Armenian Stuff in Buenos Aires

Georgia and Armenia have a lot in common: they both have weird alphabets; they were both early adopters of Christianity and remained Christian after the spread of Islam; they’ve both been batted around by much larger nations around them; and they’re both kinda Middle Eastern and kinda not.

A striking difference between the two nations, however, is that Armenia has an enormous diaspora and Georgia doesn’t. Due to the Armenian Genocide, large communities of Armenians can be found throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. In contrast, most Georgians living outside of Georgia are in Russia, and there aren’t even all that many there. Consequently, it’s not easy to find Georgian stuff to see when traveling. Remember that Georgian church in Istanbul? That was pretty much the only Georgian thing to see in the whole city, and Turkey is right next to Georgia.

Can you see where this is going? I’d like to see Georgian stuff everywhere I go, but there aren’t any Georgians in most of the world. But Armenians are somewhat similar to Georgians, and they’re very easy to find. This suggests a coping mechanism: I want to see Georgian stuff, but I’ll settle for Armenian stuff.

For the past few months I’ve been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and just as you would expect, there was no Georgian stuff and a good amount of Armenian stuff. So, I settled for the latter. Here are some pictures. They are: 1) a sign for the Armenian archdiocese (arzobispado) of Argentina; 2) an Armenian Genocide memorial; 3) a memorial for the Nagorno-Karabakh war; 4) a Spanish plaque from that memorial (note the name Artsaj); 5) a sign for some kind of church group; 6) a Spanish / Armenian plaque from a tomb in the beautiful Recoleta Cemetery; 7) me at the front door of the church of Gregory the Illuminator (San Gregorio Iluminador); and 8) the front door of the Tadron cafe (notice the Western Armenian transliteration — Tadron rather than Tatron for ԹԱՏՐՈՆ).

Teaching English the NWA Way

I want to take a moment to talk about a pedagogical experiment I’m trying. And no, it doesn’t involve Northwest Airlines.

nwa worlds most dangerous group

That’s right, when I teach English, my co-teachers are five stupid dope brothas from Compton. Before anyone involved in my job at the school gets concerned, I am not running this experiment there. I’m doing it with a private student of mine in Tbilisi, a fourth grade boy. His English is better than that of any student at my school, so I figured we could try something more interesting than what is usually done in English lessons..

What we’re doing, for two one-hour lessons a week, is listening to NWA songs and going through every line, slowly and painstakingly, until he understands all of it. Occasionally we work on him repeating the lines back along with the recordings, and we will probably do more of this as he gets better at listening.

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Georgian Consonants

Some readers will know that I am a linguistics enthusiast. So I am writing about Georgian linguistics. Since I know nearly nothing about its grammar, I will write about its phonology. Phonologically, Georgian is distinguished by its consonants, both by its range of them and its clusters of them. I’ll focus on the former, and in particular on a class of consonants that linguists call ejectives.

First, let’s look at some English consonants. Consider the sound t. When you make the t sound, you release some air while making a certain motion with your mouth and tongue. Now consider d. When you make this sound, you make about the same motion, but in addition, you use your voice. Try feeling your throat while saying the words dote and toad to see the difference. We say that d is voiced while t is unvoiced. Similarly, b is the voiced counterpart of p, and g is the voiced counterpart of k. For another illustration, imagine Apu saying the phrase “big dog”: it would come out as “pik tok.”

apu wedding

Indian people sometimes have trouble with the English voicing distinctions.

Georgian these three consonant pairs, and another, kh gh. For kh, think of that throaty sound stereotypical of Hebrew and Arabic. gh is the voiced version of that; it comes out sounding like the throaty French r. So Georgian has these four consonant pairs.

Georgian differs from English, however, in adding a third version of these sounds: ejectives. It is difficult to describe these sounds, and I’m still not very good at making them. They’re basically the unvoiced sounds, but popped. They’re the sorts of sounds someone might make if they were doing a vocal imitation of a funky drumbeat. Ejectivity is denoted by an apostrophe. So there are the triads t-t’-d, p-p’-b, k-k’-g, and kh-kh’-gh. The closest English approximation I can think of is the t combo in “bit torrent.” We could also try “bip porrent” and “bik korrent.” There is no way to get the kh’. I can’t say it right. I can barely even hear other people say it. You have to make the sound deep in your throat, but also hold the air there before releasing it. If I try to do it, I usually choke.

choking sign

This is what will happen if you attempt the uvular ejective.

Further, Georgian has several of what I call “mixed” consonants. We have at least two in English. One is tsh. You might know it better ch. The ch sound is a really a t followed by sh. We might say that it is a hard-start sh. Another is dzh, better known as jj is really a d followed by zh (i.e. the “s” in “measure”). dzh is the voiced counterpart of tsh. In Georgian, there is, besides these, an ejective version, tsh’. They also have a distinct consonant ts, as well its voiced and ejective versions, dz and ts’.

Here is what Wikipedia says about the occurrence of ejectives: “Ejectives occur in about 20% of the world’s languages…They are extremely common in northwest North America, and frequently occur throughout the western parts of both North and South America. They are also common in eastern and southern Africa. In Eurasia, the Caucasus forms an island of ejective languages. Elsewhere they are rare.”

So Georgian consonants are difficult for us Anglophones. But we get our revenge with vowels: Georgian has five vowels (the same ones as Spanish and Japanese), each of which is included in English, while English has 10-15 extra ones. Georgians can’t say most of these.

Update: Georgian Consonants Again