Tuesday, 25 April

Foreign Language Yerevan: Capitalism Speaks English


Many Armenian ‘nationalists’ claim that Armenia is nothing more than a colony.

If true, and if one of the marks of being a colony is the proliferation of signs in the language of the colonizer, then Armenia is surely a colony of Great Britain or the USA, and not Russia, as argued by these 'nationalists'.

Someone unfamiliar with Armenia, looking for the linguistic traces of the colonizers, would think that Armenia is a British colony or a former colony. This would be the impression one gets just by strolling the streets in downtown Yerevan.

Upon closer inspection, the person would think that before becoming a British colony Armenia had either been colonized by France or Italy. After English, most of the signs in central Yerevan are in French or Italian. That Armenia was ever a Russian colony would be way down the list of possibilities since Russian signs come in fourth. If our intrepid visitor also knew Armenian, he or she would be further convinced that Armenia is an English-speaking colony since many signs display English words that have been transliterated into Armenian.

Some restaurants and cafes, like The Green Bean and Le Italian, only offer English menus. The menus affixed to the wall of many eateries are only in English as well – The Green Bean, The Coast (Cascade) and the Dargett beer garden on Aram Street.

When I asked a waitress at Le Italian why there wasn’t a menu in Armenia, she replied – “This is our concept.”

Is it a ‘concept’ just for those who know English? And who are the ones who know English – the well-to-do. The impoverished have enough trouble making ends meet, let alone learning English. It’s a ‘concept’ that doesn’t recognize the poor.

This is a ‘concept’ of Armenia’s political elite – contempt for those not making money or not selling their souls to make money.

Here are just some foreign language business signs spotted in downtown Yerevan.

English, followed by some Italian and Russian

Armenian lettered English; plus a few French and one Spanish sign

A quick glance along Sayat Nova Street in Gyumri

Given this blinding mish-mash, let’s see what the “Law Regarding the Armenian Language” says:

to design signboards, letterheads, labels, post stamps, seals, international mail envelopes in the Armenian language accompanied, where necessary, by translation into other languages”

An entire state agency exists, the State Language Inspectorate, with a staff of sixteen, to ensure that the language law is adhered to. (The Ministry of Education and Science didn’t even know what the budget of this agency is.)

So, what exactly is the inspectorate doing and what steps are being taken to ensure that the language law is complied with? How many businesses have been held accountable for violating the law?

In response to a Hetq inquiry, the State Language Inspectorate replied that according to Government Act N839-A of July 30, 2015, which prohibits inspections of private businesses, the Inspectorate has not carried out inspections or levied administrative fines since August 1, 2015.

During the past year, the Inspectorate has merely carried out studies and made observations of the issue, resulting in 150 notices being delivered to businesses and organizations displaying foreign language signs, urging them to make the necessary corrections.

From 2011-2015, before the above law went into effect, the Inspectorate carried out 269 inspections resulting in 22.7 million AMD in fines. Thus, at least 269 businesses made their signs correspond to the demands of the language law.

However, at least 90% of the foreign language signs shown above were affixed before August 2015; before the law prohibiting inspections went into effect.

One can only imagine what the situation would be today without the work of the State Language Inspectorate. Who is the Inspectorate protecting the Armenian language from? The English, the French, the Russians, or the Armenians? Namely those people who only think about making material gain. But these are the very people in power today in Armenia. Thus, the Inspectorate is powerless against them.

Are signs in English or Latin letters really a sign of English or Italian colonialization? Of course not. Simply stated. The Armenian market perceives these languages as the language of capital; the language by which to become rich, the language of quality goods and thus to compete successfully, the language of personal profit.

In other words, if Armenia is a colony, it’s a colony of capital.

So why is it that Armenian ‘nationalists’, who are so sensitive when it comes to having any ties to Russia, claim that Armenia is a colony of Russia and continually call for a national liberation struggle against the Russian empire, remain indifferent to the incursion of other foreign languages into Armenia. Why is it that they don’t take steps to liberate the country from Latin lettered or English business advertising?

Is it because that many of them enjoy support from the English-speaking world? Is it because they are more liberal than nationalist, and have a greater natural affinity with the language of capitalism?

Or, in the final analysis, is it because capital colonialization is not only not foreign to them, but that all of them, the political parties (Heritage, Armenian National Congress, Republican Party, Prosperous Armenia, etc.) and many NGOs are actually political representatives of capital?


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Comments (6)
1. Gabriel20:15 - 25 November, 2016
I'm surprised this article was written in English, is there an Armenian version as well or is the author being hypocritical?
2. Raffi14:27 - 27 November, 2016
Hmm, I wonder how many times the US, or the UK have pressured Armenia to declare English as an official language of state affairs and education...oh wait, that was Russia. (also, while we're at it: Green Bean DOES have an Armenian menu, and there is a difference between brand signs - which are registered trademarks - and information panels (which always have Armenian on them).
3. Nathan21:00 - 29 November, 2016
I'mnot surprised at all. As a person who lived in Armenia for few years I was always subjected to discrimination just because I spoke English. Most people will get extremely angry if they see someone speaking English and now they want to attack the businesses just for the sake of English signs.
4. H.00:05 - 1 December, 2016
Was the Mashtotsian orthography that was "reformed" (desecrated) by the Soviet Armenian government (and its bastardized form still in use in Armenia today) also too capitalist and bourgeois? We need the Vahan Ishkhanyans ("-yan" is an unfortunate Romanization of the Sovietized spelling) and Marker Melkonian (how does this self-identifying Marxist adhere to the filthy, Western, capitalist, bougie "-ian" Romanization of his Armenian surname?!?) to guide us as the vanguard, please!
5. Hadidad23:02 - 1 December, 2016
There are more urgent problems and more rewarding topics for journalism. Too much dramatization. Write about artists, for example, concentrating on their art and thoughts, and not always to their financial problems.
6. A.S.K04:48 - 1 January, 2017
I'm glad someone wrote about this topic. It annoys me walking around town and seeing so many signs in Latin letters. Whether Latin, Cyrillic or CHINESE, the wording on menus and on shopfronts should be in our Armenian letters. If we can't protect our own language then who will.
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