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The Language of the Medians

D.N. MacKenzie D. N. MacKenzie, 1959

In this article 'Caucasica'1 Professor H. W. Bailey drew attention to an interesting article by A. Shanidze. 'The newly-discovered alphabet of the Caucasian Albanians and its significance for sciene', in a sadly inaccessible periodical.2 'The discovery of the lost alphabet was made by I. Abuladze in an Armanian manuscript of the fifteenth century containing a miscellany of alphabets, Greek, Syriac, Latin, Georgian, Coptic, Arabic, and Albanian.'

'In the same Armenian manuscript is preserved in seven different languages the Monophysite liturgical prayer "{See the attached PDF file below}". One version is said to be in the language of the Medians (Marac').... The other versions, all in Armenian script, are in Greek, Syriac, Georgian, Persian, Arabic, and Turkish.'

At first glance one would expect the 'language of Medians' to mean that of the Kurds, the only sizeable nation of the are not otherwise mentioned. And surely, in Shanidze's words, 'there is no doubt that we have before us a Kurdish text'. Shanidze has established that the MS was copied in the first half of the fifteenth century, probably between 1430 and 1446, from a presumably much older original brought to Armenia from Feodosia in the Crimea. Since the earliest Kurdish literary work extant is the Dīwān 3 of Malāē Jizrī, who probably died c. 1480,4 these few words, for what they are worth, may constitute the earliest record of Kurdish.

It may be of interest to reproduce here, for comparison, some of the other versions. They are given here in transliteration, from the excellent plates illustration Shanidze's article. The accompanying interpretations follow those of Shanidze only in part. It will be seen that the original trnslations and transcriptions into Armenian letters had varying success.

Persian {See the attached PDF file below}

* Pāk-ī xudā, pāk-ī tavānā, pāk-ī bēmarg, avar xāch $usī bahr-ī mā, rahmat kun "var mā.

Arabic {See the attached PDF file below}

* Quddüs allāh, quddüs al-qādir, quddüs mā-yixδüh [ya'xuδuhu]-al-mawt, allaδī insalab, irhmnā.

Turkish {See the attached PDF file below}

* Arï tangrï, arï güčlü, arï aĵalsïz, yisa ki xača čïgtïng, rahmät qïlyïl bizä;. Median {See the attached PDF file below}

Professor Henning has recently 5 quoted from this text, characterizing it as 'ein nordiranischer Dialekt allerdings nicht sehr alten Geprâges'. There can be no questioning his etymology of ashkirma "for us" (azh-kird-, cf. MPers., Parth. ach êd kird "for this (reason)"), a form now replaced in Northern Kurdish by zhi bô ma, or bônâ ma. But the word hat' a;;ows of a simpler explanation than this "hanged' (older haxt, cf. NPers. âhixt etc.)'. Comparison with the phrase from John xix, 20,

(i) au ĵi ... li k'ō k'i Isa hat'i xač' k'irin,

(ii) ău ĵiē Yisus lē hat'ă xač'k'irin,2

with the normal Northern Kd. periphrastic passive 'came to crucifixation', shows that we have here also the verb hâtin "to come" (*â-gata-). pâkizh, pâqizh "clean, pure" and zaxm "strong" are common Northern Kd. words. It seems seems, therefore, that the text is to be read as

*Păkiž xudē, păkiž zahm, pākiž vēmarg, kōy hātī xāčē iž kir ma, řahmatē ma.

A modern translation of "who was crucified" might read kō yē hātī(a) şalb kirinē, with the 'Demonstrative Izafe' yē serving as a relative pronoun. The koy of the text may well also contain a relative element -y, beside the subordinating particle kō (MPers. kw).


[1] JRAS, 1943, 4.

[2] Izvesija Instituta Jazyka, Istorii i Material'noj Kul'tury im. akad. Marra Gruzinskogo Filiala Akademiii Nauk SSSR (Tiflis), IV, 1938. i am most grateful to Professor Bailey for the loan of his copy.

[3] Ed. Martin Hartmann, Der Kurdische Diwan des Schêch Ahmed, Berlin, 1904.

[4] See Alauddin Sejjadi, Mêzhûy adabî Kurdî, Baghdad, 1952, 155-61.

[5] Handbuch der Orientalistik, Abt. I: Der Nahe und fer Mittlere Osten, IV. Bd.: Iranistik, 1. Abschnitt: Linguistik, Leiden-Cologne, 1956, 78.

[6] From Kurdish translations of the Gospels in Armenian script, (i) BFBS, Constantipole. 1857 ('translated by Stepan, an Armenian of Hainch'), (ii) ABS, Constantinople, 1911 ('tranlated by Messrs. Amirkhanian, Der Ghazarian and Abalahadian').

Source: D. N. MacKenzie, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 22, No. 1/3 (1959), pp. 354-355

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