The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Missing Link?

As the origins of the Armenians are rather obscure, there have been several theories advanced, some of which have been since discredited (such as the Thraco-Phrygian migration hypothesis). Of course, this had led to some idle speculation: I remember hearing years ago that the Armenians may be one of the lost tribes of Israel. This may sound insane, but then again, there are people in the depths of south east Asia who claim to be such, so why not a nation that is geographically much closer?

The Armenian language is classified as Indo-European. In short, it is somehow related to the languages such as Persian, Latin, Greek, English, etc, with varying degrees of affinity. Despite this link, however, if you look at a tree-diagram of the language family (which you can easily find online), you will see that it is a separate language. For example, German, Swedish, English and Danish are all grouped under the subheading "Germanic," which French, Italian, Latin, and other extinct languages from that area are classified as "Italic" or "Romance." The Armenian language is a bit of a loner on this tree, and I have heard the suggestion that it is related to an ancient, extinct language called Phrygian, which, as far as I know, was a dialect of Greek. Far too little is known of this language to make any solid connection.

Back to Israel: while this is hardly compelling evidence, I noticed that there are at least two words in Armenian that bear a striking similarity to the corresponding words in Hebrew, although the latter is a Semitic, not an Indo-European, language. Allow me to demonstrate using these two examples:

Table Pig
Arm. Seghan Xoz
Heb. Shoxan Xezier

(note the "x" is the rough, unaspirated throat clearing sound and "gh" is the aspirated version, like a proper French "r"). These transliterations are not entirely accurate, but should give you a sense of the pronunciation of the words.

Often words designating animals in Armenian are very similar to those in other European languages. For example, the word cow in English is Arm. kov, German kuh, and Hindi ku. English dog becomes Arm. shoon, French. chien, German hund. For whatever reason, the Armenian for pig does not resemble any of the corresponding words in its related languages, but the closest I've found is Hebrew.

Finally, it is worth noting that the two words under consideration (pig and table) are "primitive" words. In other words, they are extremely old, and it is precisely for this reason that historical linguists who wish to study cognates (related words in different languages) do so by observing old words that are very basic to a language.

For what it's worth, I think the similarities are worth investigating. I would be genuinely surprised if no expert has noticed this similarity before, but I've never heard of it elsewhere.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

another excellent posting.

However, I must point out that you misspelled your own name. It is properly spelled as "labors," not "labours."

Why didn't you know this?

10:09 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

Um, I've always spelt it piouslabours. LabOUR is the British/Canadian spelling, whereas LabOR is American.

Why didn't you know this?

12:35 a.m.  

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