Wednesday 31 December 2014

On dvandvas

My last blog of 2014. It's been a helter-coaster, roller-skelter of a year, as always, but this is no pretext for a retrospective. Onward!

I've noticed that many of my blogs over the past twelve months are about off-trail linguistic subjects (avoiding, I hope, the chortling whimsical tone that is associated with such backwaters.) So here we go again. Are you familiar with the term 'dvandva'?

A dvandva is a lovely word from Sanskrit meaning 'pair', and refers to a language feature also known as a 'Siamese linguistic compound'. It refers to one or more objects that could otherwise be connected in sense by the conjunction 'and' (which is omitted), where the objects refer to the parts of the agglomeration described by the compound. Stay with me.

Dvandvas are common in Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, and some Modern Indic languages such as Hindi and Urdu, but less common in English - the term rarely appears in standard English dictionaries and is not in common circulation, even along linguists.

Cue Wikipedia:

An example in Sanskrit mātāpitarau (मातापितरौ) for 'mother and father'; Chinese shānchuān and Japanese yamakaw for 'mountains and rivers'; Modern Greek "maxeropiruno" (μαχαιροπήρουνο) for 'fork and knife', "anðrojino" (ανδρόγυνο) for "married couple (lit. man-woman)"

By the Greek for 'fork and knife' is presumably nothing to do with the 'spark' (or spoon'fork which comes handy on camping holidays).

We don't have dvandvas in English, not really. Such a term as 'singer-songwriter', in the sense 'someone who is both a singer and a songwriter' is not - at least within the Sanskrit classification of compounds - a compound. 

Cue Wikipedia again: 

These are considered कर्मधारय 'karmadhāraya compounds' such as राजर्षि rājarṣi 'king-sage,' i.e. 'one who is both a king and a sage' (राजा चासावृषिश्च).

In Greek, sernicothilyko (σερνικοθήλυκο) means being male and female (although I have no idea whether this refers to hermaphroditism). It might apply to the short-lived 's/he' used for gender non-esclusion by high-minded writers. 

I suppose the portmanteau words found in Lewis Carroll (who invented the term), such as 'brillig' and 'slithy' come close, or their modern equivalents 'brunch', 'bromance' and 'Chunnel (as the Channel Tunnel was once called).

If you're still reading at this point, I thank you.

I plan to blog from time to time in January and thereafter in 2015. A happy new year to all my readers. 

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