Armenian language Corner

RESURRECTION AND THE ORIENT

Did you know that “resurrection” (յարութիւն/harootyoon) in Armenian, “Orient” (oriens) in Latin, and “origin” in English come from the same source? Over five thousand years, it is common to find that descendants of a certain word have become hard to recognize.

You have perhaps guessed it: that common source is the Indo-European mother language (Proto-Indo-European, PIE). The PIE root *[h]er meant “to move, to stir, to rise” and one of its derivations was *r-n, which sometimes acquired a vowel at its beginning. The Armenian root արն (ar) became առն (arrn), because words before n take the strong rr as a rule, and then the emphasizing prefix յ, which sounded y in Classical Armenian and now sounds h. Therefore, the root յառն (yarn) yielded the verb յառնեմ (yarnem) “to resurrect, to be reborn” (in Modern Armenian it is յառնել/harnel), from which we have the word հarootyoon (“resurrection”) and, equally important, the salutation to be used for the English “Happy Easter,” where hareav is the past tense of the verb harnel:

Քրիստոս յարեաւ ի մեռելոց

Kristos hareav i merelots

“Christ is risen from the dead”

(Warning: Despite widely colloquial use, the Armenian for “Happy Easter” is NOT Շնորհաւոր Սուրբ Զատիկ / Shunorhavor Soorp Zadeeg.)

The same PIE root *[h]er yielded the Latin word oriri “to arise” and from here we have the noun originem (“beginning, source; lineage, birth”) and the present participle orientem (“the rising sun, the east”). Via French, both words entered English as “origin” and “orient.”

Interestingly, unlike Latin, other Romance languages or English, the Armenian word for “east” or “orient” is not a root word, but a compound word, արեւելք (arevelk), literally meaning “sunrise.” However, although the sun rises from the east, the concept that the sun “dies” and “rises” every day is unrelated to the etymology of հarootyoon.

But this is a story for another day.