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. 

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.