Afanasy Nikitin’s Languages.

Intrigued by a mention in The Cambridge History of Russian Literature (see this post), I turned to the long extract from “Afanasy Nikitin’s Journey Across Three Seas” in Medieval Russia’s Epics, Chronicles, and Tales, by Serge A. Zenkovsky, and was struck not only by Nikitin’s audacious and open-minded journey to Persia and India (and return by way of Ethiopia, Arabia, and Armenia — alas, he died in Smolensk in 1472 before he could reach his native Tver) but by his linguistic accomplishments. In his introduction, Zenkovsky discusses the “pious and lyric digressions that sometimes take the form of a prayer or appeal to the Creator, or an evocation to his beloved Russian land”:

Curiously, part of these digressions were written by Nikitin in the language of the Koran, or in the “basic Islamic” business dialect of the Near East in which Arabic, Turkic, and Persian words are interwoven. One may presume that he did this to protect his notes from unwanted readers. It may be added that some intimate and practical observations of Indian women are given in the same dialect.

The presence of Near Eastern linguistic and stylistic elements, together with descriptions of unknown, fairy-tale-like lands, lends Nikitin’s story a particularly exotic touch. The writer obviously enjoyed the profuse use of foreign words and sonorous Oriental names of cities and lands, and played unremittingly with them. […]

The statement that there is just one and the same God in Islam and Christianity, as well as the use in Christian prayer of the word, “Allah,” […] are a most unusual and unexpected demonstration of religious tolerance in both medieval Russian and Western writing. […]

(Nikitin ended his report with a long Christian prayer in Arabic.)

A very interesting-sounding fellow; I’d like to have had a chance to talk with him.

Comments

  1. Steven Lubman says

    There’s a great site with many Old Russian texts in the original and translations, including Afanasiy’s Travels http://lib.pushkinskijdom.ru/Default.aspx?tabid=5068

  2. “And everyone here is black and they are all bad people and their women are all whores and witches and liars and they poison their guests” (c) Nikitin’s account of southern Indian city of Bidar.

    I gather his relationship with Indian women was not always successful…

  3. There’s a great site with many Old Russian texts in the original and translations, including Afanasiy’s Travels

    Thanks, I bookmarked it!

    I gather his relationship with Indian women was not always successful…

    Heh. Poor Afanasy!

  4. tetri_tolia says

    The Antiochian Orthodox, who would likely not have been unknown to a Russian even of the Middle Ages, usually use primarily Arabic in their liturgies. I am not entirely positive but I think they must use the name Allah. Can anyone help confirm this?

  5. I think they must use the name Allah

    All arabophones use the same word for God, whatever their religion, and all except the most fringe factions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam agree that they all worship the same entity (though they disagree about his nature, of course). In addition, it was used for the supreme deity among the pre-Islamic Arabs, and is even used by Sikhism, which is monotheistic but non-Abrahamic. Note that Elohim, one of the words for ‘God’ in Hebrew, is a morphological plural but functional singular; the rarely-used morphological singular is Eloah, cognate with Allah, which has no morphological plural.

  6. J. W. Brewer says

    Most Arabic-speaking Christians in the Middle East (and some of their diaspora descendants in the U.S. etc) now use Arabic as their liturgical language, but in many cases (different communities have different timelines, of course) have changed over to it from something older (Coptic, various sorts of Aramaic, Greek, and/or maybe something else I’m not immediately thinking of) in the “recent”-ish past, by which I mean not since 1950, but perhaps more recently than the 15th century. (I don’t know the specific history of the Antiochians on this issue, but they still had a hierarchy dominated by ethnic Greeks at the top until the early 18th century.) Of course, all of these people must have had ways of talking about religious stuff in their everyday vernacular earlier on, and might have done some of their private prayers in the vernacular just as pre-Vatican-II Roman Catholics did.

    I remember going to Matins at an Antiochian parish in California some years ago where first a youngish and very “California” -looking member of the choir (as in, evoked the Malibu Ken and Barbie dolls of my youth) would chant a psalm in English and then an elderly fellow who looked (by the same criteria) very un-Californian would chant the next psalm in Arabic.

  7. David Marjanović says

    Eloah, cognate with Allah

    More precisely, /ʔeloː(a)h(a)/ is cognate with Aramaic and Arabic /ʔilaːh(u)/, and Allāh is */alʔilaːh(u)/, “the God” (much like in Greek), first contracted to */alʔlaːh(u)/ and then to /alˁːaːh(u)/ with the one-word phoneme /lˁː/.

  8. I’m curious about the name of the legendary tabla player, Alla Rakha. Was his given name really the Muslim Allah?

  9. Allah [participle] is a subcontinental rather than an Arabic naming pattern; Allah Rakha means ‘saved by God’. Normally both words are used together as a name. When a person with this name becomes westernized, they often either merge their names into Allarakha or adopt a different name altogether in order to avoid being called Allah. An similar name is Allah Ditta ‘given by God’, analogous to the Greek name Theodotos, used by both pagans and Christians, and the rare Latin Christian name (A)Deodatus > French Dieudonné. The participles are transparently Indic rather than Arabic.

  10. Crystal clear now. Thanks!

  11. A comparable situation is the many Arabic names beginning ʿAbd al- (عبد ال‎) ‘servant of,’ followed by one of the names of God (e.g., ʿAbd el-Ḥamīd ‘servant of the Praised One’). Westerners took this as a separate name “Abdul.”

  12. Indeed, which is why the name of Abdul al-Hazred, the putative author of the Necronomicon, is not well-formed: it has two articles in a row. Scholars at Miskatonic generally assume that his Arabic name (or alias, more likely) was عبدالله الحظرد ‘Abd Allah al-Ḥaẓred ‘servant of God the Prohibited’, which would anglicize as Abdullah al-Hazred. (In real life, al-Hazred is an exoticized version of the surname of some of Lovecraft’s ancestors, Hazard).

  13. David Marjanović says

    See also: Theodoulos, Christodoulos.

  14. A comparable situation is the many Arabic names beginning ʿAbd al- (عبد ال‎) ‘servant of,’ followed by one of the names of God (e.g., ʿAbd el-Ḥamīd ‘servant of the Praised One’). Westerners took this as a separate name “Abdul.”

    The initial component in the corresponding Hebrew name עובדיה Ovadya or Ovadia, rendered Obadiah in English biblical texts, could be translated as either ‘servant of’ or ‘worshiper of.’ The ya or ia suffix, one of several names of God, is seen in many Biblical/Hebrew names.

  15. So Ovadia/Obadiah is exactly parallel to Abdallah. Interesting.

  16. The Antiochian Orthodox, who would likely not have been unknown to a Russian even of the Middle Ages, usually use primarily Arabic in their liturgies.

    …Что касается шуток и смеха, то мы стали им совершенно чужды, ибо коварные московиты подсматривали и наблюдали за нами и обо всем, что замечали у нас хорошего или дурного, доносили царю и патриарху. Поэтому мы строго следили за собой, не по доброй воле, а по нужде, и против желания вели себя по образу жизни святых. Бог да избавит и освободит нас от них!

    En, Ru, Paul of Aleppo, the author

    P.S. in English:

    The interpreters were employed in instructing us in the whole of the ceremonies to be observed; and besides them, not a single person came near us : for it is the custom with the Muscovites, that if a Head of the Clergy or an Archimandrite shall not first have had an interview with the Emperor, and kissed his hand, he shall not go out at all, nor shall any person visit him ; and, accordingly, we were unable to leave our apartments against this established rule. Our Lord the Patriarch was in the habit of constantly laying aside his mandya ; and, consequently, no Priest or Deacon, not even any of the interpreters, was permitted to visit him until he had been announced by the porter, and the Patriarch had put on his mandya, and had his crosier supported by his side, to receive the visit. This ceremony is observed, not only by the Heads of the Clergy, but also by the Heads of Convents here, with whom it is a rule never to be seen without their mandyas and latias, even at table, nor even by their servants.
    We now entered upon the exertion of fatigue in standing up, marshalling our retinue, studying precision in our manners and address, and affecting the utmost sedateness and most awful reverence. As for jesting and laughter, we became entirely estranged to every thing of the kind, for we were strictly guarded and observed ; and whatever they remarked in us, whether of good or evil, they immediately reported to the Emperor and the Patriarch. For this reason we maintained great caution over ourselves ; not by choice, but of necessity ; and endeavoured to walk after the manner of the Saints, in spite of all our rebellious inclinations. God deliver us from this constraint in which they hold us, and restore us to our beloved freedom !

  17. From the Preface to that translation:

    I have had to contend with great difficulties, amidst the erroneous and diversified readings continually presenting themselves, both in the narrative and in the names of places; but most of all in the Greek words, so defectively written in the Arabic Character, that some of them it has been impossible satisfactorily to decipher. With the obliging help of the Rev. H. D. LEEVES, late of Constantinople, whose excellent knowledge of the Greek Language, and extensive acquaintance with the Uses and Ceremonies of the Greek Church, have enabled him to be of great assistance to me, I have, notwithstanding these difficulties, been able to render most of them, I believe correctly, in their proper form; and should have been glad to have had leisure fully to explain them. I have been surprised at the hallucination which their Arabic appearance has sometimes occasioned me, even where the reading might, upon a more leisurely view, seem perfectly easy: as in one instance, where Ancient Greek is mentioned, and Ἑλληνικὰ might naturally occur, I have been led to take the first syllable of for the Arabic article, and rendered the word اﻠﻴﻨﻜﺎ “of Yenika.”

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    A connection to the other thread re printing under Ottoman rule: one of the earliest printed editions of the Divine Liturgy in Arabic was produced by the then-Patriarch of Antioch in the 1740’s, but, perhaps significantly, not on his home turf in the Levant but instead at a press in Jassy, Moldavia. Moldavia was an Ottoman client/vassal state in those days but perhaps with more practical autonomy on certain matters.

  19. (Nikitin ended his report with a long Christian prayer in Arabic.)

    Including a quotation from Quran.

  20. So Ovadia/Obadiah is exactly parallel to Abdallah.

    Probably not. Allah = Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) or whatever singular form it might have had. But -ya = יה is a part of the unpronounceable personal name of the Elohim. The parallel name would be something like Ovdel.

  21. intimate and practical observations of Indian women – this langauge mixture’s capacity to conceal what is not to be revealed was useful to its first English translator:

    This, like the other untranslated passages in this narrative, are in Turkish, as they stand in the original, but are so corrupt as to bo scarcely intelligible. Even when the meaning can be guessed at, it has sometimes, as in the present instance, been thought undesirable to supply it in English.

  22. PlasticPaddy says
  23. David Eddyshaw says

    Even when the meaning can be guessed at, it has sometimes, as in the present instance, been thought undesirable to supply it in English.

    “My English text is chaste, and all licentious passages are left in the decent obscurity of a learned language.”

    My Greek came in handy for Gibbon’s footnotes (I have particularly fond memories of the future empress Theodora’s* signature stage act as Leda.)

    * The Nancy Reagan of her day …

  24. More about translations.
    As for jesting and laughter, we became entirely estranged to every thing of the kind, for we were strictly guarded and observed ; and whatever they remarked in us, whether of good or evil, they immediately reported to the Emperor and the Patriarch. For this reason we maintained great caution over ourselves ; not by choice, but of necessity ; and endeavoured to walk after the manner of the Saints, in spite of all our rebellious inclinations. God deliver us from this constraint in which they hold us, and restore us to our beloved freedom !

    Russian:
    As for joking and laughter, we became entirely estranged to them, for guileful Muscovites were peeping and watching us, and whatever they noticed in us good or bad, they reported to the Tsar and the Patriarch. For this reason we watched ourselves strictly, not by choice, but out of necessity, and against our wishes we behaved after the way of life of [the] saints. May God deliver and free us from them.

    It is more or less casual (with some archaicizing elements like “for”). Obviously, I like how a Church delegation is asking God to deliver them from seriousness and solemnity of saints. I am not sure if I would have remembered the passage if I was reading it in English*. I don’t remember if the Arabic text is online, but I wonder now what it looks like.

    Interestingly, the Russain translator is an Arabic speaker. His father is said to be from the circle of the Antioch Patriarch


    *maybe I would. But one has to adjust her optics slightly.

  25. Even when the meaning can be guessed at, it has sometimes, as in the present instance, been thought undesirable to supply it in English.

    Here is the passage that Nikitin’s translator Wielhorski speaks of:

    In India pachektur a uchu zeder sikish ilarsen ikishitel akechany ilia atyrsen a tle jetelber bularadastor akul kara-vash uchuz charfuna khubbem funa khubesia kap karaam chuk-kichi khosh.

    A meaning for this is supplied in David Scott (2001) “Nikitin’s Conversion in India to Islam: Wielhorski’s Translation Dilemma”, Entertext: Journal for Cultural & Historical Studies & Creative Work (Brunel University), vol 1, no. 3, on page 157, note 32, available at the link below:

    https://dscottcom.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/nikitin.pdf

    I’ll leave LH readers to consult it there. The word sikiş leapt out at me, and I am hesitating to interpret kap karaam… I have yet to parse the passage completely, and I hope someone else can beat me to it–I can’t type because of an injury.

    Maybe there is a good analysis in one of the Russian treatments of the text mentioned above?

  26. Here’s the original text… This parse looks much better than what Wielhorski provided:

    В Ындѣя же какъпа чектуръ а учюсьдерь: секишь илирсень ики жител, акичаны ила атарсын алты жетел берь; булара достуръ. А куль коравашь учюзь чяр фуна хубъ, бем фуна хубѣсиа; капъкара амьчюкь кичи хошь.

    From this site:

    http://lib.pushkinskijdom.ru/Default.aspx?tabid=5068

  27. The Russian edition from 1958 has two versions (the difference in bold, without system):

    В Ындѣе же какъ пачекътуръ, а учюзе-дерь: сикишь иларсень ики шитель; акечаны иля атырьсеньатле жетель берь; булара досторъ: а кулъ каравашь учюзъ чар фуна хубъ бемъ фуна хубесия; капкара амь чюкъ кичи хошь.

    В Ындѣя же какъ пачектуръ, а учюсь дерь: секишь илерсень ики житель; акичаны ила атарсын алты жетел берь; булара достуръ: а куль коравашь учюзь чяр фуна хубъ бем фуна хубѣсіа; капъкара амь чюкь кичи хошь


    No signs of variation in (existing) copies of either of the two recensions in the uncritical apparatus.

  28. H. D. LEEVES
    Can the rest of us do small caps too?

  29. Sorry, that’s a privilege of the proprietor. But if you ask nicely, I can edit your comments to provide such services.

  30. I figured as much, but wanted to make sure.

  31. The Russian translation on http://lib.pushkinskijdom.ru/Default.aspx?tabid=5068 explains that 4 or 5 funa were the purchase prices for sex slaves, while the smaller prices were one-act fees. In a couple more places, Afanasy aka Hajji Yusuf Horasani switches to Turkic when detailing the costs of sex, and slave trade.

    As to Arabic and his musings about faith, Afanasy is unexpectedly detailed. He’s clearly defining himself as a Christian, and sometimes uses it to his advantage with the locals when they distrust Muslim traders. But Islam is a good enough approximation for him. He repeatedly fasts during Ramadan and explains that it was his way to mark Lent even though the dates didn’t overlap – but were “close enough”. His is clearly comforted by the belief that G-d is one, but repeatedly asks if he praises the Lord properly and laments that he can’t precisely follow the calendars of Christianity but hopes that he’s still OK. He explained that he prayed thrice a day, and facing East “like a Christian” – but his prayers were in Arabic and their words don’t appear to be Christian at all, it sounds all Muslim to me although I can’t be an expert.

    He even has a detailed story of his own conversion, for which he was promised a large sum of money. In his story, a strike of luck finally prevents him from formally converting, but I naturally suspect that this payment was what ultimately enabled him to travel around India without much business to profit from… He wraps up his non-quite-conversion story by explaining that no merchant could expect to go to India and not to become a Muslim.

  32. Wielhorski’s transliteration: karúkholloalik Solom
    їcарȣхол̾ло . а҆а҆лᴷ҇їсолоᴹ҇ . , isaruxollo aaliksolom

    The original MSS are funny too.
    хȣвомȣгѹлези – xuvomugulezi – xuvomuɦulezi – هُوَ اللَّهُ الَّذي

    At some stage someone read ʌʌ in “Allahu” as M. It is in both early (15-16c.) manuscripts.

  33. or else huw olloɦu lezi, which is as close to huwa allaahu alladhii (without elisions and phonetic values of vowels) as possible. He is not bad at phonetics, I’d love to look to his original (lost) manuscript. What if he marked unusual sounds?

    —-

    I have a question. My freind (without background in linguistics and with basic spoken English that only on girl could speak there) returned from Yunnan with local numerals and a plausible third tone. When sellers on the local market see that you do not know Chinese, they write down names and phrases on paper in hope that you can at least understand Chinese characters. I do not mean, that she learned to read it, I mean, people still do not know English. Happily. Is there a plausible way for panč / paṃc / panj / etc to be transcribed by a Russian merchant who says “five” as пять and has spent several years in India as “bem”?

    P.S. I mean, is there a langauge where Persian 5 could sound like this?

    P.P.S. чар is explained as č[ah]âr, and indeed a good half of Indo-Iranian speakers say it as čar, no need in čahâr and no problem here

  34. January First-of-May says

    P.S. I mean, is there a langauge where Persian 5 could sound like this?

    …well, the Numbers List (by Zompist) doesn’t mention anything similar to “bem” in any Indo-Iranian language. What are the other numbers like, if mentioned? That might narrow it down.

  35. And everyone here is black and they are all bad people and their women are all whores and witches and liars and they poison their guests

    Literally he said this:

    and all black and all evil-doers. and women all whores. &sorcery. &thievery. &lies. &[herbs/potions] [lord/host]ᴏʙᴊ they-kill.

    It is not about women, it is about Bidar’s population. (as for women, he is not in the position to complain, seriously)

  36. I mean, is there a langauge where Persian 5 could sound like this?

    I wonder if бем is a copying error for беш, i.e. Turkic beş “5”. That seems to be how various scholars have interpreted it, to judge from the translations that are out there.

  37. That makes sense.

  38. I see I perpetuated a simple typing error there in copying and pasting, and I didn’t even notice it when I did! (I mean, is there a langauge where Persian 5 could sound like this?) You can see how manuscript errors can take on a life of their own from this. I didn’t mean to throw any shade in copying it.

  39. Yes, I was reading Die Fremdwörter in Afanasij Nikitins: „Reise über drei Meere“ 1466—1472 (jstor), p. 99. It interprets it as panč.

    The problem is that sh and m look like ш and ʌʌ. E.g. here.
    -ll- in Allah is everywhere -л̾л- in the Troitsk MS (except the place where it was mistaken for м, Quran 59:22).

  40. What are the other numbers like, if mentioned? That might narrow it down.

    Yes. hotels:
    bed and breakfast. 1 jital
    bed and breakfast and love 2 jital

    jek and du. Both match modern Persian. Kinds of diamonds:
    pѣnečⁱčekeni — 5 [four?]pence
    čarašešekѣnⁱ / čarašešⁱkѣnⁱ / čaršeš ̾keni — 4 sixpence
    jekᵘten̾ka, jekⁱtenka, jekᵘtenka — 1 tanka

    “Butxana” (Hindu temple complex, “a half of Tver” large) fee: [dvѣ]šeškeni — two sixpence

    pilgrims: azarᵘlekᵘ, satazarelekᵘ — 1000 lek – 100 000 lek

    daily prayers performed by a Muslim: bešⁱ

    ⁱ, ᵘ for ь , ъ, ̾ is a payerok (used in place of an omitted in writing ь (jerⁱ) or ъ (jerᵘ)).

  41. Sebastian Kempgen’s project.

    It includes facsimile of MSS T, E and A.

  42. I like the Biersorte Afanasij Nikitin image.

  43. It has

    – A beautiful 600 MB pdf (50MB version is available too) with very good photographs of MS T, less good photographs of MS E, bibliography of maps and a small collection of labels of “Athanasy” beer.

    – An edition of MS A. It was scanned for him by Russian librarians 20 years ago, and the scans are rather poor quality. In 2003 Tver published a book with photographs. A scan of their book is online (libgen), but it is a scan of a book: it represents limitations of Tver oblast typography accurately and is full of jpeg artefacts.
    His pdf is more usable.

    A photograph of the original manuscript is always a good thing. In this case it has something like
    шеᴷ҇шени
    (K is atop of the word, nto between the letters), which I would read as sheshkeni. It is likely a name of a local coin known today as “shashgani”. When they write a letter above the word it is usually atop of the preceding letter or slightly to the left. But in the published version it is sheksheni.

  44. T: the Troitsk MS. Based on watermarks, the paper was made in 1480s and 1490s, so likely it was compiled aroudn 1500. It is an improved recension:

    “arse” (“all naked just with a cloth on arses”) is changed to “hips”, tits to breasts, Tver prince to Moscow prince. (I have not heard of anyone who thinks that the direction was the opposite: “hips>arse”, “Moscow>Tver”. If such an interpretation exists it must be a perfectr illustration for “out of the box thinking”)

    E[tter’s] and A[rchive] are from 1530s and 1550s and have a common protograph.

    Two recensions. Both have omissions. There are also old fragments of the story on other books – and there are also more modern manuscripts. It is unclear if those are independent from T, A, E., but they are still interesting (the text evolved).

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