Armenian Language Corner

You Drink the Same Wine in English and in Armenian

After Noah’s Ark rested “upon the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4) and the covenant was established between God and Noah, we are told, “Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent” (Genesis 9:20-21). Since the Bible says nothing about Noah moving out of the territory around the mountains of Ararat, we may assume that he planted the vineyard and produced the first Armenian wine there.

Thus, wine is at least as old as Noah. If such is the case, then the Armenian word for wine, kini (գինի) is equally old. Moreover, we have to add that Armenian kini and Englishwine are cousins.

The word wine has comparable words in many Germanic languages. Thus, its origin has been traced back to a common Proto-Germanic root, which at its turn acquired it from Latin vinum (“wine”). The latter, the same as Greek oinos, was derived from a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word, *woin-o. Now, it is a matter of debate whether this root comes from another PIE root, *wei (“rotate, twirl”), or was derived from a Mediterranean unknown language. Semitic languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, and Ethiopic also have words very similar to PIE *woin-o, which perhaps was also their ultimate source.

What about the Armenian word? Let’s start with the following tweak: kini is, of course, the Western Armenian pronunciation of գինի, while the actual pronunciation in the fifth century A.D. and before was gini.

Linguists have found out that the PIE sound ¬*w  yielded g (գ) in Armenian. For instance, PIE *wel (“to see”) gave the Armenian word geł / Western Armenian kegh (գեղ “beauty”), which is no longer used alone in Modern Armenian. Instead, we have keghetsgootioon(գեղեցկութիւն “beauty”) and keghetseeg (գեղեցիկ “beautiful”), among many other words with kegh.

In the same way, PIE *woin-o became Armenian gini. You should not be surprised: the Latin word vinum entered the Welsh language and became… gwin.

Remember: when it comes to languages and their relationship, 2 + 2 is not always 4.