Thursday, May 24, 2018

Long Live the Dead Language

In the best case scenario, when a king or queen passed away, his or her successor was usually ready to go. Hence the criers went around with the phrase “The king (queen) is dead! Long live the king (queen)!” Wherever a monarchy is still around, they probably still do this.

This is probably how the expression “long live” entered the vocabulary to express a preference for a person or a place. Somehow, it displaced a possible competitor like the Middle English word hail “healthy,” which we use nowadays only in the expressions “Hail Mary” and “Hail to the Chief.”

Most English speakers are familiar with the Spanish word viva (also in Italian and Portuguese), which is the subjunctive form of the verb “to live” (vivir) and the word that Spanish vassals used to greet their kings: ¡ Viva el rey ! (“Long live the king!”). In this regard, it seems the Romance languages are more “economic” than English.

The Armenian language uses the future tense (third person) of the verb “to live,” namely, the word կեցցէ ( getseh ). For example, we say Կեցցէ՛   Հայաստան   (Getseh Hayastan “Long live Armenia”).

Wait a moment. Isn’t ապրիլ / abreel the Armenian word for “to live”? 
Indeed it is, but that is the Modern Armenian word. The root of getseh is the Classical Armenian verb կեալ ( geal ), which means exactly the same. Generally speaking, we do not use the word ապրի /abree to cheer kings or singers, or to simply cheer Armenia, even though we use ապրիս /abrees to address our cheer to someone (Ապրի՛ս , տղաս / Abrees, dughas “Bravo, my boy”) along with կեցցե՛ս / getsehs .

The same happens with the opposite of “long live,” that is, “down with.” While the expression is similar in Romance languages (e.g. Spanish Abajo el rey “Down with the king”), it is not the same for Armenian, where we use անկցի ( angtsee ), the third person of the future tense of the verb անկանիլ (anganeel) “to fall” in Classical Armenian. Thus, we would say Անկցի՛ թագաւորը (Angutsee takavoruh “Down with the king”).

The Modern Armenian verb derived from anganeel is the familiar verb իյնալ (eenal “to fall”), and the root ang continues to exist in a batch of words like անկում (angoom “fall”), անկարգել (angarkel “parachute”), անկելանոց (angelanots “asylum”), and others. 

Therefore, when you say that Classical Armenian is a dead language, don’t be so sure. You will be surprised to find so many words from the “dead” language that live everyday in our vocabulary. Getseh and angutsee are just two of them. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018


There are people who are in favor of evolutionary change, while others are prone to revolutionary change. After years of waiting for an “evolutionary” change that never arrived, the citizens of Armenia spoke up and the recent political upheaval became the “Velvet Revolution,” an exemplary series of peaceful demonstrations that led to the change of government and a new atmosphere of freedom and hope.
In English, the difference of one letter in the pair “revolution”-“evolution” indicates their common source, as well as their common meaning. The former originates from Latin revolutio, meaning “the act of revolving, rolling” and the latter, from Latin evolutio “unrolling.” 
Their Armenian counterparts, curiously, are also separated by one letter. We have two different pairs:

Revolution                                                          Evolution
յեղափոխութիւն (heghapokhootioon)         եղափոխութիւն (yeghapokhootioon)
յեղաշրջում (heghashurchoom)                     եղաշրջում (yeghashurchoom)

(Additionally, we have a third word for “evolution”: բնաշրջում / punashurchoom)

The Armenian pair, however, is a compound word: hegh + pokh + ootioon (suffix) and yegh + pokh + ootioon. It should be noted that the letter յ sounded “y” in Classical Armenian, and ե sound “e”; then, it was originally yeghapokhootioon and eghapokhootioon.
Interestingly, enough, while the English pair revolves (pun intended) around the concept of rolling, the Armenian pair derives from a Proto-Indo-European root, *g’el, meaning “to turn.” However, they modified their meaning over time, which became “change,” exactly the concept behind both revolution and evolution. Both hegh and yegh are primary and secondary forms of the same root, and, thus, the words are formed by a duplication of the same meaning, since pokh is the root of the verb փոխել (pokhel) “change.”
To sum up, people in Armenia were not simply asking to turn around the same tune, but… to change the tune.