Archive for the ‘Language contact’ Category

Old Georgian phrases and sentences 50 (Mart. ʿAbd al-Masīḥ 22.1-3)   Leave a comment

Not too long ago I pointed to a place in a Christian Palestinian Aramaic text translated from Greek where there was a conspicuous confluence of languages (see here). Here is a similar place in a Georgian hagiographic text translated from the Armenian version of a Syriac text, referring to a name in Arabic, that of the saint, ʿAbd al-Masīḥ.

Gérard Garitte published the Georgian text with a Latin translation in “La passion géorgienne de Saint ʿAbd al-Masīḥ,” Le Muséon 79 (1966): 187–237. If you wish to compare the Georgian with other versions of this text, here is the information: The Syriac was published by Corluy in AB 5 (1886): 5-52 (here, 43.11-44.5); the story is also in Bedjan’s AMS 1: 173-201. There are (at least) three recensions in Armenian, one of which is in Vark’ ew vkaybanut’iwnk’ srboc’ 1: 6-25 (here, 22.5-13). Finally, Peeters published the Arabic (tr. from Syr.) in AB 44 (1926): 270-341 (here, 332.4-9).

The Martyrdom of ʿAbd al-Masīḥ 22.1-3 (Garitte, p. 230)

22.1 ხოლო რაოდენისამე ჟამსა კუალად წარვიდეს ვაჭარნი იგი მასვე გზასა, და გულსმოდგინე იყვნეს ყოვლითა ღონისძიებითა რაჲთამცა ეუწყა სახელი წმიდისაჲ მის; და ვითარცა მიეახლნეს ადგილსა მას და იხილეს ეკლესიაჲ, განუკჳრდა და განიხარესცა;

  • რაოდენი-მე some
  • ჟამი time
  • კუალი trace, step, foot (here adv., again, back; cf. Garitte’s note)
  • წარ-ვიდ-ეს aor 3pl წარსლვა to leave, depart
  • ვაჭარი merchant (cf. վաճառ, etc., < Parth. wāžār, MP wāzār)
  • გზაჲ way, road
  • გულსმოდგინეჲ anxious, eager
  • ღონის-ძიებაჲ attempt, means
  • -მცა particle used with indicative verbs to express a wish
  • ე-უწყ-ა aor pass 3sg უწყება to tell, inform
  • სახელი name
  • მი-ე-ახლ-ნ-ეს aor N 3pl მიახლება to draw near
  • ადგილი place
  • ი-ხილ-ეს aor 3pl ხილვა to see
  • გან-უ-კჳრ-დ-ა aor 3sg (indir. vb, w/ the CV -უ- for 3rd person, here pl, object) განკჳრვება to be amazed (for იხილეს და განუკჳრდა, as here, cf. Lk 2:48 and Acts 12:16). On the apparent confusion of impf and aor with -დ- in verbs of this kind, see Deeters, § 374, with this root on p. 202.
  • გან-ი-ხარ-ეს aor 3pl განხარება to rejoice

22.2 და ვითარ შევიდეს ეკლესიასა მას, იხილეს ლოდი იგი საშუალ, და ზედა მისსა საუფლოჲ ჯუარი ბრწყინვიდა; ჰკითხეს მსახურთა ეკლესიისათა, ვითარმედ: «რაჲ სახელი ჰრქჳან წმიდასა ამას, ანუ ვითარ სახედ იყო წამებაჲ მისი?»

  • შე-ვიდ-ეს aor 3pl შესლვა to enter
  • ლოდი stone
  • საშუალ there in the middle
  • საუფლოჲ of the Lord, dominical (< უფალი)
  • ჯუარი cross
  • ბრწყინვ-ი-დ-ა impf 3sg ბრწყინვა to shine
  • ჰ-კითხ-ეს aor 3pl O3 კითხვა to ask
  • მსახური servant
  • ჰ-რქჳან aor iter 3pl O3 რქუმა to say, name
  • სახეჲ nature, thing

22.3 ხოლო მნეთა მათ ჰრქუეს: «სახელი მაგისი არს აბდალმესია, რომელი ითარგმანების ქრისტედოლე, ხოლო ქართულად მონაჲ ქრისტჱსი»; და აუწყეს ვითარ სახედ იწამა.

  • მნეჲ administrator, chief (NB not მონაჲ servant, slave; Garitte tr. “Ministri”)
  • ჰ-რქუ-ეს aor 3pl რქუმა to say
  • ი-თარგმან-ებ-ი-ს pres pass 3sg თარგმანება to translate
  • ქართულად in Georgian
  • მონაჲ servant, slave
  • ა-უწყ-ეს aor 3pl უწყება to tell, inform (contrast the CV of the form here with the form in 22.1 above)
  • ი-წამ-ა aor 3sg წამება to bear witness, be martyred

Some Judeo-Persian manuscripts at the BnF   1 comment

Previously I have highlighted some Georgian manuscripts that the Bibliothèque nationale de France has graciously made freely available online. Here is a list of Judeo-Persian manuscripts from the BnF that I have been able to find at Gallica. (If I happen to have missed one, please let me know.) They mostly come from the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries, some of them with colophons. While these manuscripts obviously fall outside of the delimiter “eastern Christian” that guides most of the posts appearing here, I know that at least some readers of the blog have, just as I do, broader interests than that delimiter allows. Most of the texts here are biblical; for details about published biblical texts in Persian (Judeo-Persian and otherwise), see my hitherto incomplete bibliography here.

These manuscripts often have a verse in Hebrew followed immediately by a Persian translation. For the Catalogues des manuscrits hébreux et samaritains de la Bibliothèque Impériale (Munk, Derenbourg, Franck, and Zotenberg) see at Gallica here and here. The few remarks I give below rely on this volume.

Un grand merci à la BnF de partager ces manuscrits!

70 Pentateuch (catalog)

BnF héb 70, f. 22v, end of Gen 14 in Heb and Judeo-Persian

BnF héb 70, f. 22v, end of Gen 14 in Heb and Judeo-Persian

71 Pentateuch (catalog)

  • The Persian text of №s 70-71 is said to follow Targum Onqelos closely.

90 Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah (catalog)

  • Probably the same scribe as №s 70-71.

97 Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (to 10:3), with David Kimḥi’s commentary (catalog)

100 Jeremiah (catalog)

  • Different from the version in № 97. Like some of the other JP translations, this one follows Onqelos more than the MT.

101 Minor Prophets, Lamentations (catalog)

  • The margins have some of the Persian in Perso-Arabic script.

116 Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther (catalog)

117 Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (catalog)

BnF héb 117, f. 1v, the beginning of Proverbs in Heb and Judeo-Persian

BnF héb 117, f. 1v, the beginning of Proverbs in Heb and Judeo-Persian

118 Job, Lamentations, Jeremiah (catalog)

120 Job (catalog)

121 Job (catalog)

127 Esther, benedictions, and a Purim song (Heb and Pers) (catalog)

129 Daniel (catalog)

130 Tobit, Judith, Bel and the Dragon, Megillat Antiochos[1] (catalog)

BnF héb 130, f. 58r, colophon in Persian in Perso-Arabic and Hebrew script

BnF héb 130, f. 58r, colophon in Persian in Perso-Arabic and Hebrew script

The colophon (f. 58r) reads as follows:

نبشتة (!) شد این کتاب در موضع لار سال هزار و نوه صد ودوازده

נבשתה שוד אין כתאב דר מוצׄע לאר סאל הזאר ונוה צד ודואזדה

nevešte šod in ketāb dar mawẓiʿ-e Lār sāl-e hezār o noh sad o davāzdah

This book was written in the village of Lār in the year 1912 [AG, = 1600/1].

[1] The Aramaic text, for whatever it’s worth (Kaufman’s comments here), is available at the CAL site sub Late Jewish Literary Aramaic, text 81406.

Ethio-Hebrew Psalms (BL Add. 19342)   2 comments

While looking lately at the records for some Judeo-Persian manuscripts in Margoliouth’s Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscripts in the British Museum, I stumbled across the record for BL Add. 19342 (№ 158 in the catalog, p. 119), a manuscript with parts of the Psalter in Hebrew, but written in Gǝʿǝz script (Fidäl), something we can call Ethio-Hebrew on the pattern of the descriptors Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, etc. (We could also call Garšūnī Syro-Arabic, but custom has deemed otherwise.) Until this, I had never encountered this particular phenomenon, but as Margoliouth notes, Wright had previously described the manuscript as part of the Ethiopic collection (№ 127, p. 81). It so happens that this manuscript is among the many already made available through the British Library’s digitization project: see here. Following Wright, Margoliouth dates the manuscript to the 18th century. It contains Pss 1-11:4, 51, 121, 123, 130, 140. Unlike most Ethiopic manuscripts, this one is on paper, not parchment.

The beginning of Ps 1 is in both catalogs mentioned above, but we can now look at the manuscript itself, and in its entirety, thanks to the BL’s having made the images freely accessible. Here are some examples (Heb text below from BHS):

Ps 1:3

וְֽהָיָ֗ה כְּעֵץ֮ שָׁת֪וּל עַֽל־פַּלְגֵ֫י מָ֥יִם אֲשֶׁ֤ר פִּרְיֹ֨ו׀ יִתֵּ֬ן בְּעִתֹּ֗ו וְעָלֵ֥הוּ לֹֽא־יִבֹּ֑ול וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה יַצְלִֽיחַ׃

Ps 1:3 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 1r. Source.

Ps 1:3 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 1r. Source.

Ps 2:1-2

לָ֭מָּה רָגְשׁ֣וּ גֹויִ֑ם וּ֝לְאֻמִּ֗ים יֶהְגּוּ־רִֽיק׃ יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ׀ מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ וְרֹוזְנִ֥ים נֹֽוסְדוּ־יָ֑חַד עַל־יְ֝הוָה וְעַל־מְשִׁיחֹֽו׃

Ps 2:1-2 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 1v. Source.

Ps 2:1-2 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 1v. Source.

Ps 121

שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲלֹ֥ות אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃
עֶ֭זְרִי מֵעִ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה עֹ֝שֵׂ֗ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃
אַל־יִתֵּ֣ן לַמֹּ֣וט רַגְלֶ֑ךָ אַל־יָ֝נ֗וּם שֹֽׁמְרֶֽךָ׃
הִנֵּ֣ה לֹֽא־יָ֭נוּם וְלֹ֣א יִישָׁ֑ן שֹׁ֝ומֵ֗ר יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
יְהוָ֥ה שֹׁמְרֶ֑ךָ יְהוָ֥ה צִ֝לְּךָ֗ עַל־יַ֥ד יְמִינֶֽךָ׃
יֹומָ֗ם הַשֶּׁ֥מֶשׁ לֹֽא־יַכֶּ֗כָּה וְיָרֵ֥חַ בַּלָּֽיְלָה׃
יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָרְךָ֥ מִכָּל־רָ֑ע יִ֝שְׁמֹ֗ר אֶת־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃
יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָר־צֵאתְךָ֥ וּבֹואֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עֹולָֽם׃

Ps 121 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 9r. Source.

Ps 121 in Ethio-Hebrew, BL Add. 19432, f. 9r. Source.

More could be certainly be said, but here are a few scattered observations:

  • The Hebrew h marking final or -e is written (e.g. ሀያህ, ያዓሢህ [ሤ?]).
  • Hebrew is spelled with Gǝʿǝz ፀ (e.g. ክዔፅ, ኤሬፅ) or ጸ (e.g. ይትያጽቡ).
  • Hebrew š is generally spelled with Gǝʿǝz ሠ (e.g. ሣቱል, አሤር, ሦምሬካ), as is Hebrew ś (ያዓሢህ [ሤ?]). In at least one place (Ps 121:6), though, the Ethiopic letter ሸ (not used in Gǝʿǝz, but used in other Ethiosemitic languages) is fittingly used for š: ሀሸሜስ häšämes, but note that the last consonant here, which should also be š, is here a simple s (not ś as usual elsewhere in the manuscript), so that we end up with a form like Arabic šams.
  • Spirantized Hebrew k is spelled with Gǝʿǝz ኀ (e.g. ውኁል, also note the vowel, wǝxul). Spirantization in the other BGDKPT letters is not marked (e.g. ያቦእ).
  • The Hebrew in yārēaḥ is written with Gǝʿǝz ሀ (ውያሬሀ).
  • The Hebrew impf prefix yi- is spelled with Gǝʿǝz yǝ- (e.g. ይቴን, ይቦል). The prefix ye- is spelled with Gǝʿǝz yä- (የሄጉ; note the incorrect vowel on the h).
  • The tetragrammaton is written ይሁዋህ yǝhuwah.
  • The Gǝʿǝz vowel i often appears where we expect e. The latter vowel is used for Heb segol (e.g. ኤሬፅ, ኤል, ኤት); for the pausal form ā́reṣ we have አሬፅ.
  • An Ethiopism is ሚኵል for Heb mikkol.
  • There are some mistakes, such as ወዓላሁ for וְעָלֵ֥הוּ. The first two words of Ps 2 are missing.

Recently available resources for Nubian studies   Leave a comment

Well over two years ago I wrote a short post on some Old Nubian resources. Giovanni Ruffini has recently announced more work in general Nubian studies. These, three in number, are:

So, even though the corpus of Old Nubian is comparatively small, it’s exciting to see new work appearing widely available in this and related fields. Go have a look.

A meeting of three languages in the CPA version of Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures   Leave a comment

Among the texts surviving in Christian Palestinian Aramaic (CPA) that were translated from Greek is a fair amount of Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures (CPG 3585), translations of which also survive in several other languages. In one place (§ 6.14),* Cyril is discussing Simon Magus and says that the emperor Claudius set up a statue to him in Rome, so much did the traditional arch-heretic lead the city of Rome astray. (The story appears in other patristic texts, too.)

Καὶ ἐπλάνησέ τε οὕτω τὴν Ῥωμαίων πόλιν, ὥστε Κλαύδιον ἀνδριάντα αὐτου στῆσαι, ὑπογράψαντα τῇ Ῥωμαίων γλώττῃ, ΣΙΜΟΝΙ ΔΕΟ ΣΑΓΚΤΩ, ὅπερ ἑρμηνευόμενον δηλοῖ, Σίμωνι Θεῷ ἁγίῳ.

So Cyril gives the Latin of this inscription as Simoni Deo Sancto: “To Simon, the holy god.” Turning to the CPA text, we have:

ܘܟܠ ܕܢ ܐܛܥܝ ܪܘܡܐ ܡܕܝܢܬܐ܃ ܠܡܠܘ ܕܐܩܝܡ ܠܗ ܩܠܘܕܝ ܨܠܡ ܘܟܬܒ ܥܠܘܝ ܒܠܝܫܢܐ ܪܘܡܝܐ ܣܝܡܘܢ ܕܐܝܘܣ ܙܢܩܛܘ܃ ܡܐ ܕܗܘ ܡܬܪܓܡ ܘܡܘܕܥ ܣܝܡܘܢ ܐܠܗ ܩܕܝܫ

wkl d<y>n ʔṭʕy rwmʔ mdyntʔ lmlw dʔqym lh qlwdy ṣlm wktb ʕlwy blyšnʔ rwmyʔ symwn dʔyw{s} znqṭw mʔ dhw mtrgm wmwdʕ symwn ʔlh qdyš

The translation is straightforward and makes sense, but the appearance of the Latin inscription, which the CPA translator would have seen in Greek letters, is a bit mangled, not surprisingly. There is no indication of the dative -i in symwn, the -s of dʔyws should be deleted, and the znqṭw, while reflecting the right pronunciation of -γκτ-/-nct-, is a little odd for having a z- at the beginning. In addition, in the CPA version of the Greek translation of the Latin inscription, we really expect the preposition l- to mark the dedication, but there is not one.

Every translation naturally deals with at least two languages, but sometimes, as here, another language also makes an appearance, and, also as here, that appearance may offer an opportunity for some confusion, yet it also grants us an opportunity to have a glimpse at translators and/or scribes with their feet in a more or less complicated labyrinth of more than two languages.

*Greek and CPA published side-by-side in Christa Müller-Kessler and Michael Sokoloff, The Catechism of Cyril of Jerusalem in the Christian Palestinian Aramaic Version, A Corpus of Christian Palestinian Aramaic Version 5 (Groningen, 1999), here pp. 60-61.


“The Garšūnī language”   4 comments

My involvement in cataloging Syriac and Arabic manuscripts over the last few years has impressed upon me how often and actively Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean scribes (and presumably, readers) used Garšūnī: it is anything but an isolated occurrence in these collections. This brings to the fore questions of how these scribes and readers thought about Garšūnī. Did they consider it simply a writing system, a certain kind of Arabic, or something else? At least a few specific references to “Garšūnī” in colophons may help us answer them. Scribes sometimes make reference to their transcriptions from Arabic script into Syriac script, and elsewhere a scribe mentions translation “from Garšūnī into Syriac” (CFMM 256, p. 344; after another text in the same manuscript, p. 349, we have in Arabic script “…who transcribed and copied [naqala wa-kataba] from Arabic into Garšūnī”). Such statements show that scribes certainly considered Arabic and Garšūnī distinctly.

While cataloging Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, (SMMJ) № 167 recently, I found in the colophon a reference to Garšūnī unlike any that I’d seen before, in which the scribe refers, not to the Garšūnī “text” or “copy” (nusḫa, as in SMMJ 140, f. 132v), but rather to “the Garšūnī language” (lisān al-garšūnī). Here is an English translation of the relevant part of the colophon, with the images from the manuscript below.

SMMJ 167, ff. 322r-322v

…[God], in whose help this blessed book is finished and completed, the book of Mar Ephrem the Syrian. The means for copying it were not available with us at the monastery, so we found it with a Greek [rūmī] priest from Beit Jala, a friend of ours, and we took it on loan, so that we could read in it. We observed that it was a priceless jewel. It was written in Arabic, so we, the wretched, with his holiness, our revered lord, the honored Muṭrān, Ǧirǧis Mār Grigorios, were interested in transcribing it into the Garšūnī language, so that reading it might be easy for the novice monks, that they might obtain the salvation of their souls.

This was in the year 1882 AD, the 11th of the blessed month of June…

SMMJ 167, f. 322r (bottom)

SMMJ 167, f. 322r (bottom)

SMMJ 167, f. 322v (top)

SMMJ 167, f. 322v (top)

This is the second explicit reference I have found where a Garšūnī text is considered more readable to at least some section of the literate population. In this case, the audience in view is a group of beginning monks, and in the aforementioned manuscript SMMJ 140 the transcription from Arabic into Garšūnī was made “to facilitate the understanding of its contents for every reader.”

UPDATE (June 17, 2014): Thanks to Salam Rassi for help on the phrase ʕalá sabīl al-ʕīra.

Syro-Georgian trisagion   8 comments

Among other uses of Syriac script for non-Syriac languages, we know well of Garšūnī (or Syro-Arabic) and even Syro-Armenian and Syro-Kurdish (especially the Lawij of Basilios Šemʕon al-Ṭūrānī), but I was surprised to find in my recent cataloging work a small example of Georgian written in Syriac script.* The text, which follows several pages of a grammatical list, is on one page of CCM 10 (olim Mardin 81) and it was not noted by Addai Scher, who cataloged the collection in the early twentieth century. It’s the trisagion (vel sim.: the Latin may be a garbled version of lines from this Easter hymn) in eight languages: Latin, Greek, Armenian, Georgian, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and finally, Syriac. Much might be said about how these languages are represented in this short text, but here I’m only considering the Georgian part, lines 13-14 below.

CCM 10 = Mardin 81, f. 8r

CCM 10 = Mardin 81, f. 8r

The Georgian trisagion (words, transliteration, and ET here) is:

წმინდაო ღმერთო,
წმინდაო ძლიერო,
წმინდაო უკვდავო,
შეგვიწყალენ ჩვენ.

There are many recordings available of the hymn: here is one:

The noun “God” and the adjectives are all in the vocative case, and in the last line we have the verb შეწყალება, which might be analyzed as


There are several occurrences of the imperative ἐλέησον (with first or third person objects) in the Gospels, and so we can look among the Old Georgian versions to see how else the phrase is translated. Here are a few, all from the Adishi version:

  • Mt 9:27, 20:30 მიწყალენ ჩუენ
  • Mt 15:22 შემიწყალე მე
  • Mt 17:15 შეიწყალე ძჱ ჩემი
  • Mt 20:31 გჳწყალენ ჩუენ
  • Lk 17:13 შეგჳწყალენ ჩუენ

The last one, also with 1pl object, is different from the trisagion form only in orthography. The form from Mt 9:27 and 20:30 is built on the same root, but without the preverb შე- and with the 1st person marker მ- instead of გუ- (or variations thereof). The form in Mt 20:31 also has no preverb, but (allowing for the slight orthographic difference) it has the same 1pl markers as in the triasagion form. Finally, those in Mt 15:22 and 17:15 do have the preverb, and given their objects — 1sg and the 3rd person object “my son”, respectively — these forms look exactly as we would expect, the objects marked by -მ- in the first case and -∅- in the second, and naturally without the final -ნ to mark a plural object.

If we compare this Georgian text with the Syriac script above, we find the latter to be muddled. Recognizable to some degree are წმინდაო (Syr. zmyndʔ), ღმერთო (ʔwmrtw), ძლიერო (zryzw), and უკვდავო (ʔwkwdš), but that’s all I can see. While the Syriac letters are hardly as fitting for Georgian as the Georgian alphabet itself is, even with Syriac one might have gotten closer than the orthography in this example. What is the source of the confusion? Did this scribe write these lines from something he heard or knew himself? Did he copy from another written source also in Syriac letters?

I would be happy to hear about any other examples of Georgian written in Syriac letters, but I suspect it is a rare phenomenon.

* Thanks for their comments to Hidemi Takahashi and Nathan Chase, with whom I discussed this text a little.

In Syriac: Les aventures de Télémaque   4 comments

François Fénelon‘s book Les aventures de Télémaque first appeared in 1699, anonymously, and while it exercises little influence and excites little interest on a broad scale today, it holds a firm place in the canon of eighteenth-century literature. French works from the end of the seventeenth century do not typically feature here, but there is legitimate cause for it today, thanks to a manuscript of the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Baghdad. Here is the title page of no. 63:


And English’d:

The Meetings of Telemachus, translated from French into Syriac by the priest Petrus Sābā of Barṭelle, according to the edition printed by Albert Cahen, 1920 AD. [This manuscript] was written and copied, based on the original copy of its translator, by the priest Quriaqos bar Yaʿqob Lallo of Barṭelle, the nephew of the priest Petrus, in the year 1949.

(The verbs are active, but I have translated them with verbs in the passive voice, more in keeping with English title-page style.) I have divined, rather than transl[iter]ated the editor’s name; the very edition that Petrus Sābā used for his translation is available here, where we see Albert Cahen named. Returning to the Syriac manuscript, on the verso of the title page comes a note by the translator:


Know, O reader, that, insofar as it was possible for me and [insofar as the ability] came into my hands, I have translated and carried over this book word for word from French into Syriac, with no adding or taking away, and without changing the words, so that the meaning and force that the book’s author intended might be preserved wholly and completely.

Petrus Sābā of Barṭelle

Finally, I give the first paragraph of the work, following Cahen’s edition, to allow a minimal comparison between it and the translation of Petrus Sābā.

Calypso ne pouvoit se consoler du départ d’Ulysse. Dans sa douleur, elle se trouvoit malheureuse d’être immortelle. Sa grotte ne résonnoit plus de son chant; les nymphes qui la servoient n’osoient lui parler. Elle se promenoit souvent seule sur les gazons fleuris dont un printemps éternel bordoit son île: mais ces beaux lieux, loin de modérer sa douleur, ne faisoient que lui rappeler le triste souvenir d’Ulysse, qu’elle y avoit vu tant de fois auprès d’elle. Souvent elle demeuroit immobile sur le rivage de la mer, qu’elle arrosoit de ses larmes, et elle étoit sans cesse tournée vers le côté où le vaisseau d’Ulysse, fendant les ondes, avoit disparu à ses yeux.


Those who are interested in Syriac language and literature merely as an expression of Christianity, often with a focus on earlier texts and authors, will probably find nothing of interest in a text like this, aside from its novelty, but for those who especially study Syriac language (from whatever time period), and for those who have an eye toward later history and culture in communities that use Syriac, this text will serve as an opportunity to see the language in use in and of itself and, in connection with French, as a target translation language, and it also shows what at least some people in Barṭelle were reading around the mid-twentieth century. For people with such interests, not only biblical texts or liturgy and not only earlier authors hold their attention and attract their efforts, but even recent textual products like this translation from French are worthy of study. For them, this manuscript lies ready to read.

Enno Littmann’s work on inscriptions from Ethiopia   2 comments

As vol. 4 of the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition appeared Enno Littmann’s Sabaische, Griechische und Altabessinische Inschriften (Berlin, 1913). Despite the book’s age and importance, I found no copy online, so, thanks to HMML staff, it’s now available at

The frontispiece to The Library of Enno Littmann

Enno Littmann was one of the outstanding scholars of the Semitic languages, those of Ethiopia in particular, in the first half of the twentieth century. (The German Wikipedia article is not very long, and the English one is almost nothing more than a list of a few publications.) Edward Ullendorff, in his obituary for Littmann published in Africa, Oct 1958, p. 364 (and reprinted in his From the Bible to Enrico Cerulli, p. 194), concluded “Among the greatest éthiopisants of the present century, Guidi, Praetorius, Conti Rossini, Marcel Cohen, Cerulli, Enno Littmann’s name occupies a most honored place.” Littmann himself wrote an autobiographical sketch (“An meinem Grabe zu verlesen”), and it is published at the beginning of the catalog of his library: The Library of Enno Littmann, 1875-1958 (Leiden, 1959), with an introduction by his student, Maria Höfner. In addition, pp. 52-57 of Ernst Hammerschmidt’s excellent little book Äthiopistik an deutschen Universitäten (Wiesbaden, 1968) discuss Littmann’s activities and contributions. Incidentally, I have before referred to a brief book inscription by Littmann among HMML’s holdings.

There is a much more recent book that collects early Ethiopian inscriptions (E. Bernard, A. Drewes, and R. Schneider, Recueil des inscriptions de l’Éthiopie des périodes pré-axoumites et axoumites [Paris, 1991]), which is unfortunately not plentifully available, but in any case, Littmann’s work is not to be dismissed. He was an expert philologist and his judgement is always worth consideration. In his presentation of the inscriptions, there are black-and-white photographs, line drawings, transcription into a usual printed type — a presentation in Hebrew letters is included for the South Arabian inscriptions, and the Old Ethiopic material is given in both the South Arabian script and in (now vocalized) Fidäl —, German translation, and commentary. The book is beautifully typeset, something we see too little of these days! Anyone working on the history of Ethiopia in antiquity and late antiquity and anyone likewise interested in epigraphy generally or in the languages used in Ethiopia will find Littmann’s book, now almost a century old, still a worthwhile volume.

From HMML's shelves

From HMML’s shelves

Fähnrich’s recent book on Georgian   1 comment

While (Old) Georgian is generally thought of as one of the big six languages of eastern Christianity — considered, that is, apart from Greek and Old Church Slavonic — it seems to have fewer researchers than the other five languages: Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Gǝʿǝz, and Syriac. Those of the Semitic family have a long history of research in Europe from the 16th century on and knowledge of one naturally builds toward knowledge of another. Athanasius Kircher and others before and after him worked on Coptic, the study of which was rejuvenated in the mid-20th century with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices (in quite a more lasting way, we can be sure, than that due to the recent hullabaloo-accompanied discussion of the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife). Armenian, while still a language and a tradition apart, is nevertheless an Indo-European language and so not really so foreign linguistically as it may seem to most American and European scholars. But, compared with these languages, Georgian stands furthest away, both for its linguistic uniqueness and perhaps for the distinct Caucasian stamp it shares with Armenian. Scholars writing in Georgian and in Russian have published extensively on the language and its literature, but aspiring students who can’t read those languages have much less to work with. That which is available in the commonly read European languages is mostly in French and German (some of which was translated from Russian or Georgian), and only recently has anything appeared in English.

Map of Georgia from Marr-Brière

It is well known that Lord Byron had a strong interest in Georgia and its culture. More substantively in the 18th century, Marie-Félicité Brosset (1802-1880) wrote Éléments de la langue géorgienne (1837), a grammatical guide giving attention both to the literary language and the “vulgaire,” including some reading exercises at the end, only one of which might be surely classified as Old Georgian: The Martyrdom of David and Constantine (pp. 268-283); it has the text in Georgian, Brosset’s (now idiosyncratic) transliteration, literal phrase-by-phrase or word-by-word French translation, and a more fluid French translation. More recently came Zorrell’s brief (handwritten!) grammar for reading the Georgian version of the Bible and then N. Marr and M. Brière, La langue géorgienne (Paris, 1931), at the end of which are reading selections in all three scripts (the majority being in mxedruli). The author of the tome considered in this post, Heinz Fähnrich — see on him auf Deutsch here, and in Georgian here; at the latter is a picture of him with renowned Georgian scholar Ak’ak’i Šaniże (1887-1987; see here, very brief, in English and more here in Georgian) — earlier penned a 100-page survey of the language in English (mostly made up of paradigms), and in English we also have the recent, short treatment by Kevin Tuite. Longer than the latter, but still very compendious (and in German), is the little book by R. Zwolanek, with J. Assfalg’s assistance. (See the bibliography below.) This is decidedly not a complete list of grammars for Old Georgian, but it suffices to show the context into which Fähnrich’s new work comes.

This new book is hardly the first grammatical work by Fähnrich on Georgian, even in addition to the translation of Šaniże’s grammar and Fähnrich’s survey in English (see the bibliography below); these works are not closely compared with the new book here. That book appeared in 2011 (or 2012, see below) in Brill’s Handbuch der Orientalistik series. Including bibliography and index, it finishes at 856 pages. The book treats Old and later Georgian separately (15-498 and 511-828), but there is a handy discussion of main differences between the two at pp. 499-510. Most of what I have to say here has to do only with the part on Old Georgian; I studied the second half of the book in much less detail. There is some confusion concerning the book’s publication details: the copyright date in the copy I studied is 2012 (also on the title page), but the ISBN there leads one to an Introduction to Altaic Philology (2010)! The ISBN on the back cover of my copy leads one to the correct book, it seems, but the stated publication date for that one is 2011, and in any case, that is the only appropriate volume that comes up when you look at the author’s books at Brill’s site. Not surprisingly, the cost is exceedingly prohibitive: €217/$298 from Brill, and used copies available through AbeBooks are only moderately cheaper.


Now, I point out the book’s strengths. Such judgements are, of course, at least partly subjective, but even so they will serve to give a more precise idea of the book than one might glean from the blurb of a bookseller.

At the outset, it is worth stressing that, while the majority of the book really is a presentation of the linguistic behavior of Georgian (i.e. a grammar), it is not exclusively so. The macrosection called “Lexik,” which covers “Bedeutungsänderungen,” “Normierung von Lautformen,” “Homonyme,” “Synonyme,” “Fachwortschatz und wissenschaftliche Terminologie,” “Wortgut kartwelischer Herkunft” (classified topically), and “Lehnwörter” (classified by origin), is the most interesting. We might justifiably ask whether such a section belongs properly to grammar stricto sensu — I think not, but it is well to recall that the book’s title lacks Grammatik! — but at the same time, its interest is almost undeniable. I wish more lexica included sections like these, and easily navigable. (Cf. R.M.W. Dixon, Basic Linguistic Theory, vol. 1, ch. 8.)

Another not strictly grammatical topic, but one especially important for a non-current literary language, that Fähnrich covers is the corpus, i.e. Old (15-46) and later (514-528) Georgian literature. While serviceable as surveys, these sections would be all the stronger with full references to editions and at least a few textual and literary studies, where they exist.

The fact that the book covers both Old and Modern Georgian in one volume will be appreciated by some linguists, both Kartvelologists and others, and especially worth highlighting here is the aforementioned concluding part of the first main part of the book: “Veränderungen vom Alt- zum Neugeorgischen” (499-510).


I turn now to some complaints I have about the book. One of the biggest problems with the book is that the sources of text citations are not given. Those from the Bible might be easily identified, but not so with the rest of Georgian literature! Supplied references would be of use not only to those who want to check the further context of a particular word form or syntactic usage, but also to those who are struck by the content itself of an example sentence and who wish to see more. Supplied references also confirm without a doubt the genuine existence this or that form, that it is not a mere contrivance of a grammarian.

A quibble: Why is the section “Stammwechsel bei Verben” (370-371) classed under syntax? This is simply suppletion, and not really a feature of syntax, even though it may the case that “[i]n der altgeorgischen Sprache sind Morphologie und Syntax eng miteinander verflochten” (328). (Whether this is really more characteristic of Georgian than other languages is another question.) While a language’s grammar (understood in the fullest sense) is in fact “an integrated system” (cf. § 1.8 in Dixon, Basic Linguistic Theory, vol. 1) — sections on “morphosyntax” that are sometimes found in grammars bear some witness to this recognition — and so suppletion touches aspects of both morphology and of syntax, in a work ranged according to that traditional tripartite structure of phonology, morphology, and syntax, which Fähnrich’s is, questions of “Stammwechsel bei Verben” are to my mind misplaced if they appear under syntax.

Some long spans of the book consist almost entirely of paradigm after paradigm after paradigm. We expect this in books with titles like 501 [insert language adjective here] Verbs or [Language] Grammatical Tables, but in a bald form such as here it is not an advantageous characteristic of linguistic description. (The same criticism might be raised against Fähnrich’s English survey of Old Georgian.) These paradigms will, to be sure, find some occasional use by certain users in certain circumstances, but more description and explanation, less enumeration, would have better made up what purports to be a fairly comprehensive guide to Georgian as a language.

As for the arrangement of the book, in rather non-Teutonic fashion, sections are not numbered and subnumbered ad nauseam. While we may appreciate not being brought ad nauseam, some demarcation and clear marking of divisions with an easy system of reference would certainly have made the book more navigable.

The typography of individual letters, words, and lines (in German or in Georgian) leaves little to be desired, but the same cannot be said for the mise-en-page. There is almost no space in the margins, which not only makes the reading experience itself less pleasant, but also leaves little room for notes (only 1/2 inch outer margins). Indeed, a quick glance at one of this volume’s pages reminds one unfortunately of a document produced using the default settings of Word! (With which contrast the default for a document in LaTeX!) In addition, straight (rather than curved) quotation marks are used, which lends an overall cheap appearance to the book, something hardly appropriate for a book the personal possession of a hard copy of which will devour a few hundred dollars or euros from one’s bank account!

I praised above the inclusion of the section on lexicon. The part on loanwords includes a few remarks particular to each case that touch on historical or sociolinguistic factors of language contact thought to have been conducive to linguistic influence, and it is classified according to language (or, at least, family) of origin, but Fähnrich does not actually gives the words in those original languages. Perhaps he assumed that scholars familiar with the source languages could come up with the original words easily enough themselves, but such scholars are not the only people who might find the data of interest.

The upshot

The appearance of Fähnrich’s new book is not unwelcome. With the paucity of materials on Georgian available in widely read European languages, we might welcome almost any attention to the language, especially one with the kind of detail given here. But the $300 price tag certainly limits its distribution and therefore its use, scans of the book notwithstanding. From the perspective of Old Georgian, the one from which I am writing here, the book takes its place among the detailed grammars of Šaniże(Schanidse)-Fähnrich and Marr-Brière, but what does it add to what has been available in them for decades? The strengths that I indicated above — and there are probably more — do make the book stand out, but we do not yet have before us a reference grammar of Old Georgian that will stand for decades as the main go-to resource for students and scholars of the language. Such a work must be not only authoritative in analysis and explanation, it must also be comprehensive in linguistic and textual scope, based on clearly defined sources, preferably with examples from those sources clearly indicated, easily navigable, accessible (i.e. widely distributed), and at least relatively affordable (I would say under $150 or so). And it would not be a bad thing for its author, where needful, to break out of the traditional tripartite mold of grammatical presentation mentioned above and well-known to all of us by bowing to linguistic common sense and being well-versed in up-to-date — I acknowledge the constant movement of this adjective and thus the frequent evolution of its meaning! — linguistic theory. Finally, while the great majority of scholars, but not necessarily students, who might be interested in a Georgian reference grammar can work with German, it is, for better or worse, probably the case that this wished-for book will garner broader readership with English than with German. In the meantime, we can spend our efforts studying those easily available Georgian texts — there are some published in Georgia that are unfortunately very hard to find — in CSCO, PO, Le Muséon, and elsewhere, publishing new texts, making translations, and studying the language itself more closely, and as we do we have the aforementioned grammars, including the one here under review, whose author (with Surab Sardshweladse) has also given us a monumental dictionary.

Some amusing or otherwise memorable phrases and sentences, or, the beginnings of The Quotable Old Georgian

There is very often something amusing in the vocabulary, phrases, and sentences taken out of context that one meets in grammars, whether they are intended for pedagogical or reference purposes, and dictionaries.[1] Here listed from the Old Georgian part of Fähnrich’s work are but a few phrases or sentences useful not only for remembering particular grammatical forms, but which will also serve us well at the next cocktail party we attend. Because Fähnrich fails to cite his sources, I cannot easily give them (although the places of some can be guessed), but I do give the page in his book where these occur.

  • მაქსიმიანე ეშმაკთმსახურისა მეფისა ზე “zur Zeit des Königs Maximian des Teufelsdieners” (305)
  • უდაბნოსა ზედა “in der Wüste” (305)
  • ენასა ზედა ეგჳპტურსა “in die ägyptische Sprache” (305)
  • მწიგნობართა თანა და ხუცესთა “mit den Schriftgelehrten und Ältesten” (308)
  • აჰა, ესერა, სიმრავლც მოაწია ჯინჭველთაი! “Siehe, es ist eine Vielzahl von Ameisen gekomen [sic]!” (323)
  • ვაგლახ მონაზონსა ვეცხლისმოყუარესა “Weh dem geldliebenden Mönch!” (323)
  • თურე ვარა ხარ? “Bist du denn ein Esel?” (327)
  • მატლ ვარ და არა კაც “Ein Wurm bin ich und kein Mensch.” (329)
  • და იყო პირსა შინა ჩემსა, ვითარცა თაფლი ტკბილ “Und es war in meinem Mund wie Honig süß.” (329)
  • ეტლები რკინისა იყო მათი “Sie hatten Wagen aus Eisen.” (335)
  • მამით ნუვის ჰხადით “Nennt niemanden Vater!” (341)
  • ავაგენ ატენი სახლნი “Ich habe in Ateni Häuser gebaut.” (365)
  • ეპისკოპოსმან აღმკუეცნა თმანი “Der Bischof beschnitt mir die Haare.” (366)
  • დასაბამად ქმნნა ღნერთმან ცაჲ და ქუეყანაჲ “Am Anfang schuf Gott Himmel und Erde.” (368)


[1] Cf. Ullendorff’s remarks on the curious presences and absences in Armbruster’s English-Amharic Vocabulary (An Amharic Chrestomathy, 5).

Fähnrich, Heinz. Grammatik der altgeorgischen Sprache. Hamburg, 1994.
——–. Kurze Grammatik der georgischen Sprache. Leipzig, 1987.
——–. “Old Georgian.” In Alice C. Harris, ed., The Indigenous Languages of the Caucasus, Vol. 1, The South Caucasian Languages. Delmar, N.Y., 1991. Pp. 129-217.
Marr, N. and M. Brière. La langue géorgienne. Paris, 1931.
Schanidse, A. Altgeorgisches Elementarbuch, 1. Teil, Grammatik der altgeorgischen Sprache. Trans. H. Fähnrich. Staatsüniversität Tbilissi Schriften des Lehrstuhls für Altgeorgische Sprache 24. Tbilisi, 1982.
Sardshweladse, Surab and Heinz Fähnrich. Altgeorgisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch. With the collaboration of Irine Melikishvili and Sopio Sardshweladse. Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 8, Uralic & Central Asian Studies 12. Leiden and Boston, 2005.
Tuite, Kevin. “Early Georgian.” In Roger D. Woodard, ed., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages. Cambridge, 2004. Pp. 967-986.
Zorell, F. Grammatik zur altgeorgischen Bibelübersetzung mit Textproben und Wörterverzeichnis. Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici. Rome, 1930.
Zwolanek, Renée. Altgeorgische Kurzgrammatik. With the collaboration of Julius Assfalg. Orbis biblicus et orientalis, Subsidia didactica 2. Freiburg and Göttingen, 1976.

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