воскресенье, 5 июня 2016 г.

On origins of words

One of the things I like so much about languages is learning etymology. I don't mean that I enjoy reading etymological dictionaries page by page (believe me, I've never done this!). Instead, I accidentally pick random facts about certain words. These facts serve two goals: they revitalize my passion for foreign languages and help me memorize new vocabulary better.

How can learning a random fact encourage to study a language? It works as a time machine because etymology is about history. Diving into history can be amazing!

What is the link between etymology and memorizing? Etymology of a single word is often an interesting story. You can visualize stories in your mind. Sometimes these stories are weird. I heard many times: the more weird the association is, the better the mnemotechnic works.

Where to find awesome facts about etymology? Well, if you want them right now, just google and find tons of examples. However, I became an etymology fan in the other way. I didn't search for random facts, they found me instead. The first source of such knowledge was the audiocourse which I used four years ago to recollect my knowledge of French (just a note: the basic language of that course is Russian, so it may not work for you). During the fantastic course in French grammar last August which took place in the unique Saint Petersburg language anti-café, I heard many more stories about origins of words. Etymology opens the door not only to learning history of a single nation or a single language, it leads you to cross-language connections. Eventually you start noticing them on your own. You feel the joy of victory when your guess about the origin of some word is correct, you're slightly disappointed but still proud of your logic when your assumption turns out to be wrong. I'd like to share several real-life examples from my last two journeys abroad.

In Portugal, you often hear the word "obrigado" (or "obrigada" which sounds in pretty much the same way). There's no surprise in it because "obrigado" means "thank you" (by the way, the word in brackets is a feminime form of the same word because Portuguese thank each other using a past participle which means "obliged"). Now tell me, do you know any Japanese word? I guess, you do, and that word is "arigato". Feel the similarity? You're neither the first one nor the last one. Do Portuguese and Japanese "thank you" have any connection? I won't tell you for sure. Russian sci-fi and fantasy author Sergei Lukyanenko states that Japanese loaned that word. But read the comments to his post and you'll see that there's no single point of view. Here is an English-language thread presenting various opinions on that matter and referencing a book in linguistics, the first source worth paying attention to. Japanese has many loans from Portuguese, which is another argument for the western origin of "arigato". However, this explanation which mentions early Japanese literary works containing the word with very similar spelling and notes that they were written long before first contacts of Portuguese and Japanese. Thus, the question remains open for me.

When you talk to me for a long time, you won't be able to avoid language-related topics ;) Such a conversation (probably, inspired by the above-mentioned assumption about "obrigado" and "arigato") took place on the first Monday of November, 2015, in Lisbon. Step by step, language by language, my friend and I were telling each other various facts, posing riddles or just interesting questions. At some point, I was asked what the Belarusian word "кофр" means. You know what? I knew the answer even though there's nothing similar to that word in Russian. Well, to be honest, I just made a guess immediately after I saw how "кофр" is spelled but this guess was correct. How did I know this? Several years ago I played "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" in French. I remember "coffres" here and there in Tamriel. "Une coffre" stands for "a chest" (not the body part but the box), so does "кофр". Wiki approves that this is not a coincidence, Belarusian language borrowed a lot of words from French including this one.

I told you I know one Japanese word. In the end of April I learned my first Armenian word as well. Guess what? Certainly, the one with the same meaning as "arigato". Well, not this one, but the colloqial form - "mersi". Right, French is everywhere! I was very surprised by hearing this word many times during my first few hours in Yerevan. Only later I remembered that Russians sometimes also say "мерси" (even a literary example exists!) for the expression of gratitude. However, for us this is a rare case (and it implies an ironic situation) while Armenians use the colloqial word derived from French "merci" everywhere just because it's short.

The world around us is full of such wonderful examples. Just be curious and be attentive, you'll find many more of them.

2 комментария:

  1. "...even though there's nothing similar to that word in Russian." - Это неправда. Слово "кофр" достаточно широко употребляется в русском языке: http://endic.ru/ushakov/Kofr-25599.html Я это слово знаю в значении "сумка для фотооборудования".
    Я думаю, из французского это слово было заимствовано в период XVIII—XIX веков, как и многие другие слова французского происхождения в русском языке.

    1. Неожиданно. Значит, "...even though there's nothing similar to that word in the part of Russian vocabulary I was familiar with". Теперь эта часть стала на одно слово больше. Спасибо!