You’re Ironing My Head!

Jennifer Manoukian’s “You’re Ironing My Head: Shared Western Armenian and Turkish Idioms” discusses a phenomenon that once you learn about it is an obvious result of shared history, but that you don’t hear about for reasons she explains:

While Armenian and Turkish belong to distinct language families, their similarities today should come as no surprise. Western Armenian—the language spoken by Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and their descendants around the world—rubbed shoulders with Turkish for more than four centuries. This enduring contact had varying effects on Armenians in the empire. Some shifted fully to Turkish, speaking it as their mother tongue; others adopted diglossic bilingualism, using Turkish in certain realms of life and Armenian in others; and others still spoke a variety of Western Armenian that was peppered with Turkish loan words and calques (i.e., literal translations). It is this third outcome that survived the fall of the Ottoman Empire and persists—often unbeknownst to Armenians themselves—in Western Armenian today.

As other examples of language contact show, language change within imperial contexts is often largely unidirectional with the language of the conquered changing more radically than the language of the conqueror. This pattern also holds for Turkish and Western Armenian. Beyond words that hint at shared origins (e.g., թոռ [tor] & torun; էշ [esh] & eşek) and the great many direct borrowings from Turkish (e.g., արապա [araba] & araba; պօշ [bosh] & boş; իշտէ [ishdé] & işte), calques—or literal translations—from Turkish abound in both colloquial and standard Western Armenian. At times these instances are obvious to the naked eye (e.g., վազ անցնիլ [vaz antsnil] & vaz geçmek; թաք թուք [tak touk] & tek tük), while others can only be detected by those with a knowledge of the structure of both languages (e.g. նորէն [noren] & yeniden; մնաք բարով [mnak parov] & hoşçakalın; ողջ ըլլաս [voghch ëllas] & sağ ol).

Forms of reduplication can also be seen in the colloquial forms of both languages: echo reduplication (e.g. գիրք միրք [kirk mirk] & kitap mitap), emphatic reduplication (e.g. կաս կարմիր [gas garmir] & kıpkırmızı) and doubling (կամաց-կամաց [gamats-gamats] & yavaş yavaş) all bring smiles to the faces of Armenian students of Turkish and Turkish students of Armenian.

Despite the near inevitability of language change in a case of such long-term contact, the imprint of Turkish on Western Armenian is rarely discussed in Armenian circles and is essentially unknown to Turkish speakers. This reticence on the part of Armenians to acknowledge the lingering traces of their Ottoman past are tied, I have argued elsewhere, to the politics of Armenian Genocide recognition and the comfort many Armenians still take in nurturing prejudice against a people they are set on branding enemies to the exclusion of all else.

She exemplifies the phenomenon with reproductions from a 1962 book by “the celebrated Egyptian Armenian cartoonist Alexander Saroukhan (1898-1977) […] a collection of sketches entitled Տե՛ս խօսքերդ (Look at What You’re Saying!). […] What Saroukhan does not mention is that many of his idioms also exist—often word-for-word—in Turkish.” The examples are convincing and enjoyable. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. A similar Russian expression is компостировать мозги (compostirovat’ mozgi). It means not as much to badger as to talk nonsense in an annoying way. I am a bit at a loss as to how to translate it literally. мозги, to be sure, is brain. But компостировать can mean to punch through (like a ticket) or to make a compost. So which is that? I don’t know. As a city kid, I was always sure that it is the first one. Heck, I don’t think that I knew compost well into my teens. But both of them make metaphorical sense.

  2. A recent post in Razib Khan’so genetics blog suggests that beyond the languages rubbing shoulders, that most Turks are descended from Armenians and/or Greeks, so there was likely trwnsference the other way too, idioms inherited into Turkish, kids translating mom an dad.

  3. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    But компостировать can mean to punch through (like a ticket) or to make a compost. So which is that? I don’t know.

    What’s the origin of this double meaning? You can sometimes see the first sense on bus tickets in Poland, alongside English or German. Wiktionary says it’s from French composter but even that word seems to have two meanings (a compost-related one and ticket-related one). Did the French of old make compost from tickets?

  4. David Marjanović says:

    The other German word, probably the only one I’ve ever encountered, is entwerten, literally “devalue completely”. I suppose “compost” could be a metaphor for that.

    թաք թուք [tak touk] & tek tük

    Note the preservation of vowel harmony.

  5. This reticence on the part of Armenians to acknowledge the lingering traces of their Ottoman past are tied, I have argued elsewhere, to the politics of Armenian Genocide recognition and the comfort many Armenians still take in nurturing prejudice against a people they are set on branding enemies to the exclusion of all else.

    This seems a little harsh on the poor Armenians. The Turks killed a lot of Armenians and continue to this day to argue that they didn’t and even if they did the Armenians deserved it, so there, and to imprison or murder anyone who disagrees. A certain degree of Armenian antipathy towards the Turks, under the circumstances, seems forgivable, and hardly worthy of the term “prejudice”.

    On the “compost” thing, the puzzling definition seems to be the ticket one; it’s fairly obvious that if you “componere” a lot of garden rubbish (or indeed food, or structural materials, or musical notes) together, then you get a compost (or possibly a compote, or a composite, or a composition).
    Is the idea here that you’re adding something to the ticket, like a mark or stamp, to make it clear that it’s been used?

  6. @Ксёнѕ Фаўст, @ajay: According to the TFLI, the ticket (in)validating sense derives from the punch that marks a ticket with letters and digits identifying date/train/conductor, hole optional. The tool is called composteur after the single-line bracket used in manual typesetting; this word was loaned from Italian and the verb was backformed, independently of the rubbish verb and noun (from Latin);.

    (French Wikipedia no longer knows about the manual tool, but here’s a German Schaffnerzange — similar ones are still used on German trains).

  7. I have a vague idea in the back of my head (no idea where I got it, or if I came up with it myself) that the meanings are related through the use of chad in compost. It would be as if punching a hole in a ticket is the minimalist version of shredding it.

  8. See Wiktionary in French for composter and composteur.

    The verb for punching a ticket is a back-formation from composteur from the Italian compositore – typesetting.

    The agricultural verb is derived from the older sense in French and is related to compote too.

    Ultimately, both are things that are put or mixed together.

  9. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    If I am understanding French wiktionary correctly, ‘composter’ in the ticket sense comes from ‘composteur’, which is a device in which a ‘compositeur’ or typesetter arranges letters to be printed – apparently called a ‘composing stick’ in English.

    Train tickets here are still sometimes stamped with a series of letters and numbers, and sometimes punched with a thing which makes a hole, so I can see how the two actions would come to have the same name.

  10. This seems a little harsh on the poor Armenians. The Turks killed a lot of Armenians and continue to this day to argue that they didn’t and even if they did the Armenians deserved it, so there, and to imprison or murder anyone who disagrees. A certain degree of Armenian antipathy towards the Turks, under the circumstances, seems forgivable, and hardly worthy of the term “prejudice”.

    Sure, but the author is Armenian and writing (I presume) in the first instance for her fellow Armenians, so she’s telling them discomfiting home truths rather than bullying them. (She can assume that her readers are well aware of the genocide.) It would come very differently from a Turk.

  11. Sure, but the author is Armenian and writing (I presume) in the first instance for her fellow Armenians

    She’s writing in English in an online magazine “centred around Istanbul”. Not quite sure how you get from that the assumption that she’s writing for a predominantly Armenian audience.

    In fact, if the magazine’s based (as it seems to be) in Turkey, it would be both practically illegal and physically dangerous for them to publish something suggesting that the genocide even occurred. (It wouldn’t be dangerous for Ms Manoukian herself since she’s safely in California.)

  12. Ah, good points. But still, it would come very differently from a Turk. I applaud her for not closing ranks and refusing to say anything that might not reflect well on her people. We’ve got to get past the stage of thinking first of politics and second or never of truth.

  13. Indeed, the climax of Dorothy Sayers’s 1931 novel The Five Red Herrings, which is a classic timetable mystery set in Scotland, depends on the discovery of a ticket punched “LMS 23A” at Mauchline on the Glasgow-Ayr-Stranraer line, which though itself perfectly in order, is suspicious because all other tickets punched at that time on that train are marked “LMS 23B”, the last letter being a code for the particular ticket-collector who punched it.

  14. Conductor, when you receive a fare,
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
    A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
    A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
    A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

    Punch, brothers! Punch with care!
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    She does say “rarely discussed in Armenian circles and is essentially unknown to Turkish speakers,” so it’s not as if she’s suggesting that the Turks’ lack of the very specific sort of sense of historical grievance the Armenians has made them more cosmopolitan on this subject. (Should Turkish nationalists favor evidence of Turkish influence-via-calque on other languages, or would their own sense of purism/purity make them ambivalent about that?)

  16. Good question!

  17. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!

    He’s infected me! Infected me with that horrible earworm, again!

    Out, out, damned spot!

  18. Thought to cite you the same earworm in Russian but the site ate it

  19. Give me a URL and I’ll post it.

  20. In the last Homer Price story by Robert McCloskey, “Pie and Punch and You-Know-Whats,” published in Centerburg Tales (1951), the whole town gets infected by a seemingly magical earworm from a record that a strange out-of-towner has added to the diner’s jukebox. It turns out that, following Twain’s story, such earworms can only be cured by teaching them to somebody else. Homer finds Twain’s earworm in the library and teaches it to the rest of the town, curing himself; then the whole town teaches Twain’s rhyme to a single unfortunate librarian, who is put on a train out of town.

  21. > Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

    Homer Price sent me.

  22. a single unfortunate librarian, who is put on a train out of town
    Does the story tell whether he’s punched by the conductors on that train?

  23. This seems to be the perfect place for me to point to a hunch of mine (just a hunch, I assure you!): that Turkish may owe at least one grammatical feature to Western Armenian influence. Yes indeed. As someone with no training whatsoever (not even a single course) in Armenian or Turkic linguistics (or indeed in the linguistics of ANY Middle Eastern language) this may seem pretentious, arrogant or both, but consider the evidence:

    1-Turkish, unlike its Turkic sisters, makes a distinction between pre-nominal “bir”, which is a numeral “one”, and post-nominal “bir”, which is an indefinite article, “a/an” (In Azeri and Uzbek some sources refer to “bir” as an indefinite article, but the examples given all involve, tellingly, a pre-nominal “bir”).

    2-Western Armenian exhibits the exact same feature, unlike Eastern Armenian, whose indefinite article (which likewise derives historically from the numeral “one”) is pre-nominal, i.e. much more Western European-looking.

    3-Cilician Middle Armenian, which is the ancestor of Western Armenian dialects, already had a post-nominal indefinite article: this seems to exclude the possibility that this feature might be a specifically Turkish innovation which spread thence to Western Armenian.

    (On Cilisian Middle Armenian as the ancestor of Modern Western Armenian and as a language with a post-nominal indefinite article deriving from its numeral “one”, see pages 5 and 391, respectively, of Josef Karst’s HISTORISCHE GRAMMATIK DER KILIKISCH-ARMENISCHEN, easily found on-line).

    4-Since all varieties of Greek during the relevant time period only had a pre-nominal indefinite article, this language cannot have played a role in the spread of this feature.

    Q.E.D.

    There. So, fellow hatters? Does the hunch make sense to you?

  24. How common are post-nominal indefinite articles in general?

  25. minus273 says:

    Are there any post-nominal indefinite articles in Turkish? In structures like iyi bir kitap, bir still stands before the head noun.

  26. Brett: Good question. But even if post-nominal indefinite articles are common, Western Armenian and Turkish share more than a post-nominal indefinite article:

    Both share a post-nominal indefinite article deriving from the numeral “one” (Incidentally, the closest thing Koine Greek, for instance, had to an indefinite article was an enclitic, /tis/, neuter /ti/, which etymologically has nothing to do with a word for “one); furthermore, in Cilician Middle Armenian this indefinite article was in the process of becoming obligatory, and was still transparently related to the numeral “one”, which as a numeral was (and remains, in Western Armenian and Turkish alike) still alive and kicking when used before nouns.

    Thus, Western Armenian-Turkish bilinguals could have transferred the structure from their L1 to their L2 quite readily, whereas speakers of a language with a fully grammaticized, suffixed indefinite article which to their mind bore no relationship to the numeral “one” (whatever the etymology of said indefinite suffix might have been) would have had a more difficult task, and tellingly, could well have chosen a different Turkish element as an indefinite marker.

  27. While we’re at it, this recent paper (Juliette Blevins, Between natural and unnatural phonology: The case of cluster-splitting epenthesis) argues that vowel epenthesis into consonant clusters in Modern Persian indicates a Turkic substrate influence.

  28. David Marjanović says:

    A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,

    Huh, I didn’t know things other than mudstone could be buff-colored, let alone just buff.

    What other color terms does English have that have escaped the Great European Color Conspiracy?

    DER KILIKISCH-ARMENISCHEN

    Either des Kilikisch-Armenischen (neuter, like the French masculine), or, less likely, der kilikisch-armenischen Sprache (feminine).

  29. J.W. Brewer says:

    I have a sense that “buff” as a color word in AmEng is now sort of semi-obsolete in the sense of being used in a bunch of conventional/fixed contexts but not being used very often to describe what’s pretty much the same color outside of the existing list of conventional/fixed contexts. Plenty of examples here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buff_(colour)

  30. David Marjanović says:
  31. David Marjanović says:

    Like… there’s a color concept as exotic as Latin cānus* right under my nose, and I had no idea, and it’s everywhere.

    * Gray, but including yellowish tones. Like the soil and the straw on a field in Italy after harvest.

  32. DM,
    What’s so striking to you about buff in particular?

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    Here’s an empirical experiment you could run. Ask a bunch of Anglophones to look at the flag of my home state (excluding anyone who grew up there) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c6/Flag_of_Delaware.svg and ask them what color the diamond-shaped bit is. I expect you’re mostly going to get some mix of “tan,” “yellow,” “yellowish tan,” and “tannish yellow.” I doubt “buff” is going to be volunteered by anyone who didn’t get told by some elementary school teacher that the colors of that particular flag were officially blue and buff. But I could be wrong, so write your grant proposals and let me know how it turns out.

  34. As per Randall Munroe, American men call any unknown color “beige” (or resort to swearing). And they don’t know all that much.

  35. I think I would only productively call a material “buff”, not an abstract color or RGB value. It’s a tannish color that comes from something being unbleached and undyed — I guess you could dye something buff but it would be ironic. Buff sand, buff paper, buff leather obviously are usual, and I’d apply it to a dried beech leaf or a moth cocoon.

    Interestingly, I don’t think I’d call any wood “buff”, even where the color matches.

  36. No one would ever call a bird or any animal “beige”. Light brown, maybe, if “buff” is too fancy.

  37. January First-of-May says:

    As per Randall Munroe, American men call any unknown color “beige” (or resort to swearing).

    It’s baige, actually (though probably a misspelling).

    I’m not sure what the RGB of the respective Delaware flag section is; the prototypical beige (32nd most common on Randall Munroe’s chart) is E6DAA6, while the prototypical buff (much rarer) is apparently FEF69E (much lighter than the yellowish color of the flag).
    I don’t think the prototypical “baige” is listed anywhere, sadly.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    What’s so striking to you about buff in particular?

    It’s a completely different division of the color spectrum than what I’m used to. I’d describe the examples in the Wikipedia article in terms of “yellow” (that buff sand for example is plainly dark yellow, just a bit brownish), “beige”, “brown”, “gray”, various composites (gelbbraun is a Google suggestion and has 326,000 ghits, the first of them a Duden entry) and plenty of “-ish”. I can see the similarity between them now that I see them all side by side, but it had never occurred to me before.

    The other differences between Average European color systems (Standard or not) are all much simpler: an extra distinction here, a missing distinction there, a somewhat shifted distinction in another place, and that’s pretty much it.

    I think I would only productively call a material “buff”, not an abstract color or RGB value. It’s a tannish color that comes from something being unbleached and undyed — I guess you could dye something buff but it would be ironic.

    This fits the idea that it escaped the European Color Conspiracy and didn’t quite use to be a color term.

    Brown and its cognates only became color terms surprisingly recently. Earlier, they meant “dark and shiny” regardless of color, a concept more like the Chinese 青 qīng “saturated green ~ blue ~ black” (existing alongside three words that translate straightforwardly as “green”, “blue” and “black”) or indeed Homer’s wine-dark sea.

  39. I guess you could dye something buff but it would be ironic.

    Though the regiment nicknamed the Buffs for the colour of their uniform facings – the Royal East Kent Regiment – has long since been amalgamated away, the army still uses “buff” in “buff belt” – the leather belt with an ornate brass buckle worn with dress uniform. The army being the army, of course, buff belts aren’t actually buff-coloured, because you have to whiten them before you go on parade or you get shouted at.

  40. And, of course, back in the day, buff coats, which actually were buff-coloured – heavy leather coats worn as body armour in the 17th century.

  41. J.W. Brewer says:

    A more obsessive/precise vexillological site gives this further clarification re the blue-and-buff colors of the Delaware flag (way back before the color options on Randall Munroe’s computer monitor were an obvious default way to distinguish between closely-related shades):

    “The official state colors, colonial blue and buff, are designated by the Textile Color Card Association of the United States, Inc., New York, as “arno blue” Cable No. 10663, and “golden beige” Cable No. 10781 respectively; the color shades having been determined by Colorimetric Specifications of the National Bureau of Standards, United States Department of Commerce, in Test No. 2, 1/140565, dated November 18, 1954, which is on file with the Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.”

    The U of D Fightin’ Blue Hens replace the flag’s buff with “yellow-gold,” which may contrast better with blue on football uniforms. http://sites.udel.edu/ocm/brand-identity/graphic-standards/

  42. Etienne: re “pre-nominal “bir”, which is a numeral “one”, and post-nominal “bir”…”

    You may be mixing up “pre-nominal” with “pre-adjectival”: bir is always prenominal, but can optionally come after adjectives when it’s an indefinite article (and not when it’s a number). See Göksel and Kerslake, p. 209: https://books.google.fr/books?id=7fXCKZmee8QC&lpg=PA209&dq=turkish%20grammar%20bir%20indefinite%20adjective&pg=PA209#v=onepage&q=turkish%20grammar%20bir%20indefinite%20adjective&f=false.

  43. Buff belongs to a set of English color names which are “less than basic”. One characteristic of them which strikes me is that they need to be compounded with colored in some circumstances, such as when used as predicates, unlike basic color terms:

    That wall is buff-colored. / *That wall is buff.
    *That wall is white-colored. / That wall is white.

  44. Y: isn’t that just a set of colour names that also have other meanings?

  45. Rodger C says:

    At a regional spelling bee in my youth, one county contestant misspelled “beige.” when the correct spelling was read, she said in consternation, “I know that word! But my mom always pronounces it [bi:dʒ]!”

  46. Ajay: Me, I would prefer “That house is taupe-colored” to “That house is taupe”.

    (I did once live next to a taupe-colored house.)

  47. ktschwarz says:

    No one would ever call a bird or any animal “beige”.

    Search on “beige site:www.whatbird.com” finds ID requests such as “Small beige sparrow like bird” and “beige circles under wings”, and database entries such as “Anianiau: This is a very small songbird with yellow or green-yellow plumage and yellow edging on the feathers, wings and tail. They have beige legs and feet and a beige, slightly decurved bill.”

    Wikipedia doesn’t know of any birds named “tan” or “beige” something, but it knows 27 birds named “buff” something (buff-banded, buff-bellied, buff-breasted, …), and, of course, much larger numbers for “brown”.

  48. …”beige circles under wings”…”They have beige legs and feet and a beige, slightly decurved bill”

    Wow. I’m surprised. I thought it would be very substandard, especially for birders.

  49. Sounds OK to me (I am not a birder).

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