Thursday, January 25, 2018

Republic: The State of and for All

If we understand democracy, as defined by Aristotle, as the direct government of the people, then, indeed, the United States is a republic and not a democracy. Of course, no one with a basic knowledge of words and political science would say that America is or should be a democracy in that sense of the word. Democracy is essentially understood as the system where the government derives its power from the people, which freely elect its representatives, and that system constitutes a republic. Therefore, the United States is a democratic republic, unlike other republics, where the government may have originally derived its power from the people, but the latter no longer elects its representatives in a free way.

The word “republic” comes, indeed, from the French république, which derived from Latin respublica. This is a compound word, where res means “entity” and publica, “belonging to the people.” However, the Armenian word for “republic,” հանրապետութիւն (hanrabedootioon ), is not a literal translation, since it has a different meaning in its two components. The first word, hanr, is a contraction of հանուր (hanoor), which means “all” and has generated words like հանրութիւն (hanrootioon) “public” (noun) and հանրային (hanrayin) “public” (adjective). The second word is պետութիւն (bedootioon ), which literally means “chiefdom” (պետ /bed “chief” + the suffix ութիւն /ootioon), and has come to mean “state” (in the sense of nation in one territory) in modern use. Thus, the word hanrabedootioon means “the state of/for all.”

The use of hanrabedootioon was consecrated in the Armenian language after the birth of the Republic of Armenia in 1918. It is interesting, however, that its use in Armenia had a hiatus during Soviet times. As part of the process of Russification of the language that was pursued under Stalin, a decree of 1940 imposed the use of ռեսպուբլիկա (respublica, a direct loan from Russian) instead of hanrabedootioon, together with other foreign words. Therefore, Soviet Armenia was called Հայկական Ռեսպուբլիկա (Haygagan Respublica) until 1966, when another decree restored most of the words that had been legally eliminated in 1940 and Soviet Armenia became again Հայկական Հանրապետութիւն (Haygagan Hanrabedootioon). After the declaration of independence released in August 1990, the name Հայաստանի Հանրապետութիւն (Hayastani Hanrabedootioon ) was officially restored.

The use and misuse of words indicate the difference that may exist between an actual democracy (where people supply the power of the government) and a democracy in name only, where words do not matter and anyone who does not toe the line of the government may be declared—as the experience of the Soviet Union in the 1930s showed—an “enemy of the people” and claimed to deserve punishment or death on behalf of that same people.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

In the Beginning, the Ass Was a Horse

Asses have had bad publicity since ancient Greek times, and anyone with some exposure to English colloquial language may hear one of many combinations of the word “ass” (or the word itself) on a daily basis to typify clumsiness and stupidity. The same happens with Armenian speakers, even though there are not that many combinations of the word էշ ( esh). However, you may find a wide (someone would also say fine) collection of phrases including esh in Armenian. One should add that asses were highly esteemed in ancient Armenia for their usefulness.

Intriguingly, “ass” and esh do not sound that far from each other. The English word is cognate with a series of Germanic and Slavic languages, and it is likely that all of them ultimately derive from Latin asinus (e.g. Spanish asno, Old French asne ). Apparently, the form of the Latin word indicates that the ultimate source was a language of Asia Minor. On the other hand, the Sumerian language (a non-Indo-European, non-Semitic language spoken in southern Mesopotamia in the third millennium B.C.) had the word anshe (“ass”).

The Armenian word esh is native Indo-European. It comes from the Proto-Indo-European word ek’wo (“horse”), from which we have, among others, the Latin word equus (“horse”; compare English “equestrian,” “equine,” and other horse-related terms). If you are puzzled by the transformation of k’ into sh, we also have Sanskrit ashva and Farsi asp (both “horse) , among others.

Despite their formal closeness and meaning, Armenian esh is not the source for Turkish eshek (“ass”), which had its cognates in other Turkic languages of Central Asia. However, it is not impossible that it could have been the unidentified language of Asia Minor that became the initial source for Latin asinus and, in the end, for English “ass.”

There is another puzzle to conclude: Armenian esh did not keep the original meaning of “horse,” for which we have another word of Indo-European origin, ձի (tzi).

As Mr. Spock, of “Star Trek” fame, would have said, “fascinating.”

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Walking Around the Lyceum

Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, allegedly used to walk while lecturing. Since he was not a citizen of Athens, he could not own property. Like another famous philosopher, Socrates, he and his colleagues used the grounds of the Lykeion (Latin Lyceum ), the name of a gymnasium dedicated to Apollo Lyceus (the term lyceus was applied to the type of statue that represented Apollo with his arm resting on his head).

This happened around 335 B.C. and the Lyceum actually became an informal institution where Aristotle’s followers conducted philosophical and scientific inquiries, rather than being a formal school. Nevertheless, those followers were known as the Peripatetic school (the Greek word περιπατητικός [ peripatêtikos ] meant “given to walking about”), and Aristotle’s school came to be named Peripatos because of the peripatoi (“covered walkways”) of the Lyceum.

The word lyceum entered many languages, like English and Armenian, where sometimes the word Լիկէոն ( likeon ), used to translate Aristotle’s Lyceum, has been used to denote the high school section of a school. This happened, for instance, in the case of a famous Mekhitarist school, the Mourad-Raphael school of Venice, which existed from 1836 to the 1990s.

However, the Armenian language found a way to give the concept of “lyceum” (or “Academy,” as Aristotle’s teacher Plato called his own school) with a word of its own. Following the idea of the peripatetic school, it used the root ճեմ ( jemel “walk”), derived from an Iranian source, from which derived ճեմարան ( jemaran “walking place”). In the eleventh century, the word was also used to call the schools founded by another important writer, Grigor Magistros, in Ani, Sanahin, and Bjni. Later on, the school of the monastery of the Holy Cross, in Crimea (fourteenth-seventeenth centuries) received the name of jemaran.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, several important educational institutions took the name of jemaran, meaning “academy” or “lyceum,” such as the Lazarian Academy of Moscow (1814-1918), the Scutari Lyceum in Constantinople (from 1838), the Gevorgian Lyceum in Etchmiadzin (1874-1917), the Academy of Marash (1891-1915), the Cilician Lyceum of Aintab (1891-1915), and others. The name was continued in Armenia when the Seminary ( հոգեւոր ճեմարան/hokevor jemaran ) of Etchmiadzin was reopened in 1945. However, it was more consistently used in the Diaspora. For many decades, the name Jemaran became synonymous with the school founded in Beirut (1930) by the Hamazkayin Armenian Cultural and Education Society, first known as “Armenian College,” then as “Nshan Palanjian College,” and currently as “Melanchton and Haig Arslanian College” (the word college is used in the French and not the American sense of the word). Nevertheless, other jemarans had existed before, such as the Mesrobian Academy in Sofia (1921), and later, such as the Karen Jeppe College (1947) and the Cilician College (1960), both in Aleppo, for instance.

On a side note: for decades, the Armenian American community did not have a daily school of its own, thinking that it was not important for its survival. It used to think that it was more important to do fundraisers to benefit “the” Jemaran, the one in Beirut. This went on and on until the 1960s, when a new generation arrived in this country, conscious of the importance of Armenian daily schools to ensure not only the future of the Armenian language in the United States, but also of the community. Then, the fundraisers continued, but with a different goal.

Thursday, December 14, 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.”