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.