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.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

You Put Gloves On, But Not Pants

The reader is probably acquainted with the old English proverb: “A cat in gloves catches no mice.” The oldest written reference is from the sixteenth century (A gloued catte can catche no myse), but perhaps it was an adaptation from French, where the proverb was already around in the fourteenth century, with the literal translation “A gloved cat will never mouse well.”

The proverb exists, of course, in other languages, as well as in Armenian. However, there is a difference between the English and the Armenian version. The latter says:

Ձեռնոց դնող կատուն մուկ չի բռներ
(Tsernots tnogh gadoon moog chi purner)
The glove wearing cat catches no mice

Remember that while you put a piece of clothing on you in English, you do not do that in Armenian. “He puts pants on” = An dapad guh hakni (Ան տաբատ կը հագնի). It is wrong to say An dapad guh tuneh, a literal translation from English.

However, in the case of accessories, both languages work in the same way:
I put my gloves on = Ես ձեռնոցներս դրի (Yes tsernotsnerus tuhri)
He is putting her hat on = Ան իր գլխարկը կը դնէ (An ir kulkharguh guh tuhneh)
She will put the ring on = Ան մատանին պիտի դնէ (An madanin bidi tuhneh)

Nevertheless, while in English you wear an accessory (gloves, hat, ring...), you carry it in Armenian. For instance, we say madani guhrel (մատանի կրել / “to carry (a) ring”) or kulkharg guhrel (գլխարկ կրել / “to carry (a) hat) and not madani haknil or kulkharg haknil. Be careful, fashion lovers!

Friday, June 10, 2016

When Singing, Keep Thinking

The patriotic song popularly known by its first two words, “Harach Nahadag,” is one of the most popular among us, perhaps the equivalent to “America the Beautiful.” Its martial sounds have turned it into the official anthem of Homenetmen, but the song is also interpreted in many other occasions, and it has also been used as official song in various Armenian schools of the Diaspora.

The story of the song remains to be researched. We do not know when the lyrics and the music were written. The lyrics, entitled “Gamavoragan kaylerk” (Կամաւորական քայլերգ / March of the Volunteers) belong to poet Kevork Garvarentz (1892-1946), who was the father of composer Georges Garvarentz (1932-1993), Charles Aznavour’s brother-in-law and author of the music for a hundred of his songs. The music is from one of Gomidas Vartabed’s “five disciples,” Parsegh Ganachian (1885-1967), who also arranged the music for the Armenian national anthem “Mer Hairenik” and wrote the music of the Lebanese national anthem.

When songs are learned by heart and few care to think about the meaning of what they sing, little but significant distortions happen. This is the case of “Harach Nahadag,” for instance. Whoever knows Armenian will agree that the lyrics are not your standard share of “kitchen Armenian,” but they are written with a deep sense of language and poetical technique. Some of those distortions may go unnoticed, because the outcome still has a reasonable meaning, but others may border on the ridiculous. Here are the cases:

1) Vets taroo anmorr vrezhi zurahner (Վեց դարու անմոռ վրէժի զրահներ “Armors of six centuries of unforgettable revenge”)

People sing anmar (անմար), which means “unquenchable.” It is true that revenge may be both unforgettable and unquenchable, but you should ask yourself whether both words mean the same. Can you change Nat King Cole’s song “Unforgettable” and turn it into... “Unquenchable”? (Imagine the first lines: “Unquenchable, / that’s what you are,/ unquenchable, though near or far.”)

2) Gadarn hayreni lerants herrakooyn / Yertank gotoghel troshagn yerrakooyn (Կատարն հայրենի լերանց հեռագոյն / Երթանք կոթողել դրօշակն եռագոյն “Let’s go and plant the tricolor flag / On the peak of the farthest homeland mountains”)

Under the influence of yerrakooyn (եռագոյն “tricolor”) in the second line, people also sing yerrakooyn in the first. The actual word is herrakooyn, from herroo (հեռու “far”), meaning “farthest” (kooyn here has nothing to do with kooyn “color”). If you use mistakenly yerrakooyn, the result is the meaningless line “On the peak of the tricolor homeland mountains.” Can you tell which Armenian mountain has three colors and which colors are those?

3) Vadin sev arioon mer hoghn vorrokets / Darakir hayn ir gyankuh norokets (Վատին սեւ արիւն մեր հողն ոռոգեց / Տարագիր հայն իր կեանքը նորոգեց “The black blood of the evil watered our soil / The exiled Armenian renewed his life”)

This is similar to case 2. Under the influence of norokets (նորոգեց “renewed”) in the second line, people also sing norokets in the first. (Of course, the different spelling of r in vorrokets/ոռոգեց and norokets/նորոգեց remains unnoticed.) Can you seriously imagine that the “black blood of the evil” (meaning: the enemy) could renew the Armenian land? Yes, you can, if you are not thinking about the actual meaning of what you sing.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

“A Cup of Black Water, Please!”

They say that Ethiopia was the homeland of native wild coffee, and the first reference to coffee drinking or the coffee tree came from Yemen. The origin of the word coffee, therefore, is Arabic. The word qahwah, on its turn, has several etymologies.

It appears that when the Arabic Peninsula fell under Ottoman domination, the Arabic word and the beverage entered the Turkish language, which recorded it as kahve. The Dutch loaned the word as koffie, which probably become the path for the appearance of coffee in the English language at the end of the sixteenth century. The Italians loaned kahve as caffe, which became the root for French café. While the French word means “coffeehouse,” the English language has borrowed café with the meaning of “a small restaurant selling light meals and drinks.”

But the Armenian word for “coffee,” soorj (սուրճ), is completely at odds either with the Arabic and the Turkish words. Its first written references to the word are from 1787-1788.

Soorj constitutes a little mystery for linguists, who have been forced to conclude that perhaps it is an original development. Some scholars have suggested that may be an onomatopoeic word, the kind derived from a natural sound (for instance, the English word crow comes from Old English crawe, imitative of a bird’s cry). Our word soorj would have imitated the sound we do when we drink hot coffee. Another explanation suggests that it was invented by a member of the Mekhitarist Congregation (founded in 1701) on the basis of the words sev choor (սեւ ջուր “black water”). As linguist Hrachia Ajarian remarked in his etymological dictionary, sev choor meant “coffee” in the secret language used of Constantinople, where he was born.

Enjoy your “black water,” but don’t drink it too hot!