Armenian Language Corner


You speak of fine arts, but also of liberal arts, and even of the art of cooking. Therefore, the idea of art is essentially one of skill, and we now that someone artful has a skill… in trickery.

While Latin artem (the source of English “art”) has an Indo-European root, the origin of Armenian արուեստ (arvesd) is unknown. However, arvesd, like “art,” meant “skill” in Classical Armenian, and it had as synonym the word արհեստ (arhesd).

It is in Modern Armenian when arvesd adopted the meaning “art” and arhest took the meaning of “craft.” You know that գեղարուեստ means “fine arts” and ճարտարարուեստ (jardararvesd), “industry,” among other compound words, while արհեստանոց (arhesdanots) is a workshop and արհեստաւոր (arhesdavor) is a craftsman.

There is a word where both arvesd and arhesd have kept their synonymous meaning coming from Classical Armenian: the word “artificial” may be translated either as արուեստական (arvesdagan) or արհեստական (arhesdagan).

Now, we know that, if arvesd is “art,” then a practitioner of art, ergo, an artist is an արուեստագէտ (arvesdaked) in Armenian, and an art scholar is an արուեստաբան (arvesdapan). Ked is the root of գիտութիւն (kidootyoon) “science, knowledge,” and pan is the literal translation of Greek logos, but it is also used to mean “science, knowledge.”

As someone pointed out the other day, what happens with “technology”? A common English-Armenian dictionary, Kouyoumdjian (1981), translates that word as արուեստագիտութիւն (arvesdakidootyoon), and “technological” as արուեստագիտական (arvesdakidagan). When we know that arvest means “art,” isn’t this a little confusing?

Indeed, it is. The fact is that the Greek root tekne means “art” (art in the sense of “skill,” of course), and the literal translation of that root gets you arvesd. However, its use as the root for words like “technology” only contributes to create confusion.

Eastern Armenian has a very easy way to “solve” these confusions: they simply adopt a foreign word as if it was Armenian. So, if you ask for the translation of “technology” in Eastern Armenia, it is տեխնոլոգիա (tekhnologia), which is nothing more than the transliteration of the corresponding Russian word. Period and end of story.

Western Armenian speakers do not work in that way. They tend to find an Armenian translation or equivalent. In this case, the Armenian press since the 1980s has used the word արհեստագիտութիւն (arhesdakidootyoon) to translate “technology,” where arhesd is used with its old meaning of “skill” or “art.” But Armenian dictionaries, and especially bilingual dictionaries, do not always follow the latest trends in the language.