Armenian Language Corner

You Do Not Own Time

We have insisted many times in this column on the importance of thinking in Armenian when speaking Armenian. For that matter, whatever language you speak other than English, you have to think in that particular language. Why? First of all, because you may want to show that you are the owner of that language, instead of the language owning you! Second, because if you start copying English structures when talking in, say, Spanish, you can just become the butt of all jokes by speakers of that language. (If you text message “Mi casa es no su casa,” mirroring “My house is not your house,” rest assured that you may get as many “rolling on the floor laughing” emojis as your interlocutor(s) can type.)

A few examples may be helpful not only to American-born speakers of Armenian or learners of Armenian as a second language, but also to native speakers of Armenian who have lived in an English-speaking milieu for a long time. Phrases calqued from English may come naturally to the former, while the same calques enter the oral language of the latter with the same speed.

We have chosen three most common phrases:

1) Take your time

You take your time to have breakfast, to do your homework, to write a letter, or to mow the lawn. So, you’re doing things at your own pace, right? Right.

Of course, you understood that when someone—born in Boston, in Istanbul, in Paris, or in Beirut—politely suggested to “take your time” and said «Ժամանակդ առ» (Jamanagut arr). You understood correctly, but someone said it wrong. If s/he were really talking in Armenian, the recommendation would have been:

Մի՛ աճապարեր (Mi ajabarer), that is, “Don’t rush!”

While sometimes two unrelated languages may use the same structure to express the same idea, many other times they are both very different one from the other. The Armenian language is not poorer because it uses “Don’t rush” instead of “Take your time.” It simply did not create a second expression to say the same thing. Why? Because you do not own time to take it…

2) I had a good time

In a previous column we have discussed how the verb “to have” has many meanings in English, while its Armenian counterpart ունենալ has exactly one meaning: “to own, to become owner, to receive.” Again, it is hard to believe that you think that you own time. However, this is exactly the impression that you leave when you walk to your car after a party while saying: «Ես լաւ ժամանակ ունեցայ» (Yes lav jamanag oonetsa “I had a good time”). If your interlocutor knows proper Armenian, he might snipe: «Չէ, չունեցար» (Che, choonetsar “No, you didn’t”). The reason is that you do not “have” a good time when going to a party or doing anything else you can imagine related to this sentence. You actually spend a good time. This is how the Armenian speaker thinks: «Ես լաւ ժամանակ անցուցի» (Yes lav jamanag antsootsi). This literally means “I spent a good time.” If it does not sound right, it is only because you are under the charm of the English when trying to speak Armenian.

3) Have a nice day

How many times a day do you say this? Again, the problem that we have is that, since you do not own time in Armenian, you cannot own a day. Therefore, to say «Լաւ օր ունեցէք» (Lav or oonetsek) is pointless, because the concept does not exist in Armenian thinking. You simply wish a good day, and then you say «Լաւ օր ձեզի»  (Lav or tsezi), which literally means “Good day to you” (of course, if it is good, it is nice too). Of course, if you are talking to a friend or family member, it goes without saying that you will say «Լաւ օր քեզի» (Lav or kezi), now using second person in the singular.