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”).