Classical Armenian orthography

Classical Armenian orthography, traditional orthography or Mashtotsian orthography (Հայերէնի դասական ուղղագրութիւն in classical orthography and Հայերենի դասական ուղղագրություն in reformed orthography, Hayereni tasagan ughakrutyun), is the orthography that was developed by Mesrop Mashtots in the 5th century for writing Armenian and reformed during the early 19th century. Today, it is used primarily by the Armenian diaspora, including all Western Armenian speakers and Eastern Armenian speakers in Iran, which has rejected the Armenian orthography reform of Soviet Armenia during the 1920s. In the Armenian diaspora, some linguists and politicians allege political motives behind the reform of the Armenian alphabet.

Classical Armenian orthography uses 38 letters: the original 36 letters of the Armenian alphabet invented by Mesrop Mashtots during the 5th century, and the 2 additional letters included later in the Armenian alphabet during the Middle Ages.

It uses also 2 letters that were added to the Armenian alphabet in the 13th century:

Armenian has eight monophthongs (ɑ, ɛ, i, o, u, ə, ʏ, œ) and ten symbols to represent them (⟨ա, ե, է, ը, ի, ո, օ, ու, իւ, էօ⟩). They will be shown here with International Phonetic Alphabet:

/i/ is always written ⟨ի⟩. For example: [iɹ] ("his"/"her") is written իր.

/u/ is always written ⟨ու⟩. For example: [dun] ("house") is written տուն.

The [ə] vowel is usually not written. For example: [mədɑˈd͡zum] ("thought") is written մտածում (not մըտածում), and [əskʰɑnt͡ʃʰɛˈli] ("marvelous") is written սքանչելի (not ըսքանչելի).

/ʏ/ is always written ⟨իւ⟩. For example: [kʰʏʁ] ("village") is written գիւղ.

/œ/ is a rare sound to write foreign words and is always written ⟨էօ⟩. For example: the female name [œʒɛˈni] ("Eugenie") is written Էօժենի, a transcription of letters.

Armenian has nine diphthongs: /jɑ/, /jɛ/, /ji/, /jɔ/, /ju/, /ɑj/, /ej/, /ij/, /uj/.

/ji/ is never at the start of a word and is written differently depending on its context:

/jɔ/ is always written ⟨եօ⟩. For example: [ˈjɔtʰə] ("seven") is written եօթը.

/ɑj/ can occur at the end of a word only for monosyllabic words. It is written ⟨այ⟩. For example: [ɑjˈɡi] ("field") is written այգի, [mɑjɾ] ("mother") is written մայր and [pʰɑj] ("verb") is written բայ. A polysyllabic word ending in ⟨այ⟩ is pronounced /ɑ/, the ⟨յ⟩ becoming silent (see above for an example).

/ij/ is written ⟨իյ⟩. For example: [ijˈnɑl] ("to fall") is written իյնալ.

/uj/ usually occurs in the middle of a word, and is written ⟨ոյ⟩. For example: [kujr] ("sister") is written քոյր.

The International Phonetic Alphabet shows the consonants, by the corresponding Armenian letter in parentheses. Both Classical And Eastern Armenian maintain a three-way distinction between voiced, voiceless, and aspirated stops and affricates. In Western Armenian, voiced and aspirated stops and affricates have undergone a merger, and voiceless stops and affricates have become voiced.