Thursday, March 31, 2016

No Except-ions

The verb “to open” is irregular in Armenian. The infinitive is panal (բանալ), which becomes yes patsi (ես բացի) when you want to say “I opened.” You also have the word patsi (բացի) with the same spelling, but with a meaning that seems to be unrelated (“except”), as well as various words like patsarrootioon (բացառութիւն “exception”) and patsadrootioon (բացատրութիւն “explanation”).

Actually, the meanings of both patsis are not totally unrelated. If you are in a room, you open a door and you get... out of it. The word was pats i (բաց ի) in Classical Armenian (the two words became one in the modern language), meaning “out of,” with equivalents in Latin ex and Greek ex, from which today we have English ex (only with the meaning “out of,” as in excellent).

As the reader should know, Armenian nouns have kept declension (khonarhoom / խոնարհում), like in the German language. The case of patsi requires that the word be used with the noun in the ablative mode, which is coincidentally called patsarragan (բացառական) and consists in the addition of eh (է) at the end of the noun: for instance, kirkeh (գիրքէ), tooghteh (թուղթէ). We also add a n (ն) when we need to use an article (e.g. kirkehn “of the book”). For example, patsi kirkeh me (բացի գիրքէ մը / “except for a book”) or patsi kirkehn (բացի գիրքէն / “except for the book”).

We use patsi as a preposition, in the same way that we use “except” in English, but the flexibility of Armenian allows bringing the book behind the noun and turning it into a postposition: tooghteh me patsi (թուղթէ մը բացի “except a paper”).

Strangely enough, people tend to make mistakes when using patsi. They do not decline the word, as in the following sentence:

Pan me chem hisher, patsi poghotsin anoone (Բան մը չեմ յիշեր, բացի փողոցին անունը) “I don’t remember anything, except for the name of the street.”

This may be or may be not influenced by English grammar, but in any case the correct use should be:

Pan me chem hisher, patsi poghotsin anoonehn (Բան մը չեմ յիշեր, բացի փողոցին անունէն).

The rule has no exceptions. The meaning in English remains the same, but the accuracy of the Armenian original improves a lot.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Speaking about Movies

As in every language, the idea of pictures that moved was originally backed with a Greek word, and this is how cinematography was born in 1896 (Greek kinema movement, from Greek kinein “to move” + graphein “to write”). Afterwards, the word was cut short to cinema.

These words are reserved to the art of making what we today call “movie,” “motion picture,” “moving picture,” or “film.” How do you say it in Armenian?

We first have sharzhanegar (շարժանկար), which is the Armenian calque of “motion picture” (sharzh / շարժ > sharzhum / շարժում “movement”+ negar / նկար “picture”). You can also say sharzhanegari srah (շարժանկարի սրահ “movie theater”), if you wish.

If you want to say “cinematography,” you can use a slightly different word: sharzhabadger (շարժապատկեր), which also literally means “motion picture.” It is the combination of sharzh and badger (պատկեր “image”).

Let’s add that the word sinema (սինեմա) is colloquially used with both meanings of “movie theater” and “cinematography.” In the 1920s a periodical called Haygagan sinema («Հայկական սինեմա») was published in Cairo, edited by writer Yervant Odian (1869-1926). However, it was not about movies, but a satirical periodical (the editor was himself one of the best Armenian satirical writers).

However, since (Western) Armenian is a language that does not like borrowings from other languages, you are not going to find sinema in dictionaries.

But you will find film (ֆիլմ), which is currently used with the same meaning as in English.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Don’t Do It Back, Do It Again

We have all probably heard people who are not English native speakers and who sometimes speak in a way that sounds like Armenian translated into English. Many who know Armenian enough to make the distinction have probably heard sentences that sound like... English translated into Armenian.

How do you correct this issue? First of all, you pay attention to what you say. Secondly, you should note that not everything that you think and say in one language necessarily makes the same sense in the other. Thirdly, you should learn and, most importantly, apply what you learn to correct your own speech. In the end, the most important thing is communication, but quality of communication is even more important.

Such cases have been discussed in this column. Another example is, for instance, the sentence: “I went back to sleep.” It is a perfectly normal English sentence. However, the problem starts when you try to make it into a “perfectly normal” Armenian sentence:

Katsee yed knanaloo (Գացի ետ քնանալու).

Rest assured that this is not “normal” Armenian, and not only the sentence sounds wrong, but it is wrong. The idea that you try to convey is that, after your sleep was interrupted, you went to sleep again. When you translate a sentence, you do not translate only the words, but also the meaning, and thus you do not make literal translations when the words are not their exact equivalent (meaning included) in the other language.

In this case, you translate the meaning “again” and not the word “back,” because katsee yed knanaloo sounds like “I fell back to sleep.” The result should be:

Katsee noren knanaloo (Գացի նորէն քնանալու).