Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Choice Is Not Just One

The conjunction or may become a tricky one in Armenian. Unlike English, where you use or to give alternatives, the Armenian language has two different choices.
When someone gives you indications about where to look for something, the sentence is: 

            You can look either here or there.
            Դուք կրնաք նայիլ հոս կամ հոն:
            Took gurnak nayil hos gam hon.

In this case, the word gam (կամ) marks the alternative.
However, let’s say that you are in doubt about where to look. In such a case, you would say:

            I did not know where to look: here or there?

Many people are inclined to use gam here, which is wrong, because it is only suitable for affirmative sentences like the previous one. If you are in an interrogative mood, the only correct answer is te (թէ):

            Չէի գիտեր ուր նայիլ՝ հո՞ս, թէ հոն։
            Chei kider oor nayil՝ hos, te hon?

All languages, including English and Armenian, have their subtleties. It takes time and effort to get used to them.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Treasury that Became a Museum

We all know what a museum is. The –um ending of the English word museum sounds like Latin, and, indeed, the word comes straightforward from Latin museum. However, museum did not originate in Rome, but, like many other things, in Greece. The nine Muses, the patron divinities of the arts in Greek mythology, had their own place in Alexandria (Egypt), which was built at the beginning of the third century B.C. It was called Mouseion (Μουσεῖον) and was, in modern terms, an institute of scientific research where hundreds of scholars were hired to conduct research, publish, lecture, and gather sources. Unlike the current museums, the Mouseion did not harbor artifacts or artistic objects.
As it happens in more than one case, the Armenian language invented its own term for museum: թանգարան (tankaran). Many readers may think that the root tank (t’ang in Classical Armenian) may be a modified version of the root tang (թանկ/ t’ank in Classical Armenian), which means “valuable; expensive,” especially since a museum gathers valuable items. The suffix –aran (արան) indicates place (դասարան/tasaran “classroom”)
This was the view of linguist Hrachia Adjarian in his multivolume etymological dictionary of the Armenian language. However, a contemporary linguist, Nerses Mkrtchyan, has shown that the word tankaran is not related to tang (“valuable”). The word թանգար (tankar, Classical Armenian tangar) appeared a few times in Armenian literature of the fifth century A.D. with the meaning “merchant,” but this was not an Armenian word. Its ultimate origin was Akkadian tamkaru “merchant”; Akkadian was a Semitic language spoken in Mesopotamia in the third and second millennium B.C. The word seems to have entered Armenian via another Semitic language, Aramaic, where it was spelled taggaru. (We will leave to linguists to explain how tamkaru became taggaru and then tangar(u).)
Merchants trafficked in valuable commodities, sometimes from exotic places. Wherever tangar came, the interesting fact is that the word tankaran was also used in the fifth century A.D. with the meaning “treasury.” It is also useful to remember that there is a suffix –an (ան) in Armenian (հօրան/horan “sheepfold”). The millennia-old word tankar, via its Armenian derivation, tankaran, returned in modern times to become the modern Armenian word for “museum.”