09 January 2016, 16:47
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Eternal Alphabet: Č̣ (čē) - Ճ (ճէ)

The first word of the first sentence written in Armenian characters, began with letter Ճ. After devising the alphabet, Mesrop Mashtots and his apprentices started translating the Bible into Armenian. According to his biographer, historian and writer Koryun, "They began translating the Bible with the Proverbs of Solomon, where, at the very beginning, he [Solomon] offers to learn wisdom, saying: "To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding" – Ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ՝ իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ (tchanachel zimastutyun ev zkhrat, imanal zbans hancharoy). No doubt, this phrase was not chosen randomly. It briefly expressed the essence of the great mystery. It conveys the goal of devising the alphabet, edification to the future generations, and prophecy.

Letter Ճ denotes the sound pronounced as a solid combination of [t] and [sh], and neither of the sounds is uttered more distinctly than the other. The origin of the graphic form of letter Ճ is unclear, but it is probably derived from the Coptic letter janja ( ),which denotes the sound [j] – the same sound, which is conveyed by Ճ in Western Armenian language.

 

The first acquaintance of the Armenians with the Copts can be dated no later than the 430s. Distant acquaintance might have been earlier: before the creation of the alphabet, Mashtots visited Edessa, with the famous library. He looked through thousands of manuscripts of the library. In Edessan manuscripts he might have come across the Coptic script and could select one of the letters as a prototype.

 The numerical value of Ճ is 100. It indicatesthe beginning of a new row – the values of the next 9 letters successively increase by 100. In medieval manuscripts, letter Ճ is pictured as men – actors, dancers, etc. "The dancer holdsin the hands the attribute of mime gusans – a long plait, depicting a dog-headed snake. The actor is dressed in a flesh-colored leotard and traditional gusans’ conical red cap. This is howletter Ճ of the Gospel dated 1287 and written in monastery Akner (Cilicia) is described by the theatre expert Georg Goyan in his book "2000 Years of the Armenian Theatre”. And in the Gospel dated 1323 and originating from Gladzor (Syunik), painter Toros Taronatsipictured Ճ as a dancing woman.

 

See more at Aram Khachaturians "Armenian Alphabet. History and Symbolism" book

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