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July 11, 2013

The language of our time

(Continued)

I’ve been on trains and buses where people have spoken Armenian. One day at the airport, I interrupted a conversation in Armenian with some words of my own. Turns out, we had mutual acquaintances and spent the next 20 minutes conversing in the mother tongue.

It drew no attention. People these days are accustomed to hearing a foreign dialect in their everyday travels. The trouble with Armenians is that we don’t exercise it enough, even when we know it. Maybe because it’s not our first language.

I only wish I were more assertive with my own children when it came to teaching them the language. Having them each as Armenian School students in church did me no good. What did help with the eldest child was living with an Armenian-speaking grandparent.

Sonya didn’t use it. So she lost whatever she had learned early in life. It’s not an isolated case, either. I can count on one hand how many Armenian School students filtered through my class over 35 years and how many speak with any fluency. Now their children attend and a new generation unfolds. The challenges are even greater. If the parents don’t converse in Armenian, neither will they.

On the other hand, I am amazed by the truly impeccable Armenian spoken by the American-born. Many non-Armenians have embraced our language by translating books and giving dissertations on a university level.

I tend to be a stickler for tradition. If our beloved Mass ever shifted dialects and went from classical to modern, it would never be the same. You do not have to understand a language in order to appreciate it. Leave it the way it’s been for the past 1,700 years.

When the Catholic Church dispensed with Latin and went to an English-speaking format, I felt a certain loss. Sometimes change can be irrepressible.

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