Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Two Other Ways to Say “New Year” in Armenian

1. Amanor

As anyone knows, “new year” is nor dari (նոր տարի) in Armenian, and of course, New Year = Nor Dari (Նոր Տարի). But, unlike English, the Armenian language has a second, much older and “fancy” way to name the first day of the forthcoming year as Amanor (Ամանոր).

Someone may suppose that this word is related to aman (աման) “vessel” and nor (նոր) “new,” and that it designated a custom of replacing the old china on New Year. Besides the fact that such a pricey custom did not exist among Armenians, this would go against language rules. In that case, the word would be amananor or amannor, which has never existed.

They would be partly right, however: the second part of Amanor is nor “new.” 

What about the first? This is the Classical Armenian (Krapar) word am (ամ “year”), derived from the Proto-Indo-European word *sama. The word am does not exist alone in Modern Armenian, but it appears in compound words. Besides Amanor, how do you say, for instance, “decade” in Armenian? Dasn-am-eag (տասն-ամ-եակ). What about “biennial” or “that happens every two years”? Yerg-am-ea (երկամեայ).

In the same way that Latin annus lives in English annual, Krapar am lives in Modern Armenian amenamea (ամենամեայ). Don’t put aside Latin and Krapar!

2. Gaghant

Did you know that Armenian Gaghant (Կաղանդ) and the English word calendar are related? 

English calendar comes from Old French, and then from Latin calendarium (“account book”), which has its origin in calendae (“the first day of the month”).

This Latin word was also the source for the Greek word khalándai, which actually took a different meaning, “new year.” The word and the meaning went into Classical Armenian as gaghant(kaghant, in Classical Armenian pronunciation). Most interestingly, the word was only inherited by Western Armenian. 

The familiar figure of Gaghant Baba (Կաղանդ Պապա), incidentally, is only known to Western Armenians too; Eastern Armenians know him as Tsemer Babig (Ձմեռ Պապիկ, “Grandfather Winter”). Gaghant Baba appears to be the Armenian version of French Père Noël ("Father Christmas"), but unlike his French colleague, the name is unrelated to Christmas, because it means “Father New Year.” Since Père Noël and Santa Claus bring presents on Christmas, perhaps this is why many people mistakenly think that Gaghant is a synonym of Dzenunt(Ծնունդ, “Christmas”), which is a mistake. Gaghant Baba has a different timing: he actually comes to Armenian children in the wee hours of New Year. By the way, if people tell you that they are coming for a visit on Gaghant, be aware: this means January 1.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

New Armenian Words Not in Your Dictionary

1) PasswordAny person with some reasonable knowledge of the Armenian language may invent a word, especially compound words. The old “watchword,” related to military issues, has found its equivalent in the twenty-first century as “password.” How should we say it in Armenian?If you get into the business of literal translation, you may put together ants-nil (անցնիլ) “to pass” and par (բառ) “word” to obtain antsapar “password.” However, there is not always the need to translate literally. A password is a secret (encrypted) word or text used to “pass” the obstacle; for instance, to enter a computer. People came up with a better solution that has become most used: kaghdnapar (գաղտնաբառ). This word combines kaghdni (գաղտնի “secret”) and par, the same as we have kaghdnakir (գաղտնագիր) to say...  “cryptogram.”

2) Upload and downloadAnyone may get a load of something or, otherwise, load something (for instance, on a vehicle). The Armenian word for “load” is perr (բեռ) and the verb, perrtsnel (բեռցնել). How do you deal with “upload” and “download” in Armenian?

You may hear, here and there, partzratsnel (բարձրացնել) and ichetsnel (իջեցնել). However, these words are standard Armenian for “to raise” and “to lower.” They give the “up” and “down” idea of the English term, but not the concept of “loading.” Since “to load” has a clear meaning of putting up something, but not putting down, you cannot use perrtsnel either.

Someone went to the roots and found the solution: to turn perr (“load”) into a new verb, perrnel, to give the idea of putting up something. The new verb perrnel (բեռնել) became the Armenian word for “upload,” and, combined with the prefix ner (ներ), which means “under, intro, down,” helped create the Armenian word for “download”: nerpernel (ներբեռնել).

3) AudiobookThe world of books has gone through unprecedented transformation in the past ten years. Readers of paper books are now sharing their world with other media, like e-books and audiobooks.

We do not have many audiobooks in Armenian yet, but what do we call the ones we have?The problem is with “audio.” As the reader knows, the word is related to hearing. The immediate answer would be something related to lsel (լսել “to hear”). Since we have lsaran (լսարան “audience”), Why not lsakirk (լսագիրք), with l(i)s “audio” and kirk “book”?

Again, it is a matter of being creative. More than hearing, an audiobook is about the voice (tzayn) as the means to transmit the information. Doesn’t tzaynakirk (ձայնագիրք) sound better? We already have tzaynakrutiun (ձայնագրութիւն) for “audio recording.” Let’s continue the word family.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tricky Verbs and a Little Headache

We have frequently compared the Armenian and English languages in this column to look for similar features. This time, we will look for a dissimilar feature.

English verbs do not have endings in their infinitive forms: “to run,” “to think,” “to go.” This is not the case in other languages, such as Latin languages (Spanish, French, or Italian, among others) or Armenian, where those verbs are vazel (վազել), khorhil (խորհիլ), yertal (երթալ). Modern Armenian has three infinitive endings (el, il, al).(*)

In those three examples there is a root and an ending: vaz-elkhorh-ilyert-al. Sometimes, the roots have a certain meaning by themselves, which makes it easier to understand the meaning. For instance, the root yert (երթ) is a noun that indicates movement and means “march.”

Some verbs create a problem when we go from colloquial to written language. People tend to use different endings in their speech, which actually are the wrong ones. These troublesome verbs belong to the endings el and il, which are used as if they ended in al. The problem is compounded when those wrong colloquial forms become wrong written forms.

Many readers will probably recognize themselves in one or other of the following verbs, which are frequently misspoken and then miswritten. Rest assured that you will not lose anything by learning the accurate way to use them.


to findkdnal (գտնալ)
Yes ge kdnem
(Ես կը գտնեմ)
I findYes ge kdnam
(Ես կը գտնամ)
yellel (ելլել)to come outyellal (ելլալ)
Tun g’elles
(Դուն կ՚ելլես)
come out
Tun g’ellas
(Դուն կ՚ելլաս)
ichnel(իջնել)to go downichnal (իջնալ)An g’ichne
(Ան կ՚իջնէ)
goes down
An g’ichna
(Ան կ՚իջնայ)
mdnel(մտնել)to entermdnal (մտնալ)Menk ge mdnenk
(Մենք կը մտնենք)
We enter

Menk ge mdnank
(Մենք կը մտնանք)
desnel(տեսնել)to seedesnal (տեսնալ)
Tuk ge desnek
(Դուք կը տեսնէք)
You seeTuk ge desnak
(Դուք կը տեսնաք)
hedznel(հեծնել)to mounthedznal(հեծնալ)
Anonk ge hedznen
(Անոնք կը հեծնեն) 
They mount
Anonk ge hedznan
(Անոնք կը հեծնան)
yerevil(երեւիլ)to appearyereval (երեւալ)Yes g’erevim
(Ես կ՚երեւիմ)
I appear
Yes g’erevam
(Ես կ՚երեւամ)
 tvil (թուիլ)to appeartval (թուալ)
Tun ge tvis
(Դուն կը թուիս)
You seem
Tun ge tvas
(Դուն կը թուաս)
jbdil(ժպտիլ)to smilejbdal (ժպտալ)
An ge jbdi
(Ան կը ժպտի)
He/she smiles
Ան ge jbda
(Ան կը ժպտայ)

(*) There is a fourth ending ul that is used in extremely few cases.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Three Words of the Twenty-First Century

It is very difficult to keep pace with the novelties of language, especially these days. Most current English-Armenian dictionaries do not help us in our search for the Armenian equivalents of very new words. Sometimes the Internet may give you a clue, but it can also mislead you, if you lack enough criteria to decide whether this or that translation is the real thing.

Say, Internet. If you think by logic, you would say that the Armenian equivalent might be michtsants (միջցանց), with mich “inter” and tsants “net.” In the 90s, when the Internet explosion started worldwide, some people used this translation in the Armenian press. However, neologisms (newly invented words) have a life of their own; some people like them, while others do not. For a few years, different words were used, until hamatsants (համացանց) came out in the prestigious daily Haratch of Paris around 1996 or 1997, and it picked traction. It was not a literal translation, but was easier to pronounce than michtsants and gave the idea of a worldwide tool. It literally means “all-net” or “netwide”: hama “all,” as in hamamerigian (համամերիկեան “all-American”), and tsants “net.”

Another similar example is online. The literal translation would be something like verakidz (վերագիծ), with ver “on” and kidz “line.” However, it was never ever attempted. One day, in the early 2000s, the Armenian translation appeared in Eastern Armenian websites and became most common: artsants (առցանց). It means “at” (ar, a prefix that has many different meanings) the “net” (tsants). Again, it was not grounded in a literal translation, but followed the logic of the language: to be online is to be on (“at”) the Net, right?

Since we mentioned it above, the final word should be website. It is another term that had many different attempts at translation in the 90s, until the best translation appeared again in the daily Haratch of Paris in 1998: gaykech (կայքէջ). It was formed by the combination of gayk (“place, site”) and ech (“page”), and expressed very well a solution of its own. Sometimes it is even used in the shortened form gayk (կայք), but of course you need to have the context to realize that you are talking about a website and not any other kind of site.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Money, Money, Money...

Before the European Union officially introduced the euro as currency in 1999 and Greece adopted it in 2001-2002, it had its own currency, called drachma, with a very long history. It had been used by many Greek city-states between the second and the first millennium B.C., including the Classical period; then it was used in the Hellenistic period and finally under Roman domination. Greece obtained its independence in 1830 from the Ottoman Empire, and two years later, the drachma was restored as the official currency.

The drachma was also a weight unit, first equivalent to 66.5 grains, and then approximately to one gram. It is likely that this quantity was first used as monetary unit before metals were adopted; the word δραχμή (drakhmḗ) was derived from δράσσομαι (drássomai, “to grasp, seize”) and originally may have meant “fistful.”

The Greek word was loaned by the Iranian languages, and thus we have words like Persiandiram, Pahlavi dram (“a small weight; money”) , and Kurdish diraw (“money”). On its way, it lost the middle sound kh (an aspirated h) and the final e. And yes, we also have Armenian դրամ (Classical/Eastern Armenian dram; Western Armenian tram), which most probably came from Middle Persian or, otherwise, had a similar bumpy road of lost sounds from Greek drakhmḗ. In any case, the word was already mentioned in the Armenian translation of the Bible (before the first half of the fifth century A.D.).

The word dram was already used as a monetary unit during the time of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia, particularly in the 13th and 14th centuries, and the second republic of Armenia adopted the dram as the name of its own currency in November 1993.

However, you should not be confused in the streets of Yerevan: although Modern Armenian uses the word dram in both Western and Eastern Armenian, for instance for the word tghtatram(թղթադրամ “banknote”), in Eastern Armenian the word pogh (փող) is used in colloquial language with the meaning of “money.” This word, which was also utilized in Cilician times as a monetary unit, comes from Persian pul (“small coin”).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Two Ways to Say “And”

Unlike English, and many other languages, Armenian has two words to say “and.” But, as with many synonyms, people tend to use one particular word and put aside all others. It is a matter of style. If you care about your speech, you will want to speak accurately. Otherwise . . . you may see the results every day.

The two conjunctions in question are yev (եւ) and oo (ու). Do they have any difference in meaning? No.

If you want to say “I will first go to eat and then go home,” you can either say
Նախ պիտի ուտեմ եւ յետոյ պիտի քնանամ (Nakh bidi oodem yev hedo bidi knanam) or
Նախ պիտի ուտեմ ու յետոյ պիտի քնանամ (Nakh bidi oodem oo hedo bidi knanam).

However, you can take advantage of the existence of both words to improve your quality of speech. Thus,
1) You should not use yev or oo alone several times in the same sentence, as in:
Ես եւ դուն պաղպաղակ կերանք եւ յետոյ տուն գացինք
(Yes yev toon baghbaghag gerank yev hedo doon katsink, “You and I ate ice cream and then went home”).
It is better to use oo between yes and toon (“You and I”):yes oo toon.

2) In general, when a word ends in a consonant and the next starts with a consonant, it is advisable to use oo (շուն ու կատու/ shoon oo gadoo “dog and cat”), and when a word ends in a vowel and the next starts with a vowel, yev is the word of choice (քու եւ իմ/koo yev im “your and my”).

3) If the surrounding words are filled with oo¬, it is better not to use the conjunction oo. For instance, instead of ուրախութիւն ու երջանկութիւն (oorakhootioon oo yerchangootioon “joy and happiness”), it is better to say ուրախութիւն եւ երջանկութիւն (oorakhootioon yev yerchangootioon).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Don’t Rub This on Anyone’s Face

If you still use a pencil to write, then you probably have an eraser around to rub out pencil marks. Because of such use, the elastic substance that came from tropical plants has been called rubber since the end of the eighteenth century.

Something similar happened in Armenian: the elastic substance was called redeen (ռետին) and your eraser bears the same name redeen. Unlike English, however, the word had no relation with the function of the eraser, but was created from a different source. It was the name of a substance that flowed from trees as a balsam or a medicine. Armenian medical books from the Middle Ages advised: “Redeen, which is a balsam.”

The word redeen probably entered the Armenian language through the translation of the Bible in the fifth century, and its source was the Greek word rhetine “pine resin.” Several other languages borrowed this word: Latin resina, Arabic ratinag, Farsi ratiyan.

Of course, the Latin word sounds familiar. It is the indirect source, through Old French, for the current English word resin.

But where does the Greek word, the common ancestor for Armenian redeen and English resin, come from? That is one of the many mysteries that students of the language have not been able to solve so far.

Friday, September 26, 2014

You Only Say “No” Once

As we said in a previous note last year, Western Armenian (*) and English share a grammatical feature: they both use negative words with affirmative verbs.

You cannot use double negative in Western Armenian (except for understated affirmation). Therefore, you may say either Ոչ մէկը գիտէ (Voch mege kideh) or Մէկը չի գիտեր (Mege chee keeder) to mean “nobody knows,” but you cannot say ոչ մէկը չի գիտեր (Voch mege chee keeder), which would be as grammatically correct as “Nobody doesn’t know.”

Similarly, you may say «Ոչինչ ունիմ» (Vocheench ooneem) or «Բան մը չունիմ» (Pan me chooneem) to say “I have nothing” or “I don’t have anything” but «Ոչինչ չունիմ» (Vocheench chooneem) would be the equivalent of... “I don’t have nothing.”

Here is a list of negative words that are commonly, and wrongly, paired with negative verbs. The accurate form is as follows:

Ոչ ոք ըսած է - Voch vok usadz eh - Nobody has said [anything]
Ոչինչ ըսած է - Vocheench usadz eh - (He/she) has said nothing
Ոչ մէկը ըսած է - Voch mege usadz eh - No one has said [anything]
Ոչ մէկ բան ըսած է - Voch meg pan usadz eh - (He/she) has said nothing
Ոչ մէկ պարագայի ըսած է - Voch meg barakayi usadz eh - (He/she) has said in no circumstance
Ոչ մէկ անգամ ըսած է - Voch meg ankam usadz eh - (He/she) has never said
Ոչ մէկ կերպով ըսած է - Voch meg gerbov usadz eh - (He/she) has said in no way

There is also a little list of affirmative words that should be paired with negative verbs:

Որեւէ բան տեսած չէ - Voreve pan desadz che - (He/she) has not seen anything
Ոեւէ մէկը տեսած չէ - Voyeve mege desadz che - (He/she) has not seen anyone
Բնաւ տեսած չէ - Pnav desadz che - (He/she) has not seen (anyone) once
Երբեք տեսած չէ - Yerpek desadz che - (He/she) has never seen (anyone)

Remember: you don’t need to say “no” twice. Once is enough.

(*) This rule doesn’t apply to Eastern Armenian, which uses negative words with negative verbs, like Russian.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Many Meanings of Life

Every language has its unique expression when raising a glass for a toast. While English speakers say “Cheers,” which is meant to inspire courage, hope, life, or animation, or all of them together, Spanish speakers say “Salud” and just mean “health,” which is the basis of life.

What do Armenian speakers say? They say Genats (Կենաց). If you are sitting at a table in Armenia, the first toast is usually Hay zhoghovrtee genatseh (Հայ ժողովրդի կենացը), which basically means “To the Armenian people.”

While genats seems to be related to the verb genal (կենալ “to stop, to stay”), actually it is not. The word is a Classical Armenian declined form from geank (կեանք), “life.” Thus, when you make a toast, you are making it “To the life of...”

Now, the root of geank and of many other words where “life” is involved is the Classical Armenian verb geal (կեալ) “to live.” This verb is not used in Modern Armenian, where we simply say abril(ապրիլ), which is written exactly the same as the name of the month of April (Abril/Ապրիլ). 

Among the above mentioned words we have the third person in singular, future tense of the verbgeal, which gives a very usual word in Armenian: getseh (կեցցէ) “will live.” This is the equivalent of the English expression “Long live.” Thus, when you want to say “Long live Armenia,” you just say Getseh Hayastan (Կեցցէ Հայաստան), which is... one syllable shorter than in English! And if you hear someone telling you getsehs (կեցցես), then you are getting a “Bravo!”

The same as genats and getseh, our third example also comes from Classical Armenian:gentanee (կենդանի). While any person knowledgeable in Armenian may point out that the word means “animal” and a dog is a gentanee, let us remind him or her that God too is a gentanee, according to the Bible.

How come?

Matthew 16:15 calls Christ «Vorti Astudzoh gentanvoh» (Որդի Աստուծոյ կենդանւոյ), which in Modern Armenian is read gentani Asdudzoh Vorteen (կենդանի Աստուծոյ Որդին) and in English “Son of living God.”

The difference is only grammatical: the noun gentanee refers to any live being (“animal”), including humans; the adjective gentanee refers to the fact that someone (including God) is “alive” or “”living.”

Warning: if someone tells you that you are a gentanee, be assured that he or she is comparing you to a non-speaking, two-legged or four-legged being. Not a nice thing to say!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Food and Lunch Are Not the Same Thing

If you are very skinny, some well-intentioned person may give you this logical advice: “You need to eat food.”  Of course, if (s)he spoke to you in Armenian, (s)he would logically say: “Bedk e geragoor oodes” (Պէտք է կերակուր ուտես).

There is another word for “food,” oodelik (ուտելիք). However, the same person would not say: “Bedk e oodelik oodes” (Պէտք է ուտելիք ուտես). The reason is that oodelik and oodes sound quite odd in the same sentence.

Despite the fact that many people do it, the acquaintance of Mr. or Ms. Skinny would never say: “Bedk e jash oodes” (Պէտք է ճաշ ուտես).Why? Because jash does not mean “food,” but “meal” and, by extension, “lunch.”

Geragoor also means “meal.” If you are a child, you may announce to your parents after finishing your meal: “Geragoors gera” (Կերակուրս կերայ). You may also say “Jashs gera” (Ճաշս կերայ) if it is noon and you have finished lunch. But you don’t eat lunch when the sun has set, do you? At that time of the day, “Jashs gera” would be incorrect.

In conclusion,

“Food”: geragooroodelik

“Meal”: geragoor jash

“Lunch”: jash

Let’s end by listing the names of the different meals of the day:

nakhajash --- նախաճաշ --- “breakfast”
jash --- ճաշ --- “lunch”
nakhuntrik --- նախընթրիք --- “snack”
untrik --- ընթրիք --- “dinner, supper”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Circus Is Not New

You may know nothing about the origin of English words, but when you hear the word circus, you will probably bet your money on a Latin origin, since the circus, as a spectacle, was invented in Rome. You are dead right, indeed. English and German circus is a straightforward derivation from the Latin circus “ring, circular line,” a name applied by Romans to arenas for performances and contests, and courses for racing.

The Armenian language has derived very few words from Latin, because, despite the long political interaction between the Roman Empire and the Armenian kingdom, there was very little Roman cultural and linguistic influence over Armenia. For this reason, English circus and Armenian կրկէս (grges, in Western Armenian pronunciation; krkes, in Classical/Eastern Armenian) mean the same, but have different origins. In the Armenian case, the source is the Greek word κίρκος (kirkos), “a circle, a ring,” which in the time of Homer and his Iliad was spelledκρίκος (krikos). The Armenian word was already attested in the fifth century.

In any case, once again, if the parents of circus and grges are different, their grandparent is the same. The Proto-Indo-European language (the “mother” of the family language to which Armenian, English, Greek, and Latin belong) had a root that meant “to turn, to bend” (*(s)ker). That root, at its turn, originated another one, *kirk, and this is how we have certain words in English, such as “circle” and “cycle,” that also come via Latin, from the same idea of “ring” or “circle.”

By the way, the Yerevan Circus has existed since the 1930s. The building was privatized in 2005 and demolished in 2012. A new building is under construction and it is scheduled to be finished next year. Thus, the next time you go to Yerevan you will hopefully be able to see, and perhaps to enter, the new grges.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Can Be With You, but Not in Armenian

When the Apostle Paul was in Corinth, says the Bible, one night the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said: “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you (...)” (Acts 18:9-10). Because God implied that he was spiritually together with his apostle, the Western Armenian translation of “I am with you” has been rendered as follows: «Ես քեզի հետ եմ (...)» (Yes kezi hed em).
We all know that if you are physically together with your friend, you would probably say, “I’m with you,” e.g. “I go with you.” In this case, you can obviously say “Yes kezi hed em.
We also know that if you are in agreement with your friend about something, you would probably say, “I’m with you,” e.g., “I agree with you.” To be with someone, at least in the Armenian language, always implies a relation of togetherness, either physical or spiritual. If you want to tell your friend in California that you agree with his views over the phone from New York, and you say “Yes kezi hed em,” your friend will probably look around to see where you are.
The puzzle is solved when you think in Armenian and say: «Ես համաձայն եմ քեզի հետ» (Yes hamatzayn em kezi hed), e.g. “I’m in agreement with you” or “I agree with you.”  By adding the crucial word hamatzayn (literally “agreeable”), you will have replaced Armenian “thought” in English by Armenian thought in Armenian. And your friend in California will not be looking around for you.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

You Eat It, You Do Not Have It

Someone may approach you anywhere in the world and ask: «Կրնա՞մ սուրճ մը ունենալ» (Gurnam soorj muh oonenal?). Even if you do not recognize his or her accent, be sure that the person is bringing the English flavor to her Armenian speech: a literal translation of “May I have a coffee?”
Two words may have the same meaning in both Armenian and English. It does not mean that you can apply a given Armenian word (or vice versa) for all the meanings of the same word in English.
Oonenal is such a case. If Martin Luther King Jr. had spoken his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Armenian, he would have started: «Երազ մը ունիմ» (Yeraz me oonim). The reason is that in both languages you can have a dream, a pen, a house, or a child when you own them.
When you intend to get something which is not yours, you ask: “May I have a pencil?” This is true, but only for the English language. You cannot be own (e.g. oonenal) something that it is not yours.  Since you need to get it first, the proper way to ask for a pencil in Armenian would be: “Կրնա՞մ մատիտ մը առնել» (Gurnam madid muh arnel?). The word arnel (“to take”) here means “to get.”
In the same way, you do not “have” coffee with someone: in Armenian, you “get” (arnel) it. The following example is from Antranig Dzarugian’s memoir, Ethereal Aleppo (Երազային Հալէպ), a source very fitting in these days of disarray for Syrian Armenians:
«Ամառուան արձակուրդն է, դպրոցները փակ։ Անակնկալօրէն Միհրան էֆէնտին մեր տունը կու գայ, Նոր Գիւղ, սուրճ մը առնելու» (Amarvan artzagoortn eh, tbrotsnereh pag. Anagngaloren Mihran efendeen mer doonuh goo kah, Nor Kugh, soorj me arneloo
“It is the summer vacation, the schools are closed. All of a sudden, Mihran Efendi comes to our home, in Nor Kugh, to have a coffee.”
If Mihran Efendi had gone to “have something to eat,” of course Dzarugian would not have said «կերակուր ունենալու» (geragoor oonenaloo), but, simply, «կերակուր ուտելու» (geragoor oodeloo). Because, when you are “having your meal”, you say: «Ես կերակուր կ՚ուտեմ» (Yes geragoor g’oodem), but never ever... «Ես կերակուր կ՚ունենամ» (Yes geragoor g’oonenam).
Sometimes, you just need to think differently.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Armenian Squirrel

The Greek language has been a provider of Armenian words from very old times, although it may have been played a less remarkable role than the impact of French over the English language.
Squirrels are very cute when they run around parks and backyards, but they may become pesky if they turn to get refuge into someone’s home. In any case, that’s an issue for a specialized company. Our issue is to explain how Anglo-American and Armenian squirrels are related to each other.
The Armenian squirrel (սկիւռ skiour) got its name from the Greek language: skiouros, literally “shadow-tailed,” from skia “shadow” and oura “tail.” But the name does not appear in Classical Armenian literature, thus it must have been borrowed in later time. Linguist Hrachia Adjarian even suspected that the word may have actually come from Latin.
As a matter of fact, the Latin word is sciurus, which seems to have originated from the Vulgar Latin word *scurius and its diminutive *scuriolus. From this last word came the Old French escureuil (Modern French écureuil), which became the Anglo-French esquirel and then, after the fourteenth century, appeared in the English language as squirrel.
In conclusion, American and Armenian squirrels are distant cousins.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Don’t Crush the Computer!

When you are on a ship or sit on a chair, we all agree that you have something under your feet. The Armenian language agrees too. That’s why it is accurate to say «Ես նստած եմ աթոռի մը վրայ» (Yes nusdadz em atoree muh vra “I’m sitting on a chair”) or «Ես նաւուն վրան եմ» (Yes navoon vran em “I’m on the ship”).(*)
However, what happens when you are on the computer, you are on a committee, or the light is on? None of those phrases is related to something physical. The logic of grammar is stretched in these colloquial expressions. If you applied actual logic, a) you would crush the computer by being on it; b) you would be sitting on the heads of the committee members; and c) the light would be placed on something and not turned on.
Every language has its own way of thinking. You cannot translate literally from English into Armenian or vice versa. That’s why you can only use վրայ (vra) when you are literally or metaphorically on or over something physical. Otherwise, you come up with ridiculous results:
  1. Wrong: «Ես համակարգիչին վրայ էի» (Yes hamagarkeecheen vra eyi), “I was on the computer.
    Right: «Ես համակարգիչին առջեւը նստեցայ» (Yes hamagarkeecheen archevuh nusdetsa), namely, “I sat before the computer”.
  2. Wrong: «Լոյսը վրան է» (Looysuh vran eh), “The light is on.”
    Right: «Լոյսը վառած է» (Looysuh varadz eh), namely, “The light is turned on.
  3. Wrong: «Ես յանձնախումբին վրան եմ (Yes hantznakhoompeen vran em), “I am on the committee.”
    Right: «Ես յանձնախումբին անդամ եմ» (Yes hantznakhoompeen antam mun em), namely, “I am a member of the committee.”
The most comic and interesting example is the mix of French, English, and Armenian in the following phrase, common among Armenians from the Middle East: «Ֆիշը վրան է» (Fishe vran eh). This is the equivalent of English “The plug is in.”
Here we have:
  1. The French word fiche (English plug, Armenian խցակ/khutsag);
  2. A contamination of the English concept of something on, replacing “in”;
  3. The Armenian verb “to be” in the form eh.
Now, if you want us to believe that you are speaking proper Armenian, then you should say «Խցակը դրուած է» (Khutsagu turvadz eh) or «Խցակը միացած է» (Khutsagu miatsadz eh). It sounds more idiomatic for one simple reason: it is thought in Armenian, not in English. That is the first rule to follow when you speak any given language: to think in that language.
(*) Vra is used when the following word starts with a consonant; it becomes vran when the following word is a vowel.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

No Love Lost

In a previous entry (“Some Armenian Words That Sound (Almost) Like English... Or Not,” June 20, 2013), we spoke about some words, like English hair and Armenian her (հեր “hair”), which look very similar in their writing and synonymous in their meaning, but which actually have no direct relation.
Another interesting case is the couple formed by English hate and Armenian ad(el) (ատել “to hate,” from which adelootioon / ատելութիւն“hate, hatred”). It looks very enticing, especially when we recall that the letter տ sounded t in Classical Armenian (the same as in Eastern Armenian today).
Again, as the saying goes, one should not judge a book by its cover. Words most frequently change their appearance over time, even within the same language. They change even more when they pass from one language to another!
Thus, English hate comes from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic root *haton, from which cognates in various Germanic languages have derived. So far, everything is fine. But if you go further back, you will find that the initial h disappears when you find its ultimate origin:  another reconstructed root in the Proto-Indo-European language, *kad , which meant “sorrow, hatred” and originated similar words in several Indo-European historical languages, like Avestan (the language of the Iranian pre-Islamic sacred book), Greek, and Welsh.
Instead of a change in consonants, we find a change in vowels when we go to Armenian adel, whose present form in Classical Armenian was ateam (ատեամ “I hate”). It also has an Indo-European origin, but comes from another Proto-Indo-European root, *od, which meant “hate.”
In the end, then, both words have unrelated origins. But readers should be reminded that *od is actually the root of two English words: Old English atol (“dire, horrid”) and English odium (“hatred”). Granted, we do not use odium anymore, a word borrowed from Latin into English in the seventeenth century, but we still utilize odious (= Armenian adeli/ատելի), which had entered English from French a few centuries before.
As it should have been expected, there is no love lost between the odd couple hate and adel.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Write “Right” in the Right Way

You can say that something is right, accurate, or true in Armenian with the word ooghigh (ուղիղ).(*) You say ooghigh jampa (ուղիղ ճամբայ) “right road.” Note that when the word ooghigh becomes a compound word of any kind, the intermediate i is lost. This is why you have some words like:
ooghghagi (ուղղակի “direct”). Example: ooghghagi gab (ուղղակի կապ) “direct link."
ooghghel (ուղղել “to straighten; to direct”). Example: poghgabe ooghghel (փողկապը ուղղել) “to straighten the tie”; tebi harav ooghghel (դէպի հարաւ ուղղել) “to direct to the south.”
ooghghootioon (ուղղութիւն “direction”). Example: jisht ooghghootioon (ճիշդ ուղղութիւն) “accurate direction” (ooghigh ooghghootioon does not sound right...)
ooghghakrootioon (ուղղագրութիւն “orthography”). Example: hayereni ooghghakrootioon (հայերէնի ուղղագրութիւն) “Armenian orthography”
Now, there is a word that makes trouble, ooghi (ուղի) “road,” which is a synonym of jampa and janabarh. Many usual words are derived from ooghi and are all related to the notion of “road” or “travel,” such as:
ooghargel (ուղարկել “to send”)
hooghargavorootioon (յուղարկաւորութիւն “gravesite service,” when you send the soul of the deceased to its final rest)
ooghevorootioon (ուղեւորութիւն “travel”)
yergatooghi (երկաթուղի “railway”)
Many people tend to confuse ooghi with ooghigh, perhaps due to the closeness of meanings between “direction” and “travel,” and to write, for instance, ooghargel with two gh (ուղղարկել), which is plainly wrong. How do you avoid common spelling mistakes of this kind?
Memo to yourself: if you write any Armenian word related to the English concept of right, whether the root is Anglo-Saxon (“straight”), Latin (“direct”) or Greek (“ortho”), you are dealing with ooghigh (ուղիղ). If you remember that, you will always be using two gh-s and you will always be... right.

(*) Ooghigh, of unknown origin, entered the Armenian language in the fifth century. Its synonym shidag (շիտակ), of equally unknown origin, appeared in the Low Middle Ages. Although both are utilized interchangeably, shidag has a more colloquial use and cannot be always used as a full synonym of ooghigh.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Barons Are Not What They Used to Be

Barons are not very fashionable these days, except when someone with this title has a mention in the press for good or bad reasons. (Their title is still used to remind us of the “robber barons” of the 19th century in American economic history.) However, they are alive and well in the Armenian language, even if on a lower ranking.
The origin of the word baron (պարոն) is common for both English and Armenian: Old French baron, which comes from Latin. It entered the Armenian language in the early period of the state of Cilicia (11th-12th century), with the meaning of “ruler, prince.” The form պարոն seems to show that the transcription of the sound b as բ in Classical Armenian was not working properly any more.
It appears that the word followed the French model, where monsieur first meant “ruler, prince,” and became the equivalent of “mister” or “sir” in modern times. We say:
Baron Kevork Boghosian (Պարոն Գէորգ Պօղոսեան, “Mister Kevork Boghosian”)
Harkeli baron (Յարգելի պարոն, “Dear Sir”)
The word is also used to say “gentleman,” as in:
Barone ov e? (Պարոնը ո՞վ է, “Who is the gentleman?”)
However, when you need to say “Mr. and Mrs.,” you cannot use baron. You have to say Der yev Diguin (Տէր եւ Տիկին). As we see, the well-known word Der (“Lord”) has some use among ordinary people, besides being the title utilized to address God, high-ranking and low-ranking ecclesiastics, and, in other times, noblemen of all sorts.
In the nineteenth century, diar (տիար, plural deark/տեարք) appeared in Western Armenian as a purely native equivalent of baron. Perhaps its creators had either French monsieur or English milord somewhere in their mind. It was born from the combination of the words di (տի “great”) and ayr (այր “male”), and followed the model of digin (տիկին, “Mrs.,” “Madam,” “lady”). This same combination had also originated the word der. The genitive singular of der in Classical Armenian is dearn (տեառն “of the Lord”); Dearnentarach (Տեառնընդառաջ) literally means “Meeting of the Lord.”
Diar may be considered a fancier word than baron and for this reason it seems to confer an aura of elegance. Sometimes it is used to address personalities. In any given case, you can say Harkeli diar nakhakah (Յարգելի տիար նախագահ, “Dear Mr. President”) or simply Diar Boghos Kevorkian (Տիար Պօղոս Գէորգեան, “Mr. Boghos Kevorkian”). However, you cannot use diar to say “gentleman” or “Mr. and Mrs.”
As a side note, the use of baron in Armenia was restricted to name “capitalists” during Soviet times; Soviet citizens had to address each other as enger (ընկեր “comrade”). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, baron was restored and, with it, the word diar also entered Eastern Armenian.