Father Serovpe DERVISHIAN (10 January 1846, Constantinople – 1 January 1892, Constantinople) 
Հ. Սերովբէ ՏԷՐՎԻՇԵԱՆ (10 յունուար 1846, Պոլիս – 1 յունուար 1892, Պոլիս)

Père Serovpeh Dervichian

Excerpted from Hrachia Adjarian’s article in Teotik’s Ամէնուն տարեցոյցը (Everyman’s Almanac), 1914, p.153 Ամէնուն տարեցոյցը.

Father Serovpe Dervishian received his education at the Viennese Mkhitarist monastery, where he joined the Order in 1864, and was anointed a priest in 1866. Even while at the monastery he studied Armenian, Greek, Latin, German and French with a singular avidity. He received his core linguistic education at the Vienna University, where he studied Sanskrit and Pahlavi. Besides these, Dervishian was familiar with Ottoman Turkish and Old Persian. Where and how Dervishian lived subsequently, and what positions he had, are unknown to me, until his death.

Dervishian’s first linguistic work was a volume in German, Das Altarmenische Ք (The Old Armenian Ք), Vienna, 1877. This opus, which is the first volume in a series of linguistic studies titled Armeniaca, includes an examination of the Armenian letter “Ք”, the etymology of all the words containing this letter and the transmutations this letter has undergone in those words. The task Dervishian had undertaken was a laborious problem, as even today the letter “Ք” has remained unsolved in many cases, in spite of the endeavors of numerous linguists (e.g., the terminal “ք” of plurals). For this reason it’s not surprising that this work of Dervishian didn’t achieve the desired success and was subjected to Hübschmann’s sharp criticism.

In 1883, he began a series of articles titled Հայերէն թուերն (“Armenian Numerals”) in the journal Երկրագունտ  (Globe), where he examined in detail the origin of Armenian numerical nouns, from one to thousand and ten thousand. Among these, the explanation given to the word երկու (two) is interesting.

In 1885 Dervishian published his masterpiece Ամէնուն տարեցոյցը (The Indo-European Protolanguage), [Constantinople]. This work is a tidy summary of Indo-European linguistics. Following a brief introduction, where the author reviews the theory of the origin of languages and the mother Indo-European tongue in general terms, he transitions to the examination of the protolanguage. In the first three chapters he segregates the interjections, onomatopoeia and euphemisms, which were things that rose later. In the next seven chapters he examines the main roots of the language, which he terms ideational roots and studies all of the inner mutations (progress, contraction, augmentation, determinative, transposition), through which the roots mutate their appearance or develop. In chapter XI he provides the pronominal roots of the indo-European protolanguage, i.e. those, of which the pronouns, prepositions and propositions, adverbs and a few important prefixes are formed. Chapters XIII and XIV present the grammar of the protolanguage, i.e., word-formation, particles, numerals, declension and conjugation. Chapter XV is the history of the civilization of the Indo-European proto-race, its family structure, its habitat, internal governance, religion, trades, etc. The last XVI chapter is the history of linguistics and particularly the history of Indo-European linguistics, as well as the homeland of the Indo-European proto-race and its physiognomy.

In 1887 Dervishian established the first Armenian linguistics journal, titled Լեզու  (Language), which was filled by him from cover to cover and which, unfortunately, lasted only a year. Լեզու did not have an extensive volume; this is the list of the Armenian linguistics articles published by the author in one year (here Adjarian enumerates fifteen titles).

After the cancellation of Լեզու, Dervishian didn’t live long, and during this time he wrote several articles is Արեւելք (East), Մասիս (Ararat), Նկար (Image) and Հանդէս ամսօրեայ. Of these, I’m familiar with:

1.      Սահմրկիլ բառին քննութիւնը (A Review of the Word “Sahmrkil”), Արեւելք, 1891, December 2.

2.        Քաղցր եւ գողտր բառերը (The Words “Kaghtsr” and “Goghtr”), Պատկեր, 1891, pp. 331-4.

3.       Մարդու անունը (The Name of Man) [where he hypothizes that the word Հայ (Armenian) previously meant “Man”], Պատկեր, 1892, pp. 147-9.

4.       Ե՞րբ մեռեալ կը համարուի լեզու մը (When is a Language considered dead?), Հանդէս ամսօրեայ, 1892, pp. 5-6.

The last two are Dervishian’s swan songs; especially the last one is only the introduction of a larger study, where the innovations ashkharhabar had introduced into grabar would be explicated, in other words the differences between ashkharhabar and grabar. – From the information provided by Յուշարձան (Obituary), it seem Dervishian also had a large piece of writing in German, Հայերէն Հ գիրը (The Armenian Հ Letter), as a continuation of Armeniaca, but this work is unpublished as of yet.

[In a long paragraph, after a quotation, Adjarian concludes: “Which linguistics school Dervishian’s linguistic ideas” belong to.]

… Dervishian doesn’t accept the divine origin of language and regards it totally as the product of the human mind. Adam’s language isn’t the mother of present languages and even if it existed, is now lost. As to the principle of all languages having a single origin, which also springs from a biblical idea and is not accepted by science, Dervishian doesn’t support it either…

Linguists are divided into two large camps: old grammarians and new grammarians. The old grammarians were those who, among sister languages accorded a singular preference to the Sanskrit language, and considered its phonetic system directly the phonetic system of the protolanguage. In their opinion, the first and primary vowel is a, followed by i and u; the protolanguage did not recognize any other vowel. This is why the old grammarians’ system is known as the a system. Linguists later realized that this theory was erroneous; none of the sister languages held an advantage over the other; since if there was a thing preserved in one, there were others preserved in the other. Speaking of vowels in particular, it was found that the Arian languages, including Sanskrit, had greatly changed. The Greeks, Latin and Armenians, etc., had preserved a more authentic representation of vowels; Sanskrit in particular had lost the e and o vowels and transformed them into a. The school of new grammarians took off from then, and today is the only dominant one.

A quick glance at Dervishian’s œuvre is sufficient to show that he belongs to the old grammarian school; all of the roots enumerated in chapter XI of his Հնդեւրոպական Նախալեզուն recognize only the vowels a, i and u.

Now let’s turn to Armenology itself.

Armenian linguistics has had two main schools, too: the Arian school and the Armenian school. Adherents of the Arian school believed that Armenian belonged to the Indo-Iranian language group, as an offshoot of this branch. All the old grammarians were of this opinion. When Dervishian was publishing his first linguistic work on the letter “Ք”, Hübschmann had already brought out his famous theory about the Armenian language, by which our language, instead of being an offshoot of the Iranian branch, was considered an independent sister of it. The new grammarians adhered to that system, which is the only dominant system today. But Hubschmann’s theory was not readily accepted by linguists. Two leading Armenologists belonging to the old system, Müller and Lagarde, disputed it to the death, always trying to defend the old system and champion it. Unfortunately, in his Հնդեւրոպական Նախալեզու, Dervishian doesn’t discuss the branches and divisions of the mother language, thus it’s not possible to directly learn his opinion on the Armenian language. For this we will take as our guide the etymology of those Armenian words, a list of which Dervishian has placed at the end of his book. The Armenian and Arian schools are differentiated from each other in particular by the fact that numerous Armenian words are native according to the first school, while for the second they are appropriated from the Iranian. Now, Dervishian says it plainly in many instances that these words are appropriations, such as, ատր, ատրագոյն, ատրուշան, ատրճանակ, դանդանաւանդ, կամար, հազար, հրաման, հրասախ, պատկանդարան, տօթ, տապակ etc. But for other words he doesn’t mention that they are appropriations and etymologizes them as native, such as անգամ, ասպատակ, առասան, աւսարդ, բաշխել, գրաւ, համակ, մարդ, մէգ, մէզ, ուխտ, վարս, տապ, etc., etc.

This shows that Dervishian had not made his final decision; he stood hesitant between the two schools. The education he had received wanted to keep him in the first one, yet his brilliant mind and his healthy judgment drew him to the second. Dervishian was finally able to abandon his prejudice and resolved to cross over to the second camp. Then he wrote one of his articles, Հայ լեզուն հնդեւրոպական, այլ ոչ արիական (The Armenian Language Indo-European and Not Arian(Լեզու, 1887, pp. 150-152]. What service did Dervishian do to the development and progress of Armenian linguistics, what contribution did he make on his part to the vast treasury of science? Unfortunately, the work Dervishian did is not a significant thing in the perspective of general science; Dervishian did not bequeath a fundamental study which explicated a scientific problem. The study of the Armenian language needs many things: A dictionary of Armenian roots, a provincial dictionary, a dictionary of synonyms, a historical dictionary, a geographical dictionary, studies of dialects, the history of the Armenian language, a history of Armenian linguistics, even an ordinary list of books and articles regarding Armenian linguistics, etc., etc. These are works, which must necessarily be done, to serve as tools for future fundamental studies. Dervishian could have prepared at least one of these, and then his name would have been always and always remembered in gratitude. Dervishian did not produce such an opus; he wrote only minor articles, many of which have a transitory significance. In them, however, Dervishian has a special merit which has to date been ignored by scholars. Dervishian has provided the accurate etymology of a group of Armenian words, which is entitled to become assets of science. European scholars, being unable to avail themselves of Armenian books, have also not seen Dervishian’s etymologies. Even Das Altarmenische Ք is little known. And many times it happens that they propose such etymologies which Dervishian had proposed years ago. Of many, I recall the etymology of the words դգալ, գդալ, տարգալ, եւ ցրիւ, ցուիք. The first, as congeneric to the Sanskrit darva (spoon), Latin trua, trûlla (ladle) words, Dervishian had previously proposed (Das Altarmenische Ք, Հնդեւրոպական Նախալեզուն), and Liden repeats (Arm. Stud. 66). The second, he had compared with the Sanskrit root sku (to cover) [Altarm. 47], which Meillet repeated independently.

However, Dervishian has another important and invaluable service to our nation. He is our teacher. A concise, portable, accessible, popular and simple book such as Հնդեւրոպական Նախալեզուն, which summarizes the whole erudition of Indo-European linguistics within it, did not exist then not only in our, but even in all of European literature. Only lately did Meringer’s Indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft (Indo-German Linguistics), Meillet’s Introduction à l’étude comparative des langues indo-européennes (Introduction to the Comparative Study of Indo-European Languages), and Thomson’s «Общее языковедение» (General Linguistics) books get published, but the first of these is very concise, the other two very extensive, yet they do not have the Indo-European etymological dictionary, which can be found in Dervishian’s work.

Dervishian’s work was that he acquainted us with linguistics, introduced to us a taste of that science, and those, in whom there was a calling for that science, he led and enlightened. I am not aware of anyone of our scribes writing about linguistics who hasn’t benefited from Dervishian’s work. There are those who know only Dervishian’s opus and do so many borrowings from it, many times without citing the author.

Speaking specifically about me, as one who has chosen Armenian linguistics as a dear field, I confess that Dervishian’s book has made a great impression on me; there have I taken my first steps, there I have received my first knowledge of linguistics. Therefore I don’t hesitate to call Dervishian my first teacher.

September 4, 1913, Nor-Nakhijevan

Hrachia Adjarian

Translated by Y.K.



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