Thursday, December 29, 2016

Do You Print Money?

You may just earn a salary or be on the way to become a millionaire. In both cases, the English language has the same way to say that: “you make money.” Whether it is money or coffee, it allows you the use of the same verb: “to make.”

However, as you know, when you make money you obtain it, regardless of the way you do that. It means that “to make” is used as a figure of speech. You can make a cake, but the power to actually make money belongs to the U.S. Federal Reserve.

This may already give you the hint about why the expression դրամ շինել ( tram shinel ) is nothing more than a slavish Armenian-American translation of “to make money.” The word shinel has 14 different definitions, according to the latest dictionary of the Armenian language (Beirut, 1992). The most basic meanings are “to built” and “to create.” However, the meaning “to obtain” does not exist.

Therefore, to say «Ես դրամ շինեցի» (“Yes tram shinetsi”) as translation for “I made money” is basically wrong. If someone heard you saying that out of America, s/he would think that you are in some shady business of printing money.  When you want to speak real Armenian, the actual way to say that is «Ես դրամ շահեցայ» (Yes tram shahetsa). The verb shahil literally means “to win,” and you can literally say that when you came out from the casino, for instance, with something extra in your pocket. Since when you win money, you earn it, then you can use it to make us understand that you get a paycheck. Therefore, Armenian speakers “win” money, while English speakers “make” it.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Very Prolific Vowel

It is not usual that a vowel may also be a very meaningful word in a certain language. Such is the case of the vowel է (e), the seventh letter of the Armenian alphabet.
Its most fundamental function is to be… the third person singular present of the verb “to be”: ան է (an e) = he/she is. This indication of existence has given origin to an interesting series of words.
The word է (e) itself appeared from very early as synonymous with Աստուած (Asdvadz = “God”). Since e indicates existence, it was natural that it could be adopted to symbolize God as “existing.” It appeared in the Armenian Bible, in the fifth century, in the expressions որ է (vor e), որ էն (vor en), and որ էնն (vor enun). For instance, we have the passage «Արդար է՝ որ էնն եւ է» (Artar e vor enun yev e), meaning “You are just, the one who is and who was” (Revelation 16:5). From here, ecclesiastic documents such as bulls by Catholicoi, letters, or notes had as their letterhead the letter Է (E), meaning “In the name of God.” The letter is also found in the front of churches or above the altars.
E also became the basis for several nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, such as the noun էակ (է+ակ, eag), by the addition of the suffix ակ (ag), meaning “creature, being” (մարդ էակ/mart eag “human being”).
Another word, by addition of the adjectival suffix ական (agan), is էական (eagan), which means “essential” and express existence (the verb “to be” is a էական բայ/eagan pay “existential verb”).
The adverbial suffix ապէս (abes) has helped create the adverb էապէս (eabes “essentially”).
Another interesting word is մանրէ (մանր+է, manre), where the word e has been combined with the adjective manr (“little, small”) to form this noun, which designates “virus” and “bacteria.”
Finally, the negative prefix ան (an) has generated the adjective անէ (ane), meaning “inexistent,” and the verb անէանալ (aneanal “to vanish”). While the former is a word more used in poetry, the latter can be used in less literary fashion.
It is fitting to end with a stanza from Taniel Varoujan’s poem “To My Muse,” which he wrote when he was barely 20-21 years old. It was published in his first collection of poetry (1906).

...Կ'ուզեմ ծովուն հետ սիրտ սըրտի ես hարիլ,
Իմ անհունիս մէջ այդ անհունը թաղել,
Բուռն իղձն ունիմ մըրըրկին հետ մաքառիլ
Եվ գլուխս Է-ին գաղտնիքներուն դէմ բախել

(I want to collide heart to heart with the sea,
To bury that infinite in my own infinite;
I have the strong wish to fight with the storm
And to hit my head against the secrets of God).

Those who read Armenian will notice that Varoujan wrote his wish to decipher the secrets of E (Է), instead of saying “God.” He was allowed just a decade to try to decipher those secrets through his poetry before he became one of the most precious victims of the Medz Yeghern (the Great Crime/Great Genocide).

Thursday, December 1, 2016

“Joyful Thanksgiving”­?

Thanksgiving is over. Among the myriad of “Happy Thanksgiving” greetings going all over the place, did you hear anyone saying “Joyful Thanksgiving”?
Of course not. Everyone said “Happy Thanksgiving,” because this is what the English language mandates to say. Happiness is a temporary feeling (and the celebration of a particular day is temporary), while joy has a lasting, more abstract connotation. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” would have taken a different meaning if it had been entitled “Ode to Happiness.” Not by chance, the eighteenth-century Christmas carol says “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” and not… “Happiness to the world…”
Now, how did you say your wish in Armenian? Did you say Ուրախ Գոհաբանութեան օր (Oorakh Kohapanootian or)?
If you did, you were utterly wrong, because you were saying… “Joyful Thanksgiving.” You cannot use oorakh to say “happy” when you are giving good wishes, but only yerchanig.
It is true that some dictionaries may use “happy” to translate both oorakh and yerchanig (երջանիկ). Unfortunately, dictionary authors may be very skillful at putting words together, but very sloppy at thinking how those words are actually used in a sentence. The fact that Google Translate offers the same alternative is, of course, negligible: you are dealing with something called “statistical machine translation,” not a human translator sensible to language nuances.
The Armenian language offers yet another alternative: the word շնորհաւոր (shunorhavor), which indicates your wishes of grace (շնորհք/shunorhk) for a happy event; e.g. Շնորհաւոր տարեդարձ (Shunorhavor daretartz). You could have also used it for Thanksgiving, as in Շնորհաւոր Գոհաբանութեան օր (Shunorhavor Kohapanootian or).
Incidentally, you can still use shunorhavor during the forthcoming holidays to say “Happy New Year”:  Շնորհաւոր Նոր Տարի (Shunorhavor Nor Dari). It would sound awkward to say yerchanig for Christmas, even though we say Merry Christmas (and not “Happy Christmas”). Exceptions confirm the rule: we say Շնորհաւոր Սուրբ Ծնունդ (Shunorhavor Soorp Dzunoont) and not Երջանիկ Սուրբ Ծնունդ (Yerchanig Soorp Dzunoont). If you want to make your wishes in one shot, then it is Shunorhavor Nor Dari yev Soorp Dzunoont. As you see, it does not have more words than Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.