A Documentation of the Zok Language
|Affiliation||University of Cambridge|
Summary of the deposit
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The Armenians of the area of Agulis in Nakhijevan, known as Zoks, were a tight-knit community with a distinctive cultural identity, known for their skill in handicrafts including silk production and carpet weaving, but chiefly for their extraordinary international trade networks that flourished from the 17th-19th centuries, whereby individuals from these few small villages in Nakhijevan spread out across Europe and Asia, from Amsterdam and Venice to India and China, while all the time maintaining close links to their community and villages of origin, which were fundamental to the operation of the networks (see Chaudhury & Kévonian 2007). These networks were so tight and so successful that outsiders came to believe that the distinctive and incomprehensible language was a secret code invented by the Zoks in order to keep their dealings secret, although, as Sargsiants (1883: 18-19) makes clear, this is not actually the case (they did in fact have a secret language, involving special uses of particular words and expressions, but the divergence of the Zok language from other forms of Armenian was unconnected with this and came about through natural developments). Part of the reason for this belief is that the Zok merchants were also familiar with what Sargsiants (1883: 21-22) describes as ‘general Armenian’, which they learnt deliberately in order to communicate with other Armenians, something that was not necessary for speakers of less divergent dialects. All their written production was conducted in literary Armenian, although elements of Zok can be detected, for example, in the diary of the merchant Zak’aria of Agulis (see Vaux 2008). The origin of the name Zok is unclear; Sargsiants (1883: 24) suggests that it was originally a derogatory term used by outsiders, perhaps derived from a demonstrative pronoun not found in other forms of Armenian. However, it was later adopted by speakers, including Sargsiants himself, to designate their own community and language. Zok is reported to have had around 10,000 speakers in 1935 (Acharyan 1935); although there are no official statistics, it is certain that the number is much smaller today, almost certainly less than 1,000 (cf. Vaux 2008, who was only able to locate 3 speakers), all of whom have been displaced from the area where their language and culture took shape. The Paraka dialect, on which I intend to concentrate in this study, probably has less than 50 speakers still living (according to the Armenian National Archive, the population of the village was 90 at the time when the last Armenian residents were displaced in 1988). The speakers do not form a compact community in Armenia, but are spread among populations speaking Standard Eastern Armenian and/or local dialects, and the language is not being passed on to the younger generation, who speak only Standard Eastern Armenian. The language will die with the last of the speakers who left Nakhijevan in 1988. Thus there is a highly urgent need for documentation.
Zok is a form of Armenian (independent branch of Indo-European family) that is so divergent that it has been classified as a separate language. It was originally spoken in Nakhijevan (present-day Azerbaijan). The last Armenians of Nakhijevan were displaced by conflict in 1988. Zok is reported to have had around 10,000 speakers in 1935 (Acharyan 1935); although there are no official statistics, it is certain that the number is much smaller today, almost certainly less than 1,000. The Paraka dialect, on which I intend to concentrate in this study, probably has less than 50 speakers still living (according to the Armenian National Archive, the population of the village was 90 at the time when the last Armenian residents were displaced in 1988). The most immediately distinctive feature that separates Zok from other forms of Armenian is the vowel system, which has undergone radical changes, and acquired a unique form of vowel harmony (see Vaux 2008). There are also important morphological and syntactic innovations, notably including a reorganization of the TAM system that is unique within Armenian.
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Acknowledgement and citation
To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:
Hodgson, Katherine. Forthcoming. A Documentation of the Zok Language. London: SOAS University of London, Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/2196/6a876738-cfc3-4c0e-9ef9-2f9c00e7ba27. Accessed on [insert date here].