Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Wandering Cat

English and Armenian share a very similar name for cats: the Armenian form is կատու (Western Armenian [W.A.] gadu [gadoo]; Eastern Armenian [E.A.], katu [katoo]). Interestingly, the former pronunciation is closer to Italian gatto and Spanish gato, while the latter mirrors English cat.

Where did the cat and its names come from? The word appears in most Indo-European languages, but also in Afro-Asiatic (Semitic and African), Turkic, and Caucasian languages. Linguists use the term “wanderword” to designate items and names that have gone together around the world and left their trace everywhere with an unclear origin.

As it happens with any other domestic animal, wildcats came first. Their origin seems to have been in Africa. Therefore, the ultimate source for English cat and other worldwide names of this feline should be in the same continent. English cat is derived from Latin cattus (“domestic cat”), indeed, but the Latin term appears to have entered the Roman Empire from North Africa, where we have words meaning “wildcat”: Late Egyptian čaute (the feminine form of čaus “jungle cat, African wildcat”), Nubian (spoken on the border of Egypt and Sudan) kadís, and Berber (spoken in Morocco) kaddîska.

However, the source of the Armenian word gadoo/katoo cannot be Latin cattus, despite the close resemblance. Why? Latin was in linguistic and political decadence by 500 A.D., after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and, interestingly, the word կատու (gadoo) did not exist by then.

In the Golden Age of Armenian written literature (fifth century A.D.), cats were not called կատու, but կուզ (Classical/E.A. kuz, W.A. guz [gooz]).(*) This Armenian word, now out of use, came from an Iranian reconstructed form *kuz, which has survived in Kurdish kuze “cat.” That old Armenian gooz, in its turn, has survived in the name of a wild feline, the lynx: կզաքիս (gezakis).

Gadoo entered the Armenian language after the fifth century. Where did it come from? It has been suggested that the source should have been Syriac, a major literary language throughout the Middle East from the 4th to the 8th centuries, quite influential in the first centuries of Armenian literature. Armenian must have borrowed the name from qattu, the Syriac “cat,” and, afterwards, loaned it to Georgian (katuni) and other Caucasian languages.

If you were wondering about that, Armenian and English cats also share their colloquial name: puss has its counterpart in Armenian փիսիկ (pisig); compare also Romanian pisica. Probably all of them have come from the sound we make to attract these furry pets.

*) Knowledgeable people will notice that gooz is the same as the modern Armenian word for “hump,” but has nothing to do with it, except that Armenian կուզ (gooz) is a late medieval addition derived from Iranian kuz “hump.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Show and Tell

It may sound unbelievable at first sight, but the English word show and its Armenian counterpart ցոյց (tsooyts) have the same root. Both come from the Proto-Indo-European (P.I.-E.) word *(s)ḱou-, *(s)ḱeu- (“to heed, look, feel, take note of”), and have the following evolution:

English Armenian
P.I.E. *(s)ḱou-, *(s)ḱeu- ("to heed, look, feel, take note of") P.I.E. *(s)ḱou-, *(s)ḱeu- ("to heed, look, feel, take note of")
Proto-Germanic *skauwōną, *skawwōną ("to look, see") P.I.E. *(s)ḱeu-sk
Old English scēawian ("to look, look at, observe, gaze, behold, see") ts-ooy-ts
Middle English schewen, schawen, scheawen,
King James English shew

Curiously enough, today the English word show (as in “I went to see a show”) cannot be translated as tsuyts; there is no exact word for that meaning. When we use the noun tsuyts, we can only mean “demonstration,” be it a proof or a protest meeting.

However, tsuyts has originated many useful compounds, such as ապացոյց (abatsooyts “evidence”), ժամանակացոյց (jamanagatsooyts “schedule”), նստացոյց (nsdatsooyts “sit-in”), ուղեցոյց (ughetsooyts “guide”), օրացոյց (oratsooyts “calendar”), ցուցակ (tsootsag “catalogue”), ցուցահանդէս (tsootsahantes “exhibition”), ցուցամատ (tsootsamad “index finger”), and others.

The reader may notice that, according to a standard rule of Armenian, all root words with uy turn it into u [oo] when adding one or more syllables to form a new word. For example: լոյս (looys “light”) – լուսաւորել (loosavorel “to illuminate”). This is why the first syllable of all words starting (but not ending) with tsooyts above has become tsoots.

This standard rule is also applied to the verb ցուցադրել (tsootsatrel), literally “to put into show,” e.g. “to exhibit.” Strangely enough, it does not seem to work for many people, old and young, who cannot pronounce or spell the verb . . . “to show.” Instead of the regular form ցուցնել (tsootsenel), we hear and, sometimes, we read time and again a “verb” that is plainly wrong: ցցնել (tsetsenel)

If you are not convinced that it is wrong, think for one second: the root of the “verb” tsetsenel, according to another standard rule (roots with oo and ee take the sound schwa when they form a new word), could only be ցուց (tsoots), a word that does not exist in Armenian, or ցից (tseets), which means “stake” (a piece of wood). What relation may exist between showing something and staking it out]

Therefore, show and tell: ցուցնել, not ցցնել.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Two Is Company

When you say, “We have company tonight,” one of the implications might be that one or more people are expected for dinner. (You’re Armenian; you can’t just serve coffee!). In this context, since you are having guests, you would express it in Armenian as «Այս գիշեր հիւր ունինք» (Ays kisher hyoor oonink). Otherwise, you would have used the word ընկերութիւն (ungerootyoon), and coined the phrase «Այս գիշեր ընկերութիւն ունինք», which sounds utterly un-Armenian.

The funny thing is that, when you use the word “company” in English in this context, you may be referring to the original meaning of the word (the actual meaning shifted over time). “Company” has been said to have its ultimate origin in the Late Latin word companio, “bread-fellow,” from companis (com “with,” panis “bread”; the Latin word entered English through Old French compainie). So, in the end, tonight’s company would necessarily mean making dinner!

Now, it is even funnier that the Armenian word ungerootyoon implies, etymologically, the exact same thing: “bread-fellowship.” Its root, the frequently-used ընկեր (unger), is actually a compound word, ընդ (unt) + կեր (ger), which etymologically means “[those] who eat together”; over time, the word * ընդկեր (untger) lost the դ (t) letter and also changed its meaning. This happened before the fifth century A.D., since the word already appeared in the Armenian translation of the Bible in its current form and meaning of “companion, friend.” (The word ընդ was a very ubiquitous term in Classical Armenian: it had more or less twenty different meanings, including “instead of,” “with, “though,” “between,” “against,” “below.” It is a cognate –has common origin—with the Greek anti “against” and the Latin ante “before,” which we use widely in everyday English.) Today, unger means a variety of things, according to its context: “companion,” “comrade,” “friend,” “partner,” “mate.” The suffix –ուհի (oohi) adds the feminine dimension to these words—for instance, ընկերուհի (ungeroohi “girlfriend”)—while the suffixes –ական (agan) and –ային (ayin) bring the adjectives “comradely” or “friendly” (ընկերական, ungeragan), as well as “social” (ընկերային, ungerayin). If you attach the suffix –ութիւն (ootyoon), you obtain the abovementioned word ընկերութիւն (ungerootyoon), which means “companionship,” “camaraderie,” “friendship,” “partnership,” but also “company” and “society.” There is a gallery of derived and compound words formed with unger at its core.

But the enigma remains: How come both the Armenian ընկեր (unger) and the English companion have the same original meaning? The possible answer is again in the Latin language. Bread was an essential staple in the diet of Roman soldiers, who apparently carried grain and made their own bread. Famous French linguist Antoine Meillet (1865-1936) suggested that companio went with Roman soldiers to Armenia, where there were Roman military permanent garrisons during some periods of the first and second centuries A.D., and became the model for the formation of our word ընկեր. If this was the case (this may have happened before the invention of Armenian writing), ger “food” never meant “bread,” but until today bread plays such a role in the Armenian diet, that it is common to hear the expression հաց ուտել (hats oodel, “to eat bread”) with the meaning “to eat food,” instead of ճաշ ուտել (jash oodel) or կերակուր ուտել (geragoor oodel).