Thursday, April 20, 2017

You Can Return, but not Again

You probably have heard (or even used) tautologies a million times, but perhaps did not know their actual name. Here is a very common one:

“Let’s all work together, everyone, as a team.”
You will notice here a whole chain of repetitions; the Greek word tautós (ταὐτός) means “identical.” Do you need to put “all” and “everyone” in the same sentence? If you are a group of people, aren’t you a team?

This is why the same idea is accurately conveyed by simply saying “let’s work together.”

Tautologies are also galore in Armenian. One such case is furnished by the use of the prefix վերա (vera “re-”), as in վերադառնալ (veratarnal “to return”). The case is similar to English return “to come or go to a place again.” The prefix re suffices to ensure the repetition embodied by the word “again.” If you have traveled and come back home, you just return, but do not “return again,” which would be a tautology (even though a cursory Internet search revealed five books published between 1940 and 2012 and using “return again” in their titles). 

In Armenian, then, if you have traveled and come back home, the sentence «Ես նորէն Միացեալ Նահանգներ վերադարձայ» (Yes noren Miatsial Nahankner veratartza “I returned again to the United States”) is a tautology, since the word noren is superfluous. You just say Yes Miatsial Nahankner veratartza.

Of course, there are other verbs starting with vera- (“re-”), where the use of “again” (whether noren/նորէն, gurgeen/կրկին, or tartsyal/դարձեալ) is stylistically wrong. If you are a lawyer and you are going through a document you had already read, you cannot say «Ես փաստաթուղթը դարձեալ վերանայեցայ» (Yes pasdatooghtuh tartsyal veranayetsa “I revised again the document”). Նայիլ (nayeel) means “to look” and վերանայիլ (veranayeel) “to revise,” which etymologically is… “to look again.”

The examples can be multiplied. We will leave others for the future.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

How the Horse Got Its Shoe?

Some words have their own life until another word comes to replace them for a variety of reasons. The Armenian Highland was well-known for its horses and horse breeding since antiquity, and cavalry was an important component of the Armenian army. 
It is natural, then, that Classical Armenian would have a name for horseshoes. Believe it or not, that was the word loosin (լուսին), which we know to mean “moon.” Those who wanted to shoe a horse used the verb loosnel (լուսնել). Of course, the word loosin for “horseshoe” was inspired by its moon-shaped aspect. 
However, something changed sometime after the seventh century A.D., when the Arabs conquered the Armenian Highland and their language also had an impact on the Armenian language. Apparently, the latter lacked a word for blacksmith,” which Arabic had: baytar. The word was borrowed sometime during the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia (11th-14th centuries) in Armenian as պայտար (baydar), instead of բայտար, which today Western Armenian would have pronounced paydar. How do we know this? Middle Armenian—a sort of vernacular that came into use during that time—had also borrowed the European word baron and turned it into Armenian պարոն (baron “sir”), instead of the expected paron. 
This did not stop there. The Armenian termination –ar (ար) is linked to the root arar (արար “creator, doer,” as in khoharar/խոհարար “cook”). Generations later, it appears that someone thought in reverse: if the word baydar is used to mean someone who manufactures a horseshoe, and ar means “doer,” then bayd (պայտ) should mean “horseshoe”! The idea of this unknown someone had enough success, and, over time, the old loosin was confined to the sky and replaced by the otherwise inexistent word bayd to designate a horseshoe. It continues to be part of our lexicon until today. 
There is an illustrative and evidence-based anecdote about the use of baydar in Modern Armenian. Ottoman censorship during the reign of Abdul Hamid II (1876-1908) was so asphyxiating that the mention of certain names, including “Hayastan,” was forbidden. Such was also the case of writer Mikayel Nalbandian (1829-1866), the author of several patriotic tracts and poems (including the lyrics of the anthem “Mer Hairenik”). In 1893 researcher Abraham Ayvazian published his three-volume Collection of Armenian Biographies in Constantinople, which included biographies of many cultural figures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He had to include Nalbandian, and he managed to do it in the second volume (pages 98-143). How did he avoid censorship? Since the word nalband means “blacksmith” in Persian, he simply introduced Nalbandian as… Mikayel Baydarian!