Thursday, January 30, 2014

Love Is a Tricky Thing

If you hear the phrase “He married a girl,” you will understand that some man tied the knot with a woman. But what will you get from the literal translation «[Ան] ամուսնացաւ աղջիկ մը» ([An] amoosnatsav aghchig me)? You can only understand that . . . “a girl married”!
This is the risk of thinking in one language when talking or writing in another. Sometimes, you fall into amusing traps. In this case, you can solve it by using the proper expression «[Ան] ամուսնացաւ աղջկան մը հետ» (which literally would be “He married with a girl” in English).
Since we are in the field of sentimental issues, let us remind our readers of another troublemaker:
  • “I fell in love with him”
  • “I fell in love with her beauty.” 
It does not matter whether it is a physical person or a non-physical quality. In Armenian you don’t fall in love with someone or something. There is no “with” (hed) there: «Ես սիրահարեցայ անոր/իրեն» (Yes siraharetsa anor/iren), «Ես սիրահարեցայ անոր գեղեցկութեան» (Yes siraharetsa anor keghetsgootyan).
But not everything is different.
English love has a direct object: “I love my wife,” “I love my dog,” “I love soccer.” Armenian love is no different; you love someone or something: «[Ես] կը սիրեմ կինս» ([Yes] guh sirem ginus), «Ես կը սիրեմ շունս» ([Yes ] gue sirem shoonus), «[Ես] կը սիրեմ ոտնագնդակը» ([Yes] guh sirem vodnakuntaguh).
But many people are fond of loving to someone or something. For instance, when they want to declare their love, they mistakenly say «Ես քեզի կը սիրեմ» (Yes kezi guh sirem), instead of «Ես քեզ կը սիրեմ» (Yes kez guh sirem). In this case, kezi means “to you.” Do you love “to” her? Or him?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Don’t Sit on a File!

You may have a long sofa without a back, probably with various cushions against the wall. The English language calls that a divan (the same as French and Spanish), and the word comes from Turkish divan. But, indeed, the nomadic Turks had come into the Near East and did not bring the sofa with them: they simply adopted it, as they did with many other things, from the Arabs (diwan), who, in their turn, had borrowed it from the Persians. The Armenian dialects also have the word տիւան (divan), borrowed from Turkish, which is used in colloquial language.

Strangely enough, the two ultimate source words for these words, and for many others spread from the Middle East to the Atlantic Ocean, are dēvān (“archive,” in Middle Persian) and divan (“tribunal, hall, court, council chamber, collection of poems,” in Persian). How did an archive or a tribunal become a cushioned seat? The explanation is quite simple: those seats are found along the wall in Middle Eastern council chambers.

The word divan “Oriental council of state” also entered the English language in the 1580s, but it is not the kind of word that you use on a daily basis. Instead, its counterpart դիւան (tivan, in Western Armenian pronunciation) is of quite common use, although not with that same meaning.

The word entered Classical Armenian from Persian already in the fifth century. Historians Koriun and Movses Khorenatsi used դիւան with the meaning of “school” or “library.” Today, in Modern Armenian, the word is used with the meanings of “archive” and “office.”

In its first meaning, it’s synonymous with արխիւ/arkhiv, a borrowing from German via Russian.

In the second, you may hear it used when you talk about the tivan of an organization, meaning the distribution of the offices in its executive board. It also designates the office of president and secretary of an assembly.

The word is particularly used in compound terms, such as:
  • Դիւանագէտ (tivanaked) “diplomat,” hence դիւանագիտութիւն (tivanakidootyoon) “diplomacy”
  • Դիւանապետ (tivanabed) “head of office / head of archive”
  • Դիւանակալ (tivanagal) “bureaucrat”
As you see, seats and archives are related in Armenian. It is only a matter of being careful and avoid sitting. . . on a file.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Do We Always Go Together?

This is what the final song of the famous musical Grease says: “We Go Together.” However, two quite different languages like Armenian and English do not go always together. This is quite clear in the word... “together.”

The English words “together” and “gather” are somehow related, as their meanings point out, and it is logical to think that together has evolved from the combination of to + gather.

The Armenian equivalent, միասին (miasin), is also a composite word, but has an even deeper meaning. Its origin indicates a closer relationship: two people who have not only come to gather, but have been raised together. The first word, մի (mi), is the Classical and Eastern Armenian form of “one”—մէկ (meg) in Western Armenian—and the root of the word միութիւն (miootioon, “unity”) and the second word, սին (sin), is the result of the substitution of a vocal (this is technically called ablaut) from the original word սուն (sun, “to keep, to feed, to raise,” from which we have սնունդ/sunoont, “food, nourishment”). Thus, in the beginning, to be miasin meant that one had been fed and raised with someone else.

Now, while today miasin always implies “together,” this does not mean than every time we see “together” in English we should automatically think of miasin. Otherwise, we find ourselves in trouble.

One hears, for instance, “They live together.” This is, of course, Անոնք միասին կ՚ապրին (Anonk miasin g’abrin), and there is nothing wrong here. However, when we say “He has come together with his family,” the case is different.

Armenian has something that Latin had and, for instance, German still has, but the English language has lost: noun declination (հոլովում, holovoom). These are the little particles է (e), ի (i), ով (ov), with the particular cases that “torture” us when we learn the paradigms of declination of various nouns.

One of the six cases of noun declination is called “instrumental declination” (գործիական հոլով, kordziagan holov), which applies to the abovementioned sentence. The English with is an indication of instrument, and thus, you should forget “together” when you render the sentence into Armenian. You may either say,

1)Ան իր ընտանիքին հետ եկած է (An ir undanikin hed yegadz e = He has come with his family),


2) Ան իր ընտանիքով եկած է (An ir undanikov yegadz e = He has come with his family)

As we said in the beginning, yes, languages go together, but not always.