Thursday, August 20, 2015

Only Right Guides Admitted

The word arachnort (առաջնորդ) has several meanings in Armenian: “guide,” “leader,” “chief,” “head,” and by extension, “head of an ecclesiastic division.” It is, obviously, a composition of the word arachin (առաջին “first”) and the suffix ord (որդ): arachin + ort = arachnort. Interestingly, one of its English equivalents, primate (“head of an ecclesiastic division”), is a French word that came from Latin primat (“of the first rank”), a derivation from Latin primus (“first”).

It is interesting to compare the roots of both words: primus is related to Latin pre (“before”), which has generated a lot of English words (predict, prescribe, prevention, and so on and so forth), while arachin literally means “towards the right.” It is another compound word: ar (առ) + ach (աջ) + in (ին). The prefix ar is a Classical Armenian term that means “towards” (today we use tebi-դէպի in Modern Armenian) and ach is, of course, the side contrary to the left.

An arachnort, then, was the person who guided, led, or headed correctly (“to the right”), be it a tourist guide, a political leader, an administrative head, or a primate or prelate.
As the reader probably knows, anything related to the left (ձախ-tsakh) had a bad press until recent times: left-handed people were forced to become right-handed, for instance. The verb “to fail” is tsakhoghil (ձախողիլ) in Armenian, whose root is, indeed, tsakh. Left was synonymous with inaccurate and incorrect, anything that was not... right.

This is why the word achaguits (աջակից “assistant, supporter”) is formed by the combination of ach (աջ) and gits (կից “to join, to attach”). The person who assisted or supported someone was supposed to help from the right side. Nobody would have dared to call her tsakhaguits; it would have probably attracted bad luck from the very beginning.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

People and Youth Are Not Plural

“People have the power.” “Youth are the future.” Any English speaker will not think twice before using the words people and youth in plural. This happens because both words are thought as plural, even though they are singular in construction.

However, don’t even think for a second about writing «Ժողովուրդը ուժը ունին» (Zhoghovoorte oozhe oonin) and «Երիտասարդութիւնը ապագան են» (Yeridasartootioone abakan en). As we have said in other opportunities, the rules of Armenian are not the same as the rules of English, and naturally, the result of thinking in English and writing in Armenian is not... Armenian.

What happens in this case? As in Indo-European languages other than English (for instance, Spanish and French), the words zhoghovoort (“people”) and yeridasartootioon (“youth”) are singular in construction and must match a singular verb. (It is true that in certain cases, you can use youth with a singular verb, but there is not a choice in Armenian.) Even more: the word yeridasartootioon, unlike its English counterpart, cannot be used in plural.

Then, the right way to translate the two sentences is:

«Ժողովուրդը ուժը ունի» (Zhoghovoorte oozhe ooni – “People have the power”)

«Երիտասարդութիւնը ապագան է» (Yeridasartootioone abakan eh – “Youth are the future”).

Of course, someone may think that both sentences are not true, and that neither do the people have the power (it is somewhere else) nor the youth are the future (they are the present). But this is a subject for a different discussion.