21 Apr 2008

Some random thoughts on Proto-Aegean languages

The Etruscan cluster ml-

I can't let this issue go. I'm obsessive maybe. There are tonnes of things to explore here and it's important for me to iron out these issues because my entries depend on a clear structure. I've decided it's best to represent the entries in an idealized "Proto-Etruscan", an earliest form of each word. But what is the proper representation of Proto-Etruscan and how should I handle word-initial consonant clusters?

What's starting to affect my decisions on the proper representation of citation words in my listing is not only my early realization that all Etruscan word-initial clusters are derived from pre-Etruscan syncope but also my investigations into related languages like Rhaetic. The existence of Rhaetic klanturus (i.e. showing a word-initial cluster) seems to suggest that my current entry forms are a little too archaic and should be toned down a little to include consonant clusters.

It's examples like mulaχ in the Liber Linteus, rather than mlaχ, that have eluded me up to now. After looking through the data I've amassed though, I notice that it may be better to represent this word under the heading mlaχ and to presume that the insertion of u is a later development. This epenthesis is seen elsewhere, as in Herecele where its Greek origin emphasizes that this phonetic process did indeed happen.

Etruscan mler and fler

I've been curious about the word mler because I dare say this is starting to look like an archaic form of fler. When I look at the dates of the artifacts in which mler is found, I seem to get a consistent range of between the 7th to 5th centuries BCE, while fler is found in later artifacts like the Liber Linteus. The meanings of the two words also seem to be identical to me. (See D'Aversa, La lingua degli etruschi (1979), p.378.) So I'm now wondering if I should put this all under an entry mler. The sound change would be sporadic but not without credible phonetic motivation since the height of the vowel e and the preceding palatal l which is naturally [+high] as well might have lacked sufficient saliency for speakers to maintain without further fortition of the preceding m. In other words, I'm envisioning the following development: mler /mler/ -> /βler/ -> fler /φler/.

Semitic-speaking Minoans and words of sanity from Yves Duhoux

Since I'm at the university today, I may as well avail myself of some yummy academic literature on the topic of Aegean languages like Minoan. As a blogger, I often get silly attacks from the peanut gallery that my views are somehow outlandish which is strange because I'm really quite conservative and becoming more so as I age. I like ideas to make sense. That's all I want in life, really, for common sense to prevail. It's silliness like Cyrus Gordon's The Semitic Language of Minoan Crete (1981) that make the popularity of credentialism so mindless to me. (Sufficed to say, I must make clear on the outset that I'm of no relation to him. We merely share the same last name.)

At any rate, Cyrus Gordon's work on Minoan makes it crystal clear to me that a university degree in no way guarantees that its possessor is competent in logical thinking. Afterall, I don't recall any intensive "logic classes" as a requirement before obtaining a history or archaeology degree. It's merely assumed by most, and rather naively, that graduates have completed their studies with complete sanity of mind. Here's a quote from Yves Duhoux on pages 223 of L'étéocrétois (1982) talking about Gordon's views and his poor grasp of linguistic methodology despite university education:
"L'hypothèse sémitique ne nous paraît, dès lors, pas moins (ni plus) respectable que toute autre - mais elle doit, comme les autres, passer au crible de la critique (ceci deviendrait, sous la plume de GORDON 1975, p.158: 'blind denial is no more scientific than blind acceptance')."

Translation: "The Semitic hypothesis doesn't seem to us, at first glance, to be less (nor more) respectable than any other - but it must, like the others, be subject to critique (this would become, in the words of GORDON 1975, p.158: 'blind denial is no more scientific than blind acceptance')."
Then on page 227, it gets uglier:
"Il arrive rarement que Gordon traduise complètement un texte étéocrétois, et ceci est déjà en soi suspect. Dans un cas, cependant - un seul! -, il a interprété et traduit séparement tous les elements d'un texte. [...] Il paraît inutile d'insister: on n'a affaire ici qu'a une suite de mots sans queue ni tête, qui montrent mieux que tous les discours la faillite de l'essai entrepris."

Translation: "It occurs rarely that Gordon translates completely an Eteocretan text, and this is already in itself suspect. In this case, consequently - a single one! -, he interprets and translates seperately all the elements of the text. [...] It seems useless to insist: we have nothing here other than a string of words without tail nor head, that show more than anything else the failure of the attempt undertaken."
Ouchy. So it always frustrates me to see the same loose standards applied on the internet to forward some crazy idea or hypothesis, all the while demanding of more restrained netizens that a degree must be flashed before these extremo-skeptics accept a point of view. Let's all agree though that slicing and splicing words from historical artifacts without any ordered rationale to translate undeciphered languages is precisely the way to make yourself look like a complete jackass, degree or not.


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