Wednesday, December 13, 2017

About Repentance

If you feel regret or changed your mind about something, then you repent. If you dedicate yourself to amend your life by turning away from sin, then you repent too. The former is a common word, while the latter is a theological concept that implies a change of heart and mind that brings you closer to God.

Unlike English, the Armenian language has two different words for “repent.” The common idea of changing your mind about something is called զղջալ (zughchal), and the noun that indicates this change of mind is զղջում (zughchoom). The idea of repentance by turning away from sin is known with the name of ապաշխարութիւն (abashkharootioon), and the action is ապաշխարել (abashkharil).

If you know some Armenian, you may have come across the word աշխարհ (ashkharh “world”) and the negative prefix ապ (ab) or ապա (aba), equivalent to English “de” (“denationalization”) or “des” (“disinformation”). (It has nothing to do with the adverb ապա /aba “then, afterwards”.)

If you put together ab and ashkharh, you might conclude that their combination created the word abashkharil, which literally would mean something akin to “to deprive [someone] from the world,” which is what you do when you get closer to God and farther removed from the sins of this world. That is fairly possible, especially since you would not be the first to arrive to that conclusion. The Mekhitarist fathers who compiled the famous New Dictionary of the Armenian Language (Նոր Բառարան Հայկազեան Լեզուի Nor Parraran Haigazian Lezvi ), published in 1836-1837 as the ultimate source for the vocabulary of Classical Armenian, had already come to that idea long ago.

This is, however, what linguists have labelled as “popular etymology.” Popular etymologies are those created to explain away the meaning of a common or proper noun by analyzing its components. They do not take into account either similar words in other languages or the degree of reasonability of their hypothesis. (Years ago, the former dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, had claimed that William Shakespeare was of Arabic origin, since his name could be explained as Sheik Spiro, a claim that is still held in some quarters.)

Actually, the word abashkharel has nothing to do with ashkharh. First of all, one should explain why the word ashkharh would have lost the final h to become ab-ashkhar-el or ab-ashkhar-ootioon , given that ashkharh does not lose the h in any other case (e.g. աշխարհամարտ /ashkharhamard “world war”). Secondly, the word abashkhar (pronounced apashkhar in Classical Armenian) has its source in the Iranian languages.

It is interesting to mention that Armenian loaned words from Iranian turn the original khsh into shkh. Thus, we have abakhshah in Pahlevi, abakhshad/abakhshay in Middle Persian, and bakhshay in Persian, all meaning “to pardon” and going back to a reconstructed original word *apakhshad .

To repent, in the end, also means that your sins are pardoned, but you do not come out of this world.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How Spray Became Part of a Diaspora?

One way or another, most people spray something every day, while many young children watch the channel Sprout and millions of people everywhere in the world prepare spread sheets in their offices.

All of them use words that are connected to each other, even though the three words seem to have nothing to do with each other. It is true that the three words in question come from different Proto-Germanic sources, but it is also true that the ultimate source for all of them is one tiny Proto-Indo-European word: *sper “to strew.”

The same word *sper is also the source for an Armenian verb: սփռել ( sprel “to scatter, to strew,” to be pronounced suprel). The original word for spr-el was սփիռ (spir), which later became սփիւռ (spiur ). (Interestingly, unlike sprel, we pronounce spiur as its English cognate spray , with a schwa before the s.)

A few decades ago, spiur became the source for the neologism ձայնասփիւռ ( tzaynaspiur ), the Western Armenian word for “radio,” composed by the words ձայն ( tzayn “sound, voice”) and spiur. Thus, tzaynaspiur means “to scatter sounds,” which is exactly the function of a radio.

Much older than that, spiur turned to be the root of սփիւռք (spiurk), the Armenian translation of the Greek (now English) word diaspora (δῐᾰσπορᾱ́ ), meaning “dispersion” ( dia “across” + speiro “I sow”). The word spiurk was composed with the addition of the suffix ք (k), which indicates both plural (գիր /kir “letter” > գիրք /kirk “letters; book”) and place (հայ /hay “Armenian” > Հայք /Hayk “Armenia”).

If you spray, you disperse something, and this is exactly what a diaspora is, the same as the Armenian Spiurk: a place of dispersion.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

What Does Rabiz Mean?

In the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, a certain kind of music style, called rabiz, surfaced in Armenia and started reaching out to the Diaspora. The Internet would turn it widespread and pervasive.

The word rabiz (ռաբիզ, also spelled ռաբիս/rabis ) does not have an Armenian origin, and does not appear in any Armenian dictionary, even those that include foreign loanwords. It is generally assumed to come from the abbreviation of two Russian words, either rab otniki is kusstva (“art workers”)—a Soviet organization founded in the 1920s aimed at integrating popular melodies into new compositions—or rabochee iskusstvo (“workers’ art”), which designated an art that belonged to the working masses. Some people supposed that rabiz may have Turkish or Arabic origin, probably because the music itself has clear Middle Eastern affinities. Another theory, much less probable, is that Armenians use the Arabic word aziz in colloquial language, meaning “darling,” and its combination with Arabic rab, meaning “creator” or “god,” would have originated rab(az)iz, meaning “the beloved god.” If you are curious about how the word rab would have entered Armenian (Armenians in Armenia do not know Arabic), how rab and aziz would have become rabiz and not rabaz, and how “the beloved god” is related to music, those answers will be extremely hard to find, if they exist at all. Café theories of language are as wild as conspiracy theories.

(Of course, if you thought about that for a second, forget any relation between the words rabiz and R & B, except that they sound somewhat similar.)

Rabiz music was quite ubiquitous in Soviet Armenia from the 1960s on, but in an underground form, as it was only accessible in certain restaurants and copied in domestic cassette recorders. The intelligentsia referred to that type of music as a low cultural phenomenon, related to Turkish, Arabic, or Azerbaijani music, which might be linked to the working class formed in the cities after the emigration of rural population.
There is also a certain subculture linked to that type of music, considered tasteless and vulgar by educated people. A definition of rabiz found on the Internet establishes it as “a slang word describing a social class of Armenians that exhibit socially questionable behaviors.” Some stereotypical characteristics listed for those “typically dubbed ‘rabiz’ by the Armenia community,” also called “hillbilly subculture,” are: materialistic flamboyancy; sunglasses regardless of weather conditions; “men in black” clothing consisting of imitation leather shoes, slacks, and collared silk shirts; blend of Russian and Armenian slang words; use of the homonymous music; strong body odors; over-confidence about picking up girls; overstressed masculinity

Interestingly, rabiz music does not have lyrics in slang, but in standard Armenian, even though characterized by their unimaginative and repetitive fashion. As a marginal note, its ubiquity has allowed the song «Մի՛ գնա» (Mi gna), performed by a singer called SuperSako, to become a phenomenon transcending borders. Versions by Lebanese, Jewish, and Turkish singers have come out.  While the first two perform the song in Armenian, the Turkish translation of the Armenian song allows one to appreciate how deeply non-Armenian the song and the entire rabiz style of music are.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Build Long and Prosper

The root շէն (shen) is a very productive one. If we have to believe tradition, it goes to the beginnings of the Armenian people. According to Movses Khorenatsi, the Father of Armenian history (fifth century A.D.), when Patriarch Haig left Babylon and settled in the Armenian plateau, he first founded a township called Հայկաշէն (Haigashen), meaning “built by Haig.” Here, shen is the root of the verb շինել (sheenel “to build”). It was also used with the meaning of “dwelling place.”

These two examples already show the ways shen may come up:
a) Unchanged, when it is the plural of Classical Armenian (շէնք – shenk “building”) or the second word in a compound word (Haig + a + shen );
b) Changed into շին (sheen) when the phonetic rule applies (է becomes ի) in the case of a compound or a derivative word, e.g. շինել (sheenel) – շինութիւն (sheenootyoon “construction”) - շինարար ( sheenarar “builder”).

This root has a second meaning: “prosperity.” For instance, you may have heard the expression Շէն մնաք (Shen munak). Of course, this does not mean “Remain built” (or… “You must stay,” according to Google Translate), because the word shen is only used with the meaning of “building” in a compound word. It is actually a blessing: “May you be prosperous” (“May you prosper”). The same meaning appears in the phrase Աստուած շէն պահէ ձեր տունը (Asdvadz shen bahe tser doonu), which we may translate as “May God keep your house prosperous.”

The difference between the two meanings “to build” and “to prosper” is marked by the application or not of the phonetic rule e > i . If you apply it, the root of the word means “to build” (շինել - sheenel); if you do not, it means “to prosper” (շէննալ shennal).

At a colloquial level, it is interesting to note that many current speakers of Armenian tend to make a mistake that can even be labeled as funny. When they are talking about a construction, instead of saying շինութիւն (sheenootyoon), they tend to say շնութիւն (shunootyoon) . Besides forgetting the abovementioned phonetic rule, they also forget that shunootyoon does not come from shen, but from… shoon (“dog”). Before becoming all the rage, dogs were not very well regarded in language, whether in English or in Armenian. As a result, those wrongly using shunootyoon perhaps are labeling a construction as a doghouse (the first meaning of shunootyoon is “a dog thing”) or, even worse, as a place of adultery (the associative meaning of shunootyoon is “adultery”; the translation of the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” is Մի՛ շնանար /Mi shunanar).

The final advice would be: check how you use the language. Meanwhile, to paraphrase the Vulcan farewell greeting in Star Trek, “Build long and prosper.”

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The “No” Came First

When you ask for something, a negative answer is always likely, but a positive answer does not fall out of the realm of possibility.

The “no” came first, at least in Armenian, where the word ոչ (voch) is original to the language, while այո (ayo “yes”) does not have a recognized explanation, even though it appeared as early as the Armenian translation of the Bible (fifth century A.D.).


The compound word voch (literally “no one, none”) is formed by the negative particle ո (vo) and the sign of indefinite, չ (ch ). The combination of ոչ (voch “no”) and ինչ (eench “thing”) yielded the word ոչինչ (vocheench “nothing”). Voch later transformed into the other negative word, չէ (che), formed by the sum of չ (ch ) and է (“to be”).


The Armenian ayo sounds very close to aye in English (“Aye, captain”) or even to yes, but actually, according to the great linguist Hrachia Ajarian, it is an onomatopoetic word, unrelated to its English, German (ja ) or French (oui) counterparts . The word “yes” did not even exist in Greek or Latin. Actually, it was absent from the mother language, and thus, there is not a common word for the family of Indo-European languages.


Most strikingly, ayo had fallen from usage by the twelfth century, when it was replaced by its equivalent հա (ha). The Armenian jurist Mekhitar Gosh, the author of the first codification of Armenian laws, Tadasdanakirk (“Legal Corpus”), was even forced to explain that ayo meant ha to make it understandable to his readers.  


The word ha entered Armenian dialects, where (for instance in Van) it was pronounced խա (kha) –the dialect aspired the h like a kh (hats “bread” > khats)--and became abbreviated into խ (kh). So, when they asked a Vanetsi, “Are you OK?,” he answered, “Kh.”


In modern times, ayo made a comeback. Today we normally use it as “yes,” while ha has become a colloquial way to answer affirmatively (like the English “yeah”), but not very well regarded when it comes to polite use. However, when you answer negatively, you can say either voch or che, and both will work equally well.


In the end, it is always harder to say “yes” to anything, isn’t it?


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Charts and Cards, and Their Common Origins

In the old days, when you went to some unknown place, you produced a map of the area. Usually, you called it “map,” and not “chart,” although both words are synonyms. But until today you talk of the “uncharted waters” or the “uncharted country.”

Chart was derived from Middle French charte (“map, card”), whose origin is actually Late Latin ( charta “paper, card, map”). Late Latin charta (“leaf of paper, tablet”) was also the origin for Middle French carte and English card.

Both words in English have their similar terms in Armenian. The word քարտէս (kardes), with the alternative spelling քարտէզ (kardez )—although the first form is more usual—came from the Greek khartes (“layer of papyrus, writing, letter, decree”), which was the actual source for the Latin term. It is supposed that, because of the papyrus connection, khartes actually originated in the Egyptian language.

The same word kardez was used in medieval times with the meaning of “letter,” as its Greek source. Interestingly, it also developed an original meaning during the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia: “money.” It was the name for certain bronze coins.

The suffix –es or –ez was dropped in the Armenian word քարտ (kard), which is used today either alone, with the meanings of “play card” or “visiting card,” or in the compound words այցեքարտ (aytsekard) and խաղաքարտ (khaghakard), with the same meanings. Of course, it is also used in other words, like the now almost defunct “card catalogue” (քարտարան/kardaran ).

Incidentally, the word kard with the meaning “play card” may be replaced by the synonym թուղթ (tught) or խաղաթուղթ (khaghatooght), while we may also use տոմս (doms) or այցետոմս (aytsedoms) to say “visiting card.”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Federation and Democracy Have Many Names

When politics and words cross paths, one of them is bound to cede. This is what happened with the words “federation” and “democracy” in Armenian. 
In 1890 all Armenian revolutionary groups, including the newly founded Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (1887), came together to form the Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries (Հայ Յեղափոխականների Դաշնակցութիւն / Hay Heghapokhaganneri Tashnagtsootioon). However, when the alliance with the Hunchakian Party fell apart, the new political party changed its name into Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Հայ Յեղափոխական Դաշնակցութիւն / Hay Heghapokhagan Tashnagtsootioon).
In 1908, after the coup d’état of the Young Turks, a party of conservative leanings was founded in Constantinople, the Armenian Constitutional Democratic Party (Հայ Սահմանադիր Ռամկավար Կուսակցութիւն / Hay Sahmanatir Ramgavar Goosagtsootioon). This party would last until 1921. There was a short-lived National Democratic Party (Ազգային Ռամկավար Կուսակցութիւն – Azkayin Ramgavar Goosagtsootioon) founded in 1919, and then, in 1921, the Constitutional Democratic party joined other parties into the creation of the Democratic Liberal Party (Ռամկավար Ազատական Կուսակցութիւն / Ramgavar Azadagan Goosagtsootioon).
As anyone familiar with Armenian issues knows, both the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Democratic Liberal Party exist today. The former is known in brief as Tashnagtsootioon (Դաշնակցութիւն) “Federation,” and the latter, as Ramgavarner (Ռամկավարներ), namely, “Democrats.”
The word դաշնակից (tashnagits) is composed by the terms դաշն (tashn, “harmonious”) and կից   (gits) , root of the verb կցել (gtsel “to join”), which yield the basic meaning for “ally” (the Allied side in both world wars was called tashnagits in Armenian). Then, tashnagtsootioon could be used with both meanings “alliance” and “federation,” although the name of the party adopted the latter one.

Interestingly, the members of the party were designated with the adjective դաշնակցական (tashnagtsagan ), literally meaning “federal” or “federative.” Over time, this adjective was reserved to that exclusive use, and whenever the word “federal” or “federative” comes, the adjective դաշնակցային (tashnagtsayin) is used. A more extreme case happened in Eastern Armenian after the disintegration of the Soviet Union: the Russian loanword ֆեդերացիա (federatsia) “federation” was dropped from use. However, it was not replaced by the Armenian term tashnagtsootioon, but by a newly created word, դաշնութիւն (tashnootioon) , and the adjective “federal/federative” became դաշնային (tashnayin) Thus, the name of the Russian Federation was turned from Ռուսական Ֆեդերացիա ( Roosagan Federatsia) into Ռուսական Դաշնութիւն (Roosagan Tashnootioon), and, for good or worse, it entered Western Armenian usage (where it was Roosagan Tashnagtsutioon before). The expression “federal government” became դաշնային կառավարութիւն (tashnayin garavarootioon). 
However, it is intriguing that the Football Federation of Armenia was called Հայաստանի Ֆուտբոլի Ֆեդերացիա (Hayastani Footboli Federatsia), and for some reason the word tashnootioon was left aside.
In the case of ramgavar, we also deal with a literal translation derived from the Greek roots demos (“common people”) and kratia (“rule”). However, over time, the word and its derivation ռամկավարութիւն ( ramgavarootioon ) “democracy” were reserved for its exclusive use for anything related to the party. Today the word “democratic” (and the related “democrat”) has become another literal translation from the same Greek roots: ժողովրդավար (zhoghovurtavar ), from ժողովուրդ (zhoghovoort “people”) and վար (var “rule”). There are two exceptions to this rule, again to avoid confusion:
a)     The Hunchakian Party continues using the original foreign words in its name, Սոցիալ Դեմոկրատ ( Sotsial Demokrat “Social Democrat”);
b)     The name of the Democratic Party of the United States—and sometimes its namesakes in other countries—is translated as Դեմոկրատ ( Demokrat “Democrat”) into Armenian, where it is not an epithet as in English.
As a funny anecdote, it is worthy to mention the case of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, which joined Armenians, Georgians, and Tatars (the future Azerbaijanis) from April-May 1918, right before the independence of the first Republic of Armenia. In his famous book on the history of the latter, Simon Vratzian (1882-1969), its last prime minister, translated the name of that short-lived Transcaucasian republic as Անդրկովկասի Ռամկավար Դաշնակցական Հանրապետութիւն (Anturgovgasi Ramgavar Tashnagtsagan Hanrabedootioon). Someone who read those words and did not know their meaning might think that it was a republic founded by Ramgavars and Tashnagtsagans…