Armenian Language Corner

Men Did Not Come from the Cave

In the dawn of human existence, early humans found caves as one of their first refuges. This was the Paleolithic era, from the beginning of man until roughly 10000 B.C.

Some readers might tell us that the Armenian language reflects the time of the cavemen. In the end, the Armenian word for “man” is այր (ayr) and one of the words for “cave” is այր (ayr) too. So, since caves existed in nature before human beings appeared on the Earth, then it would be possible to assume that the Armenian word for “man” derived from the Armenian word for cave.

That would be a clever idea, if you could prove that the Armenian language was spoken in the Paleolithic. Unfortunately, you have not a single shred of evidence.

The Armenian language, as we all know, belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, which extended originally from the Iberian Peninsula to the borders of China. Going backwards, linguists have reconstructed, as we have written many times in this column, an Indo-European mother language, also called “Proto-Indo-European” (P.I.E.), which may have existed until sometime between 4000 and 3000 B.C. At that point, it started dividing and it gave origin to the ancient Indo-European languages, like Indo-Iranian (then divided into Indian and Iranian languages), Greek, Armenian, etcetera.

Therefore, Armenian did not exist before the fourth millennium B.C., when the time of the cavemen was long in the past and cities had existed in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere for quite some time.

You must look for the relation of the two homophone words elsewhere. In fact, the only relation that exists between ayr (“man; male; brave; valiant man; husband) and ayr (“cave”) is that both words came from the P.I.E. language into Armenian, so they are as old as the Armenian language is.

But they are not related at all, in the same way that English “bad” and Armenian վատ (vad) sound similar and mean the same, but come from different sources.

You can definitely believe that chance plays a role in language.