20 Jul 2007

Dr Weiss delivers up Etruscan grammar online

As per his biography online, the good Dr Weiss is Associate Professor at Cornell University's Department of Linguistics. Focussing on Indo-European linguistics, he states that he is "currently working on a book about the Iguvine tables, the most important surviving texts in the Umbrian language". That description has been there for a while though and I'm not sure how he's coming along with that or whether he has published something interesting but you can see a sample of his work online as well (see Introduction: The Third and Fourth Iguvine Tables [pdf]). This unusual openness to information and creating pdfs for online consumption makes him a modern hero in my books, an example of what all professors should be striving to do nowdays to open education up to all around the world who are hungry for knowledge. It's a matter of promoting the greatest social good in a world that needs healing.

One of his online articles deals with Etruscan grammar [pdf] which is natural considering that Etruscan studies overlap with Osco-Umbrian studies. These languages and cultures afterall were all living in the same region. As a whole, it's a detailed account of the language that you won't find anywhere else, and I mean anywhere else, available for free on the internet. In fact, you will probably have trouble finding something like this at your local libraries as well. Now, it's not without mistakes, mind you, and ol' Glenny has to nag. However, I can certainly give mercy to someone specialized in Indo-European linguistics to goof up on Etruscan which is outside their field, rather than forgiving the countless specialists actually devoted to Etruscology who still make the same miserable mistakes. The errors you can find in that pdf are not his own mistakes since he is merely relaying information extracted from specialized sources of respected notables like the fallible Helmut Rix. Beware, fellow readers, as always.

One pernicious little meme written on page 460 of this pdf is the belief that the Etruscan second person pronoun "you" is un. This is rhetoric written by Rix but it's understood by many others in the field that the pronoun has in fact never yet been retrieved. Rix's attribution of un, une and unu (the last form being potentially fabricated by missegmenting words) as we find attested in the Liber Linteus to the 2nd person pronoun is unconvincing and even disprovable because the plural of that word is also found in the Liber Linteus, unχva, and since -χva is the inanimate plural suffix (explicitly stated as such in the same pdf, page 458), we can clearly see that the whole translation of un then is yet another self-contradiction given far too much worth. We would do well to sift these errors out of our consciousness.

Also present in the pdf is the continued and very popular mistranslation of the word for śa as "four" (even though there is a hill of evidence, mostly downplayed or even absent in most scholar's published accounts, showing that it means "six"). There are quite a number of considerations I have personally found to explain why this is wrong, provably so for all time, but alas. This one is an itch just waiting to be scratched but I'll put some salve on it for now. Perhaps I can save this for another blog entry since it deserves a long essay, but let's just say that even Massimo Pallottino admitted the real possibility that the interpretation of this numeral as "four" was inaccurate because of certain evidence from the Tomb of Anina. But don't concern yourselves with that and certainly don't scramble for his book The Etruscans (1975) and do something hasty like flip to his notes section to see what I'm talking about. Just silly details that undevoted academics shouldn't concern themselves with. Moving on...

There's also, here on page 466, the bizarre Rixian connection of meχ θuta to "of his own money" based on a random appeal to an obscure Oscan phrase, suvad eítiuvad, but this does poorly to explain other oft-inscribed Etruscan phrases like meχ Rasnal which anyone else would translate as "people of Etruria" or something similar (ie. "Etruscan state", "Etruscan league", "Etruscan people", etc). The more commonly found translation of meχ as "people" (Larissa Bonfante, Reading The Past: Etruscan, 1990, page 60) goes a longer way in making these texts intelligible. Rix merely confuses his students here with historical irrelevancies.


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