Armenian Language Corner

A Very Prolific Vowel

It is not usual that a vowel may also be a very meaningful word in a certain language. Such is the case of the vowel է (e), the seventh letter of the Armenian alphabet.

Its most fundamental function is to be… the third person singular present of the verb “to be”: ան է (an e) = he/she is. This indication of existence has given origin to an interesting series of words.

The word է (e) itself appeared from very early as synonymous with Աստուած (Asdvadz = “God”). Since e indicates existence, it was natural that it could be adopted to symbolize God as “existing.” It appeared in the Armenian Bible, in the fifth century, in the expressions որ է (vor e), որ էն (vor en), and որ էնն (vor enun). For instance, we have the passage «Արդար է՝ որ էնն եւ է» (Artar e vor enun yev e), meaning “You are just, the one who is and who was” (Revelation 16:5). From here, ecclesiastic documents such as bulls by Catholicoi, letters, or notes had as their letterhead the letter Է (E), meaning “In the name of God.” The letter is also found in the front of churches or above the altars.

E also became the basis for several nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, such as the noun էակ (է+ակ, eag), by the addition of the suffix ակ (ag), meaning “creature, being” (մարդ էակ/mart eag “human being”).

Another word, by addition of the adjectival suffix ական (agan), is էական (eagan), which means “essential” and express existence (the verb “to be” is a էական բայ/eagan pay “existential verb”).

The adverbial suffix ապէս (abes) has helped create the adverb էապէս (eabes “essentially”).

Another interesting word is մանրէ (մանր+է, manre), where the word e has been combined with the adjective manr (“little, small”) to form this noun, which designates “virus” and “bacteria.”

Finally, the negative prefix ան (an) has generated the adjective անէ (ane), meaning “inexistent,” and the verb անէանալ (aneanal “to vanish”). While the former is a word more used in poetry, the latter can be used in less literary fashion.

It is fitting to end with a stanza from Taniel Varoujan’s poem “To My Muse,” which he wrote when he was barely 20-21 years old. It was published in his first collection of poetry (1906).

…Կ’ուզեմ ծովուն հետ սիրտ սըրտի ես hարիլ,

Իմ անհունիս մէջ այդ անհունը թաղել,

Բուռն իղձն ունիմ մըրըրկին հետ մաքառիլ

Եվ գլուխս Է-ին գաղտնիքներուն դէմ բախել

(I want to collide heart to heart with the sea,

To bury that infinite in my own infinite;

I have the strong wish to fight with the storm

And to hit my head against the secrets of God).

Those who read Armenian will notice that Varoujan wrote his wish to decipher the secrets of E (Է), instead of saying “God.” He was allowed just a decade to try to decipher those secrets through his poetry before he became one of the most precious victims of the Medz Yeghern (the Great Crime/Great Genocide).