What is this blog?

"Words and sounds carry histories with them. Not only their own histories, but those of people who have uttered those words."- Me aka Yash.
I pay attention to people speaking. Their choice of words, their choice of pronunciation. And whenever I do hear something which I do not use, I feel obliged to attribute this different choice of words or sounds to history.

This blog is a linguistic record of my world, the sounds I hear and the letters I read, from all the languages I come across.

PS: I am a high school student, and not a linguist, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

What's in a name?

After a gap of almost 2 months, I am back. My reasons for absence remain same as ever: school work, a little bit of extracurricular activities and other such things. But that’s all irrelevant now that I am back.
Today, I am going to talk about names- more specifically Hindu names. The reason that I am going to limit this post to Hindu names is because Hindu names derive either from Sanskrit, or one of Sanskrit-derived languages (called Indo-Aryan languages), and I am most familiar with these languages.
Let me tell you about a few incidents related to my name.  When I tried speaking one of my first Sanskrit sentences- ‘My name is Yash’- I was told that my name is not Yash, but Yashah. When asked the reason this ‘ah’ was added, I was not given a very satisfactory answer.  That was that.  Next, when I moved to Kolkata (in West Bengal), I found out that my name in Bengali would be Josh.  I had learnt that proper nouns remained the same across languages. For example, when I am speaking English, I do not introduce myself as Fame (which is what Yash means).
So let me first examine the reason for these changes in Bengali and Sanskrit. In Bengali, my name becomes Josh, because Bengali lacks the vowel a, and the consonant y cannot occur here . But why does it convert ‘a’ to ‘o’ and ‘y’ to ‘j’? Why doesn’t ‘a’ become ‘aa’ (which Bengali has)? The reason gets me to Sanskrit. The original Sanskrit word was ‘Yashah’. The ‘ah’ was actually added to a lot of masculine nouns. All of Sanskrit daughter languages either lost this ‘ah’ or converted it to something else. After this, several sound changes occurred. Bengali was one language which underwent great amounts of sound changes. Among them was a-->o, and y-->j. Therefore the Sanskrit-derived word in Bengali is Josh. So the reason that my name changes in these languages is because the original parent word for my name (Yashah) has many children, and all of these children are perfectly acceptable substitutes. Simple enough?
Not really. There are two problems with this theory. The first problem is that ‘Yash’ is not really a Hindi word. By normal development of sounds, Sanskrit ‘Yash-ah’ would become Hindi ‘Jas’ (which is incidentally what my grandfather calls me). However, Hindi has undergone a huge number of Sanskritization attempts, and the bastard child of Sanskrit ‘Yashah’ and Hindi ‘Jas’ is what I am stuck with: Yash. So what language does the name Yash even come from?
Secondly, a lot of Sanskrit names have cognates (words which derive from the same source) as Latin, French, Italian, German, Irish, Russian, English to name a few languages. For examples consider the Hindi name ‘Suraj’ which derives from Sanskrit ‘Suryah’. ‘Suryah’ derives from a word in an old language (called Proto-Indo-European), from which derive Latin ‘Sol’ , Greek ‘Helios’ and English ‘Sun’. So if ‘Josh’ an acceptable substitute for ‘Yash’, shouldn’t ‘Sun’ be an acceptable substitute for ‘Suraj’? Doesn’t usually happen, does it?
So why this disparity? I think the reason is two-fold. Firstly, since Bengali, Hindi and other Indian languages have over centuries remained in contact with each other, memory of their common origins haven’t been lost and correspondences between them can be easily established. On the other hand, very few people are aware of the connection between Latin/Greek and Sanskrit for example, and even I they are, no one except linguistics can derive the sound correspondences between them.
Secondly, Bengali, Hindi and other languages are written with scripts derived from the same parent script (Brahmi). Most often, it’s not spellings of words which have changes but the way the letters are pronounced has. So the Bengali equivalent of the Hindi letter ‘ya’ is pronounced ‘ja’. So to make a Hindi name Bengali, all that needs to be done is to replace each Hindi letter with its Bengali equivalent and then ask a Bengali native to read it out for you.
Like my post about dialects and languages, I don’t arrive at a conclusive answer here. Instead, I have just presented some strange and/or interesting phenomena relating to names across languages and given plausible explanations for them. I admit I have highlighted more problems than I have offered solutions.