Thursday, April 28, 2016

How “Salt” and Agh Are the Same Word?

The custom of offering bread and salt to guests is common to many Eastern European, but also Middle Eastern people, as well as to Armenians (աղ ու հաց agh oo hats “salt and bread”), although its meaning may have variations from country to country. It is also a figure of speech, since you share bread and salt every time you sit to have a meal with a guest.

You also share something more: the common origin of “salt” in both English and Armenian. The word salt comes from Old English sealt, derived from Proto-Germanic *saltom (German salz comes from here, hence the name of  the hometown of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg). This word common to Germanic languages, at its turn, comes from the common Proto-Indo-European language, where it has been reconstructed as *sal- . This is why we have, for instance, Latin sal, from which we are familiar with Spanish sal and French sel.

Armenian is an Indo-European language, but what does agh have to do with *sal-?

Unlike their Indo-European sister languages, Armenian agh and Greek ἅλς (‘als, pronounced hals) also come from *sal, but did not keep the initial *s, which fell on the way and was replaced either by an aspiration, in the case of Greek, or just by nothing, in the case of Armenian.

The letter ghad (ղատ), that is, gh (ղ), was derived from the Proto-Indo-European sound *l. You may remember that this letter was not pronounced gh in the fifth century, but as a variant of the sound l (լ); for this reason, աղ sounded close, but not exactly the same, to al (the exact scientific transliteration is ). The letter ghad was the counterpart to the Greek letter lambda (l / λ). We have, for instance, the Biblical name Ghugas (Ղուկաս), which is the Greek Λουκάς (Loukas) or the English Luke.

The result of this inquiry is that:

Proto-Indo-European *sal ð Armenian agh
Proto-Indo-European *sal ð Latin sal ð Spanish sal
Proto Indo-European *sal ð Proto-Germanic *saltom ð English salt

Interestingly, salt-y and its Armenian translation agh­-i (աղի) also share the same sound i to create the adjective. Therefore, look over your health: don’t eat too salty! Or, if you want to say it in Armenian, shad aghi mi oodek (շատ աղի մի՛ ուտէք). 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Virgins Do Not Take Sides

The calendar of Holy Week in the Armenian Apostolic Church includes a special service that enacts the parable of the Foolish and Wise Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The translation of “virgin” in Armenian is gooys (կոյս); this word is also used, indeed, as the name of the sign of Virgo (Gooys / Կոյս) and as an adjective (e.g. “virgin forest” = gooys andarr / կոյս անտառ). Its origin is still unknown.

The service is celebrated “in the memory of the Ten Virgins” (Dasuh Goosanats hishadageen / Տասը Կուսանաց յիշատակին). The word goosanats is a Classical Armenian declination of the plural of gooys (= goosank / կուսանք), while its Modern Armenian equivalent would be gooyseroo/ կոյսերու. Now, the existence of goosank / goosanats indicates that the root gooys becomes goos(կուս) in Modern Armenian, except in plural (gooys > gooyser). A grammar rule establishes that the diphthong ooy (ոյ) becomes oo (ու) when words are derived or compounded. We have, for instance, the words goosagan(կուսական) “virginal” and goosagron (կուսակրօն) “celibate.”
Some curious mind would like to ask: “What about goosagtsootyoon / կուսակցութիւն”? Is there any connection with gooys?”

Yes, there is. But before you start smiling, we should add that the relation is with another gooys. Virgins and parties (goosagtsootyoon) have nothing to do with each other.

As a matter of fact, the other word gooys (կոյս), meaning “side,” comes from an Iranian source and is not used today in Modern Armenian. However, it is the root for several words of current use, such as goosagtsootyoon, which is a compound word that means “group [of people] associated [with one] side” (gooys-a-g[i]ts-ootyoon), namely, “party,” whether political or not.

Another interesting compound word is megoosi (մեկուսի) “isolated.” It is composed of the words mi(մի “one”) and gooys. They are linked by the connective a (mi-a-gooys-i megoosi). It is a grammatical rule of Armenian that the combination of i and a (ի + ա) in compound words turns intoe (ե, not է).

Since we mentioned the termination goosi, let us finish with a third word: karragoosi (քառակուսի). At this point, the reader will probably surmise that it is the combination of karr and gooys. However, karr (քառ) has nothing to do either with carr (գառ “lamb”) or kar (քար “stone”). Likegooyskarr is another word from Classical Armenian that has only remained as a root in the modern language. It means “four,” but you do not say megyergooyerekkarr (մէկ, երկու, երեք, քառ), but megyergooyerekchors (մէկ, երկու, երեք, չորս). As you may have guessed,karragoosi literally means “four-sided,” namely, “square,” as in a square room (karragoosi senyag / քառակուսի սենեակ).