Thursday, December 29, 2016

Do You Print Money?

You may just earn a salary or be on the way to become a millionaire. In both cases, the English language has the same way to say that: “you make money.” Whether it is money or coffee, it allows you the use of the same verb: “to make.”

However, as you know, when you make money you obtain it, regardless of the way you do that. It means that “to make” is used as a figure of speech. You can make a cake, but the power to actually make money belongs to the U.S. Federal Reserve.

This may already give you the hint about why the expression դրամ շինել ( tram shinel ) is nothing more than a slavish Armenian-American translation of “to make money.” The word shinel has 14 different definitions, according to the latest dictionary of the Armenian language (Beirut, 1992). The most basic meanings are “to built” and “to create.” However, the meaning “to obtain” does not exist.

Therefore, to say «Ես դրամ շինեցի» (“Yes tram shinetsi”) as translation for “I made money” is basically wrong. If someone heard you saying that out of America, s/he would think that you are in some shady business of printing money.  When you want to speak real Armenian, the actual way to say that is «Ես դրամ շահեցայ» (Yes tram shahetsa). The verb shahil literally means “to win,” and you can literally say that when you came out from the casino, for instance, with something extra in your pocket. Since when you win money, you earn it, then you can use it to make us understand that you get a paycheck. Therefore, Armenian speakers “win” money, while English speakers “make” it.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Very Prolific Vowel

It is not usual that a vowel may also be a very meaningful word in a certain language. Such is the case of the vowel է (e), the seventh letter of the Armenian alphabet.
Its most fundamental function is to be… the third person singular present of the verb “to be”: ան է (an e) = he/she is. This indication of existence has given origin to an interesting series of words.
The word է (e) itself appeared from very early as synonymous with Աստուած (Asdvadz = “God”). Since e indicates existence, it was natural that it could be adopted to symbolize God as “existing.” It appeared in the Armenian Bible, in the fifth century, in the expressions որ է (vor e), որ էն (vor en), and որ էնն (vor enun). For instance, we have the passage «Արդար է՝ որ էնն եւ է» (Artar e vor enun yev e), meaning “You are just, the one who is and who was” (Revelation 16:5). From here, ecclesiastic documents such as bulls by Catholicoi, letters, or notes had as their letterhead the letter Է (E), meaning “In the name of God.” The letter is also found in the front of churches or above the altars.
E also became the basis for several nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, such as the noun էակ (է+ակ, eag), by the addition of the suffix ակ (ag), meaning “creature, being” (մարդ էակ/mart eag “human being”).
Another word, by addition of the adjectival suffix ական (agan), is էական (eagan), which means “essential” and express existence (the verb “to be” is a էական բայ/eagan pay “existential verb”).
The adverbial suffix ապէս (abes) has helped create the adverb էապէս (eabes “essentially”).
Another interesting word is մանրէ (մանր+է, manre), where the word e has been combined with the adjective manr (“little, small”) to form this noun, which designates “virus” and “bacteria.”
Finally, the negative prefix ան (an) has generated the adjective անէ (ane), meaning “inexistent,” and the verb անէանալ (aneanal “to vanish”). While the former is a word more used in poetry, the latter can be used in less literary fashion.
It is fitting to end with a stanza from Taniel Varoujan’s poem “To My Muse,” which he wrote when he was barely 20-21 years old. It was published in his first collection of poetry (1906).

...Կ'ուզեմ ծովուն հետ սիրտ սըրտի ես hարիլ,
Իմ անհունիս մէջ այդ անհունը թաղել,
Բուռն իղձն ունիմ մըրըրկին հետ մաքառիլ
Եվ գլուխս Է-ին գաղտնիքներուն դէմ բախել

(I want to collide heart to heart with the sea,
To bury that infinite in my own infinite;
I have the strong wish to fight with the storm
And to hit my head against the secrets of God).

Those who read Armenian will notice that Varoujan wrote his wish to decipher the secrets of E (Է), instead of saying “God.” He was allowed just a decade to try to decipher those secrets through his poetry before he became one of the most precious victims of the Medz Yeghern (the Great Crime/Great Genocide).

Thursday, December 1, 2016

“Joyful Thanksgiving”­?

Thanksgiving is over. Among the myriad of “Happy Thanksgiving” greetings going all over the place, did you hear anyone saying “Joyful Thanksgiving”?
Of course not. Everyone said “Happy Thanksgiving,” because this is what the English language mandates to say. Happiness is a temporary feeling (and the celebration of a particular day is temporary), while joy has a lasting, more abstract connotation. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” would have taken a different meaning if it had been entitled “Ode to Happiness.” Not by chance, the eighteenth-century Christmas carol says “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” and not… “Happiness to the world…”
Now, how did you say your wish in Armenian? Did you say Ուրախ Գոհաբանութեան օր (Oorakh Kohapanootian or)?
If you did, you were utterly wrong, because you were saying… “Joyful Thanksgiving.” You cannot use oorakh to say “happy” when you are giving good wishes, but only yerchanig.
It is true that some dictionaries may use “happy” to translate both oorakh and yerchanig (երջանիկ). Unfortunately, dictionary authors may be very skillful at putting words together, but very sloppy at thinking how those words are actually used in a sentence. The fact that Google Translate offers the same alternative is, of course, negligible: you are dealing with something called “statistical machine translation,” not a human translator sensible to language nuances.
The Armenian language offers yet another alternative: the word շնորհաւոր (shunorhavor), which indicates your wishes of grace (շնորհք/shunorhk) for a happy event; e.g. Շնորհաւոր տարեդարձ (Shunorhavor daretartz). You could have also used it for Thanksgiving, as in Շնորհաւոր Գոհաբանութեան օր (Shunorhavor Kohapanootian or).
Incidentally, you can still use shunorhavor during the forthcoming holidays to say “Happy New Year”:  Շնորհաւոր Նոր Տարի (Shunorhavor Nor Dari). It would sound awkward to say yerchanig for Christmas, even though we say Merry Christmas (and not “Happy Christmas”). Exceptions confirm the rule: we say Շնորհաւոր Սուրբ Ծնունդ (Shunorhavor Soorp Dzunoont) and not Երջանիկ Սուրբ Ծնունդ (Yerchanig Soorp Dzunoont). If you want to make your wishes in one shot, then it is Shunorhavor Nor Dari yev Soorp Dzunoont. As you see, it does not have more words than Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Salty and Sweet

A previous column (April 28, 2016) explained how Armenian աղ (agh) and English salt were related to each other. Now it seems fit to explore how salt, in the end, may become… sweet.
Salt gives flavor to all sorts of food, and, of course, it may be used in a metaphorical sense, as Jesus did in the Sermon of the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its flavor, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men” (Matthew 5:13). Without salt, let aside all other condiments, food loses an essential nutrient and much of its actual taste.
 The concept of flavor implies, by extension, that salt also provides taste, including “sweetness.” The Armenian language has reflected that in a few words. Classical Armenian had the word աղու (aghoo), which meant “tasty, sweet.” Villages and mountains in Eastern and Western Armenia were and are named Աղու (Aghoo). The name comes from the combination of the word agh and the suffix ու (oo), used in adjectives like հատու (hadoo, from had(el) “to cut” + oo, meaning “sharp”).
But we have more surprises: two common words that are only used in Western Armenian and also have agh as their source. One of them is the word աղուոր (aghoo + or = aghvor), with the meaning of “good, nice” (e.g. աղուոր աղջիկ / aghvor aghchig “nice girl”). The other is աղէկ (agheg), which means “good” (e.g. աղէկ պայմաններ / agheg baymanner “good conditions”).
Doesn’t it sound convincing? In such cases, comparative examples offer a solution. The Russian word for “salt,” from the same Proto-Indo-European source, is sol’ . Two surprising derivations of this word are “sweet” (sladkii) and “candy” (sladosti). Why? Such are the mysteries of language

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Do Not Invent Words That Do Not Exist

Life is far from having a straight course. There are curves, shortcuts, reversals. Looking from outside, they are irregularities and exceptions to what one may consider rules.
Language is part of life. Therefore, it also has irregularities and exception to the rule (the rules of language, indeed) all the way.
One of those irregularities is the verb to fall, as any English speaker knows. The present is fall, the past tense is fell, and the participle is fallen.
“To fall” is also irregular in Armenian. The verb is eehnal (իյնալ) in Armenian, but the past tense loses the յ and acquires a g (կ). Thus, we have Yes eenga (Ես ինկայ, “I fell”) or Anonk eengan (Անոնք ինկան, “They fell”). Unlike English, the past participle remains in the same form: eengadz (ինկած, “fallen”).
A fake irregularity has been created in the colloquial language. For instance, in the case of the verb nusdeel (նստիլ, “to sit”), if we want to have someone sit down before the performance starts, we have to nusdetsenel that particular person (նստեցնել, “to make someone sit down”). It is a perfectly legitimate word, as it is in the case of the pairs vazel/vazetsunel (վազել/վազեցնել, “to run/to make run”), antsneel/antsunel (անցնիլ/անցընել, “to pass/to make pass”), and several others.
However, there is a false parity, which we find here and there in spoken language, particularly among Middle Eastern speakers of Armenian. It is the case of the ghost word eengatsunel (ինկացնել). For instance, you may hear someone who says:
Ան զիս ինկացուց/An zees eengatsoots/ “He(she) made me fall”
The verb eengatsunel, unlike vazetsunel or antsunel, does not exist in Armenian.
How do you properly say the abovementioned sentence?
If you want the short answer, you have Ան զիս տապալեց/An zees dabalets.
Too fancy? Then you have the long answer: Գետին ինկայ իր պատճառով/ Kedeen eenga eer badjarov / “I fell to the floor by his(her) cause.”
However, the questions may remain: Why eengatsunel does not exist?
There is no “why.” Sometimes, language, like life, has its own reasons

Thursday, October 13, 2016

You Drink the Same Wine in English and in Armenian

After Noah’s Ark rested “upon the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4) and the covenant was established between God and Noah, we are told, “Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent” (Genesis 9:20-21). Since the Bible says nothing about Noah moving out of the territory around the mountains of Ararat, we may assume that he planted the vineyard and produced the first Armenian wine there.

Thus, wine is at least as old as Noah. If such is the case, then the Armenian word for wine, kini (գինի) is equally old. Moreover, we have to add that Armenian kini and Englishwine are cousins.

The word wine has comparable words in many Germanic languages. Thus, its origin has been traced back to a common Proto-Germanic root, which at its turn acquired it from Latin vinum (“wine”). The latter, the same as Greek oinos, was derived from a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word, *woin-o. Now, it is a matter of debate whether this root comes from another PIE root, *wei (“rotate, twirl”), or was derived from a Mediterranean unknown language. Semitic languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, and Ethiopic also have words very similar to PIE *woin-o, which perhaps was also their ultimate source.
What about the Armenian word? Let’s start with the following tweak: kini is, of course, the Western Armenian pronunciation of գինի, while the actual pronunciation in the fifth century A.D. and before was gini

Linguists have found out that the PIE sound ¬*w  yielded g (գ) in Armenian. For instance, PIE *wel (“to see”) gave the Armenian word geł / Western Armenian kegh (գեղ “beauty”), which is no longer used alone in Modern Armenian. Instead, we have keghetsgootioon(գեղեցկութիւն “beauty”) and keghetseeg (գեղեցիկ “beautiful”), among many other words with kegh.

In the same way, PIE *woin-o became Armenian gini. You should not be surprised: the Latin word vinum entered the Welsh language and became… gwin

Remember: when it comes to languages and their relationship, 2 + 2 is not always 4.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Twins Are Not a Couple

The number two is derived from an Old English word (twa), which comes from Proto-Germanic (the “mother” of all Germanic languages). The ultimate source is the Proto-Indo-European reconstructed word *duwo (“two”), which originated the same word in many other languages, such as duo in Latin (English words like duo, duet, duplicate, duplex, for instance, come from this Latin root).

Can you imagine that the Armenian word yergoo (երկու “two”) also comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root *duwo? It means, then, that there is a family relationship with two!

The relationship is complicated, but real, even though both words do not seem to have anything in common.
In linguistics, particularly, appearances tend to be misleading. As we have seen many other times, the relation of two words may be obscured by odd linguistic patterns and the passing of time. The Proto-Indo-European initial *p yielded Armenian h; the typical example is *pater > hayr (հայր “father”). Thus, in a similar fashion, *dw became erk (երկ) in Classical Armenian (now pronounced yerg / երգ in Western Armenian). Although none of the various explanations for the evolution *dw > erk has been universally adopted, the relation between both roots is generally accepted. 

Since two and yergu are far cousins, so are the words double (which has a French origin, but ultimately comes from the same *duwo) and grgeen (կրկին “double”). The latter is actually krkin in Classical Armenian (from erk + kin).

The relationship between two and yergu brings another interesting couple to the fore: twin and yergvoriag (երկուորեակ “twin”). Our interest derives from the fact that it is not uncommon to replace them in colloquial language with another, actually false couple: twin and zooyker (զոյգեր). 

True, zooyk (զոյգ) is a word relatively close to twin; it means “couple,” “pair,” “duo,” and also “double.” However, be advised that every time someone refers to a couple of twins as zooyker (զոյգեր), he or she is on the wrong track. Unlike twin, the word zooyk does not have the meaning of two people born together from the same mother, and the use of zooyker (plural of zooyk) looks like a literal copy of English twins. 

Incidentally, if you meet “two couples of twins” (i.e. four people) in a place, it would be ridiculous to call them… yergoo zooyk zooyker / երկու զոյգ զոյգեր. The only Armenian word for twin is yergvoriag, and thus, the accurate phrase would be yergoo zooyk yergvoriagner (երկու զոյգ երկուորեակներ).

In order to make it crystal-clear, a) if you get married, you form a zooyk; b) if you have twins, they are yergvoriagner.