The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

no fuss no muss

One of the very nicest things about learning a variety of languages – besides, of course, being able to attempt communication with a variety of people – is chance of spotting arbitrary similarities in completely unrelated languages. For instance: in both informal Eastern Armenian and Khalkh Mongolian, you can use an m-reduplication (i.e. repeat the word, changing the initial letter to ‘m’) to mean, generally, this thing and some other things that I don’t care to specify at the moment.1

An Armenian example: հաջող-մաջող (hajogh-majogh), ’bye-mye, or good-bye, see you later, &c., though of course very informal, and always good for a laugh when used by a foreigner.2 There are two special uses: խորոված-մորոված (khorovats-morovats), meaning Armenian barbecue and its traditional accompaniments, onions and potatoes; and կոֆե-մոֆե (kofe-mofe), meaning coffee and its traditional accompaniments, candy and cake.3

A Mongolian example: Уулзаж-муулзаж чадах уу? (uulzaj-muulzaj chadah uu?): Can you meet [and teach] them, then?4 In Mongolian, too, you can say that you went to the store to get some кофи-мофи (kofi-mofi), though in Mongolia, it just means that you got coffee and some other stuff, not necessarily candy and cakes. There is, however, a major difference in the Armenian and Mongolian usage: in Mongolian, words with the initial consonant ‘m’ can be reduplicated in this way, but a ‘z’ is substituted instead; e.g., мѳѳг-зѳѳг (möög-zöög) mushrooms and some other stuff. In Armenian, I haven’t heard reduplication in words with an initial ‘m’ used in this amusing way, though this has not seemed to cause any significant problems.

  1. There is no derisive effect intended, as with the vastly more well-known (in English) schm-reduplication, on which see Nevins & Vaux ‘Metalinguistics, schmetalinguistics’ and Southern, Contagious Couplings: Transmission of Expressives in Yiddish Echo Phrases; update: Southern apparently traces this reduplication back to Turkish, which would explain why it was present in both Armenian and Mongolian, but not why the usage is not dismissive. []
  2. First heard in the summer of 2008, from a host cousin. []
  3. You will notice, in the case of ‘coffee-moffee’ that Armenian uses this repetition with a Russian loan-word, instead of the Armenian word, սուրճ (surj); I sometimes imagine I’ve heard people say սուրճ-մուրճ, but if I have, they weren’t Armenian. []
  4. Overhead my Mongolian tutor on the phone with a music teacher; extra meaning supplied from context. []


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