Armenian Language Corner


The sound of words always has a deceptive quality. Words with various meanings or with sounds that are quite close to each other may mislead the reader or the listener about their relationship. Sometimes there may be a relation, but sometimes not. 

Two Armenian words provide a nice example: աւազ (avaz “sand”) and աւազան (avazan “pool, pond”). Avazan is the place where water may be accumulated, and that’s why we have a baptismal pile called avazan, while a swimming pool is literally a լողաւազան (loghavazan). The area that includes a river and its tributaries or a lake and the rivers that flow into it is what we call “basin” in English and avazan in Armenian. 

Is it possible that the word avaz, which sometimes may be found near a pond, has any relationship with avazan? Maybe yes, maybe not. 

In fact, the origin of avazan is Iranian, and it is assumed that the primitive form of the word was *avazana. (We use the asterisk because it is a reconstructed word, of which no written attestation has been found so far.) However, linguists have reconstructed the word according to language rules. They have used an ancient, now disappeared Iranian language, called Sogdian, which had preserved the word awaza (“lake”), from which Persian awaze appears to have derived.  

What about avaz? Usually, this word is compared to the Proto-Germanic word *samdaz (“sand”), which gave birth to the English word “sand” and came from the Proto-Indo-European root *sabʰ (“to step on, to pulverize”). However, linguist Hrach Martirosyan has suggested in his newest etymological dictionary to link Armenian avaz to the same Sogdian word *awaza, explaining that the meaning of the word could have changed over time or through the borrowing of one language from the other. Therefore, it would have gone from “lake” to “slith” to “sand.” 

Linguistics, like any science, is based on progress, and the origin and meanings of words may have different explanations over time. That’s why we still have to wait to confirm (or not) that avaz and avazan, besides having a phonetic resemblance, also come from the same source.