Krapar and Kini

Deictics and Definite Objects
Բանք ապացուցական եւ որոշական:

Deictic Words

Deixis1 is a fundamental linguistic aspect of all known human languages. Simply put, deixis is the use of certain words (deictic or demonstrative expressions) to represent the spatial relationship between the speaker (deictic center) and another person or object.2 Examples of deictic expressions in English include my–your, this–that, and here–there.3 Clas­sical Arme­nian utilizes a three-point system of Speaker → Listener, and Speaker → Third Party.

The three-point Armenian deictic system correlates with the first, second and third persons, and can be represented by the letters ս, դ and ն. Some basic elements of the system are outlined below:4

ս դ ն
Speaker Listener Third Party
(object near speaker) (object near listener) (object away from both)
ես դու նա
I you he, she, it
այս այդ այն
this this/that that
սա դա նա
this (one) this/that (one) that/the (one)
սոյն դոյն նոյն
this same (one) this/that same (one) that/the same (one)
այսր այդր անդր
here there (close) there (far)
suffix -ս5 suffix -դ suffix -ն
this, my that, your the

Deictic Suffixes   -ս   -դ   -ն

Technically, there are no definite particles (this, that, the) in Clas­sical Arme­nian. Instead, the three deictic or demonstrative suffixes serve to distinguish between indefinite and definite objects.6 The suffix (near speaker) acts like a definite “this”, the suffix (near listener) acts like a definite “this/that”, and the suffix (away from both) acts like a definite “the”. For example:

The suffix , “this” (near speaker) may also act in the sense of “my”, although it is not an actual possessive. Likewise, the suffix , “this/that” (near listener) may also act as “your”. For example:

Deictic suffixes can be used with the singular and plural forms of words in any of the inflected cases. For example:

Forms of Երրորդութիւն (Trinity), Որդի (Son) or Հոգի (Spirit) are often used with the suffix when referring to them in a prayer or hymn to the Father, since they occupy the same deictic space as the Father (Listener). For example, եւ քեզ փառք եւ երկր­պագ­ու­թիւն ան­բաժ­ան­ելի սուրբ Եր­րորդ­ու­թեանդ, “And to You, glory and worship to your indivisible Holy Trinity” (Nersēs Shnorhali, Hav­adov Khos­dov­anim).

In a like manner, the supplicant in a prayer often refers to him- or herself using the suffix , e.g., մի՛ մտաներ ՚ի դատաս­տան ընդ ծառ­այիս քո, “do not enter into judgment with this your servant” (Nersēs Shnorhali, Hav­adov Khos­dov­anim). Here, the English rendering of “this” with the possesive adjective “your” (քո) may seem clumsy, until one considers that “this” refers to the deictic location of the Speaker.

English renderings of Armenian often modify or disregard the deictic sense of the suffixes, e.g., Հայր Սուրբ. Որդիդ Սուրբ. Հոգիդ Սուրբ, “Holy is the Father, holy is the Son, holy is the Spirit” (Badarak sharagan). Here, the sense that the Son and the Holy Spirit are in the same deictic location as the Father (Listener), may be lost.8

The deictic suffix is also used as a vocative “O” in a prayer or hymn, e.g. Եւ տո՛ւր մեզ համ­արձ­ակաձ­այն բար­բառ­ով բանալ զբեր­անս մեր, կարդ­ալ զքեզ, երկ­նա­ւորդ Հայր, երգել եւ ասել, “And grant us to open our mouths with a cry of bold voice, to call upon you, O heavenly Father, to sing and say” (Badarak invocation by the Priest).

When a noun is quailfied by an adjective, the deictic suffix is typically added to the noun, unless it’s a proper noun. For example:

When a noun is followed by one or more dependent genitive nouns, the deictic suffix is typically added to the last noun, unless it’s a proper noun. For example:

Definite Objects

In the simple sentence գինի ըմպէի, “I drank wine”, the direct object “wine” can refer to any wine, and consequently is an indefinite object. In the sentence գգինի արեն­ւոյն արբի, “I drank the Areni wine”, the direct object “wine” is specifically the Areni wine, and therefore is a definite object.

In Classical Armenian, the prefix զ- is added to words in the accusative case (direct objects), to mark them as definite objects, as in զգինի in the second sentence above. The same word appears in the following Old Testament verse:

Եւ ա՛րբ սրտիւ զուարճացելով զգինի քո:

And drink your wine with a joyful heart. (Eccl. 9:7.)

Here, the “wine” is specifically your wine, again a definite object that receives the prefix զ-.

In a multiple-word definite-object accusative expression, the prefix զ- is usually added to the first word only. In older texts, however, one may see the prefix added to other words in the expression as well, e.g., Եւ զոմանց զբնական զիմ­աստ­ու­թիւն գով­եալ աստ­ուած­եղէն իմ­աստ­ու­թեամբն հան­դերձ…, “A few are praised, moreover, for their natural as well as godly intelligence…” (Eznik Kogh­bats‘i, Refutation of the Sects.)

Pronouns in the accusative case are often definite objects, which will usually have the prefix զ- (unless part of a multiple-word expression), e.g., զիս, զքեզ, զնա, զմեզ, զձեզ, and զնոսա.

Definite Objects with Deictic Suffixes

Since definite objects are specific objects, զ- words are often paired with one of the deictic suffixes, to distinguish the object in relation to the Speaker. For example:

In a multiple-word accusative expression, the prefix զ- would typically be on the first word, and the deictic suffix would be on a subsequent or the last word of the expression (as outlined above). For example:


1 From the Greek δεῖξις, “demonstration, reference”, with a Proto-Indo-European root of *deyḱ-, “point out”.

2 Deixis also involves the temporal relationships of past, present and future, which are expressed linguistically by the use of verb tenses.

3 Technically speaking, deictic expressions are used to distinguish objects in the immediate context in which they are spoken, by directing attention to them. The object, or demonstratum, is pointed out or focused upon with the intent that both the Speaker and Listener apprehend the same referential object. For example, saying “my bottle of wine” directs attention to a particular bottle of wine at or near the Speaker, and the Listener understands it to be that particular bottle.

4 Some deictic expressions in English are two-point, such as this–that and here–there. Because of this, it is sometimes difficult to accurately render three-point Armenian expressions into English without some degree of ambiguity. For example, այս is typically “this”, այն is typically “that”, but այդ could be “this” or “that”.

5 The suffix is also used for plural in the accusative case, and on occasion it is difficult to contextually determine which use of the suffix is intended.

6 An indefinite object is a noun or substantive that is non-specific, e.g., “a book” (i.e., any book). A definite object is one that is specific, e.g, “the Priest’s old Zohrab Bible”.

7 The rendering of ծառայսս as “these servants” is based on plural + this. Since deictic suffixes have a possessive sense, it could also be rendered plural + my, as “our servants”. It can also be rendered, with some loss of translational accuracy, without the deictic sense of this/my, e.g., Որ ար­ժանի արար­եր զմեզ, զնուաս­տաց­եալ եւ զան­ար­ժան ծառ­այսս քո…, “You have made us, your lowly and unworthy servants, worthy…” (Badarak prayer by the Priest).

8 As the saying goes, you can’t lose what you never had. For those who are unaware of the deictic meaning of the suffixes (as was the author of this page, not too long ago), the less-appropriate rendering as “the” may not amount to any meaningful loss.

9 արուակ գինւոյն, “the bottle of wine”, could also be rendered “a bottle of the wine”, since the word to which the deictic suffix is added, in a multiple-word phrase, does not reflect the word to which the English particle applies. In some situations, the applicable word can be determined by context, but in others, it would simply be the preference of the translator.

10 This verse, with three զ-…-ն expressions, is an excellent example of the stylistic flexibility of the translator in choosing the particular word to which the English particle applies, or in choosing not to use a particle (as in the second expression).