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!