Thursday, September 15, 2016

Honey and the Bees

The words honey (English) and Honig (German) are cousins; together with other similar words in Swedish, Dutch, etcetera, they both descend from their grandfather, Proto-Germanic, which had the word *hunagam (the asterisk shows that the word does not come from a written source, but from linguistic study), whose origin is unknown.  

However, this is not the term some Indo-European languages have used or still use to call the sweet product of the hardworking bees. For instance, Latin called it mel and Greek meli, while Armenian called it meghr (մեղրin Classical Armenian melr). These and some other related words come from the common Proto-Indo-European root *melit. 

Armenian and Greek share one interesting trait: they both have used the same root*melit to designate not only the product, but the producer. Who produces honey? In Armenian, “bee” is meghu (մեղուin Classical Armenian melu); in Ionic Greek, “honeybee” is melissa (melitta in Attic Greek), from which derives the feminine nameMelissa in English (and other languages). 
Coming to proper names, Armenian also has its own share of names related to honey, such as Meghrig (Մեղրիկand Meghri (Մեղրի). The latter actually comes from the homonymous city, located in the south of the Republic of Armenia (region of Siunik or Zangezur), but, of course, the name itself is derived from the same source. 

To be fair, there are a couple of words that people with well-developed literary senses still use in English: mellifluent and mellifluous. They share the same common origin with meghr, since they both come from Late Latin, and ultimately their meaning “sweet” is derived from mel (“honey”).

To recap, there is an even more interesting example, which shows that the root *melitexisted at some point in Proto-Germanic before being superseded by *hunagam. It is also unexpected: who would think of mildew and relate it to honey? As a matter of fact, the association of Proto-Germanic *mili (honey) + *dawwō (dew) originated the Old English word meledēaw (“honeydew”)and this is how we have the terror of tiles, rugs, and paper: mildew. Frankly, who would associate mildew with honey?

Friday, September 2, 2016

How Do You Spell Love?

As it happens in English (the example of cheese, please, sleaze, and freeze should be never forgotten) the Armenian language also has words that present problems when you try to spell them. This problem is more obvious in Western Armenian, particularly in those series of consonants where the three different sounds have become two:
  • բ-պ-փ (p-b-p’)
  • գ-կ-ք (k-g-k’)
  • դ-տ-թ (t-d-t’)
  • չ-ճ-ջ (ch-j-ch’)
In these three series, the apostrophe indicates an emphatic sound of the consonant, as in the English pronunciation of p, k, t, which we do not follow in Western Armenian. Speakers pronounce բ and փ, գ and ք, դ and թ, չ and ջ in the same way. Therefore, if you do not follow orthographic rules, the semantics of the word in question, or, simply, memory (in the same way that you memorize how to write tʃiːz [cheese] and do not confuse it with pliːz [please]), then you will be in trouble.

The same happen with another trio, ձ-ծ-ց (tz-dz-ts), where ձ and ց sound exactly the same, and with the couple ռ-ր (r’-r), where the first should be a strong r (double rr as in curriculum) and the second is a soft r (single r as in care), but both are pronounced as a soft r.

Most of these confusions do not happen in Eastern Armenian, which has kept more closely the phonetics of Classical Armenian, including the pronunciation of բ as b, գ as g, դ as d, ջ as j, etcetera. However, in Eastern Armenian also not all words follow the three different sounds; for instance, the word “girl” is pronounced aghchig, and not aghjik, and the listener might get confused about how to write the word, աղջիկ –the right one—or աղչիկ.

Another problem is that of the confusion for the h sound (հ or յ) and the e sound (ե or է). Eastern Armenian “solved” it by changing the spelling. Thus, when you hear e or h in Eastern Armenian, you write ե (with minor exceptions) and հ. Needless to say, the spelling “reform” cut the linguistic tradition to the point that today an untrained Eastern Armenian speaker has difficulties to read aloud and understand sentences in Classical spelling, which reads to its rejection.

All languages have these kinds of conundrums, and of course, you solve the problems with rules, common sense, and memory. If not, ask those foreign speakers who learn the English language.
Here are two examples easy to memorize and hard to forget:
  1. անձ means “person” and անձնագիր (antsnakir) means “personal document.” However, անց (ants) is the root of the verb “to pass” (անցնիլ – antsnil) and անցագիր (antsakir) means “passport.” Both roots are used in a lot of words, but as soon as you remember what անձ means and what անց means (in the same way that you remember what “write” means and what “right” means), you should never write անցնագիր, in the same way that you do not say Ernest Hemingway is a… “righter.”
  2. The meaning of սեր is “cream” and the meaning of սէր is “love.” However, ensure to remember that է in many monosyllabic words becomes ի (i) when it is combined with a suffix or another noun. In this way, you will always write that “God is love” (Աստուած սէր է) and not… “God is cream.”
  3.  A similar story is that of վարել (varel) and վառել (varrel). Memory is again important here, because if you write “Ես ինքնաշարժը վարեցի” (Yes inknasharje varetsi), we are all sure that you said “I drove the car.” However, if you write “Ես ինքնաշարժը վառեցի” (Yes inknasharje varretsi), that may spell disaster. Did you mean “I burned the car”?

The list is big. The will to learn should be bigger.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Do You Understand What the Lord’s Prayer Says?

You have a regular knowledge of Armenian, but are perhaps among those who have said that you attend the Badarak (Պատարագ – Mass) and do not understand it because it is krapar (գրաբար) or Classical Armenian. Let’s put aside the fact that, besides the hymns and some texts, a good part of the Sunday ceremony is in Modern Armenian. Let’s focus on what you may have said or still say. 

Is it true? You cannot understand krapar? 
Yes, you can! 
As we have said other times, krapar is not to Modern Armenian what Old English is to Modern English or Latin is to French or Spanish. This means that, unlike the case of Old English or Latin, you may have never learned krapar, but if you know Modern Armenian, you can do a lot. 
You just need to pay some attention. 
Let’s take the most representative and commonly used text: the Lord’s Prayer. Here’s the original:
Hayr mer vor herginus es, soorp yegheetsee anoon Ko. Yegestseh arkayootyoon Ko. Yeghitsin gamk Ko vorbes herginus yev hergri. uZhats mer hanabazort door mez aysor. Yev togh mez zbardees mer, vorbes yev mek toghoomk merots bardabanats. Yev mi danir uzmez I portsootyoon ayl purgya uzmez ee chareh. Zi ko e arkayootyoon yev zorootyoon yev park havideans Amen.

Հայր մեր որ յերկինս ես, սուրբ եղիցի անուն Քո։ Եկեսցէ արքայութիւն Քո։ Եղիցին կամք Քո
որպէս յերկինս եւ յերկրի։ Զհաց մեր հանապազորդ տուր մեզ այսօր։ Եւ թող մեզ զպարտիս մեր, որպէս եւ մեք թողումք մերոց պարտապանաց։ Եւ մի տանիր զմեզ ի փորձութիւն այլ փրկեա զմեզ ի չարէ։ Զի քո է արքայութիւն եւ զօրութիւն եւ փառք յաւիտեանս Ամէն)։

The assumption that you know Armenian entails that you also know how to read it. Therefore, you will surely be able to identify յերկինս (hergins) and յերկրի (hergri) withերկինք (yergink “heaven; sky”) and երկիր (yergir “earth; land”). Such being the case, you will be able to understand that the first three sentences include the words “father” (հայր/hayr), “our” (մեր/mer), “heaven” (երկինք/yergink), “holy” (սուրբ/soorp), “name” (անուն/anoon), “your” (քու/koo), “kingdom” (արքայութիւն/arkayootion), “will” (կամք/gamk). Thus, you know almost everything, because these are common words in Modern Armenian too!

You may not get at first glance what եղիցի (yegheetsee) and եկեսցէ (yegestse) mean, because they are not Modern Armenian. To solve the “puzzle,” you need to pick your own brain. If you know that soorp yegheetsee anun ko means “holy [blank] your name,” perhaps yegh (եղ), the root of yegh(eetsee), would be related to yegh(av) (եղաւ), a past form of the verb ullal (ըլլալ) “to be”! If you know that yegestseh arkayootioon ko means “[blank] your kingdom,” then yeg (եկ), the root of yeg(estse), might be related toyeg(av) (եկաւ), a past form of the verb kal (գալ) “come.” Now go and look into the English version. 

You will have some trouble with hanabazort (հանապազորդ), because this adjective does not relate to any word in Modern Armenian. However, you do not need to know what the word means at first glance to understand the essential: the prayer asks the Lord to “give us today our bread.” If you are too anxious, then check a dictionary: you will find that hanabazort means “daily.”

The words togh and toghum in the fourth and fifth sentences are the most complicated, because they are both related to the same verb, toghul (թողուլ), which is rarely used in Modern Armenian with one meaning: “to leave.” As a regular speaker of Modern Armenian, you know that the root bard(is) (պարտիս) must be related to the word bard(k) (պարտք “debt”), and you may guess that bardaban is related to the latter. The word toornaban (դռնապան) means “doorkeeper”; thus, bardaban should mean “debt-keeper” (= debtor).
(Don’t get confused. Instead of “debt,” the English Bible speaks about “trespass” or “sin,” but we all know that the Bible has different translations for different words.) 

We ask from God something for our debts, in the same way that we do the same for our debtors. Can we understand that we ask to be “left alone” with our debts, in the same way that we “leave alone” our debtors? A little improbable, but the meaning is not too farfetched. To be left alone may be somehow understood as to be pardoned for something we did. Actually, the verb toghul had another meaning in krapar, “to pardon,” namely, nerel (
ներել) in Modern Armenian.

In conclusion: if you try to penetrate the meaning of your prayer, it will not take you long to crack the code. We will study other examples in the future.

Friday, August 5, 2016

How Time and Place Are Tied to Each Other

We all know that the English name for the head of a certain board is chairman. But don’t rush: the Armenian translation of “chairman” is not atoramart (աթոռամարդ)! This would only be a literal, but inexistent translation. The actual Armenian word is adenabed (ատենապետ), and its components have nothing to do with “chair” or “man.”
Where does adenabed come from? There is a word aden that means “time,” synonymous with zhamanag (ժամանակ). For instance, you may say, “Aden choonim” («Ատեն չունիմ» / “I don’t have time”), and this is the same as “Zhamanag choonim” («Ժամանակ չունիմ»).
However, if the word bed (պետ) means “head, chief, leader,” does this mean that adenabed literally means “chief of time”?
Not a chance.
The word aden derives from adean (ատեան). The grammatical rule establishes that the diphthong ea (եա) becomes e (ե) in a compound word. Thus, we have madean (մատեան “book”) > madenataran (մատենադարան “library”). This is how we ensure that the e in adenabed and madenataran is written with ե and not է.
But adean has nothing to do with time. It means “meeting, session; assembly of judges; court; trial,” as well as “consulting body/board.” Thus, adenabed means “head of the meeting” or “head of the consulting body/board.” In the same way, the secretary of that same meeting or board is called adenatubir (ատենադպիր); tubir means “scribe,” hence the original meaning of tubrots (“school”) as place where the scribes were trained in old times.
However, a puzzling question remains: how adean went from indicating place to indicate time? From its original meaning, adean later went to mean “time of the session or meeting,” and then “time” in general. Interestingly, the current word aden is only used in Western Armenian with the meaning “time.”
There is an opposite example of a word going from indicating time to indicate place. It is precisely the word zham (ժամ “moment”), which later acquired the meaning “church.” Yegeghetsee yertal (եկեղեցի երթալ) and zham yertal (ժամ երթալ) have practically the same meaning, although the latter is rarely used in writing nowadays. From this secondary use of zham, we have the word zhamgoch (ժամկոչ “sexton”).
Time flies, and so the meaning of words.

Friday, July 22, 2016

When Speakers Invent New Words

People apparently tend to think that the diphthongs yoo (իւ) and ioo (իու) are pronounced in the same way, and that the fact that their spelling is different is nothing more than a quirky twist of the language (think of the English words cheese, please, sleaze, and freeze). Therefore, the two diphthongs in the word miootyoon (միութիւն “union”) are pronounced in the same way. But they should not be. The failure to understand this difference has led to common twists in pronunciation.
You have the case of diphthongs being inverted, as if the speakers were affected by dyslexia:
  1.       haryoor (հարիւր “hundred”) => hayroor (հայրուր)
  2.       aryoon (արիւն “blood”) => ayroon (այրուն).
Then we have some diphthongs where the sound yoo is turned by the magic wand into ooy:
  1.       myoos (միւս “other”) => mooys (մույս)
  2.       tzyoon (ձիւն “snow”) => tzooyn (ձույն)
  3.       kyood (գիւտ “invention, discovery”) Ü kooyd (գույտ)
  4.       pyoor (բիւր “many”) => pooyr (բույր)
(Note: the word pooyr (correctly spelled բոյր means “fragrance”)
And vice versa:
  • voghchooyn (ողջոյն “greetings”) => voghchyoon (ողջիւն)
To close the gallery, it is worth mentioning a case where the uncomplicated sound oo becomes yoo:
  •  pedoor (փետուր “feather) => pedyoor (փետիւր)
Those speakers of the English language who are of Spanish or Italian origin always have difficulty to properly pronounce, for instance, ship and sheep. If you go and check the writing of the above mentioned Armenian words, you will notice that there is no such problem: you pronounce what you read. If you can’t, then you may need... to get glasses.

Friday, July 8, 2016

How Do You Say Basturma in Armenian?

For more than a century, pastrami has become as ubiquitous in a deli as salami. Its name was probably modeled over salami, because it was first spelled in English as pastrama. This points out to the actual source, since this dried beef was introduced by Jewish Romanians in the late nineteenth century: the Romanian word pastramă.
The Romanian word, at its turn, came from Greek pastramas / pastourmas (παστραμάς/παστουρμάς), which was a borrowing from the Turkish word pastırma (pastırma et “pressed meat” in Old Turkish). As we all know, Western Armenians usually call it basturma (պասթըրմա), while Eastern Armenians used the form bastoorma (բաստուրմա). Thus, here we have the connection between pastrami and the well-known seasoned meat that many people enjoy with eggs for breakfast.
However, the fact that the word is Turkish does not mean that the food is indeed Turkish. Actually, historians of the ancient and medieval world were well aware that cured meat had been made in Asia Minor for centuries, at least since the Byzantine period, and called apokti.
Here is the clue to find the actual Armenian term for basturma, long before the Turks came from Central Asia to Asia Minor and the Armenian Highland in the eleventh century.
The word abookhd (Classical Armenian apukht) was already used in the Armenian translation of the Bible, in the fifth century A.D., meaning “salted and dried meat.” The word apokti was an equivalent of abookhd, and both came from one of the Iranian dialects, Pahlavi, where the word apuxt meant “uncooked” (a “un” and puxta “cooked”). Later, the Armenian word went into Georgian abokhti or abukhti, and, via the dialect of the Armenians of Poland, into Polish abucht.
The choice is yours, whether you prefer an Armenian word of no less than seventeen hundred years of antiquity, whose borrowing from Iranian is no longer remembered, and a loanword that everyone knows where it comes from. Meanwhile, you may also want to know that, in modern times, abookhd also gave birth to an interesting compound word, khozabookhd, which designates an item that you may find every day at your local deli too: ham.