13 Aug 2007

Rhaetic and its relationship to Etruscan

Personally, I recognize three types of people who study obscure ancient languages:

  1. Type One's motto: "Let pure skepticism be your guide."

  2. Type Two's motto: "Let pure faith be your guide."

  3. Type Three's motto: "Let pure logic be your guide."
From my own experience with people over the past three decades of my life, I would boldly suggest that 1, 2 and 3 are 40%, 55% and 5% of the Earth's population, respectively. Alas, it seems that most people would rather drill a spike into their head rather than think about problems honestly and constructively. Instead it's easier to propose something artistic and nutty, or just repeat like a monkey what some smart-looking guy before you had said.

From the abstract of Schumacher's Etruscan and Rhaetic inscriptions from a linguistic and epigraphic point of view (1970), we'd think that pursuing a relationship between Etruscan and Rhaetic is utterly futile:

  • "Une parentée entre les langues rhètes et la langue étrusque ne peut être démontrée." (Translation: "A relationship between the Rhaetic and Etruscan languages cannot be demonstrated.")
Now, coincidently enough, Adolfo Zavaroni shares with us some of the contents of Schumacher's Die rätischen Inschriften (1992) for online consumption here, complete with pictures. Here we can start to see that "cannot be" is merely the afore-mentioned Type One promoting his nihilist bias, which will ironically be disproven through the use of a Type Two's website. (Last time I checked, Adolfo Zavaroni asserted that Etruscan was related to Indo-European. His understanding of the Etruscan language is quite distorted, as can be seen in one of his email messages on an online forum concerning a completely ad hoc Etruscan root of his, **mat-.) Regardless, I have faith that the pictures are genuine since I can actually read some of the Rhaetic inscriptions through my understanding of Etruscan.

The most obvious example showing that we're dealing with an Etruscan-related language is in the following artifact (found on this page of the previously mentioned site):

If we have been studying up on our Etruscan, we can see many direct and undeniable connections. We can see the phrase kusenkus trinaχe, for example, running upwards on the left-hand side. The last word of that phrase is a verb directly related to the same verb found in Etruscan (trin [LL 7.ii] , trinθ [LL 7.iv], trinθaśa [LL 7.vi]) which often takes the object vinum "wine". So as in the Liber Linteus, the verb on this Rhaetic inscription must also be in reference to the act of pouring a libation to the gods. The fact that it is a bronze situla reinforces this interpretation. To add even further to this, a recognizable name of a deity is found on the righthand side, Velχanu, which must surely be equivalent to the chthonic Etruscan deity Velχans (Roman Vulcan, Greek Hephaestus).

On the artifact labeled Schum. NO 3, dative endings are clearly identifiable on a couple of names (Φeluriesi Φelvinuale) inscribed in a brief inscription on a votive offering[1]. Rhaetic's counterpart to Etruscan's "dative II" ending, -ale, surfaces once again in Schum. BZ 3.

Schum. PU 1 is particularly intelligible to an Etruscophile. Beginning the sentence is the word "thus", then there is the name Φelturie in the genitive case (compare the Etruscan name Velθur in TLE 38, 43, 92, 125, 126 and 129 and note the Etruscan gentilitial ending -ie), hil (cf. the Etruscan inscription CIE 3: hil puratum) and for the big kicker, a word probably declined in the genitive plural, klanturus (cf. Etruscan words clan "son" and clante, presumably "adoptive son").

Considering all of this (which is just the tip off the iceberg, mind you), the meme that Rhaetic is somehow unrelatable to Etruscan is positively proposterous at this point, born on blissful ignorance rather than informed opinion. To the contrary, these inscriptions are close kin to Etruscan. Spread the joyous news.

[1] The exact same pattern is found with names in Etruscan inscriptions, such as in TLE 23: Mi mulu Larisale Velχasnasi = "I (am) blessed for Laris Velchasna."


  1. Is it possible that these examples are loans one way or the other? The verb that you cite (trin, etc) seems (to the rank novice) to be inflected quite differently in Etruscan and Rhaetic. In Semitic languages, "foreign" proper names sometimes appear to maintain their original inflections in a second language. Of course, loans do reflect a relationship between languages but do not necessarily reflect a cognate relationship.

  2. "The verb that you cite (trin, etc) seems (to the rank novice) to be inflected quite differently in Etruscan and Rhaetic."

    But can a rank novice's opinion be logical if it's based on an admitted ignorance of the subject? One should first read about Etruscan grammar before leaping to ad hoc conclusions. Then one will notice that the Etruscan passive preterite in -χe has already been printed by Larissa Bonfante as well as Massimo Pallottino (The Etruscans, 1975, p.220).

    Examples of the passive are:
    farθnaχe [TLE 321] "was born"
    menaχe [TLE 282] "was placed"
    vatieχe [PyrT A.ii] "was dedicated"
    ziχuχe [CPer xlv-xlvi] "was written"

    (Bonfante and Pallottino translated the root men- specifically as "to offer" even though they gave a lot of verbs that same meaning. I think "to place, set down" is more accurate.)

    "In Semitic languages, 'foreign' proper names sometimes appear to maintain their original inflections in a second language.

    The correlations of Schum. CE 1 to Etruscan are not just coincidental, as I've already explained, since the combined mention of something "being poured" (trinaχe) and Vulcan (Velχanu) is uncanny for a situla, which, if you followed the link to the definition is precisely used for in ritual to "contain liquid". As I also said, Liber Linteus mentions the verb trin in various forms with vinum and again, miracle upon miracle, the other part of this same artifact reads: vinu θalina.

    So let's try to add two and two ;)

  3. I just had another idle thought. If we dismiss a relationship between Rhaetic and Etruscan, the question naturally arises as to what then Rhaetic is more likely to be.

    It's not Italic or even Indo-European because we can see glaring differences in inflection and vocabulary in Oscan inscriptions, for example, as presented A Grammar Of Oscan And Umbrian by By Carl Darling Buck.

    Assuming that Rhaetic is an isolate, however, is based on no evidence at all. It's merely dismissive of any connections with Etruscan no matter how substantial and intricate... which sounds a lot like "Type One" ;)