A Persian-Armenian's linguistic experiences

An interview with Gevick Safarians, an undergraduate student from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Gevick Safarians, president of the Armenian Student Association at UCLA, discusses his experiences as a heritage language speaker and learner of an Eastern Armenian dialect. 


Karapetian, S. (Producer). (2019, August 21). A Persian-Armenian's linguistic experiences [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://nhlrc.ucla.edu/article/206458

Please upgrade to a browser that supports HTML5 audio or install Flash.

Audio MP3 Download Podcast


[Shushan] Hello everyone. This is Shushan Karapetian with the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA. Welcome to our new podcast series entirely dedicated to heritage language research, education, pedagogy, and lived experience. My guest today is Gevick Safarians, a neuroscience major at UCLA. He is also the Armenian Student Association president. We're going to chat with him about his experience as a heritage language speaker and learner of Eastern Armenian and trace the trajectory of growing up as a heritage language speaker. Gevick, welcome.

[Gevick] Glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

[Shushan] Great. So, talk to us a little about the beginning, right? Where were you born? What type of family were you born into? What was the linguistic environment? What languages were you exposed to? And so on.

[Gevick] Sure. I was born in Tehran, Iran and I moved here when I was two years old with my family and I lived in an extended family. So, it included my grandparents, and great mother, and great grandmother...

[Shushan] Wow!

[Gevick] ...for a year, yeah. And so, I grew up in that environment and obviously, we spoke the Persian-Armenian dialect at home for most of the part. And I had brief exposure to just Farsi as well. My parents didn't really want me to understand what they were saying. They'd speak in Farsi...

[Shushan] As the secret language.

[Gevick] ... as the secret language. And eventually, as a kid, you catch on...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... to what they're trying to say. Certain situations you analyze...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... and you're like, "Oh, this is what this means" and you kind of get a hang of the, like, language too that way. But I wouldn't say, "I know Farsi" to someone when I meet them, right? So...

[Shushan] So... sorry. I don't want to interrupt you but...

[Gevick] Sure.

[Shushan] In case some of our listeners aren't familiar with the kind of sociolinguistic background...

[Gevick] Sure.

[Shushan] Your parents are Armenian? You family is Armenian?

[Gevick] My parents are Armenian from Iran.

[Shushan] From Iran. And how did they... [pause] How did you ancestors end up in Iran? How long had they been there, right? Some people might wonder, "What are these Armenians doing in Iran?"

[Gevick] Right. So, years ago - I'd say about 400 years ago... [pause] I think it was during the 1600s when Shah Abbas he... [pause] When he was making the conquest - and I think he was on the western side of Armenian... a territory west to what Armenia was then or... [pause] And then he made his way back to Persia and he crossed through Armenia and... or Armenian villages, where they were at the time and he took a lot of Armenians from that area and made them march all the way to a region in Iran, which was then - I believe my grandfather told me - was called Julfa.

[Shushan] Oh. So, the original Armenian location was called Julfa...

[Gevick] Julfa, okay.

[Shushan] ... and then Shah Abbas relocated these Armenians as kind of a war tactic...

[Gevick] Okay.

[Shushan] ... and then called it New Julfa. So, you know, "Sorry we burned down your territory."

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] It's called the scorched-earth policy, right?

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] In this Persian-Ottoman war, the Shah... the Iranian Shah burned an entire territory that the Ottoman army would pass through...

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] ... and then, you know, relocated the Armenians. But so, your ancestors were part of that original group?

[Gevick] Correct. And they've been there ever since. And I remember my grandfather told me they were relatively welcoming to the Armenian as well. Armenians were very successful and then they branched out to different villages in Iran. And my family from my mother's side ended up in a place called Tehran - which is the capital - and from my father's side, it was more towards Tabriz - which is near Armenia, actually. And yeah. I was born in Tehran myself.

[Shushan] So, when you were two your family moved to Los Angeles?

[Gevick] We moved to... [pause] Well, first we moved to Austria and from there we moved to Los Angeles.

[Shushan] That's a very common path, right?

[Gevick] Yeah.

[Shushan] Going through Europe.

[Gevick] Yeah. And when I meet a lot of people my age... and they tell me the exact same story. My... [pause] When I was two - it's always two years old [laughing] - parents moved to Austria or some place in Europe and then, eventually, the United States yeah.

[Shushan] Do you know what the reasons were for your parents' move?

[Gevick] Yeah, yeah. It was more of a mental and societal thing. In... [pause] After the revolution, a lot of Armenians faced discrimination. They weren't able to study Armenian in their schools, to attend Persian schools, and there was a lot of segregation going on there at the time. And due to these pressures, my parents thought, "Hey, you know, if we want to have a family... if I want a son or a daughter...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... I don't want then to be raised in these conditions. I want them to have more opportunities because that's another thing. Persian kids - especially those of the, like... children of people of the upper class - had more advantages to pursue higher education or better occupations in Iran, than... compared to Armenians or more minority groups like us. So, they saw it as the perfect opportunity to move to Armenia, for me grow up in a better system of education, have more opportunities...

[Shushan] To move to Armenia or to America?

[Gevick] America, I'm sorry.

[Shushan] Was Armenia an option? I'm curious.

[Gevick] Armenia...

[Shushan] I mean I know that was a slip of the tongue but do you know...

[Gevick] My parents, yeah, sounds like a Freudian slip of the tongue

[Shushan] If the, yeah, if the... [laughing]

[Gevick] No, my parents never discussed moving Armenia. But I know my dad always says, "You know, Gevick, when you grow up just, you know... when you're...

[Shushan] Go back!

[Gevick] Yeah. "Lets go back when you're older or lets go to Armenia when you're older."

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] You know, it's always... they always talk about going to Armenia but I don't think it's something they really considered, no.

[Shushan] Interesting. Okay. So, you guys moved here when you were two... you moved to Los Angeles.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] When you were a child at home, the dominant language was Armenian?

[Gevick] The dominant language, yes, it was Armenian. And it was specifically my Persian-Armenian dialect.

[Shushan] Right. So, for our listeners out here: Modern Armenian has two standards. It's a pluricentric language - Modern Eastern Armenian and Modern Western Armenian. And each of those standards has their own dialect or variance. Iranian Armenians or Persian Armenians speak a dialect of Modern Eastern Armenian. Another point of difference - and I don't know if this will come up or this is something you've encountered, of course - is orthography. Not only do we have two Modern Standards... we also have two orthographies. So, until the 1920s, all Armenians used the same orthography - what we call Classical Orthography - but since the Republic of Armenian became part of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union went through an orthographic reform, the Republic of Armenian adopted a new reformed orthography that's different from all variants used in the diaspora. So, there's that issue too. And it's interesting that Iranian Armenians speak and use and Eastern Armenian dialect but utilize and employ the Classical Orthography in opposition to reformed orthography. A little piece of information there... [pause] Okay. So, what about schooling? So, you were raised in an environment and home where an Armenian variant was used. Did you go to an Armenian preschool? Did you go to an Armenian private school... Saturday school... [pause] What was that like?

[Gevick] Right. I went to an Armenian Saturday school, and it was specifically for my dialect.

[Shushan] Oh!

[Gevick] It was the Armenian Society of Los Angeles, I believe.

[Shushan] Iranian-Armenian Society...

[Gevick] Iranian-Armenian Society of Los Angeles (inaudible). That organization was running the school.

[Shushan] Ah!

[Gevick] Unfortunately it is not around anymore but I attended there and all of the books... [pause] I remember when we got our books for that class, they were all imported from Iran because I would check the back of the book...

[Shushan] Wow!

[Gevick] ... and it was all in Farsi. So, that's how I knew. As far as grammar went, I was always uncomfortable learning the grammar because I grew up with Armenian friends who were from Armenia or they went to different schools here that were for their specifically Eastern Armenian dialect and they always learned the grammar a little differently than I did. So, I always felt this sort of... I was inferior to how they were learning it.

[Shushan] But are you sure it was a grammatical difference? Or was it a phonetic or pronunciation difference? Because...

[Gevick] Oh, there was that too, definitely.

[Shushan] Okay. So, a couple of questions. Let me backtrack.

[Gevick] Go for it.

[Shushan] At what point were you aware of the fact that you speak a dialect?

[Gevick] Oh yeah.

[Shushan] Do you know that there's a difference between the way you speak and the way others speak?

[Gevick] Yeah, definitely. When I... [pause] Well it first comes from when you hear someone else speak that different dialect and then that's... [pause] I was exposed to more Armenians of a different dialect than I was my own dialect outside of my family. So, it became awkward to engage in social interactions with random people because you never knew what type of Armenian they would be.

[Shushan] In that sense, I think it's important to note here how unique Los Angeles is, right?

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] Because if you're in Iran, most likely you're interacting with Iranian Armenians.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] If you're in Lebanon... [pause] So, (inaudible) Armenians have this huge diaspora all over the world here interacting with Lebanese Armenians. What makes the Los Angeles community so unique is that you have Armenians from one - the Republic of Armenia - and two - from all these other diasporic communities who are now in one linguistic ecosystem interacting with each other in their respective variance. So, there's a lot of intralingual interactions.

[Gevick] Right. And what's interesting is we did talk about how there were orthographic differences... [pause] There's primarily Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian, but then Eastern Armenian gets separated into mainly Armenian spoken in Armenia and then Armenian spoken say in where I'm from - Iran. And then even that... even in Armenia and in Iran...

[Shushan] Yes, yes.

[Gevick] ... there's more variations...

[Shushan] Yes.

[Gevick] ... between just cities or villages...

[Shushan] Yes.

[Gevick] ... between the dialects (inaudible).

[Shushan] Yes, very good point. So, there isn't this one monolithic Iranian-Armenian dialect. Even within the umbrella of Iranian Armenian, there's variation.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] Right. That's a very good point. So, okay. Talk to me about... [pause] I think it might be interesting from your perspective... [pause] What were the big differences? So, you said grammar. What is it that you recognize that, "Okay. I say this differently or I pronounce this differently versus my friend who is from Armenia or whose family is from Armenian."

[Gevick] Sure. So, sometimes we end our words differently. We use different suffixes. Say we want to say, "I ate." An Armenian from Armenia might say [կերա (kera) ( 10:58)]... that "ah" ending. But Parskahays would say [կերամ (keram) 11:02].

[Shushan] So, Parskahays is Iranian Armenian, right... would say...

[Gevick] Iranian Armenians would say [Armenian, 11:06] and then we'd have a little "m" at the end of our words. And then... [pause] I'd say minor differences like that and then Armenians from Armenia... when they spoke, their Eastern Armenian sounded more formal to me. So, it seemed a little more superior, more... a little more, just... they would articulate their words more or just have little differences between the ways we pronounce just our vowels, for example. Our "ah's," when we use the sound "ah" versus the sound "aah," it would vary between our two languages. And things like that...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... are what come to mind.

[Shushan] Would you say there's a comprehension block? So, if someone's speaking Iranian Armenian dialect and someone is speaking colloquial Armenian, do you think there's a comprehension issue? Or is it a prestige issue... a hierarchy issue? Do you know what I mean?

[Gevick] Yeah, definitely... definitely both. I'll say this: So, as far as comprehension goes, there are Persian-Armenian dialects that I don't even understand because of how much, say, they play around with their words, right, quote-on-quote. They may... they may say a word with more, just... they round the sounds or round the vowels and then that may come off as a totally different word to me. So, I have trouble comprehending what they're trying to say. And that's just within my own Persian-Armenian dialect. There are other Eastern Armenian dialects - like the one from Artsakh - that... [pause] I remember taking your course and you showed us a video of a man singing...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... in his own dialect and I had no idea what he was saying. Maybe I picked out a word or two from the entire song [laughing]. So, definitely the comprehension issue exists. That's there. And as far as hierarchy goes, I'll give a little personal story. So, even though I'm a Persian Armenian there are - as I said - different Persian-Armenian dialects and then some are viewed just as inferior relative to the other ones. So, the one I speak is Tehran - the Tehrancy dialect. So, I'm from Tehran. I speak the Tehran-Persian-Armenian dialect. So, if someone was from, say, Peria - which is a village - they speak a very... they have a different accent. They have a different accent, they have different ways or pronouncing words that are seen as more... I don't want... unsophisticated, I think is a good word. Since they're villagers, they speak a little more unsophisticated relative to me. Therefore, it gives me the ability... or not me personally... [pause] My parents have always made fun of, say, that specific type of Persian-Armenian dialect.

[Shushan] Right. And it's interesting that, of course, the difference between a dialect or a standard, or one dialect or the other is not necessarily a linguistic difference...

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] ... in terms of sophistication.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] Right? Those are all very social differences.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] So, Standard Eastern Armenian that's spoken in the Republic of Armenia is by no means superior to any Iranian-Armenian dialect. Any dialect is able to convey the wealth and sophistication of, you know, thought. But there are these very sociolinguistic, social... socioeconomic...

[Gevick] Correct.

[Shushan] ... layers that we impose on dialects, right?

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] And so much of the attitudes we have about particular variances are attitudes about the speakers, not the variant itself.

[Gevick] Of course.

[Shushan] Right? And so, it's villages who live in Peria.

[Gevick] It's villages, right.

[Shushan] So, they speak their dialect. It's a village peroquial dialect.

[Gevick] Correct.

[Shushan] Okay. So, you said you went to Saturday school?

[Gevick] Saturday school.

[Shushan] For how long? Do you remember?

[Gevick] I went for six years or seven years... six or seven years.

[Shushan] So, you were in elementary school or middle school?

[Gevick] I was in the first grade when I started... third grade formally. I took a class in the first grade, skipped a year and then began third year until... third grade until eighth grade and I finished.

[Shushan] And what kind of memories do you have of that experience. Do you think it was a positive experience or...

[Gevick] Right. So, as far as... [pause] I think about that from time to time, actually, especially when I'm on Facebook now and I see Armenian text. I attribute my ability to read the Armenian text to that Saturday school.

[Shushan] Oh good.

[Gevick] Even though I was... [pause] Even though I'd say as a student, they didn't enforce reading or writing as much as I wish they would... [pause] And it's difficult too, because when I'm unmotivated to learn at that young of an age...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... especially when your parents are telling you to go to Armenian school...

[Shushan] Right. [laughing]

[Gevick] And that's another we can get into if you'd like.

[Shushan] And your friends are playing soccer.

[Gevick] Right. So... [pause] But still, just that ability to read... I'm always going to be thankful for. And one interesting that I found was: Even for that extent of period of time where I didn't go to Armenian school, I was still able to maintain just that ability to read. Yeah, it's difficult to understand, maybe, if I try to read political documents or posts on whatever media, but I still always have that ability to learn if I wanted to, to increase my vocabulary in Armenian... all thanks to that Armenian school just giving me that base.

[Shushan] So, they gave you a strong enough foundation...

[Gevick] A strong enough foundation in literacy...

[Shushan] ... in literacy that you can build on...

[Gevick] Correct.

[Shushan] ... yourself.

[Gevick] With my.. [pause] And now that I'm older and I'm more motivated to, it's easier to because I have that base.

[Shushan] Right, right.

[Gevick] Right. And now that I'm older and I want to pay more attention to, say, writing or grammar... I'm able to do that now too because I still have, say, the books that they gave me or I'm still in contact with the teachers, right?

[Shushan] Wow!

[Gevick] To this day. So, that's always going to be there for me.

[Shushan] So, it was a community.

[Gevick] It was a community, yeah. It was a small Armenian school. I'd say less than 50 students. Every year we did a little show for the parents, right, singing... dancing. So, it was... there was very much... there was culture definitely integrated in there, there were songs and dances... literacy we talked about. Speaking was always encouraged, definitely, even though... [pause] And it's easier when it's a smaller group of people. It was easier to get that point across. There was like, "Hey, during lunch, maybe, or recess, just try talking in Armenian...

[Shushan] Yeah. [laughing]

[Gevick] ... to this person," or you know. So, it was much easier.

[Shushan] Okay. So, besides that experience with the Saturday school, did you have any other formal instruction in Armenian?

[Gevick] Formal instruction in Armenian... no.

[Shushan] No.

[Gevick] None other.

[Shushan] Did you have any extracurricular activities where Armenian was the main medium? Like a sport or, you know, dance...

[Gevick] Sure.

[Shushan] ... or chess or...

[Gevick] Piano and basketball because when I played basketball, I played at an Armenian organization, right, Ararat.

[Shushan] Homenetmen.

[Gevick] Homenetmen.

[Shushan] So, right. So, it's an Armenian athletic organization...

[Gevick] Armenian athletic organization. And everyone was obviously Armenian there, for coaches... parents... staff... teammates. We... [pause] It's not that I would speak Armenian there a lot. It didn't do anything for my literacy, but just being in that environment... being around Armenians... that's exposure enough, I'd say, to Armenian... to what Armenian is, right? Going... [pause] And then just piano, of course, because of my instructor - I mentioned that she was Armenian. But more than that, now I think... [pause] I'm thinking about this more broadly... [pause] I've been exposed to Armenian instruction, like quote-on-quote, just going to the local supermarket, [laughing] you know what I mean? Because there's just... [pause] You said Los Angeles is a melting pot...

[Shushan] Yeah, yeah.

[Gevick] ... of so many different types of Armenian. It's hard to not learn Armenian or be exposed to different types of Armenians by just taking a trip to the store or whatever... walking outside in Glendale or Burbank, you know, wherever.

[Shushan] I think people who haven't experienced LA have a hard time envisioning this...

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] ... when I say... [pause] For example, my kid's pediatrician...

[Gevick] Oh yeah.

[Shushan] ... is Armenian and speaks in Armenian to my children. When I go grocery shopping and I put, you know... still my little four year old in the top row of the cart and everyone at the grocery story interacts with her in Armenian. I think people have a hard time visualizing just what a rich linguistic environment there is. And it's not only Eastern Armenian and, maybe, Western Armenian...

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] ... maybe an Iranian Armenian speaker.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] It's a very unique place.

[Gevick] Definitely.

[Shushan] And I think one of my students, I remember, brought this up of, you know... he didn't kind of look as Armenian as some do and that people where always thrown off that he, you know, would initiate conversations in Armenian. But I think if people kind of scan you as an Armenian, then the assumption is that the interaction will be in Armenian.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] Correct?

[Gevick] Correct, yeah. So, it's a funny thing. You mentioned that just scanning people and knowing their Armenian... [pause] What's very interesting that's the thing that's developed... and I've mainly just talked about this with my friends, it's something we've noticed... just observed... [pause] There is general differences between Armenians, say, within the cities, right? In Los Angeles there are different cities, say, Pasadena or Glendale. There is a difference between an Armenian from Pasadena [laughing] versus an Armenian from Glendale versus somewhere else...

[Shushan] Or an Armenian from Hollywood.

[Gevick] ... or Hollywood. So, it's very interesting now that within just all of Los Angeles, there are just these distinctions being made.

[Shushan] But when you say "distinction," do you mean linguistic, do you mean appearance...

[Gevick] Appearance-wise.

[Shushan] ... do you mean demeanor?

[Gevick] Appearance and demeanor, yeah. So, for example, me and my friends were talking just between Glendale and Burbank. We were like, "Oh, the Burbank Armenians are much more just, like, Americanized."

[Shushan] Ah! [laughing]

[Gevick] Versus the Glendale Armenians who are more, say, fresh off the boat, right? [laughing] So, it's just observances we've made. It's things we've observed in like, people.

[Shushan] But some would say... [pause] I've heard some people say that based on your accent...

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] ... they can tell you which private Armenian school you attended.

[Gevick] Oh okay.

[Shushan] So, we have something like a dozen private Armenian schools in the LA area...

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] ... in all these different cities, and some people can swear...

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] ... that they can tell which school you come from based on your pronunciation.

[Gevick] And even attitude, I'd say.

[Shushan] Interesting.

[Gevick] I know friend who've come from distinct... or just some Armenian school who are much more proud of their Armenian dialect compared to other kids for different Armenian schools, right?

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] So, there's that too.

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] Attitude.

[Shushan] The beauties of LA! [laughing]

[Gevick] Yeah.

[Shushan] The Armenian experience in LA.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] Okay. So, you finished school... high school, and did you... [pause] And then what was your, I guess, next experience or definitive experience? Was there any experience? Did you take any Armenian classes at UCLA?

[Gevick] In UCLA, I didn't take a language class. I only took your course in Diaspora and Language. I... [pause] There wasn't any particular reason for me not electing to take the Armenian classes. It was mainly based on just scheduling. I did the fast track of graduating in three years with Neuroscience, and Neuroscience is already a hectic degree path. So, it was difficult to be able to squeeze in an Armenian class here or there. But I was able to squeeze in yours, definitely, and I was very happy about that overall experience. What I liked about it... [pause] What really drew me to it was the fact that it was research-based, because that's what I heard about when I talked to different students. I felt like I already had that exposure to the Armenian language and really just spending my time learning the alphabet or just, you know... just grammar and things like that. I didn't want to put that much time into that as far as classrooms go. I thought I could do that on my own time. So, yeah.

[Shushan] Was there a language requirement you had to fulfill to graduate?

[Gevick] Yes. So, I took AP Spanish in high school so I kind of

[Shushan] Passed... tested out...

[Gevick] I tested out of that, correct.

[Shushan] Okay. And now you are the Armenian Student Association President at UCLA.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] I'm curious... what role Armenian plays for you, not only as ASA president but just as a young man, right? How do you self-identify? Do you self-identify as Armenian-American, Iranian-Armenian, Iranian-Armenian-America, American, Armenian?

[Gevick] Right. So, I definitely just... I tell myself I'm just an Armenian, right? I don't really go as far as to say, "Oh, I'm Iranian-Armenian," or, "I speak this type of dialect. This and that." But I feel like that's mainly because that rubs people off the wrong way if you do say, "Oh, I'm this type of Armenian. I do this. I do that." That doesn't come off as well. But just mainly my experience here at UCLA... I'll say this about it with Armenians, and this is why I eventually elected to be ASA president - I chose to do that. When I first made my way to UCLA, it was... just everyone told me about the Armenian Student Association. Everyone told me about the, you know, welcoming atmosphere among UCLA students - especially Armenian students. And Armenians... Armenian students... [pause] Typically, we have just that knack of wanting to help each other out because we all have a good general idea of where we've come from as far as Armenians at just, like, a great research institution, right, a great university. We know what was expected of us during our upbringing and we know we've all trying to reach a certain level of success in our lives. We all share that bond besides the fact that we're all Armenian. So, that has made it easier to be able to speak with different types of Armenians on campus as well, right? Coming to UCLA is what allowed me to really sit down and observe just what the differences between the different types of Armenians are, right? And, really, what are the differences? They're accents, there are a few, I'd say, cultural differences based on the dialects we speak, sure. But I really saw everyone's ability to, you know, buckle on down and go, "Okay. You know what... we're all Armenian. We're here to help each other." So, as far as even just, you know, helping someone out with their classwork, giving them notes or tutoring them all became a little more easier once we recognized our Armenian background. So... so, yeah. As I was saying, I was exposed to different types of Armenians here at UCLA from Western... Eastern... all of them. People from Syria who are Armenian came here. One of my good friends is Khachig 26:27]. He's like... he's a Western Armenian who came from Syria and he had different experiences coming from there and people from Armenian who moved here, so they had all their experiences. And instead of really going like, "Hey, we're different so we should say different," we embraced our differences and I'd say that made for a better learning environment, a better environment for us to have, you know, social gatherings, right? That's what ASA is about here on campus, too. All of this that I'm talking about... [pause] It's about social inclusion and having that warm space available for all types of Armenians. And that's eventually... So, I became friends with the ASA president during my freshman year and then I joined ASA, and I kind of moved up the ranks [laughing] in the executive board. And it was my last year and just with my experience and just what Armenian... just what being Armenian here on campus has meant to me, I decided that I should definitely take on the role as president to keep it going... to keep ASA well and alive... make sure it's there for future generations...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... set that path.

[Shushan] What... [pause] How much is the language used in the ASA's activities, would you say?

[Gevick] Oh, definitely! It's definitely used a lot. So, Armenian... the cool thing about it is: Even if speak a different dialect, I've seen people becoming more comfortable at parties, at whatever social gatherings... barbeques we have, bowling nights... whatever. They're becoming more comfortable with using the language with each other and... [pause] So, that's allowing them to just make more friends, right, make more friendships. I'm trying to think... [pause] So, yeah... just... just having that... having that is... [pause] Armenian is like a sort of tool now that I think about it, right, even within the ASA. People... they're becoming more comfortable with using it but there are still those people who are uncomfortable with using it. But when they see those people who are comfortable using it, they come along and contribute to conversations. And usually, it's not... it's Armenian... Armenian [pause] This is what is interesting about it, too: is see it used a lot by typically males when they're trying to show dominance or when arguments break out or whatever happens, [laughing] right? It's a form of showing toughness as well and we discussed that in your class, too.

[Shushan] That's a whole other podcast, but stay tuned!

[Gevick] That's a whole other podcast.

[Shushan] Yeah! [laughing]

[Gevick] So, yeah... situations like that. So, it's all situational. Of course, we speak English...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... more...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... but there are times where, hey, we're trying to crack a joke...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... or we're trying to... I don't know... just explain something to someone, whatever it be... something that happened throughout the day and we'll use Armenian. Even if it's just bits and pieces...

[Shushan] Right.

[Gevick] ... just bits and pieces in the English we speak. We'll throw in a word here or there.

[Shushan] Yeah. I think as you're speaking of the ASA's experience, I'm kind of realizing that it's a little microcosm of the LA experiment.

[Gevick] Right, right.

[Shushan] One of my worries or concerns has been that because we so many different types of Armenians - and we spoke about this in the Language and Diaspora class - that heritage speakers who already have anxieties about their particular variant... who already feel hesitant about speaking to someone who has higher proficiency... now add to that someone who has higher proficiency and speaking in another variant, it kind of accelerates the switch to English because English, now, is the common denominator. And something that I've been trying to work out and promote is conquering those intradialectal differences. It's okay if I speak Eastern Armenian as spoken in the Republic, and you speak Iranian-Armenian, and our third friend speaks Western Armenian. We can all speak Armenian. I think so much of the hesitation or the perception of difference is psychological versus linguistic.

[Gevick] Definitely.

[Shushan] And even if you say something and I don't understand, I can turn to you in Armenian and say, "Gevick, what was that again. You know, that's not the way we say it at home."

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] So, I'm happy to hear that you're saying some of those barriers are broken in the ASA. And I think what you said is, you know, if people see a couple of people doing it, you know, these are role models.

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] Right? You're speaking Iranian-Armenian, he's speaking Western... and you're buddies and you get along just fine, and no one finds it strange...

[Gevick] Right.

[Shushan] ... then, you know, someone who was maybe too shy to speak in their own variant may, you know, step up and kind of cross that line... which is so important in terms of maintaining the language as kind of a living language. So, that's nice to hear!

[Gevick] Yeah. And I'm... I'd say I'm one of those people who has dealt with that anxiety of being able to speak with people that have different dialects. But I'll say this too: Just after taking your class, I became more conscientious of it... more aware. And as a result, I've been just experimenting with myself, right, even within members of the ASA. And I know ASA members do this as well. Say I'm speaking to someone who I believe has a superior dialect than I do. Their... [pause] I've realized that even if you do use your dialect - and I do it using just bits and pieces first to see how... just to try them out and see if...

[Shushan] Test the water. [laughing]

[Gevick] Test the waters, right. And if I see it's okay, I move forward with it. And I'm seeing more and more of it as I engage in Armenian conversations with people of different dialects. So, yeah. And as I said earlier, the ASA... all it's about is creating those just social circles, those relationships, breaking... you know, we do ice breakers and this and that... just speaking Armenian to one another is an excellent way of doing that.

[Shushan] Because it already establishes a shared... a shared ground, right?

[Gevick] Right. So, now that you say this I'm actually thinking about. We always... [pause] In the ASA, we always think about, "Hey, what can we do for Armenians on campus to, say, just meet each other, be comfortable, hang out with each other?" This would be an excellent exercise to just bring people together and have them just speak Armenian. Armenian Day! You know what I mean? Just...

[Shushan] Like a socialization day, where...

[Gevick] ... a socialization day...

[Shushan] ... you socialize...

[Gevick] ... only in Armenian. That'd be a very interesting experience.

[Shushan] And Armenian speaking circle. Yeah! You should do it and then we can have a podcast about it. [laughing]

[Gevick] I'm actually very interested in that.

[Shushan] Yeah!

[Gevick] Okay.

[Shushan] So, before we finish this particular podcast, is there anything you wish I had asked or anything you wanted to say but didn't get a chance in relation to your experience with Armenian or your experience as an Armenian language heritage speaker?

[Gevick] One of the things is just... and I'll just wrap it up with this: Being an Armenian in Los Angeles, you don't realize just the opportunities that are available because you are Armenian.

[Shushan] You take it for granted, yeah.

[Gevick] You take it for granted. See, like, I've had... [pause] I'm on the pre-medical path. I've had a lot of people, say, hospitals that I've volunteered in that I've been able to reach out to because they are Armenian and they've given me more opportunities to be able to build my pre-medical resume, for example, right? These opportunities are always available to kids in Armenia and kids that are Armenian in Los Angeles, and it's something that should definitely be taken advantage of by more and more people. I don't think people sometimes realize how sort of easier it is because we do have a lot of influential Armenians or Armenians who have reached a certain level of success that live in Los Angeles and that are willing to help us and can help us. We don't realize how key Armenian is... how much of an important tool it is for the next generation - so my generation - to be the future leaders of Los Angeles, right? So, definitely I'll end it with that. And thank you so much for having me on this podcast. This is a very exciting and just... [pause] I got a lot out of this conversation.

[Shushan] Oh, good!

[Gevick] Yeah, yeah.

[Shushan] So did I. And before I wrap up, I just want everyone to stay tuned that we're going to have another podcast with Gevick, who in the course that I taught that he mentioned - Language and Diaspora - one of the requirements was an action research project. So, a research project that tackled any aspect of Armenian as a heritage language or Armenian language speakers or learners experiences. And Gevick did a phenomenal project on heritage language anxiety as a form of foreign language anxiety and I would love to talk to his about that to share how he designed the project, his questions, and some of his findings. So, stay tuned with that and thank you so much Gevick.

[Gevick] Thank you.

image for printer

Published: Wednesday, August 21, 2019