Thursday, June 29, 2017

Dealing with In-Laws (2)

As we said in our last column, the English language deals in an easy way with relatives by the use of “in-law.” This indicates that some of the kinship terms common to Indo-European languages were lost over time, as in other sister languages too.

The Armenian language has a collection of terms for each “in-law” on both sides of the aisle. We previously discussed the in-laws for the case of fathers and mothers. Now we will deal with brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law:

Brother-in-law (wife’s brother): աներձագ (anertzak)
Brother-in-law (sister’s husband): քեռայր (kerayr)

Sister-in-law (wife’s sister): քենի (keni)
Sister-in-law (brother’s wife): հարս (hars).

Brother-in-law (husband’s brother): տագր (dakur)
Brother-in-law (sister’s husband): քեռայր (kerayr)
Sister-in-law (husband’s sister): տալ (dal)
Sister-in-law (brother's wife): հարս (hars)

As you will notice, some of these terms are repeated: the sister’s husband (kerayr) and the brother’s wife (hars) are identified in the same way on both sides. The word kerayr is a compound word: քեռ (ker) derives from քոյր (kooyr “sister”) and այր (ayr) means “husband.” On the other hand, hars is the word for “bride,” which probably indicates that the term for “sister-in-law” was lost in the mist of time.

While other terms like keni, dakur, and dal are specific root words, it is not the same for the groom’s brother-in-law. The word anertzak is compound (aner + tzak): it means “father-in-law’s child.”
We can also throw a couple of more terms in the mix:

a) Groom’s sister-in-law’s husband: քենեկալ (kenegal). Etymologically, it refers to the “sister-in-law’s holder” (keni + gal root of the verb galel “to hold”);
b) Bride’s brother-in-law’s (husband’s brother) wife: ներ (ner).

In the other cases, when you refer to the husband of a sister-in-law, you can use kerayr, and if it is the wife of a brother-in-law, then hars.

Of course, it is not as easy as “brother-in-law” and “sister-in-law,” but at least, when you want to refer to one of your in-laws, if you use the proper term, nobody will get confused about who you are talking about…

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dealing with In-Laws (1)

The English language has a very easy way to deal with relatives: it uses “in-law.” You have father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. This shows, in fact, that the language actually lost, over time, the kinship terms that were common to Indo-European languages.

Some of those languages are more conservative than others. Armenian, for instance, mostly maintained all those terms, with the exception of “nephew” and “niece,” where we need to make recourse to artificial words (եղբօրորդի/yeghporortee “brother’s son” and եղբօր աղջիկ/yeghpor aghcheeg “brother’s daughter”) to denote them.

What does Armenian do with the in-laws? It has a collection of terms specifically for each of them, and on both sides!

This time we will only deal with father-in-law and mother-in-law. It turns out that, unlike English, if you are the groom, you call your wife’s parents in a certain way, and if you are the bride, you call your husband’s parents in a different way:

Father in law: աներ (aner)
Mother-in-law: զոքանչ (zokanch).

Father-in-law: կեսրայր (gesrayr) or սկեսրայր (usgesrayr)
Mother-in-law: կեսուր (gesoor) or սկեսուր (usgesoor)

Besides mixing one side and the other, there are also mistakes in the use of each term. The most common is the wrong use of aner. We may hear people calling their father-in-law աներ հայր (aner hayr). Since aner means “bride’s father,” then aner hayr would be… “father of the bride’s father”! Even worse, you can hear people using աներ մայր (aner mayr), which is an indescribable cocktail: “mother of the bride’s father”!

The same superfluous use of hayr (“father”) and mayr (“mother”) appears when we go to the bride’s side. We may come across կեսուր հայր (gesoor hayr), which is a corruption of gesrayr, and it would mean “father of the mother-in-law,” and կեսուր մայր (gesoor mayr), where people end saying “mother of the bride’s mother.”

Once you clean up the mess, you will see that is very easy: instead of having one word to designate a father-in-law and one a mother-in-law, you have two. We should assume that you can manage learning four words instead of two, right?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Watermelons in Winter?

In the East Coast, we may be used to having summer fruits during winter time. However, can you imagine that the Armenian Plateau would have watermelons in freezing periods? 
Actually, it did not. This is, nevertheless, something that the facts of language might suggest. 
Let’s start with the name of “winter” in Armenian: ձմեռ (tzumerr). This word has an Indo-European origin and shares it with many languages (for instance, Russian zima “winter”). It was attested from the fifth century A.D. onwards, and like several others, including մուկն (mookn “mouse”), ձուկն (tzookn “fish”), or ամառն (amarrn “summer”), it had a suffix –ն (n) at the end. Such words maintained this suffix in some derivative words like ձմեռնային (tzumerrnayin “winterly”), ձկնորսութիւն (tzugnorsootioon “fishing”), ամառնային (amarrnayin “relative to summer”), and others. On the other hand, a phonetic rule of Classical Armenian established words like tzumerr, amarr, and others, which had a strong r (ռ, like in English “curriculum”) in their roots, were declined with a soft r  (ր, like in English “chores”) and lost their suffix –n in the process. There were also derived words that went through the same rule. This is how we have, for instance, the words ձմերանոց (tzumeranots “winter place”) and ամարանոց (amaranots “summer place”), where the ռ has been replaced by րIn the same way, we have the Armenian word for “watermelon”: ձմերուկ (tzumeroog). Linguist Hrachia Ajarian, the author of a foremost five-volume etymological dictionary of the Armenian language, suggested that tzumeroog was derived from tzumerr (the suffix oog is a diminutive, like in the word արջուկ/archoog “little bear,” but there are also words formed with this suffix, without necessarily being diminutives; e.g. hեղուկ/heghoog “liquid”). 
How did this happen? Ajarian said the reason for the connection between winter and watermelon was unknown; he assumed that it was because of the refreshing liquid of the fruit, which the villagers may have felt like ice during the hot summers in the Armenian Plateau. Nevertheless, he brought a comparative example: Georgian has the word zamtari (“winter”), from which the word sazamtro (“watermelon”) is derived (the Georgian language forms its words, unlike Indo-European languages, with prefixes). 
Going back to the beginning of this conversation, Armenians did not enjoy watermelons in the winter, but the fruit brought some of the winter cold to their bodies. This was enough to give them the idea for the name.