overstatement, but there is a germ of truth in it.
Turkish, after all, is a carrier language, the Turks having borrowed from all the cultures in their midst.
So, when you hear an Armenian use a word or expression that you think is Turkish, think again before you reprove him;
he may be using a term that the Turks borrowed from the Armenians.
The next aspect of the Dikranagerdtsi dialect that we’ll take a look at is its debt to Arabic.