We did the numbers last week, and we found they were a mixture of familiar, sort-of familiar, and what the hell. What about the verb of being? Let's give it a whirl.
Armenian is an Indo-European language, so it has a standard structure for the verb of being: three persons, me you him, times two numbers, singular or plural, equals six verbs. Just like French or Spanish, right?
First person singular "I am": yes em. Okay, that's not so bad. Obviously related to the Latin ego sum, the Italian io sono, and -- most closely -- the Russian ya sam. No problem there.
Second person singular, "you are": du es. Ho! How easy is that? The pronoun is German, the verb is French! Yeah!
Third person singular, "he/she/it is": na/na/sa eh. Okay, little trickier here. Unlike most Indo-European languages, Armenian is not gendered. English isn't gendered much, but we at least keep gender for pronouns: he him his, she her hers. Not Armenian. "He"? Sa. "She"? Also sa. But sa is always a person, so "it" is na.
Eh is obviously in the same family as the Latin and French est and the Slavic je... in fact, if you say sa eh, "it is", it sounds a lot like the French c'est.
Well, that wasn't so bad! Let's just do the plurals and go home.
First person plural "we are": menk enk.
And suddenly we're back in 'what the hell' land.
Now, there is a faint echo of other languages here. But it's faint; menk enk is just not that close to nous sommes, never mind wir sind. Philologists have reconstructed how Armenian took a funny turn and picked up all those "enk" and "unk" phonemes, so it is possible to trace a direct line from menk enk back to Proto-Indo-European. But still: it just sounds weird.
Second person plural "you are": duk ek. Pronounced more like "dook" than "duck". Armenian does the common European thing of making the second person plural the 'respectful' form, just like Spanish tu/usted or German du/sie. But while duk ek isn't as duckbll platypus strange as menk enk, it doesn't exactly fall gracefully on the ear. Well, the ear of a native English speaker, anyway.
BTW, Basque has a plural suffix -ek. This has nothing to do with anything in Armenia, it's pure coincidence, but it's caused more than one philologist to go insane trying to find a connection.
Third person plural "they are": nrank en.
I mean... come on. I'm trying, here. I'm not going to sing at the opera, but I'd like to have a basic, order-in-a-restaurant, don't-be-cheated-by-the-taxi-driver, five hundred word simple working vocabulary. And that means learning the verb of being, right? So I'm playing along, good sport, I'm all ready to learn... and Armenian hits me with nrank en.
Haaaah. Okay, couple of quick points about Armenian verbs and then we're done.
One, verb order is often subject-object-verb. So, "I am an American"? Yes Amerikantsi em. Other times it's subject-verb-object. I'm not sure why.
Two, verbs in the present tense. Check this out: in English, and most other Indo-European languages, the verb has a stem and tense is formed with suffixes. English uses only one suffix (you go, he goes); other languages use as many as six. Still, the pattern is simple enough, right?
Well, Armenian doesn't do that. Armenian conjugates verbs by using a single present tense verb form, and then adding the verb of being afterwards. So, instead of saying "I love, you love, he loves", Armenian says sirum em, sirum es, sirum eh -- love am, love are, love is. To the ear of a native English speaker, this is wonderfully confusing. Combine it with the word order thing, above, and it sounds like Bizarro talking. "I want potatoes" comes out as "want potatoes am".
Okay, just thinking about this is making my head hurt. Ek duk tired of Armenian linguistics yet?