29 Dec 2007

Fun with Old Chinese rhymes

Between data-mining all things Etruscan and pondering on the issues of Pre-Proto-Indo-European, I'm becoming increasingly enchanted by Old Chinese. Old Chinese is absolutely nothing like modern Mandarin or Cantonese. In fact, all of the tones that we now take for granted in Chinese come purely from sound changes in the language that occured since Augustus Caesar crowned himself divine emperor of the newly forged Roman Empire. (I've wrote about Chinese tonogenesis before.) Vis-à-vis the number of tones, Mandarin was the more economical of the Sinitic languages, settling with four tones; the so-called "fifth tone" (as in the interrogative particle, 吗 ma) being in reality a misnomer for what is the reduced variant of any of these four tones. In Cantonese, the number of distinct tones is six.

The reconstruction of Old Chinese depends on who does the reconstructing but there is no question that Old Chinese had interesting consonant clusters that would make Russian speakers feel right at home. You can see these same clusters in Classical Tibetan, a language which shares a common ancestry with Chinese within the past 6000 years. In 1992, William Hubbard Baxter authored A Handbook of Old Chinese phonology, clarifying all of the interesting changes that took place. We can tell in part what happened during the course of history of the language based on old rhymes. Words that originally rhymed now no longer do. In fact, in many cases, the changes are absolutely dramatic. Below, I will talk about some of these "used-to-but-no-longer" rhymes, showing pronunciation of the characters in Modern Mandarin.

For example, we know that 人 rén "person" and 年 nián "year" used to rhyme but they don't now. Even in Cantonese, the two words have deviated a fair amount: /jɐn/ "person" & /nin/ "year". So some propose that the two words in Old Chinese were pronounced *znen and *ʕznen (yes, with pharyngeal onset!), respectively. This is what is represented on Wikipedia... but I would recommend that people take Wikipedia with a large pinch of salt. Baxter shows instead *njin "person" (where j is for IPA /j/ as in the y- of "yeller") and *nin "harvest, year" (see p.424).

Likewise, we are told that *b-rjɨŋ and *prjɨŋ both mean "ice" in Old Chinese (on p.273) and that they are undoubtedly related. However in Modern Mandarin, these two words are quite different: 凌 líng and 冰 bīng. In the first word, the prefix *b- has been omitted in Middle Chinese while *p- in the second word is not a prefix and therefore remains intact. Prefix deletion is a common change in Middle Chinese which is half the reason why modern Chinese seems so completely removed from its original pronunciation. Note that the voicing or voicelessness of the initial and final consonants of these words played a part in determining the eventual tone of the word and also keep in mind that different Chinese languages reflect different tones. What is usually high flat tone in Mandarin (which sounds like "singing" to English ears and which is identical in sound with the French tonal accent) will often be high falling tone in Cantonese (sounding like an exclamation in English).

(Mar 25 2008) Based on the input from Movenon, I realize now that my initial statement in the first paragraph of this entry ("Mandarin was the more conservative of the Sinitic languages, settling with four tones,[...] ") is too vague and may cause confusion. I was thinking of changing it to "Mandarin was the more conservative (in the number of tones)" but I guess the word "conservative" is the crux of the problem since I'm using it to mean "reserved, limited" while it can also be interpreted as meaning "traditional". Arrgh. Damn the English language. So I guess we'll have to try this: "Vis-à-vis the number of tones, Mandarin was the more economical of the Sinitic languages, settling with four tones,[...]".

28 Dec 2007

Me fighting myself on the Etruscan name Uple

I will admit it. There's a certain sense of unavoidable shame that comes with learning, particularly the kind of open day-to-day learning that a blog can convey. Blogs can be brutally personal, which explains no doubt why some people experience blogger burnout. It's taxing to the ego to make a booboo. We all want to be accepted in the beehive, not shunned as the town heretic. Communication, especially in our day and age is a double-edged sword that is both necessary to explore new answers and seek them out from others, and yet a potential source of embarassment if it should so happen that there's even a chance that you're horribly wrong. There's no such thing as a perfect learner that never makes mistakes. Errors are the very soul of learning. So when you're like me that puts himself out there for the world to see weekly, I too find it hard not to feel a sense of shame when I have to prove myself wrong because of that blasted thing called conscience. And yet, I would be more embarassed as a human being to pretend that I don't make mistakes. So I will out my possible error... although I still am not certain about what to make of the data.

This has to do with ''TLE 193'' in my recent, lazy rant (see Zavaroni, his 'comparative method' and TLE 193). In it I made a horrendous job mixing too many issues at once. Absolutely horrible! I should be shot, really. While Zavaroni's interpretation of amce is certainly left-of-center and uses horrible methodology, confusing that topic with a risqué interpretation of my own probably didn't help matters much, did it? Yes, I know. I have no face, as they say in the streets of Hong Kong. But this conundrum regarding that inscription is still fishy so let me give you an update on what I found on this supposed name.

The standard interpretation of line two of ''TLE 193'' is that avils śas amce uples means "For four/six years, (she) was (wife) of Uple." Some interpret śa as "six", others as "four" (see The dicey proof of Etruscan numerals) but this isn't the heart of the issue that I brought up here. The problem was that I was skeptical of the name and the idea that a funerary object would be inscribed with only marital information instead of age. Where the hell is her age of death? Why wasn't that considered important to the family? Added to that afterall, we find ufli in the Liber Linteus (LL 11.x) and because of the purely ritualistic and impersonal content of that document, it simply cannot be a praenomen here. We also know that f in the same syllable with u regularly comes from p (as in Pupluna ~ Fufluna). Hence we can't get around it: There is indeed a noun stem (perhaps originally *upil) underlying the declined form ufli in the Liber Linteus.

So really then, my issue is not whether this noun stem exists but whether a similar looking name also exists to explain uples in TLE 193. Which one is it, a noun *upil or some relatively uncommon name? To prove the existence of the name I needed to see more proof of its usage and so far I believe that I found delicious counterevidence to shame my masochist self. Behold:

ET Ta 1.180: l uple "L(arth) Uple."

CIE 1566: vl . veratru // uφalias "Vel Veratru, of Uphale"

Damn, I've defeated myself! Aaaargggh!!! Well, very good then. I am a worthy opponent, hehehe. So I have to admit that there must be a name of the underlying Proto-Etruscan form *Upale with the usual weakening of bilabial stop /p/ to bilabial fricative /φ/ next to tautosyllabic /u/, hence the spelling with the letter phi in CIE 1566's uφalias to convey the fricative. The above inscriptions imply that it's used both as a male praenomen and as a gentilicium. If that's the case, perhaps I'm seeing a subtle difference between underlying praenomen *Upale and gentilicium *Upaliie (-ie = [gentilicial suffix]).

However, this is hardly the end of my confusion on this. For one thing, I will only ever feel secure about TLE 193 and other inscriptions once I have clear *photographs* of them in my sights. I also still need to locate a credible source of this name. Most often it is presumed to be Italic in origin. Some have suggested Latin Opilius or Oscan Upils as a source but if the syncopated vowel is -a- as in CIE 1566, those claims are probably misguided. In the book Die etruskische Sprache: Versuch einer Gesamtdarstellung (1969), Pfiffig linked the name to Oscan ufal-, supposedly from Italic *ouf(i)l- (link here), but I get skeptical when I see too many hyphens and parentheses[1]. I'd rather a clearer etymology. Where does Pfiffig get this root ufal- from? I'm not yet sure.

Stay tuned and thanks for your patience, people. Hopefully you're all learning with me so that next time I get out of line you can slap me with some of these cold, hard facts.

[1] I just found the Oscan name not even ten minutes after posting this. That wasn't too hard; seems kosher. (Oakley, A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X (2005), p.107).

27 Dec 2007

The Etruscan word 'tezan'

I think I just found out what tezan means. I've noticed four instances of the word so far. We have the word on the so-called Cippus Perusinus (CPer A.iv):

eśtla afunas sleleθ caru tezan

Then there is TLE 571, a stone cippus with the brief inscription:

tezan teta tular

Then we may note TLE 621, a stone cippus:

cehen cel tezan penθna θauruś θanr

And finally TLE 626, another stone cippus:

la śar[-]ni tezan tular ufleś pentna ale[1]

It seems to me that if you have a word consistently written on a cippus and no other object, it's probably not a stretch of the imagination to consider that tezan is referring to a cippus. Pallottino thought it might be related somehow to teś- which he translated for some strange reason as 'to look after' (Pallottino, The Etruscans, 1975. p.233). This threw me off for a bit, however there is no way to explain the unmotivated change of intervocalic z to ś or vice versa. Then others delighted in an optimistic equation with Latin finis urbani auspicii (read this, for example). So I was always skeptical of these claims yet hadn't the foggiest clue what could be a better interpretation. Now I think the above pattern speaks for itself.

[1] I just thought of a new interpretation of ufleś/uples this very hour that affects the translation of this inscription. I discuss it under the Updates section in my previous post.

(Dec 28/07) Nevermind my footnote #1 just above. I may be delusional. Carry on.... (See Me fighting with myself on the Etruscan name Uple.)

26 Dec 2007

Zavaroni, his 'comparative method' and TLE 193

I came across a pdf recently by Adolfo Zavaroni entitled Le parole etrusche ame, amce e la revisione di IE. *yem- 'Paaren', translated in English. The title means "The Etruscan words ame, amce and the revision of IE. *yem- 'pair'". We can tell by the title alone that something is amiss since making idle comparisons like this between IE and Etruscan is more of a fetish than a respected science. I'm not a big fan of Zavaroni and his claims. To me, his article is yet another example of how to entirely misunderstand what "comparative method" means. This is not the comparative method in action but rather the mislabeled "whimsical method" (a.k.a. the classic 'eyeballing' method).

You can read it yourself in the link above, but in summary, he spends the entire time in this article, making baseless and disprovable assertions, all the while citing numerous IE roots in an air of erudition without proving a goddamn thing with them other than that he has misunderstood basic linguistics. He rejects the accepted translation of amuce as "has been; was" and amazingly states: "The term am(u)ce indicates ‘to be united, to make a pair with, co-’. " We know that this stupendous assertion is rubbish by examples such as TLE 193:

larθi ceisi ceises velus velisnal ravnθus seχ
avils śas amce uples

Quite obviously a six-year-old girl (avils śas = "of six years") named Larthia Ceise (larθi ceisi) to whom this funerary inscription was dedicated is not "making a pair" with anyone! "Of six years, making a pair with Uple"?! I don't think so. We know quickly then that Zavaroni's claim is ludicrous. Sensible people don't translate obscure languages by thumbing through dictionaries in other languages. They do it by careful examination of context, whether that be of the grammatical context, of the historical context or of the archaeological context.

Word for word on the second line of this inscription, we have avils "of years", śas "of six" and amce "was, has been"[1]. These translations are accepted and not open to Zavaroni's wild reinterpretations. Translating the final word uples is difficult considering that it is found only once in any of the inscriptions as far as I'm aware so far (i.e. a hapax). Grammatically however, I interpret uples to be the genitive of an inanimate noun *upil, which in turn implies a verb root *up-. Considering that the poor child was taken so early by Doctor Death, I can't imagine what else could have been the most likely cause other than sickness. So I think we can find a better translation than what Zavaroni is willing to provide: "Avils śas, amce uples." = "At six years [old], [she] was in sickness."[2]

[1] Giuliano & Larissa Bonfante translate amuce as "was, has been". See The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (2002), rev.ed., p.68 for example.
[2] I'm aware that most assume that this is a male praenomen/gentilicium Uple and thus "she was (wife) of Uple for four/six years" (c.f. Roman Opillus). However, is it not suspect that such detailed information about her marital status would be inscribed at the expense of her age at death? The age of death is so consistently marked elsewhere that for it to be omitted here is out of place. If I understand correctly, this was inscribed on an ash urn (although Rix marks it as a 'sarcophagus' while others call it an urn, egad) and so of course, since the body has quite evidently been burned to ashes, can we be so certain that this individual was an adult based on an assumptive interpretation of so few words?

(Dec 27/07) I just thought up a new possibility for uples here which may be better than 'sickness'. Considering ufleś in TLE 626 (if Rix' transcription is correct), I wonder if it might be possible to give *upil the value "soil". Thus, TLE 193: Avils śas, (turu) amce uples. = "At six years, is (given) to the soil."; and TLE 626: La(rθ) Śar[-]ni tezan tular ufleś pentna ale. = "Larth S. set down a cippus marking the soil below."

23 Dec 2007

Etruscan thapna: Check out those flat jugs

Since it's only two days before the global, commercialist celebration of compassionless greed called "Christmas", I figure I would tell you a wholesome story about people's jugs... or perhaps they are chalices, or cups, or pateras, or vases... It seems that Etruscologists who dabble in the Etruscan language cannot decide what they are looking at, assuming that they are even looking at all.

The Etruscan word I'm going to rant about today is θapna (the first letter is theta and pronounced like a breathy 't' sound). Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante claim that θafna means "cup" while θapna means "vase (for offerings(?))" even though they are evidently the same word. Cristofani recognizes the sound change of p > f and the fact that they are the same word so he gives the value of "cup, chalice" to θapna/θafna. Jannot on the other hand claims that tahvna(sic) refers to a "vase for offerings" (read here). Pallottino in The Etruscans (1975) lists a non-existent form *θapn[1] alongside attested θapna and θapneśtś (from the Liber Linteus), and suggests not only that it is a "vase" but a "sacrificial vase". So we have a whole bunch of contradictory values floating around such as "cup", "chalice", "vase for offerings" and "sacrificial vase", all of which conjure up wildly different mental images to the typical English speaker. We can see this disparity in meaning just by going to Google Images and seeing what a "cup", a "chalice" and a "vase" look like to most people. They are used for different things altogether in modern society: a cup is used for drinking; a vase is what you put flowers in; and a chalice is typically associated with Sir Lancelot and Robin Hood.

However, one can at least say that a "cup", "chalice" and "vase" have a general commonality in vertical shape, right? Sure they do. The only problem is that the objects that this word is written on are not cups, chalices or vases in the normal use of these words, but rather shallow cups or paterae, objects that are low on verticality. A patera (plural paterae) is "a saucerlike vessel of earthenware or metal, used by the Greeks and Romans in libations and sacrifices". Should there be any doubt as to its exact meaning, make note of the etymological source: Latin patere "to lie open". A vase doesn't normally "lie open" like a saucer or pan evidently does. For the visually inclined, this is a picture of what a prototypical patera looks like:

I think we can all agree that anyone who would call such an object a "chalice" or "vase" is missing a few cards from the proverbial deck, right? Yet, we are told that inscription TLE 30 (mi tafina Lazia Vilianas) is on a black-finish patera (read here and here) . TLE 64 (mi Karkanas θahvna) is likewise written on a coppa ad impasto or an impasto-style cup (read here). Then we have TLE 341 (mi Lareces Śupelnas θafna), written on yet another patera (read here). And wouldn't you know it, TLE 488 (ta θafna raθiu clevsinśl // θu) is also described as a patera (read here). The candelabrum of TLE 646 (inscribed with θapna muśni tinścvil aθmicś śalθn) at first seems like an outlier until we realize that yet again, we're dealing with a shallow, liquid-bearing vessel that in this case is used to bear oil to burn in an ancient lamp. (Behold the exquisitely ornate Cortona lamp: here and here). The rest of the instances of this word (such as θapneś-tś and diminutive θapnza-c) are found in the Liber Linteus in reference to libation rituals.

Therefore, given all this, why would authors who write so many books on the Etruscan language continue to translate θapna as "vase" or "chalice"? Perhaps something got lost in the translation. Anyways, up to now, I gave this translation the benefit of the doubt (blind as it was) from the likes of the Bonfantes, Jannot and Pallottino who seem to all agree that this is a "vase" somehow. I can no longer be so foolish after I finally dug through the data to investigate this word personally. I'm glad I did. So I will have to update my pdf to account for the conclusive fact that this word is describing a "shallow bowl or pan", not a vase, not a cup and not a chalice. The word would have been used in reference to shape only without reference to the vessel's usage, and probably overlapped in meaning with the Latin word patera while at the same time being used to describe shallow bowls as well.

[1] From what I can see, Pallottino likely believed this word existed based on a missegmentation of *θapn from θapnzac in LL 10.xxii. The line actually reads: θapna . θapnzac . lena . etera . θec . peisna. Surely θapnza is merely the diminutive of θapna using the well-known diminutive suffix -za. The nominal conjunctive -c meaning "and" is attached to it. Here, lena "(they) pour" is the verb operating on the preceding two nouns because Etruscan is an SOV language, placing the verb at the end of a sentence just like in modern Turkish or Japanese.

22 Dec 2007

Four Stone Hearth - Volume 30

Whoops! Being that it's so close to Christmas, I almost forgot that it's already time for the 30th volume of Four Stone Hearth, the travelling blog carnival of social sciences!! I really have to get it together.

This new issue is brought to you by The Greenbelt which has the bizarre subtitle "Language Liberalism Freethought Birds". Erh, I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean but it's just weird enough to suck me in. This blogger is a dabbling polyglot, an amateur photographer and an overall science enthusiast from Maryland, United States.

To access this volume directly, please click on the link below:

Four Stone Hearth: Volume 30

Bon apétit!

20 Dec 2007

Nifty Online Linguistic Keyboard Tools

Here are some nifty websites offering an online keyboard program free to use without downloads. Simply go to the site and start typing in the field and things will be converted to whatever you need. Perhaps it will be useful to you unicode geeks out there as it has been for me:

This website is handy for writing Classical Greek with a standard keyboard ('q' is used to write theta and 'x' is used to write chi, for example). Be forewarned that the website is bedecked with advertisements by biblethumping literalists like 'Bible Gateway', but I trust that educated people can appreciate the website while shunning this christocentric minefield of religious extremist drivel. Besides, agnostics will inherit the earth anyway (assuming our species lives long enough after the polar ice caps melt thanks to Republicans who are coincidentally also religious extremists).

This is another handy site which converts chinese characters into html code. Considering the thousands of Chinese characters out there and two sets of them to boot (the traditional set and also the simplified versions used in mainland China and Hong Kong), it's nice to not have to waste your time with mindnumbing conversions or memory-hogging downloads. Keep in mind that in order to first type the Chinese on a standard keyboard as I can, you do need to download a special program. Mine allows me to switch easily from English to Chinese and back again with the press of CTRL-SPACE... like this: 太好啦!

I love this one most of all. It allows you to assemble standard IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) together with just a point-and-click. Want a bilabial fricative? No problem! Say, I currently feel the urge to make phonetic transcriptions of Nama sentences!!!

18 Dec 2007

Etruscans, the status quo and the unpopularity of bold questioning

May I direct everyone's attention to a tiny, teensy, weensy, little aside in A Comparative Study of Thirty City-state Cultures (2000) on page 208, footnote 45. (You may read the following in the Google Books link here as well):
"It is the inscription ET AT 1.108[1], from Musarna, a subject city of Tarquinia, belonging to Avle Aleθna son of Arnθ and of Θanχvil Ruvfi; after having recorded that Avle Aleθna had been zilaθ spureθi[2] (possible meaning: "praetor in the city-state", scil. of Tarquinia), the text says that he was a priest of one or two different collegia (marunuχva cepen tenu, possible translations "having been cepen of the maru" or "having been maru and cepen"); cf. ET Ta 1.171 (Norchia), where we find the same type of association of maru and cepen, in the form of marunuχ spurana cepen, which renders problematic the translation of marunuχ spurana as maro publicus."
I can't resist wondering whether Mario Torelli felt the need to waste a very important point like this and hide it aside in smaller print at the back of the book in order to avoid conflict with status quo where we find it emphasized ad nauseum that marunuχ means Latin maro and zilaθ means 'praetor' with little to go on but these weak equations with Latin that have been hanging around since the 19th century. And if we add to this my conscious effort to properly analyse these terms into their grammatical constituents based on a more detailed and consistent grammatical model of the Etruscan language than currently provided (e.g. zilaθ = a participle form of a verb zil marked by participle marker clearly seen attached to well-represented verbs elsewhere such as mulv-eθ, trin-θ, acil-θ, etc.), everything that presentday Etruscologists hold dear falls apart miserably. I also dismiss the ridiculous equation of faux amis between Etruscan cepen and Latin cupencus that has been abused to argue in favour of translating this word as 'priest' despite a contrived correspondence in vocalism between the two words as Nancy de Grummond does in The Religion of the Etruscans (2006), p.34 when she misrepresents this hearsay as a conclusive fact.

Being against status quo is a difficult position to endure, even if the argument is on your side, as dear Galileo and Socrates knew all too well. While it is true that the views I express on the Etruscan language are considerably different from "mainstream Etruscology", Logic isn't about a popularity contest and I've been clear about the grammatical paradoxes I'm seeing in the prevailing body of knowledge in my previous entries. Look beyond the politics and transcend the minions that choose to enslave themselves in this new information age through the typical hypercritical malaise and minimal sense of responsibility to active listening. Popularity and status are fickle; Truth remains.

[1] The inscription is also referred to as TLE 171 and reads: avle aleθnas arnθal clan θanχvilusc ruvfial zilaχnuce / spureθi apasi svalas marunuχva cepen tenu eprθnevc eslz tenu
[2] Note that this author is heavily indulging in loose paraphrase instead of simply citing the inscription directly. Here he uses a substantive zilaθ rather than the verb form in evidence, zilaχnuce. Sigh. I really wish he wouldn't do that. For actual instances of zilaθ, see instead TLE 87 (an : zilaθ : amce : meχl : rasnal) as an example.

15 Dec 2007

Ammendments to Etruscan Dictionary Draft 005

I've detailed my ammendments for Draft 005 in a seperate pdf which you can retrieve here for your linguistic titulation.

I still have some questions about numerous words that just don't make sense according to the mainstream explanation. The status quo account of zilχ, for instance, is that it's the word for 'praetor' and thus an animate noun. My spidey senses are telling me something disturbing though, that a noun that ends in a patientive suffix -aχ used to make derivative nouns from verbs, that uses an l-genitive normally given to feminines & neuters, and that is attested in the inessive three times screams like an inanimate object more than the term for a person. For now I'm kowtowing to a translation close to standard but still I wonder if this word isn't completely off. Pallottino and other notable experts clumsily tweak the translation for those special 'inessive' instances of zilcθi I just mentioned, claiming it means 'reign' instead, as in "in the reign". So which one is it? 'Praetor' or 'reign'?

Of course, I find the whole thing suspicious, especially in the context of all the other mistranslated words and dubious connections made over the decades that still find their way into 21st-century print. Oh well, as always, I strive to learn more while vocalizing my finds to those that might want to learn along with me. That for me is the whole point of my bombastic project. That, and... I like to make trouble :)

Etruscan Dictionary Draft 005 now available

Here it is for everyone, free for download. There are now currently 988 entries and I'm still sifting through data. Just follow the eSnips icon below to download it:

Hosted by eSnips

13 Dec 2007

Perhaps we need an Etruscan "anti-dictionary"

"What's an 'anti-dictionary'?", you ask? It was a term I just devised today meaning "a dictionary not filled with real words of a language, but instead listing completely imaginary words that people have claimed that the said language contained over the centuries". You may ask, "How would that be useful at all??" and I would answer that normally it wouldn't be of much value but as I do my own investigation on the subject of the Etruscan language, I am constantly discovering one concocted word after another. Sometimes false versions of entire inscriptions have been dreamed up by authors with university degrees, despite the resources available to them to get informed.

It doesn't just happen once or twice either. Almost every inscription, no matter how legible, has been contorted by whim in a number of ways in order to justify one's hobbyhorse rhetoric about how the Etruscans are related to Greeks, Luwians, Albanians, Slavs, Ottoman Turks, Ukrainians, Basque, Chinese, fish-like extra-terrestrials from Sirius, etc. and I've already remarked on several examples regarding nonsense published from university-educated persons that fail their own institutions' standards of scholarship (read for example Selvans Canzate: a 'pure guess', TLE 900: Sancus, yet another Etruscan "mystery god" and More Published Errors on Etruscan). To say that these numerous and very different accounts of the same artifacts are merely "educated differences of opinion" is like trying to soothe a dying AIDS patient with a cough candy. The fun's over; time to get serious.

There's already a website online that is in effect almost an "anti-dictionary", namely Rick McCallister's Etruscan Glossary. McCallister didn't intend on making this an anti-dictionary of course, quite the opposite, but by merely collecting raw data regardless of trustworthiness without sifting the nonsense from the credible, the glossary succeeds at being total, irrational gobbleygook.

However, when thinking of the perfect anti-dictionary, I'm imagining something that would consciously pursue the task of identifying and exposing non-existent words that many readers may mistakingly believe exist because some bad author told them a shameless fib that they failed to verify with facts. I think this would be a great way to break the game of telephone that keeps this field down. So let me give a few examples of "anti-words" I've come across in this potential "anti-dictionary":
Losna: Not Etruscan whatsoever but a particularly infectious meme started with Dennis' account of the supposed Etruscan goddess in 1848. It's easy to debunk considering the "o". It's been published everywhere at this point that Etruscan doesn't have a vowel "o" at all nor does it use that letter since V (used to write the vowel "u") is regularly employed to transcribe Latin "o". Others thankfully see that losna is an Italic word for "moon", not Etruscan. Ignoring all historical and linguistic facts, the myth of an Etruscan *Losna as shown on a single mirror spread like wildfire across the internet by uninformed fanatics and new age practitioners. It's hard now to miss. It's even included in the Etruscan Glossary of Rick McCallister and the drivel finds its way onto Wikipedia, the low-IQ encyclopedia for those who don't realize that unsourced and long-ago disproven views cloaked as valuable information is a serious problem in society today. Sillier yet, it was already understood to be an Italic deity way back in the late 19th century (consult William Ricketts Cooper's words published in 1876: "Her figure is found on a mirror from Praeneste, which is erroneously supposed to be Etruscan.") but almost 150 years later, we still can't seem to absorb these simple facts.

lusni, luśni: Misread from TLE 646 (a.k.a. CIE 443 or ET Co 3.1) but published by Corssen and Dennis in the late 19th century which then gave loons fertile ammunition to link it to "moon" à la Latin luna (of course! what else?). It's now known to be the gentilicium Muśni with an "m" (see Rix, Etruskische Texte (1991), p.303 and note also Musenial in CIE 3953).

nakvani: A bizarre misreading of Larkienaś, a person's last name, in the inscription TLE 506 (or CIE 1136). Hans Lorenz gave this the meaning of "der Begrabne" in German; Arnaldo D'Aversa links it to naχva, naχve and naχś all claimed to mean "tomba"; Mario Buffa invented an Etruscan toponym based on it, *Sur Nakvani "venerando Sur", from Sura Naquane described with a flair of unmerited self-assurance.
Any Etruscan glosses made by classical authors are also assumed a priori to be 100% correct by far too many people, along with random claims about curious words or names being somehow Etruscan in origin based on a subtle mix of whim and desperation rather than firm proof (e.g. *φersuna for Latin persona, *capus for Greek gloss kapus 'hawk', etc.). There are many more of these "anti-words" but identifying all of them and the histories of these myths would in itself be a monumental task. All I can say is: Keep on your toes, scholars!

(Feb 6 08) I just found damningly conclusive proof now that Losna is indeed falsely identified as Etruscan as I asserted above. It turns out that a root may be reconstructed securely in Proto-Indo-European (PIE), namely *louksno- 'shiny' , based on cognates in Avestan raoxšna- 'shiny' and Old Prussian lauxnos 'stars' (see Puhvel, Hittite Etymological Dictionary (1984), p.154). As usual, Etruscologists are allergic to diligent research and my shameless skepticism of these 'experts' is once again entirely valid. Teehee!

10 Dec 2007

The imaginary Etruscan imperative in -thi

Let's have some more fun with Etruscologists and their errors of reasoning concerning the Etruscan language, shall we? Few ideas are as blatantly contrary to attested inscriptions than the beliefs of Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante regarding imperatives. We should rightly assume that anyone who publishes so many books on Etruscan culture, religion and language should darn well know something about the contents of Etruscan inscriptions, right? Alas, apparently not and my issue is not just with them but all Etruscologists who neglect the professional treatment of this interesting language. I haven't yet talked in full about this Etruscan imperative hoax but I alluded to the fact that this claim has never been conclusively proven in Death and Euphemisms in Etruria, so let me elaborate on this funny story.

In The Etruscan Language: An Introduction, Revised Edition on page 103, we are told: "Another imperative, ending in -ti, -th, or -thi, and used for the second person, is also found in the text inscribed on the mummy[...]" An imperative is a command such as "Go!" or "Know thyself!" and the mummy in question is none other than the Zagreb mummy wrapped in linen which has been inked with text. The document is referred to as the Liber Linteus. Yet, it's already abundantly clear upon reading Massimo Pallottino's The Etruscans that this same ending, normally written as -θi using the Greek letter theta to indicate the aspirated "t", is an inessive postclitic translated as "in" or "within". Pallottino gives an example of this ending in use on page 218 with an unobjectionable example: Aleθnas Arnθ Larisal zilaθ Tarχnalθi amce "Arnth Alethna (son) of Laris was a zilath in Tarquinia" (from the inscription TLE 174).

So we should be asking ourselves this question: WHAT examples of this supposed imperative are found in the Liber Linteus mummy text? Of course, the Bonfantes make little effort to justify any of their assertions on the language, save a few of their suspect examples like raχθ tura (claimed to mean "Prepare the incense!"), which are nothing more than ad hoc translations ripped from their proper context. This thereby leads us astute readers down another wild goose chase. I will spare some of you the trouble by listing out all the words with the ending -θi or -ti in the Liber Linteus that could possibly show an "imperative" as the Bonfantes claim:

haθrθi (LL 2.iv, 2.xvi, 5.v, 5.xii), repinθi-c (LL 2.iv, 2.xvi, 5.v, 5.xii), raχti (LL 2.v), crapśti (LL 3.xix, 4.viii, 4.xv, 4.xix, 6.xii), laeti (LL 6.v), θaclθi (LL 3.xx), θeiviti (LL 5.xx), faviti-c (LL 5.xxi), hamφeθi (LL 6.v), luθti (LL 6.xviii), celθi-m (LL 6.xviii), cilθcveti (LL 7.xiv), caiti-m (LL 8.x), ramurθi (LL 8.xiii), reuχzineti (LL 8.xiv), zamθi-c (LL 8.xvi), lauχumneti (LL 9.xxxiii), mutti (LL 10.ix), hausti (LL 10.xxiii), napti (LL 10.xxxiii), useti (LL 11.ix), catneti (LL 11.ix), lanti (LL 11.xxxi), eterti-c (LL 12.iii, 12.viii), unialti (LL 12.x), and etrinθi (LL 12.v)
The list may seem daunting but it's easy to thin this herd down to a manageable size. For one thing, haθrθi and repinθi-c are pairs and immediately dismissable since they are shown with different declensional endings elsewhere in the same text (hante-c repine-c in the simple locative). The ending -c means "and" and can be used on both nouns to mean "both ... and ...". These are assuredly nouns, not verbs. In likewise fashion, θeiviti and faviti-c are paired and so they can be ruled out for the same reason just as easily. Should this all seem obscure to most, the example of unialti "in the temple of Uni" based on the name of the goddess Uni, is a clear example showing that -ti and -θi are indeed allomorphs both signifying "in", just as in the example of TLE 174. It's safe to say that luθti is yet another noun considering its inanimate plural, luθcva, attested in TLE 131 on Laris Pulena's sarcophagus. Whether one links the word celθi-m with added phrasal conjunctive -m to Celi , an Etruscan month name believed to correlate to our September, or to a noun celu "earth", regardless a verb this is not. While mutti may appear at first to have a shred of hope of being linked to the verb mut, the preceding locative-inclined demonstrative tei "at/in that" that modifies this word destroys that faith, showing us yet another noun. Surely, cilθcveti is a noun, an inanimate plural noun in fact, whose unmarked singular cilθ is easily retrievable just a few lines up at LL 7.vii and repeated at 12.xi, should we miss it the first time. Given hamφeś with another case ending at LL 6.iii, there's no question that hamφeθi only a couple lines down is also not a verb. Don't bet on useti either, since this is specifying "in the evening", a derivative of *us "setting (as of the sun, moon or stars)" which is found in the simple locative usi in LL 3.xix and 8.xv, and a morphological cousin of usilane elsewhere in the document which is paired with θesane "at dawn". I suppose one could waste one's time trying to force useti into an imperative to suit one's premature notions but it won't be a productive pursuit given the overwhelming evidence against it. It would be a waste of time explaining away most of the remaining words since there are no attested verbs to account for them anyways and so claiming that these are imperatives is childish fancy: crapśti, laeti, θaclθi, caiti-m, ramurθi, reuχzineti (LL 8.xiii: reuχzina), lauχumneti, napti, catneti (LL 10.xvi: caθnal), lanti, caiti-m, hausti, and etrinθi.

Only eterti-c could possibly be a verb form at all, and only if a link to eθar can somehow be established by its context. However even if it is based on a verb root, it still cannot be ruled out that it's not a declinable verbal noun as us "setting, dusk" apparently is. So yet again, the Bonfantes have no clear, tangible proof to back up their published claims.

So what about the example of raχθ tura supposedly meaning "Prepare incense!"? This phrase is attested at LL 2.xix and it's clear from a professional examination of this entire linen text and by taking into account what we can be sure of the Etruscan language that tura is a derivative of tur "to give", hence it can't reasonably be proven to mean "incense" but it no doubt refers to an "offering" or "gift" based on the self-evident etymology of the word. The translation of "incense" is a concocted fantasy lacking any methodological foundation. Now, interestingly, the first word claimed to be an imperative verb is attested several times in various forms, but only within the mummy text for the most part: raχ [LL 5.xvi, 6.xviii, 8.x], raχś [LL 5.xviii], raχti [LL 2.v], raχuθ [TCap xxxiv] and raχθ [LL 2.xix, 4.ix, 4.x, 4.xiii, 4.xxi, 5.vii, 5.viii, 5.xv, 9.vi, 9.xiii, 9.xv, 9.xvi]. While raχθ or raχuθ may look like a verb form, raχś seems to be on the other hand an example of a genitive case, implying a noun. It's hardly secure what this term really means in fact since much of the text is repetitive. A nebulous word like this is one of the poorest examples one could give to justify an imperative form in Etruscan but it seems that it all rests on this one case.

It's reasonable to reject the claim altogether on the miserable amount of evidence alone but it becomes all the more hokey when one realizes that the very source of this claim is in fact based on a careless assumption of yesteryear that Etruscan was an Indo-European language and that this ending must somehow relate to the Proto-Indo-European imperative ending *-dʰi [1]. Clearly this claim is busted on numerous grounds.

[1] As an example, read Transactions of the Philological Society on page 51 as it was published in 1854 by the Philological Society in Great Britain: "As it is very likely that the Etruscan is one of the Indogerman family, the mi of that language is probably the oldest instance of the M usurping the nominative in an Indogerman language.". The antiquated belief that Etruscan is an Indo-European language, while already proven to be false many times in more ways than one, persists in the works of Zacharie Mayani and Massimo Pittau to this day. While a remote relationship with Etruscan and Indo-European is possible, the method of subjectively "eyeballing" similarities between languages to tease a translation out of them is simply not acceptable in modernday comparative linguistics.

7 Dec 2007

The Great Pre-IE Centralization

I'm influenced easily by commenters. I'm weak. No, it's all good because I've been recently influenced in a good way :) The other day, someone commented on Proto-Indo-European (PIE) phonology, regarding something that might have occured several millenia back in Pre-IE. Since I just finished a rant on Nostratic, I may as well add more to this conjectural fun.

One interesting thing that many have noticed is the few vowels that PIE contains compared to the number of consonants. PIE may have five vowels, however *i and *u can be shown to be merely vocalic reflexes of consonants *y and *w. For example, we can see that the zerograde forms *bʰuh₂- and *likʷ- of roots *bʰeuh₂- "to become" and *leikʷ- "to leave" behave in the same way as words with zerograde roots with resonant consonants like *bʰr̥- and *gʰʷn̥- from *bʰer- "to carry" and *gʰʷen- "to kill". To add, *a is so rare for some reason that some feel it doesn't exist at all (although I think this is an overly extreme position). Only *e and *o are productive in ablaut patterns and as a result it's suspected that it all comes from a centralized vowel system of and *a[1]. My view is that there was indeed an earlier system like this and that *a is rare because most instances of former *a had shifted to *o at a very late date in PIE's history, leaving behind a residue of instances of *a in words like *daḱru "teardrop" and *ǵʰans- "goose". These rare words would serve as witnesses to the earlier stage of the language.

However, if PIE originally did have a centralized vowel system, it implies all sorts of other wonderful things. Such a system, using only a few vowels and many consonants, is also typical of all Abkhaz-Adyghe languages nearby. The Abkhaz-Adyghe (AbAd) group is also known as "North-West Caucasian" or "NWC" because its languages center around the north-west region of the Caucasus Mountains which are flanked by Russia and eastern Turkey. We know that these languages have been there for uncountable ages. If the Nostraticist Allan Bomhard is correct in suggesting that AbAd and a very early form of IE were in contact with each other, is it also possible that their vowel systems evolved together as well?

The interesting thing about the phonological patterns that PIE and AbAd exhibit is that they could have easily evolved from a system with more vowels and less consonants by way of a common process of assimilation. In AbAd, palatalization (the act of pronouncing something with an added "y"-like quality) and labialization (the act of pronouncing something with an added "w"-like quality) are standard features in their sound systems. In PIE, only labialization is a phonemic feature of the language[2]. If we pronounce the sound /u/ (as in "ooooh"), we should notice that we're rounding our lips (i.e. labialization). This can be thought of as a quality that isn't necessarily loyal to /u/ but can also be transferred to neighbouring consonants in a word. So if you say /gu/ (as in the word "googoo"), when do you start rounding your lips? Chances are, you start rounding your lips while you're pronouncing /g/. This might be called anticipatory labialization because you're anticipating the next sound, so subconsciously you begin to round your lips ahead of schedule. This sort of anticipation is a universal tendency for speakers around the world to do.

So what does anticipation have to do with pre-PIE and pre-AbAd sound systems? When you say /gu/, it's practically unavoidable that you're really saying [gʷu] and this is how easily a plain stop can become a labialized stop. Similarly, a sound like /gi/ can easily become /gʲi/ through the same process. This process alone doesn't make a new phoneme however since the English sounds [g] and [] are still just allophones of a single phoneme /g/. They are said to be non-distinctive or non-contrastive because there is no contrast between /gu/ and /gʷu/ in the language, and the accompanied lip-rounding of /g/ is predictable when neighbouring the vowel /u/ in English.

Nonetheless, assimilation is no doubt the first step in creating the rich consonant systems found in PIE and AbAd. The second step involves the reduction of all previous vowels to a mere handful. Once this happens, labialization and palatalization can automatically become phonemic because the previous triggers for the assimilation (i.e. the original qualities of the neighbouring vowels) become erased due to vowel mergers. As a simple hypothetical example, if a language began with a 3-vowel system (/a/, /i/ and/u/, let's say) and all the vowels were suddenly reduced to /ə/, then we might automatically have a contrast between /gʷə/, /gʲə/ and // (from earlier /gu/, /gi/ and /ga/). Suddenly we have three consonants (u-coloured //, i-coloured // and plain /g/) where there was formerly only one (plain /g/). Since we'd have a contrastive triplet, we could then say validly that the three sounds are contrastive and thus phonemic. This is probably how the sound systems of these two language groups evolved.

Knowing that and considering the close geographical proximity of Proto-IE and Proto-AbAd to each other, it's then tempting to suspect that they evolved together this way because of areal influence. Their similarly evolved sound systems may provide some proof that they were in contact with each other at an early date. For me, I think that this is a serious possibility but it would have to have occured long before PIE itself which is said to be dated to about 4000 BCE. So I would suggest a date of 8000 BCE or so when the reduction of the vowel systems of both proto-languages would have begun to occur. (There's still more to talk about on this subject alone. So many topics so little time! Ugh.)

Others may not be convinced of any of this or my suggested date, and that's fine. This is conjecture afterall. Much more needs to be determined before any of this can be stated with certainty but it's always healthy to ponder every once in a while beyond what we currently know in order to encourage new avenues of research and exciting discoveries in comparative linguistics.

[1] The idea that the alternation of *e and *o in Proto-Indo-European ablaut (e.g. *pódm̥ "foot" [acc.sg.] / *pedós "of the foot" [gen.sg.]) comes from an earlier ablaut of and *a was proposed as early as 1965 by Pullyblank. See Bomhard/Kerns, The Nostratic Macrofamily: A Study in Distant Linguistic Relationship (1994), p.76.
[2] Read Reinterpreting the Proto-Indo-European velar series to understand why I think PIE in fact doesn't have palatalized phonemes and how PIE's antiquated orthography can be deceiving.

5 Dec 2007

Four Stone Hearth - Volume 29

Enjoy the lastest episode of the Four Stone Hearth's travelling blog carnival of social sciences! The latest issue is provided to you by Remote Central, authored by a shadowy figured named Tim Jones, or at least that's the way his blogger icon and empty profile make him appear, hehe. Nonetheless, an intriguing read filled with tasty thoughts and information yet again. To access this volume directly, please click on the link below:

Four Stone Hearth: Volume 29

Enjoy the past!

3 Dec 2007

A ramble about the Nostratic pronominal system, part 2

(Continued from A ramble about the Nostratic pronominal system.)

In my view, long-range comparative linguists who think that they have to make a really long list of highly tentative cognates to impress people are a dime a dozen. What seperates the wheat from the chaff is how structured and attentive to detail a theory is. A theory without a structure isn't a theory; it's nothing more than a tale heard at a local pub. Publishing drunken tales still doesn't make them theories.

So this is why I encourage people who are interested in this topic to first explore the Nostratic pronominal system because it's safe to say that if the premise of Nostratic has any truth to it, there should be an underlying pronominal system that explains the interrelationship of pronominal systems of later language groups that Nostratic is said to have begotten. We should be starting with these questions instead of putting the cart before the horse and comparing look-alike words by pure, directionless whim. Knowing how these pronominal systems are related to each other goes a long way to understanding the evolution of Nostratic and to finding more credible sound correspondences.

Now since this is all at the level of entertaining conjecture, I'll just spit out what I think, like the drunken bar patron that I am. Grab yourselves a drink too, my buddies! There is one interesting, recurring feature in Nostratic language groups that I notice: a suppletive system involving two very unrelated forms for each person. So for example, in Indo-European we have two sets of pronominal endings in use: the *mi-set (*-m, *-s, *-t) and the *h₂e-set (*-h₂e, *-th₂e, *-e). The former set was used for imperfective forms and the latter for perfective forms in most IE languages while in Anatolian it seems that verbs were inherently part of either a mi- or hi-conjugation class. We see in Uralic-Yukaghir, Chukchi-Kamchatkan and Eskimo-Aleut languages a shared theme of subjective-objective conjugation and again there are two different sets of endings that seem to be quite ancient (e.g. Hungarian 1ps -m & -k, 2ps -d & -l). Bomhard believes that Dravidian is also a Nostratic language but Dravidian uses quite different pronouns in the first and second person from the other Nostratic languages (*yān, *nīn) forcing him to reconstruct extra Nostratic pronouns just to account for them. In Afro-Asiatic languages, yet again, we apparently have two different sets (Middle Egyptian *anāka "I" > Sahidic Coptic anok versus Middle Egyptian *anāna "we" > Sahidic Coptic anon).

So I figure the best way to explain that is to propose a suppletive absolutive-ergative system for Nostratic as follows (note that my intention is to conjecture for the sake of discussion):

1ps*nu (> *mu)*hu

These pronouns might have optionally bore the suffix *-n for uncertain reasons. Absolutive pronouns are used for the agent of intransitive verbs and patients of transitive verbs while ergative pronouns are used for the agents of transitive verbs. As a result, we would expect to see the ergative and absolutive pronouns eventually attached to verbs as affixes in a new subjective-objective conjugation as I believe could have happened in a hypothetical ancestor of Indo-European, Altaic, Uralic-Yukaghir, Chukchi-Kamchatkan, Eskimo-Aleut and Dravidian. In Indo-European, a subjective-objective system could eventually evolve into the mi- and hi-classes of Anatolian IE because some verbs by nature are more apt to be either subjective or objective. It appears that an extra element *-e has been added to this absolutive set at an early stage of PIE, perhaps to use it for transitive verbs by marking it with a dummy object (nb. PIE *i- "he, she, it" and *e "here, there"). The same system can evolve into a contrast of imperfective and perfective as well because there is an implicit nuance of modal differences when dealing with subjective and objective conjugation as in the Siberian language called Nenets. Verbs lacking objects tend to convey a perfective sense[1]. The PIE 2ps in *-s can be explained by softening of final *-t in word-final position and the 3ps in *-t can be attributed to the attachment of the demonstative stem *to- to an originally vowel-final form long after. In boreal languages like Uralic-Yukaghir, Eskimo-Aleut and Chukchi-Kamchatkan, the subjective-objective system could have evolved into *-m versus *-ɣ and 2ps *-t versus *-n. This system also helps to explain what would have happened in Dravidian. Simply put, Dravidian could have opted to generalize the absolutive pronouns for both agents and patients of actions and thus PDr *yān < *yan < *ʔin < *hun "I (abs.)" and PDr *nīn < *nin < *nun "you (abs.)".

[1] See Pedersen, Zur Frage nach der Urverwandtschaft des Indoeuropäischen mit dem Ugrofinnischen, Memoires de la Société Finnoougrienne 67, pp.311-315, Helsinki. He discusses the derivation of PIE's so-called "perfective" endings from a pre-IE intransitive conjugation. Also Abraham/Kulikov (eds.), Tense-Aspect, Transitivity and Causativity (1999), pp.21-42, Amsterdam. Kulikov shows a relationship between imperfectives and transitives (and conversely between perfectives and intransitivity) using similar data from Yukaghir and Aleut.