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One of the linguistic communities in Southern California is Armenian community that has its own history and cultivated traditions. This paper examines the statistics of the Armenian language native speakers, history of immigration, primary features of the Armenian language and its role in the modern community of its native speakers, including the perception of the younger generation of the diaspora of American Armenians.
Section I: Surveys and Statistics
In California English is not only most spoken language, but it is an official language according to the law. That is the reason the native speakers of other languages tend to restrict the usage of their mother tongue only to the communication at home or with the other members of the linguistic community. According to the 2010 United States Cencus, the even thought the majority of people only speak English, there are proofs of the increasing role of other languages in the fabric of American community (Ryan 6).
The Armenian language in the United States is mostly spoken in the Southern California, where the majority of the Armenian diaspora lives. The Armenian language belongs to the Indo-European language family and constitutes one of its independent branches. It is mostly spoken in the Republic of Armenia; however, the Californian diaspora of Armenians is second biggest in the world (Bakalian 15).
According to the 2007 United States Census, 19,7 % of American population spoke the language other than English at home (Shin and Kominski 2). 18,6 % of them are the native speakers of the Indo-European languages other than English and Spanish, which is 3,6 % of the population of the United States.
Naturally, among this group of people not everyone is the native speaker of Armenian since the share also belongs to other Indo-European languages including “the Germanic languages, such as German, Yiddish, and Dutch; the Scandinavian languages, such as Swedish and Norwegian; the Romance languages, such as French, Italian, and Portuguese; the Slavic languages, such as Russian, Polish; the Indic languages; Celtic languages; Greek; Baltic languages; and Iranian languages” (Shin and Kominski 2).
However, given the fact that the representatives of Armenian diaspora mainly inhabit the area called the Little Armenia in Los Angeles, it is still a strong linguistic community of Southern California.
Another statistical evidence that indicates the growing role of the Armenian-speaking community is that Armenian was defined as one of the languages that had fewer than 200,000 in the 1980s, but “more than doubled during the period” (Shin and Kominski 2).
In the 2011 United States Census, the figure were not significantly, but representatively different. It indicates the precise number of the native speakers of Armenian that, as to 2010, was 240,402 people, compared to 100,634 in 1980 (Ryan 7).
It means that the number of Armenian community members’ increase is 139 %. However, the native speakers of languages other than English are located unevenly on the map. Thus, “metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago generally have large proportions of people who speak a language other than English” (Ryan 10).
There are probably two main factors explaining this fact. Firstly, larger cities can provide more economic perspectives for immigrants, considering the bigger job rotation and a higher number of job opportunities. The second influential factor is the tendency to integrate with the linguistic community, i.e. most communities of native non-English speakers inhabit the same area or district in the metropolitan space (Alba et al. 468).
For the Armenian-speaking community in Southern California, it is so-called Little Armenia, a territory of Los Angeles neighborhood, located in the eastern segment of Hollywood district in between Hollywood Boulevard, Vermont Boulevard, Route 101 and Santa Monica Boulevard (Takooshian par. 13).
Section II: History of immigration
There are numerous diasporas of Armenians around the world, but the beginning of their immigration to the United States dates back to the end of the 19th century. It was the phase of the violent and non-serene times in the Ottoman Empire, where many Turkish Armenians lived.
The Armenian minorities were treated as the “giavours (non-Moslem infidels)”, and it resulted in mass massacres on the ethnic and religious grounds, and in the genocide of a million Armenians during the World War I (Takooshian par. 10). Those events became the reason for the massive immigration of Armenians to the United States of America.
The Armenian immigration to America can be divided into three main waves: the first one consisted of Turkish Americans who left the Ottoman Empire before WWI, the second one took place after the massacres of 1915-1920, when during the short period more than 30,000 Armenians, including professionals and skilled workers fled their homeland (Bakalian 16).
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The third wave was the longest, it began after the World War II, as the result of Armenian minorities forced out of Turkey initially into the Middle East. Then because of tendencies of nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism in Arab countries, many Armenians were driven away “first from Egypt (1952), then Turkey again (1955), Iraq (1958), Syria (1961), Lebanon (1975), and Iran (1978)” (Takooshian par. 10).
This wave of immigration took the longest time and brought to the asylum in the United States most of the Armenian-ancestry population. However, we cannot still suggest that the third wave of immigration is over since the evidence of U.S. Census shows the increase of the American-Armenians of almost 140% since the 1980s (Ryan 7).
Section II: Linguistic features
The Armenian language belongs to the Indo-European language family. Comparative linguists Aikhenvald and Dixon suggest that Armenian is somehow related to Greek, mostly in terms that both languages were isolated, and that is why no extremely divergent dialects and “no further specifications occurred” within both of them (Aikhenvald and Dixon 49).
In general, different regional specifications of one language develop and evolve so divergently that eventually they become separate languages. However, this did not happen with the Armenian language; therefore, it represents the whole separate branch of the Indo-European family.
Nevertheless, Armenian shares many linguistic features with the subgroup of the Indo-European family, including Greek and Indo-Iranian languages. Among those features are the general structural organization, the prohibitive formation of negation, and augment-prefix, the prefix constituted by a single vowel or turning the initial vowel into diphthong as a variety of non-present inflexion that is also found in Sanskrit (Aikhenvald and Dixon 57).
The presence of such inflexions and the similarities with Sanskrit mean that Armenian is a synthetic inflexional language.
Section IV: Language use and Language Maintenance
The writer of Armenian ancestry Anny Bakalian suggests that there is a large separation inside the Armenian community. There are those who accept ethnic assimilation and do not speak the native language at home, and those who maintain the cultural and linguistic heritage (Bakalian 3).
Mostly, the tendencies demonstrate that those American-Armenians of Southern California, not speaking English at home are often people who prefer to live near the linguistic community of their native language, in Little Armenia. Therefore, the language is maintained due to the fact that speakers use it outside their home as well, since they live in the surroundings of the native speakers.
There are more than twenty all-day Armenian schools, the majority of which, including five high schools, such as Ferrahian High School, is located in Southern California (Bakalian 269). In the 1990s the enrollment of those schools was no greater than six thousand pupils (Bakalian 269).
However, their presence is important for the sustainability of the linguistic community, especially with the increasing number of Armenian immigrants. Such schools are usually bilingual because children master the Armenian language on different levels. Nevertheless, Armenian is used to teach Armenian history, culture, religion, and, of course, language.
Today Armenian culture represents itself in different media in Southern California. The Armenian newspapers the headquarters of which are based in Los Angeles and issued in both Armenian and English are Armenian International Magazine and Armenian Observer.
The English-language Californian newspapers for American-Armenians are California Courier and UniArts Armenian Directory Yellow Pages. There are also bilingual radio programs, like ones on the radio KTYM-AM (1460). As for availability of government documents, California Department of Motor Vehicles provides handbook and instructions in Armenian.
Code-switching mainly occurs, for example, in the encounters with non-speakers of Armenian, at governmental institutions, while asking for directions, both in and outside Little Armenia. The attitudes towards code-switching vary depending on the age and level of mastery of English. The elder generations majorly do not approve speaking English at home.
Thus, the younger generations are more likely to code-switch even in conversations between themselves. In some cases, even the code-mixing is observed, especially, for the American-Armenians raised in Turkey or Russia, before immigrating to the USA.
As for the attitude to the native language, while older generations stay conventional, some of younger American-Armenians seemingly were not very approving about the Armenian language and found it declining and the knowledge of it not useful, even though they cannot avoid using it in everyday life.
Aikhenvald, Alexandra, and Robert M. Dixon. Areal Diffusion And Genetic Inheritance. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
Alba, Richard D. et al. “Only English By The Third Generation? Loss And Preservation Of The Mother Tongue Among The Grandchildren Of Contemporary Immigrants.” Demography 39.3 (2002): 467-484. Web.
Bakalian, Anny P. Armenian-Americans. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1993. Print.
Ryan, Camille. Language Use in the United States: 2011. United States Census Bureau, 2013. Web.
Shin, Hyon B., and Robert A. Kominski. Language Use In The United States: 2007. United States Census Bureau, 2010. Web.
Takooshian, Harold. “Armenian Americans.” EveryCulture, 2015. Web.