Today 6.7 million people worldwide speak Armenian, which is considered an astonishing fact in itself given the time the language has taken to be recognised as a language in its own right at all. 97% of the 3 million strong population are Armenians. But there are more than 5 million Armenians living outside of Armenia.
Linguists theorize that 5,000-7,000 years ago the Proto-Indo-European language splintered into dialects, one of which was Armenian, a separate branch of the Indo-European language family. As Indo-European speakers spread throughout Eurasia from Iceland to India, many languages such as French and Spanish developed from a common intermediate source, like Latin, whereas the Armenian language evolved directly from its Proto-Indo-European roots.
The view that similarities among certain languages of Europe and Asia resulted from a common origin had attracted scholars for several centuries before the British scholar Sir William Jones suggested in 1786 that Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek shared features derived from ‘some common source which, perhaps, no longer exists’. He guessed that the Germanic and even the Celtic had the same source. Within a century, the implications of Jones’s suggestion had been studied in great detail and his postulated ‘common source’ is now called Proto-Indo-European (PIE) or simply Indo-European (IE).
Before creating an Armenian alphabet, Armenians used Aramaic and Greek characters. Foreign language schools existed from the 2nd century BC on. Early Armenian churchmen sought knowledge and wisdom mainly in Assyrian and Greek. When Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion, the need of an indigenous language arose in order to translate the Bible. A devoted scholar and monk, Mesrop Mashtots, created a distinctly Armenian alphabet after traveling all over Armenia to gather the sounds of Armenian speech. In 405 AD he introduced the thirty six unique characters that make up the basis of the Armenian alphabet. During the Middle Ages, two additional characters were added to write words borrowed from foreign languages. St. Mesrop Mashtots went on to build schools across Armenia to teach the alphabet. He later developed the alphabets of neighboring nations. His contribution to Armenian culture was immense since the invention of the Armenian alphabet paved the way for the first Golden Age of Armenia. Armenian writers, philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists have achieved world acclaim, building on the seminal work of St. Mesrop Mashtots.
Over the centuries, the Armenian language underwent grammatical and phonological changes.
At least three different forms of the Armenian language are in use today – Classical Armenian, or Grabar, the scholarly form of the language used to this day by the Armenian Church; Western Armenian, commonly found in American, European and Middle Eastern Diaspora communities; and Eastern Armenian, the official language of the Republic of Armenia and the spoken language of Armenians in Iran and Russia.