9 Jul 2008

Nyah, nyah, I told you so (or... Let's now talk seriously about Proto-Aegean)

Ah, it's sunny again, so understandably I will be making this blog brief as I enjoy the weather (and in Winnipeg, it's our prerogative to enjoy it considering that we only get hot summer weather for three months of the year).

Anyways, back to the topic of this blog, I always find it funny how something has to be published in a book before many people feel that it's "real" enough to believe. Of course, I'm not complaining about the great comments and feedback I'm getting back from this blog. However, there are times when things that, at least in my mind, seem to be so clear and well-known in published literature as to be virtually unquestionable are fought by some readers tooth and nail without careful rationale other than "it doesn't satisfy my skepticism", I have to admit it makes me roll my eyes at times. Again, I'm not complaining because when one decides to reach out of one's own bubble and blog to the world, this just comes with the territory.

Now, the reason why I mention this is because whenever I assert on this blog that Etruscan and Rhaetic are closely related languages, there's a tension in the air and I swear that I can hear vultures looming above me. There are evidently a lot of online die-hards who still scough at this view as though this were the most ludicrous idea they had ever heard of. (But then, these are sadly often the same people that have desperate need to believe that Etruscan is related to North-East Caucasian or some other highly dubious claim that I have no interest in.)

Roger Woodard writes on page 142 in The ancient languages of Europe (2008), published by Cambridge University Press (see link):
"To the same language family as Etruscan there belong only two poorly attested languages: Lemnian in the Northeast of the Aegean (sixth century BC; Agostiniani 1986) and Rhaetic in the Alps (fifth to first centuries BC; Schumacher 1992:246-248; Rix 1998). Lemnian and Rhaetic are so close to Etruscan that Etruscan can be used to understand them. The date of the common source language, Proto-Tyrsenic, can probably be fixed to the last quarter of the second millenium BC. The location of its homeland is disputed, however; possibilities include: (i) the northern Aegean, whence Proto-Etruscan and Proto-Rhaetic speakers would have come in the course of the Aegean migration westwards at the end of the second millenium (similarly Herodotus [I.94] identifies Lydia as the Etruscan homeland); (ii) central Italy, from which Proto-Lemnian speakers would have migrated eastwards and Proto-Rhaetic speakers northwards. A decisive judgment is not currently possible."
Of course, I still maintain that the latter possibility (i.e. that these "Tyrsenic" languages are autochthonous to Italy, as per Dionysius of Halicarnassus) mentioned in the quote above is merely mentioned as a kind of diplomatic tip-of-the-hat to a historically vocal camp of thought that is destined to devolve into a new-age minority religion in the next century while the former (with perhaps some slight modifications) becomes the future standard view.


  1. Hello Glen,

    Is Proto-Aegean an ascendant of Illyrian, and thus (at least, according to the rudimentary theories I've read) of modern Albanian? I was in southern Albania a few weeks ago, and I heard the often-told story that their language is "the most ancient language in Europe". Of course, I have heard this description with respect to other European languages, including Basque (which probably is the most ancient, but I feel people affirm it all too easily), and even my own language, Maltese (which stems from Siculo-Arabic, although one theory claims that it is a direct descendant of Pheonician).

    Kind regards

    Antoine Cassar.

  2. Hello, Antoine.

    Antoine Cassar: "Is Proto-Aegean a descendant of Illyrian, and thus [...] of modern Albanian?"

    Illyrian is now known to be an Indo-European language. So is Albanian. I don't consider Proto-Aegean to be *within* the Indo-European family but merely distantly related to it.

    In my view, none of the languages that I consider to be under a "Proto-Aegean" family have much to do with Indo-European and Semitic. All that I'm suggesting is that Aegean and Indo-European may be related to an even more ancient source language which I call "Proto-Indo-Aegean" and which I date up to approximately 7000 BCE and which I tentatively situate around the Volga River and northern coast of the Caspian Sea.

    "[...] and even my own language, Maltese (which stems from Siculo-Arabic, although one theory claims that it is a direct descendant of Pheonician)."

    While Maltese is a form of Arabic, it is not descended from Phoenician although it is related to Phoenician. Both Arabic languages and Phoenician come from the same source as Hebrew and Babylonian: Proto-Semitic.

    While Etruscan is not related to Semitic, it has Semitic substrate. I suspect that a lot of it is from Ugaritic at a time when the language was still in Asia Minor in the second millenium BCE. However, Phoenicians also had a major influence on Etruscan culture and art in the first millenium.

  3. Thank you Glen. Your research is much to be admired. I am a linguanaut myself, although more from the perspective of poetry than science and linguistics. Keep us posted!