Armenian Language Corner

Don’t Sit on a File!

You may have a long sofa without a back, probably with various cushions against the wall. The English language calls that a divan (the same as French and Spanish), and the word comes from Turkish divan. But, indeed, the nomadic Turks had come into the Near East and did not bring the sofa with them: they simply adopted it, as they did with many other things, from the Arabs (diwan), who, in their turn, had borrowed it from the Persians. The Armenian dialects also have the word տիւան (divan), borrowed from Turkish, which is used in colloquial language.

Strangely enough, the two ultimate source words for these words, and for many others spread from the Middle East to the Atlantic Ocean, are dēvān (“archive,” in Middle Persian) and divan (“tribunal, hall, court, council chamber, collection of poems,” in Persian). How did an archive or a tribunal become a cushioned seat? The explanation is quite simple: those seats are found along the wall in Middle Eastern council chambers.

The word divan “Oriental council of state” also entered the English language in the 1580s, but it is not the kind of word that you use on a daily basis. Instead, its counterpart դիւան (tivan, in Western Armenian pronunciation) is of quite common use, although not with that same meaning.

The word entered Classical Armenian from Persian already in the fifth century. Historians Koriun and Movses Khorenatsi used դիւան with the meaning of “school” or “library.” Today, in Modern Armenian, the word is used with the meanings of “archive” and “office.”

In its first meaning, it’s synonymous with արխիւ/arkhiv, a borrowing from German via Russian.

In the second, you may hear it used when you talk about the tivan of an organization, meaning the distribution of the offices in its executive board. It also designates the office of president and secretary of an assembly.

The word is particularly used in compound terms, such as:

  • Դիւանագէտ (tivanaked) “diplomat,” hence դիւանագիտութիւն (tivanakidootyoon) “diplomacy”
  • Դիւանապետ (tivanabed) “head of office / head of archive”
  • Դիւանակալ (tivanagal) “bureaucrat”

As you see, seats and archives are related in Armenian. It is only a matter of being careful and avoid sitting. . . on a file.