30 Dec 2009

A deeper source of Cretan Britomartis

Solinus spoke of Βριτόμαρτις Britómartis as a native Cretan name for Artemis, the Greek goddess of moon and hunt, which he claimed had underlyingly meant virgo dulcis 'sweet maiden'[1] and Hesychius doubly equates his Cretan gloss βριτύ with Greek γλυκύ 'sweet'.

Apparently though, from what I've dug up so far, this is all that's ever written on the subject of the etymology of her name, an important question that's tossed aside for airy interpretations of local mythology to fill up the latest tome weighed by the pound. Out of desperate curiosity, I consulted Wikipedia to see if any of those busy bees had found just a smidge more than the status quo but predictably the groupThink swarm proved once again worthless. There's far more to the origins of this name but the following exploration is curiously absent in any book I'm aware of on the subject despite being, I believe, highly illuminating.

The first element, brito-, may remind us of the Greek example of ἄμβροτος 'immortal' from Proto-Indo-European *n̥-mr̥tós 'non-dying' showing how easy it is for /m/ to strengthen to /b/ before another resonant. In light of Hittite militu- '(honey)sweet'[2], a characteristically Indo-European u-stem adjective derived from milit- 'honey', there should be no doubt where the first element comes from. The second part of the compound, -marti-, is contrastingly sourceable to Assyrian mārtu 'daughter, girl', a purely Semitic feminine form of māru 'son, boy'. These linguistic connections complement the already well-known Anatolian and Near-Eastern influences on Crete.

[1] Solinus, Polyhistor, 11.8.
[2] Puhvel, Hittite Etymological Dictionary, version 6 (2004), p.155: miliddu-, maliddu 'honeyed, (honey)sweet'.

Paleoglot: My sweet honey bee

26 Dec 2009

Battling the Indo-European axe

The Proto-Indo-European root *péleḱu- 'axe' seems to me to be contrived. While the correct centum-satem correspondence between Greek -k- and Sanskrit -ś- is reassuring, it by no means validates the reconstruction. First, we have two fullgrade vowels in two consecutive syllables which immediately gives the alleged root an un-Indo-European appearance. Second, the root rests solely on the strength of a comparison between just two cognates: Greek πέλεκυς pélekus and Sanskrit परशु paraśú-. Third, their respective word accents don't match.

On the other hand, there seems to be a controversy concerning the skeptic's attempt to relate the above lexemes with Assyrian pilaqqu which has been long claimed to mean 'axe' but which, given the new reading of 'spindle', is thereby discredited. Ironically however there remains Assyrian palāqu 'to fell, to slaughter' to contend with, a verb on which nominal derivatives like naplaqtu 'knife' were built. Surely this is fundamentally not an Indo-European word and a Semitic source like this one remains preferable over a PIE root that begs even more questions than it's worth.

Yet, while we're on the subject. Are we sure that Sanskrit परशु paraśú- is really connected to the Greek? Consulting the online Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, an alternative form, पर्शु parśú-, is also provided. Unless I'm overlooking something, this only adds further doubt to the comparison. I wonder in what way any IEist can provide reassurance that these two words should be related. Note also Akkadian parāsu 'cut off, cut into pieces, separate' which should warn us that, considering many competing sources of this word available, these cognates could be red herrings. It would help greatly if we could at least establish the antiquity of this word in Proto-Indo-Iranian by way of further evidence.

17 Dec 2009

Imaginary "/f/-aspiration" in Etruscan

Here's yet another case of a "bibliographical game of telephone" gone wrong and which perfectly explains why I have no respect for those who get pushy with me about their own articles as if I'm supposed to suspend judgment or bite my tongue just because something is published. Even neatly published articles in journals are far too often just a fancier form of verbal hearsay. Rational skepticism doesn't apply differently to different media of communication. Logic must be applied to everyone's claims equally, regardless of whether somebody said them, blogged them or published them in print. Consider also that there are plenty of sensible authors who still get it wrong, not because they themselves erred in their reasoning necessarily, but because the authors they've relied upon have erred.

Julián Victor Méndez Dosuna in Can weakening processes start in initial position? The case of aspiration of /s/ and /f/ relies on Hurch (1988) who, based on yet other scholars, implicates Etruscan into the larger pattern of "/f/-aspiration", just another term for the debuccalization of f to h.[1] At the onset of his examination of the Etruscan evidence, Dosuna offers sound advice:
"Owing to the severe difficulties in interpreting the texts of a language which remains largely unintelligible, one must be extraordinarily cautious in analyzing the Etruscan evidence." (see link)
He then delves into some heavily outdated 'evidence' for the alleged f > h sound change in Etruscan:
"It is true that the inscriptions provide numerous instances showing vacillation between the spellings and in syllable-initial position: Fasti ~ Hasti (woman's name), safin- > sahin-, fastntru ~ hastntru, faltu > haltu. However, as far as I can judge, Pfiffig's (1969: SS17, 18.2) data seem to indicate that syllable-final /f/ is always secondary and results from the weakening of /p/: cf. hupni ~ hufni, hapna ~ hafna, huplha ~ huf(u)lha. This means that, as in Latin, the distribution of primary /f/ was defective in Etruscan." (see link)
First, Dosuna observes the same p-lenition as I've mentioned many timed before on Paleoglot, minus the conditioning by u. Second, unbeknownst to him, several items he depends on from other academics to be facts are sadly outright fabrications:
1. There is no *safin- in Etruscan, a word conjectured from an Italic ethnonym.[2]
2. *huplha ~ *huf(u)lha is surely mistranscribed Θuplθa ~ Θuflθa.
When we clear away the junk linguistics, this alleged Etruscan sound change of f > h rests solely on foreign onomastics. Debuccalization surfaces particularly in the region of Clusium where the variation between f and h is historically most attested. The truth is that Fasti ~ Hasti, Fastntru ~ Hastntru, and Faltu ~ Haltu are all Italic names and have nothing to do with the qualities of the Etruscan language. Absurdly, the gentilicium Ferclite (ET Cl 1.835), attested in Etruscan yet again in Clusium and which is known to stem from Greek Ἡρακλείδης, would seem to show a reverse change of h to f! This can only make sense if the two-way f/h alternation is the result of confusion in the pronunciation of names in a linguistically diverse area, not a genuine sound change in Etruscan itself. Looking beyond Etruscan, in fact, the alternation is likely more illustrative of neighbouring Faliscan[3], an Italic language that has already shown differences with Latin vis-a-vis the distribution of f and h (eg. Latin hodie 'today' versus Faliscan foied)

Dosuna later states: "For whatever reason, aspiration did not affect secondary syllable-final /f/." Naturally because it had never occurred in Etruscan at all. Otherwise, for example, we'd expect the Liber Linteus which was written at the close of the 1st millenium BCE to fail to show the many words it does show such as fira (LL 1.xviii) and flanaχ (LL 10.iii), and favin (LL 11.x) which, to the contrary, show that f prevailed with no trace of this sound change.

[1] Dosuna, Can weakening processes start in initial position? The case of aspiration of /s/ and /f/, Bernhard Hurch y Richard A. Rhodes (eds.), Natural Phonology: The State of the Art. (Papers from the Bern Workshop on Natural Phonology), Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter, 1996, pp. 97-105 (see link).
[2] Bakkum, The Latin dialect of the Ager Faliscus: 150 years of scholarship (2009), p.209 (see link).
[3] Read the section entitled The 'f/h' alternation in Faliscan in Stuart-Smith, Phonetics and philology: Sound change in Italic (2004), p.61 (see link).

13 Dec 2009

Concern trolls and the Etruscan bilabial 'f'

Predictably anonymous "concern trolls" are sending me more stupid comments about their fake disdain for p weakening to a bilabial fricative when next to u, as I mentioned in a long-ago post. The first fact below shows that the only people posting angry nonsense about my personal character because of this non-issue are angry bloggers and likely failed authors. The rest of the facts I've compiled will be informative for serious linguistic students and history buffs too.

1. Etruscan specialist Larissa Bonfante confirms Etruscan f is a bilabial.
2. Etruscan pairs like pulumχva/fulumχva prove allophony.
3. In allophonic variation, a shared articulation feature (ie. bilabiality) is most economic. An alternation between a bilabial and labiodental sound is comparatively less economic.
4. Instances of Etr f not from allophony are demonstrably recent loans
(cf. Etr fanu vs. Lat fānum, Osc físnam & Umb fesnafe).
5. Bilabial fricative sounds are in no way 'rare'.
6. Several varieties of Spanish use a same bilabial fricative phoneme.
7. Like Etruscan, Yimas shows increased sonority of /p/ before /u/ & /w/.
8. It's not absolutely certain that the /f/ of neighbouring Latin was strictly labiodental.

12 Dec 2009

The myth of the secular

"The context and state of the archaeological record have relegated peak sanctuaries to marginal areas in the study of Minoan society. This situation is worsened by our analytical tendency to separate religious and secular spheres and components of Minoan society - a condition no more viable for the Bronze Age than for the Classical Aegean."
Donald C. Haggis in Chaniótis, From Minoan farmers to Roman traders: Sidelights on the economy of ancient Crete (1999) p.74

First an Egyptian example

Since Egyptian language, politics and mythology are now well understood, Egyptologists are no longer as free as they may have been in the ignorance of the 19th or early 20th century to make false descriptions about Egyptian art and its origins. Najovits in Egypt, Trunk of the tree, Vol. 2‎ (2003) (see link) misapplies the word 'secular' on page 144 when discussing the art during the reign of Akhenaten:
"Even if it was not always the case, Amarna art encouraged a new type of art with secular, casual implications. Rather than primarily being an official, idealized art which praised the pharaoh and the gods, illustrated religious dogmas and served as 'equipment' for the afterlife, scenes such as relaxed, warm family life, intimacy and affection, playing, preparing food, farming and hunting came more to the forefront." (boldface mine)
The overemphasis on secularism misleads since the art of this period, as shown below, remained littered with religious motifs (ie. solar disks with extended arms, ankhs, lotuses, divine offerings, etc.). Thanks to Google Images, this can be readily seen by everyone. Anything but 'secular', the art behind Akhenaten's new heliocentric cult was indeed "an idealized art" of its own, naturalistic in defiance of the more polished art before it, which continued to praise both pharaoh and deity as it always had. No one can credibly insist that these scenes are in origin secular, nor secular on the surface. These scenes are simply not secular at all. More naturalistic, yes, but not secular.

Secularist views in Minoan studies

On page 275 of Pendlebury's The archaeology of Crete: An Introduction, first published in 1939, his secularist prejudice imposed itself upon his description of Minoan culture, but where verifiable facts in modern Egyptology amply limit this indulgently sanitized interpretation, the continued poverty of knowledge in Minoan studies concerning the exact politics, religion and language of the Minoans reduces standards (see link):
"Minoan art shows clearly that, while much of the artist's work consisted of depicting scenes of a religious or semi-religious nature, yet he certainly had a quick observant eye for wild life and a sense of the country which is unparalleled in antiquity. His natural vitality was expressed in his representation of such sports as boxing and the bull-leaping which, however much they may have become bound up with religion, must in origin have been purely secular, and the outcome of a love of physical exertion which is only now returning to the Aegean." (boldface mine)
Pendlebury's baseless insistance that bull-leaping scenes on Minoan frescoes must in origin be secular is an irrational assertion, and was even so when he first wrote it. Kyle, Sport and spectacle in the ancient world (2007), p.45 (see link) places Minoan bull-leaping rites in their proper religious context and in the context of the greater Mediterranean cultural complex:
"Bull games, with bulls sacred to or representing the Storm-god, seem to have been part of traditional Hittite religious ceremonies."
No shock there. The classical Greek tale of Theseus and the Minotaur already hints at the underworld symbolism of the Cretan bull and labyrinth motifs. It's lunatic on its face that any decent scholar would suggest that ancient people had randomly decided to leap over bulls for the sake of desperate heroism and stubbornly ignore religious motive behind the clearly non-rational act that would fully explain it all. Religious origins to seemingly 'secular' acts are seen throughout the world. Note for example the 'secular' Mayan ballgame inspired by the myth of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.

Contrastively, the beliefs of Pendlebury and ilk have no basis in cultural reality nor even in rationality in general. It's the product of a stunted, overanalytical mind that demands unfairly that all ancient art, art which is by nature expressive and non-rational, must be reduced to purely non-religious origins and meanings, even when a religious interpretation is wholly unavoidable given a competent understanding of greater context.

Rodney Castleden in Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete (1990) on page 75 (see link) gives us a more realistic perspective on Minoan art:
"The naturalistic treatment of plants and animals is deceptive: it is often quite inaccurate. The rock-rose, for instance, is given six petals instead of five. Some plants defy identification. The mythic animals are an even stronger reminder that the fresco artists were depicting another world than the everyday one; it is a symbolic world where general concepts such as fecundity were more important than accuracy of detail. A favourite plant in the frescoes is the papyrus, treated in various decorative ways: but the papyrus did not, as far as we know, grow in Crete in the Minoan period, so the frescoes do not factually depict the Cretan landspace. The papyrus may have been a borrowing from Egyptian art which to the Minoans held some symbolic value. Certainly we should not see the Minoan frescoes as simple interior decoration."

9 Dec 2009

Clay seals and goddesses

Robert Eisner asserts, "The Greek Artemis surely descends from the Minoan Mistress of beasts."[1] This statement seems hard to deny nowdays which is why I recently explored how a-ra-tu-me on a Minoan clay seal (HT Wc 3024.a) might in some way be related to the name 'Artemis'. That being said, a caveat is in misconstruing the linguistic origins of the goddess and the mythological origins as a single issue. My casual brainstorming on the meaning of the as-yet undeciphered term a-ra-tu-me is fundamentally no lesser nor greater than Miguel Valério's book-published hypothesis that du-pu3-re signifies 'master' based on its idle phonetic similarity to Hittite tabarna- which he must assume a priori to mean 'ruler' to make stick.[2]

So blogger Judith Weingarten's recent attempt under Paleoglot: Etruscan Artemis and the unexpected vowel change to smother open query with ridicule and self-promotion is unconstructive for all of us. Let's not let our behaviour fall into the stereotype of stuffy traditional academia that defeats itself by its cartoonish elitism and slavish clique system. Being published or non-published on paper will never free any of our egos from critique or human fallibility. Blogging isn't an enemy to scholars. It has a purpose in academia. Blogging wastes less trees and properly treats ideas as ever-evolving concepts rather than absolute conclusions set in stone. I use blogging as a healthy way to both hone my evolving understanding on historical languages and to solicit informed alternative views. However, I do not solicit personal attack in place of reasoned opposition.

Concerning a-ra-tu-me meaning 'Artemis', I feel I can safely drop that idea since it suffices to reason that corresponding Mycenaean seals normally show terms for commodities and transactions as explained by Vassilis Aravantinos in The Mycenaean inscribed sealings from Thebes - Problems of content and function [pdf][3]: "We have the reference to things that are 'holy' i-je-ra. We have technical economic vocabulary like o-pa which specifies a kind of contractual obligation and the operational term qe-te-o. qe-te-o generally implies an obligation on the palace center to 'pay' something out to somebody else. In two cases, ewes and male pigs 'are to be paid' te-qa-de 'to Thebes'."

The recorded conversation of experts further down the article is fascinating to read and, alas, it appears that nowhere is a deity's name mentioned in these artifacts. Why then should I expect so in similar Minoan texts? Also as I read further on the functionality of these clay sealings as "modernday padlocks" for ancient trade, I may be overemphasizing the significance of depicted scenes stamped on the clay in relation to the accompanying writing. (My skepticism of Weingarten's claim that some of the accompanying images are somehow non-religious in origin is a separate issue that I may address in a separate blog entry.) Although i-je-ro 'holy' is evidence for religious property in these seals, a lack of precedent found in the Mycenaean world for the explicit writing of a divinity's name is logically sufficient to disqualify my bold departure from status quo. I stand corrected.

Even based on my independent linguistic approach to these texts, other words found with the figure of an archer like ka-ku-pa in HT Wc 3016 seem most sensibly interpreted as nouns describing commodities, not deities. In HT 16.1-2, the phrase ka-ku-pa • di-na-u, especially if approached from the assumption that Minoan is related to Etruscan, seems to show a noun followed by a participial adjective in -(a)u (nb. the Etruscan participle ending -u as in tur-u 'given') in much the same way as adjectives are placed after commodity terms in Mycenaean.

To err is human afterall and I wouldn't be a good student if I didn't dare to both err and correct myself in turn. Nonetheless, this still doesn't answer a most basic question: What was Artemis called in Minoan? My personal search continues...

[1] Eisner, The Road to Daulis: Psychoanalysis, psychology and classical mythology (1987), p.162 (see link).
[2] Chavalas, The ancient Near East: historical sources in translation (2006), p.267 (see link): "Tabarna is a royal title of uncertain translation."
[3] V. Aravantinos, Mycenaean Texts and Contexts at Thebes: The Discovery of New Linear B Archives on the Kadmeia, in S. Deger-Jalkotzy, S. Hiller, and O. Panagl (eds.), Floreant Studia Mycenaea I (Vienna 1999) 45-78 (see pdf).

7 Dec 2009

A tasty bucket of 'chicking'

John Wells recently stood up to a distractive commenter on John Wells's phonetic blog:
"Sometimes the comments on this blog get sidetracked into topics that have nothing to do with the subject of the blog posting to which they are appended. So it was on 28 November, when David Marjanović was surprised 'that anyone would seriously say anything other than [ˈt͡ʃɪkŋ̩]' for chicken."
The insincerity of pronouncing "chicken" as "chicking" is obvious to most simply by the word-final en. In fact, the statement is so transparently false that we might naturally start wondering if this is a sign of a highly intelligent yet obnoxious troll with a specialty in subtle academic confrontation.

Yet this "David Marjanović" insists he's a graduate student in paleobiology and spends his time on Wikipedia earning Barnstar rewards to prove it while informing us of his taste for fine mint chocolate chip ice-cream. Earlier on my blog, he came to the defense of the dubious North Caucasian hypothesis in a comment that takes up several pages. At the time, I found the length of his commentary just a tad odd but I rolled with it, answering his many concerns, fake or not, at least for the benefit of other readers if not for him. In hindsight, one has to wonder about the intentions of someone who starts it all off with:
"First of all, as a biologist, it baffles me to no end that historical linguists talk about 'proof', 'unproven hypotheses' and suchlike."
Meanwhile on Language Hat, after commenter marie-lucie completely fabricated statements I never made just for lulz, David chimed in to dish out some of his own self-defacing sadism:
"No wonder. [Glen Gordon]'s so aggressive he's probably literally incapable of getting a paper published."
This of course has "self-talk" written all over it. In all of these instances, he is accompanied by other trolls (see sockpuppet for more information). It would appear that all it took was a skepticism of both Wikipedia and long-range reconstructions to provide him with a motive for this mean-spirited behaviour. The "aggressive" label he uses here is becoming cliché now after so many trolls have been using it to shut down opposition. Enough.

(13 December 2009) Another Language Hat troll came to the rescue of marie-lucie. He informed me that the "offending" blog entry in question is Some observations concerning Woodard's The Ancient Languages of Europe and pertains to my "shame" in calling the Etruscan f a "bilabial fricative". Oh dear, we'll have to tell Larissa Bonfante, a noted Etruscan specialist, that she's an idiot too then. {chuckle} Or maybe we can just stick the sad troll's meaningless letter in the garbage can along with his overzealous schadenfreude and add relevant footnotes with required reading for those sincerely interested in the Etruscan language.

2 Dec 2009

Etruscan Artemis and the unexpected vowel change

Let's retire Bronze Age Mediterranean phonology for a while and talk about Etruscans and their deities again. On page 57 of The religion of the Etruscans‎ (2006), Erika Simon explains to us that Etruscan Artume ~ Aritimi, the goddess of hunt and lady of the moon reknowned for her superior archery, is directly taken from Greek Artemis (Άρτεμις) and that the cult extends back to the Neolithic. This description of her origin is ridiculously brief and, to add, ridiculously vague as it oversteps many millennia and distinct cultures in a single sentence. It doesn't seem to trouble her that the vowels have changed radically (eg. Greek epsilon to Etruscan u) since she doesn't explain any of it at all. That vowel change is a rather unavoidable detail if she wishes to make her published words stand the test of time. Down the rabbit hole we go, Alice...

I'll get straight to the chase and solve one riddle that obscures the problem above. I've come to realize that the purported Artume ~ Aritimi alternation in Etruscan is one of many modern myths created by idle theorists. Artume is sufficiently attested as the one and only Artemis in ET AH S.4 and ET Vs S.6. Her name appears to have been carelessly confused with that of a separate etymon however, an Etrurian city which the Etruscans called Aritim and which in Latin is called Arretium. Despite this knowledge, we've hardly solved the vowel change riddle yet.

If we only assess the problem from within the specialized bubble of the narrow Etruscan field, internal -u- before bilabial m can easily be explained away as a reduced form of original *-e-. This happens many times in Etruscan and so it would seem the problem is solved, right?

On a Minoan Linear A artifact (HT Wc 3024.a), John Younger transcribes the symbols as A-RA-TU-ME replete with a picture of an archer. To confirm, Raison & Pope on page 150 in Corpus transnuméré du linéaire A explains further: "Sept impressions de sceau sur le pourtour, dont une, semble-t-il, oblitérée délibérément (archer de profil gauche faisant la génuflexion, 112 de Levi)." Translated into English, it reads: "Seven seal impressions on the perimeter, where one, it seems, obliterated deliberately (archer facing left bending at the knees, 112 of Levi)."

If Younger's transcription is sound, I can't help but wonder now about Artemis and the Keftian connection.

26 Nov 2009

Minoan citynames with an Egyptian accent

John Strange (in Caphtor/Keftiu: A new investigation, p.21) shows Minoan citynames written out in Egyptian as they were known during the reign of Amenhotep III in the 14th century BCE. The picture below is courtesy of this reference via Google Books.

I noticed something in these lists that involves the way that these names are spelled in Egyptian characters. It has me wondering about whether people are transcribing things quite right. Based on the common transliterations I see, it would appear that all people see in these lists is alphabetic writing of the foreign names. I personally see in this a mixture of alphabetic and rebus writing.

Notice #3 (Kydonia), #8 (Kythera) and #10 (Knossos)? The three all begin with the symbol of upraised arms followed by a single stroke. Normally this is the way of writing 'soul', often written out "the Budge way" as ka to avoid the pesky issues concerning vocalism in a script that normally didn't write vowels (except in foreign names like the above, of course). The actual pronunciation in Middle Egyptian was likely *kuʔ. It just so happens that a syllabic reading of this symbol as ku suffices excellently when sounding out the names Kydonia and Kythera. Knossos can also be read this way if we keep in mind that the stress is placed on the second syllable. What I find interesting is not only that we can get away with reading this out syllabically based on a literal reading, but also that this symbol of all things was chosen, a symbol clearly of religious importance. It'll relate to what I write below in a minute.

Also look at #8 (Kythera) again. We see a mouth symbol followed by another one of those strokes. In everyday writing, this would write the literal word for "mouth" and was probably pronounced *rāʔa or *rāʔ by this time (> Coptic ro). Just as before, a syllabic pronunciation based on the literal reading, ra, gives us precisely the vocalism we need in the name Kythera. Interesting, no?

Now back to the religious symbolism in the first set of examples, it continues on in #2 where we see another spiritual glyph starting off what is thought to either spell out Phaistos or Pisaia, a bird which normally represents a second aspect of our tripartite being, the ba (according to Budge spelling, at least). Again, the actual pronunciation was slightly different, probably *baʔ, but in this case Budge's spelling is close enough to reality. If we can get away with syllabically reading ku and ra, why not also ba here? If so, the alternative reading suggested, Pisaia, is not possible. Yet while this works in favor of the reading Phaistos, this interpretation also remains problematic if going by the Mycenaean name *Phaistós (PA-I-TO).

20 Nov 2009

Japanese dialect mirrors suspected PIE development of sibilantization between two dental stops

So I was looking on the internet for something else, and as it often happens, I came across something unrelated to what I was looking for but which nonetheless had value for another problem that I pondered on several moons ago, the origin of the intervening PIE sibilant in a sequence of adjacent dental plosives *-TT- (eg. *h₁ḗdti [ʔé:d̰ˢtʰi] 'he eats')[1]. My instinct has always been to attribute it to the age of the Syncope rule when unstressed schwas were deleted. The theoretical deletion of intervening schwa between two dental stops, I reasoned, might likely have left traces of friction stemming from a devoiced vowel, lost by the latemost Proto-IE stage.

Lo and behold, it turns out that the Hirara dialect of Japanese located on the island of Miyako shows just such a development according to Masayoshi Shibatani in Languages of Japan (1990), p.409 who offers the example of hito 'person'. In this unique dialect we see the development of [pɨtu] > [pɨ̥tu] > [pˢtu] which is strikingly parallel to my Pre-IE explanation of the development of sibilantization in *h₁ḗdti. That is, Mid IE *éd̰atai ['ʔed̰ətʰəj] 'he eats' > ['ʔe.d̰ᵊ̥tʰi] (via Reduction) > early Late IE *ʔḗd̰ti ['ʔe:d̰ˢtʰi] (via Syncope).

I love how (pre)history repeats itself.

[1] Fortson, Indo-European language and culture: an introduction (2000), p.63 (see link): "A sequence of two dental consonants was pronounced with an added sibilant inserted between them"

19 Nov 2009

Linear A treatment of consonant clusters

I just discovered Minoan language blog by Andras Zeke, and in particular an intelligent post called Treatment of consonantal clusters in Linear A and B. Here, Zeke goes into excellent detail about his observations of Linear B's handling of consonant clusters and what impact that may have on rules implicit in Linear A. I've been lately thinking along the same lines so it's great to not feel alone. Throughout the blog, he shares in the same school of thought as me, pursuing links with Etruscan and Eteo-Cypriot. The only disappointing thing about it is that it isn't more regularly updated.

I don't agree with everything in the article or blog however. In particular, Zeke claims that Minoan loans in Greek that surface with the characteristic -nthos ending show that "it was unlikely that the Minoan language was like the Japanese", that is, in terms of phonotactic rules. This is derived, I believe, from a misunderstanding about the two languages.

Concerning the still uncertain theory that commonly identified words ending in Greek -nthos (ὑάκινθος, ἐρέβινθος, πλίνθος, etc.) come indeed from a specifically Minoan source, this may only imply a Minoan termination in *-inta, a sequence of syllables that is perfectly natural in Japanese syllabics where syllable-final -n is the only allowed coda consonant, as in 三 san 'three' and 一番 ichiban 'first, best'.

If, to the contrary, Minoan phonotactic rules mirror those of modern Japanese so closely, one may then wonder if Minoan Linear A actually dropped word-final -n in writing since such a rule would be a perfect source for the Linear B rule to likewise omit all of its more expansive set of coda consonants (eg. Linear B ko-wo for Mycenaean *kórwos 'boy'). As we can see, a rule like this in Minoan is minor and self-explanatory if there is only /n/ allowed in syllable codae, even more so if there is no phonemic contrast between a vowel-plus-nasal sequence and a nasalized vowel, whereas the same rule in Mycenaean produces the orthographic train wreck with which specialists must struggle.

Also, on the topic of PA-I-TO and its identification in both Linear A and Linear B as 'Phaistos', I'd like to suggest an alternative explanation that avoids inconsistency with the above observations. Putting aside all supposition, the important facts here are: 1) the Greek name shows medial -st-, 2) Linear A precedes Linear B, and 3) there is no doubt that Phaistos was a Minoan city. Facts therefore show us that Greek Φαιστός can only rationally come from a Minoan name. Yet if the Minoan name is written in Linear A as PA-I-TO just as in Linear B, how do we reconcile the inevitable consonant cluster!? Simple: We avoid taking the sequence -st- at face value and explore other possibilities in line with the aforementioned phonotactic restrictions. Namely, there is the overlooked potential that Greek -st- is metathetical and was meant to, albeit inaccurately, represent Minoan /t͡s/. From this suggestion, it might be extrapolated that the syllable TO was always pronounced /t͡so/ (merging therefore with ZO in spelling perhaps?). Strangely, Japanese too shows lenition of dental plosives neighbouring back vowels (ie. specifically, the high back unrounded vowel u). Are we seeing a mirror reflection? This hypothesis achieves the congruence we desire: Minoan *Paito /'p(ʰ)aj.t͡so/ > Mycenaean *Φaistó-.

14 Nov 2009

Don't let quotes run "amok"

I couldn't help but laugh at the hilarious blog discovery Paddy K recently uncovered:

It's amazing how, despite all one's careful wording, two ill-placed punctuation markers can wreck it all.

12 Nov 2009

Minoan inscription HT 104

I find it very sad that there's so little decent conversation about Minoan artifacts despite ample information available online. John Younger has gone to great trouble to detail all sorts of Minoan artifacts and their inscriptions (link here) yet I haven't seen much active discussion in the blogosphere about it. Why?? This should be a fascinating topic for any linguaphile to explore! Maybe the world needs a giant Paxil. Personally, I've been noticing a lot of interesting patterns and lately I've been looking at HT 104. So I thought I'd share my speculations for the sake of promoting constructive conversation.

This is the apparent accounting record made by a scribe in HT 104 (after formatting into a tidy table) that is also found on John Younger's Linear A website:


Considering the pattern of the numbers, there's no doubt that kuro is the Minoan word for 'total' since it's used so regularly for other sums in many other documents. I figure it's a borrowing specifically from Ugaritic *kullu (kll) since this is a common root for 'whole, all' among all Semitic languages. The change of l to r is likely indicative of a lack of Minoan /l/, making it an areal feature shared with Middle Egyptian to the south. Now what about the other items here? Are they names? Commodities? What?

One thing that excites me here is TA-PA. In Linear B script (ie. Mycenaean Greek), TE-PA is the word for 'heavy rug'[1], a commodity. If we presume that the Greek word has been borrowed from Minoan, we might theorize an underlying noun *tapiya 'heavy rug' (cf. TA-PI in ARKH 1.a.1). So this probably represents a header describing what sort of objects are being tracked.

Between the header and the total, we have three names, all ending in -TI. While Miguel Valério interprets such endings as ablatives meaning 'from', I recognize the Etruscan inessive postclitic -θi 'in'. I expect that many may likely mutter a skeptical "so what?" to this as-yet unproven connection. Yet, if we allow ourselves to explore for the sake of argument we get what appear to be Anatolian placenames declined in a common locative case:

Dakusene-ti'in Cape Lekton' (cf. HT 103.2: DA-KU-SE-NE)
Idu-ti'in Mount Ida' (cf. PK Za 18: I-DA)
Padasu-ti'in Pedasos'

The numbers then would presumably represent weights or prices of the material divvied out, signalled by symbol {505}.

[1] Chadwick, The Mycenaean world (1976), p.152 (see link).

9 Nov 2009

A Pre-Greek name for Odysseus

In my previous post (Odysseus, Uthuze and Utnapishtim), I finished off with the dangling idea that the name Odysseus had reached Anatolia and the Aegean by the second millenium BCE. This shouldn't be a provocative speculation given the facts and communis opinio. However, the question is exactly how the name entered Greek and how a Sumerian name Utu-zi suggested by the Babylonian rendering of the name Utnapishtim (UD.ZItim) might have even influenced Greek if Sumerian is said to have been a dead language by the beginning of the 2nd millenium BCE!

There are additional facts that make this topic very intriguing, such as the fact that Ὀδυσσεύς (''Odusseús'') is but one Greek reflex of the name, others being Ὀλυσσεύς (''Olusseús''), Οὐλιξεύς (''Oulikseús'') and Οὐλίξης (''Oulíksēs'') from whence Latin Ulysses. Notice the alternation of d to l? Strangely enough Robert Beekes identifies a lot of "Pre-Greek" words with this same alternation and many of the pairs seem to me to be rather convincing. As previously mentioned, the Etruscan name shows an aspirated plosive th, yet another phoneme for what is surely the same sound in the beginning.

So here's what I hypothesize to explain all this maddening variation. Let's presume that Beekes' observation of "Pre-Greek" d/l alternation is suggestive of Minoan phonology. The unetymologizable d/l pairs in Greek are afterall inexorably linked to the current awkwardness of the Minoan transliteration (cf. Paleoglot: A new value for Minoan 'd') which doesn't exhibit a natural phonology for a language. I've previously suggested an affricate /t͡ʃ/ for Minoan "d" but I'm lately honestly considering an affricate /t͡θ/, attested in Athabaskan languages, which when unaspirated may be mistaken as either a "d" or an "l", particularly in a language like Mycenaean Greek which evidently lacked this sound. This brings us to a reconstructed Minoan form *Oduze /'Ot͡θut͡se/ which is more in line with the presumed Sumerian form.

Now how might the Sumerian form enter Minoan by chance? Certainly one way would be if a Minoan scribe moderately knowledgeable in Babylonian characters read the Sumerograms UD.ZI literally as Utuzi. The use of the original Sumerian phonetic values for the Babylonian symbols when writing Babylonian long postdates the extinction of the Sumerian language.

Finally, back to the Etruscan aspirated plosive, I would suggest that there may be a correspondance between Minoan "d" /t͡θ/ and Proto-Cyprian *. (Note: I've now decided to call Proto-Etrusco-Cypriot simply Proto-Cyprian since, for one thing, it's easier to type. Lol.) From Cyprian, we get the derivative languages Etruscan, Lemnian, Rhaetic, Eteo-Cypriot and Eteo-Cretan.

7 Nov 2009

Odysseus, Uthuze and Utnapishtim

I've been dwelling the past few days on the origin of Etruscan words. Many words appear to be of Doric origin and then there are even older loanwords, it seems, showing Anatolian IE, West Semitic and Egyptian influence. On the topic of the origin of the Etruscan name, Uθuze (''ET Cy G.1'' and ''OI G.39''), we need only look to a borrowing from Greek Ὀδυσσεύς 'Odysseus'. Or so it seems.

Now, please forgive me, my readers, if I should tread on something that's already understood by everyone but me. However, on closer inspection of the aforementioned Greco-Etruscan connection, even if we should say that the name was borrowed from a Greek vocative form Odusseu, we can see that Greek voiced, unaspirated /d/ doesn't nicely become a voiceless aspirated /tʰ/ at all. We should rather expect Etruscan plain t. And thus, we trek through yet another etymological safari hunt.

Upon investigating the origin of Odysseus, we may find that the origin is spoken of vaguely as "uncertain". As far as I'm concerned, uncertain is one of the most disgusting words in the English language because it's such a common excuse for intellectual laziness. Why is it uncertain? Must it truly be uncertain?

In the Etruscan form, I can't help but be idly amused by Uθ- at the beginning which strongly reminds me of Sumerian utu 'sun'. This combined with a free-word association with Utnapishtim, the legendary Babylonian survivor of the World Flood, evokes a Sumerian name Utu-zi 'Life-breath of the sun' being readapted to Ut-napishtim (napishtim = 'life, breath') but still written in script using the Sumerograms UD-ZI[1]. Things get complicated if we consider that the other corresponding Sumerian name normally cited, Zi-ud-sura, may be a "re-borrowing". That is to say, Sumerian Utu-zi 'Life-breath of the sun' would have become a partial calque Ut(a)-napishtim which would be reinterpreted by scribes and priests to mean 'he found (uta-) life-breath (napishtim)' (nb. the replacement of Sum. utu 'sun' with Bab. ūta 'found') and thus back into Sumerian with the reformulated Zi-ud-sura 'Life of long days', now implying a character who has found immortality. Odysseus' relationships to an underlying sun-god motif have already been noted in literature which is what made my synapses fire in the first place.

So I now wonder if this Sumerian name Utuzi reached Anatolia and the Aegean by the second millenium BCE in order to better explain the source of the Greek and Etruscan names.

[1] It seems that the journal Kairo (1987) has beaten me to the punch on that one (see link).

2 Nov 2009

A modification of Indo-Aegean, plus some new grammatical ideas on Minoan

I like to explore new ideas and test them as always. One of my ever-evolving ideas is on the idea that Indo-European and Aegean are related to a common Proto-Indo-Aegean ancestor datable to 7000 BCE. Or so I've been thinking up to now but...

I decided to explore a radical new extrapolation that's got a grip on my mind recently. What would be the consequences to my theories if Proto-Indo-Aegean were dated to as much as a thousand years later in 6000 BCE? The first interesting thing about this fresh perspective is that 6000 BCE is just about the time before Proto-Semitic began to affect Mid IE (MIE) according to my currently defined chronology. Another interesting thing is that if we take for granted a more Balkans-positioned MIE vis-à-vis the later Ukraine-positioned PIE proper, then it begs the question: Where would this theoretical Proto-Aegean of mine be sitting at this time? The most obvious answer would be that it would lie somewhere to the west and/or south of the Balkans in the general area that it historically emerged (see graphic above). Yet my theory also positions Old IE (OIE) back in the northerly territory occupied by later Late IE such that the geographical path from OIE to MIE to PIE looks like a meandering vee that points towards the Aegean Sea (see graphic below). This isn't problematic since nothing says that languages have to spread progressively in only one direction over the course of time. However, this pattern, if taken as correct for the sake of argument, teases in me a further idea that Aegean would have been brought to Greece and/or Turkey by that very southerly movement that brought Mid IE into the same trading zone. It's as if to say that what I call "Old IE" circa 7000 BCE is to be revised as a still-evolving Indo-Aegean and the beginning of the Mid IE period should be called "Old IE" at 6000 BCE. It's as if the temporary spread of an early stage of PIE to the Balkans and the spread of a related Aegean branch perfectly coincide to warrant further pondering.

Given the general conceptual arguments in favour of this deviation from standard, I went towards examining all the morphological what-ifs with even more profound consequences. The unfortunate problem with Etruscan, Lemnian and Rhaetic (and probably too with Eteo-Cypriot and Eteo-Cretan) is that no personal endings appear to be attached to verbs in these languages despite the fact that many features like the 1ps and its oblique form (mi and mini), demonstratives and the declensional system (ie. the demonstrative accusative, s-genitive, animate and inanimate plural endings) all find direct connections to PIE. If Aegean is related to PIE then something has happened to these endings and they've disappeared at some unknown point in time motivated perhaps by reasons that are lost in the mists of time.

I refuse to believe the answers aren't recoverable and I don't particularly like mist. I've been poring over Minoan texts recently and while very hesitant at first, I've been rethinking on the published but nonetheless speculative view by some that -SI and -TI are the 3ps and 3pp endings respectively. This is an obviously PIE-inspired interpretation and given the lack of success in translating Minoan with PIE values, we have reason to be skeptical.


It's interesting to observe that if we stick by my values of the Libation Formula such that *una (U-NA) means 'libation' (cf. Etruscan un 'libation') with plural *unar (U-NA-RU), and *kan- in KA-NA-SI/KA-NA-TI is cognate with Etruscan cen- 'to bring', then not only do we have a perfectly sensible phrase "a libation was given"/"libations were given" that coincides with the fact that it's written on several Cretan libation tables, but if we take the variation KA-NA-TI in PK Za 11 to be correctly read and written on purpose by scribes to indicate a different inflection, then what we have here is a language with personal endings that apparently have not been completely lost! It would seem that -TI might indeed correlate with plural subjects while -SI would correlate with singular ones.

If we additionally corroborate this with CR (?) Zf 1 (an inscribed gold pin) where we find a perfectly Etruscoid sentence with the ubiquitous SOV word order and with intriguingly Indo-European-like verbal endings, A-MA-WA-SI KA-NI-JA-MI (*Amawasi kaniami 'I (ie. the pin itself) was brought for Amawa'[1]), then we have a very exciting verbal system that might help crack the language: 1ps *-mi (cf. PIE *-mi), 3ps *-si (cf. PIE *-ti), and 3pp *-ãti (cf. PIE *-énti).

The reasons for this strange hodgepodge grammar, neither fully Etruscan nor fully PIE by any sensible definition, would then relate back to the modified chronology that I suggest above. Speculation? You bet. But worth a look, I think.

[1] Ego-focussed dedicatory inscriptions such as these were plentiful in later Etruria and were also found in the Greek and Faliscan languages as well. Read for example Pallottino, The Etruscans (1955), p.253 (see link) who testifies to the Faliscan inscription eco quto ... enotenosio ... 'I (am) the pitcher of ... Enotenus ...'.

26 Oct 2009

Searching for an etymology for Germanic *handuz 'hand'

First, let's get nonsense out of the way by letting a published author state the obvious about origins of the Proto-Germanic etymon *handuz 'hand' that are most implausible yet unfortunately popular among idle hobbyists online. In the words of A. Seidenberg in km, a widespread root for ten (1976):
"The effort to relate km or kmt to *handus, or, more generally said, to see a reference to the hands in the number words, is also ad hoc: there is not the slightest evidence, apart from similar speculations on the other numbers, that the Indo-European number words are derived from finger-counting."
These comments on poor methodology are as true today as they were then, regardless of whether this old tomfoolery is resurrected on page 316 of Mallory/Adams in The Oxford introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European world (2006 ), albeit subsequently with mild argumentation against the idea.

What then is the current etymology? Apparently no consensus exists yet. For example, The Barnhart dictionary of etymology‎ (1988) says that no cognates of hand exist outside of Germanic. While it's immediately tempting to see an origin in PIE *gʰend- 'to grasp' which yielded Latin praehendere, Greek χανδάνειν and Gothic bi-gitan, formal sound correspondences between PIE and Proto-Germanic forbid us to assume a direct connection with the Germanic root. One would expect a hypothetical PIE u-stem **gʰóndus 'grasper; hand' to end up as **gantuz in Proto-Germanic but certainly not *handuz which rather suggests a non-existent PIE stem **kondʰ-u-. Evidently, these are not the plosives we're looking for and no direct link to Proto-Indo-European appears sensible.

So I had a sudden brainwave and the more I think about it the more sense it makes, although it's frustratingly hard to substantiate. Since there are already a few known Proto-Germanic terms borrowed from Latin in the early first millenium BCE after Grimm's Law had taken place (cf. Ringe, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic (2006), p.296), it makes me wonder if one of them might have been our Germanic word in question.

For this crazy idea to stick, we require a Latin word *handus, but as the reader can tell by the asterisk, it doesn't exist (at least as far as I know). On the other hand, prae-hendere 'to seize, to grasp' does indeed exist and the prefix prae- 'before' is secondary. From this implied Latin verb root *hend-, we are certainly free to muse light-heartedly on how we can obtain *handus 'grasper' from it, and very curiously, noting on how it rhymes with the attested Latin word for 'hand', manus. It taunts me with the image of a northern Germanic community with a high degree of Latin bilingualism, inventing new words and idioms out of a faraway language. If only my Germanic-influenced Latin word *handus for proper manus were attested in Roman records, I might develop something more out of this thought.

24 Oct 2009

Nipping the PIE ergative *-s theory right in the bud

Recently a commenter brought up the "PIE ergative theory" and this was woven into another idea about Indo-European's purported connection with North-West Caucasian in remote prehistory. I don't have a problem with the idea that PIE might have had contact with NWC (note: not a genetic relationship, just contact). If a form of Pre-Proto-Indo-European were in the steppelands of Western Asia circa 7000 BCE entering into Europe, this wouldn't be surprising at all and would even be expected. It's fair to say that this hunch is reasonable given what little we know at present about the linguistics of this time period and region. Allan Bomhard had theorized just such a contact in Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis (1996) but he could do little with it other than comparing some choice Proto-Circassian words with those of PIE. Nonetheless, some ideas, even those concerning protolanguages and prehistory, can be immediately rejected with available evidence.

The view that PIE case endings, nominative *-s and genitive *-ós, are somehow related by a magical ablaut and stemming from an ergative case came about from the fact that, based on the wealth of data from world languages that we now have, nominative cases which mark the subject of a sentence are supposed to be unmarked cases. The ergative theory seemed to help solve this problem for some since it provided a specific pathway for this unusual marking to develop. Yet it now has a strong disproof based on the very topological issues it was based on. Witness page 56 of Archaic Syntax in Indo-European - The spread of transitivity (2000) where the theory is artfully destroyed in a pair of brief sentences:
"Yet cross-linguistic analysis has pointed out that ergative marking affects first of all inanimates, and only later animates. The 'ergative' marking patterns of Proto-Indo-European therefore do not fit the noun hierarchy as proposed by Silverstein (1976) and therefore no longer support the traditional ergative hypothesis for Proto-Indo-European."
That's what I call cerebral zing. As some often do when they find themselves on the wrong side of Athena's heartless sword, they pick up the fragments of their precious theory, caress them, dote on them, even try to glue the shattered remains back together again in order to breath life back into them by whatever unnatural means necessary. Let's move on. This ergative theory is going nowhere and we're left with only what I've said all along: The PIE nominative comes from an encliticized version of *so, formerly an independent, uninflected definite article (later absorbed into the paradigm of *to- 'that' only to mark the animate nominative). Read Christa König who writes in Case in Africa (2008), p.180:
"A marked-nominative case can go back to a former preceding definite element, resulting in stress and vowel change in the head noun, and the nominative is marked by vowel change and vowel reduction. Evidence for this pathway comes from Berber languages."
She then goes on to explain a pattern that is precisely what I predict for Pre-PIE: "In some Berber languages, case is only encoded with definite nouns, in others with all nouns." A similar pattern is observable in Ancient Etruscan, a language whose nominative and accusative cases are unmarked for nouns but marked in definite postclitics, implying that an overt distinction between subject and object is only found in definite nouns. And let's face it, isn't it a lot less taxing on the brain to derive nominative *-s from pre-syncopated Mid IE animate definite article *sa (> PIE *so) than to try and turn the entire Indo-European case system on its head just to unravel the mysteries of this one suffix? Rest your weary heads, my stoic brethren, and heed Occam's Razor.

15 Oct 2009

Prehistoric isoglosses in Proto-Steppe

As you can see, I've been pondering on Proto-Steppe today. Many people refer to this early hypothetical language set most sensibly around 9,000 BCE as Indo-Uralic and it's called this because it's the common ancestor of both Proto-Uralic (PU) and Proto-Indo-European (PIE) afterall. However I still prefer my own term Proto-Steppe a) because it's more descriptive of the likely region where it was spoken and b) because PIE and PU aren't the only language groups implicated in the grouping. I made this simple isogloss map to show at a glance how I would explain Proto-Steppe's development into the later proto-languages known and studied and it relates, as always, to the unpixelated view of the Wave Model of language change. Thus far, I've been satisfied with a 4-vowel system of *a, *i, *u and , forming a pleasant V-shape when you graph it out on paper using the dimensions of height and backness. V-shaped vowel systems are quite common around the world as far as vowel systems go.

Now to explain the three isoglosses I have on display above. I've been getting the impression for a while that Indo-Aegean (IAeg) and Altaic-Gilyak (AG) must have remained particularly close after diffusion of the Proto-Steppe community because I can think of at least two sure features that they share with each other that couldn't have been inherited from the parent language. One is the wholesale softening of word-final *-t to *-s as seen in the changes on animate plural marker *-it (n.b. further erosion of word-final *-s causes in turn Proto-Altaic *-r₂) and the other is an occasional correspondence of *a in IAeg and AG with Boreal *u in certain key words. I attribute this curious development to an original mid-central schwa which could sit equally in accented positions as well as unaccented ones.

Upon revisiting these ideas, I've just realized an interesting minimal triplet in Proto-Steppe that serves as a simple but effective argument to justify the necessity of at least four reconstructed vowels at this stage:
  • *ta 'from'
  • *tu 'you (sg.)'
  • *tə 'that (near you)'
The first becomes the source of the Indo-European ablative *-ód and Uralic partitive *-ta. The PIE form originated by agglutinating the postposition to the nominal stem in IAeg (thus *-ata), followed by Penultimate Accent Shift in Old IE which took the fixed accent off the initial (*-áta), then Syncope (*-ád̰) and finally Vowel Shift, yielding PIE *-ód with regular rules. The second and last examples show a vital difference between them since *tu becomes *tʷa (> PIE *twe, n.b. vocalism secondarily affected by *me < Proto-Steppe *mi 'I') while *tə becomes IAeg *ta without labialization of the preceding stop (>PIE *to-). This is explained if there was an unrounded vowel distinct from both low central unrounded *a and high back rounded *u, namely the mid central unrounded schwa which fits so nicely into an otherwise common 3-vowel system. Forms that suggest to some long-range linguists the apparent existence of a proximal demonstrative **ti on the Proto-Steppe level[1] are, I figure, caused by later analogical derivation out of inherited *tə since this proximal demonstrative is only evidenced in Boreal and AG while IAeg seems to preserve only *ta 'that' (> PIE *to- and Aegean *ta) with a distinct proximal counterpart *ka (> PIE *ḱo- and Aegean *ka). I take the IAeg evidence to show an original word *ka 'this' in Proto-Steppe since, if this is not so, the source of the IAeg form would remain much more obscure than that of Boreal and AG's *ti vis-a-vis the securely inherited deictic *tə. The Altaic forms with word-initial sibilant in place of expected *t- are surely caused by pre-Altaic palatalization before high front vowels as has also apparently occurred in its second person pronominal forms.

All these speculative ideas while interesting and worthy of discussion are however, of course, subject to some range of interpretation. Debate remains open.

[1] See, for example, page 2 of Frederik Kortlandt's article Indo-Uralic and Altaic [pdf].

12 Oct 2009

Comments on the Etusco-Latin tupi/tōfus connection

As probably some can tell by my previous explanation of the rules of this blog, I recently received a comment that irritates me for the reasons already mentioned: stubborn to facts, condemning the very act of speculation even when facts are present, and being all-in-all too stubborn to look up viewpoints that are contrary to one's own. The internet is not just a valuable tool of self-expression but a powerful tool for research. This is why I can't understand those who will take the time to comment but never take the same amount of time to do their homework. Evidently further facts need to be known by some readers here.

First, here's a portion of the aggravating comment I received in response to the connections made between Latin tōfus and Etruscan tupi but which I promptly deleted for being unnecessarily ornary and also thoroughly invalid:
"Between you claiming (with no proof) that word X is Etruscan and an ancient Roman claiming an Etruscan origin for word Y, the latter is naturally more trusted, more reliable. Let's take this way, how many scholars quote you for words claimed of Etruscan origins and how many scholars quote, let's say, Varro?"
In no uncertain terms, this naive person is evaluating statements based on popularity (ie. 'how many times they are quoted')! And notice the word "trusted". Does that mean "trusted by European society"? "Trusted by elites"? "Trusted by published scholars approved only by a handful of reknowned institutions"? "Trusted by democractic vote"? Trusted by whom? And why should we care about the trust of others when rationally evaluating for ourselves the validity of claims? Ugh, blind credentialism at its worse. Surely Varro et alia aren't trusted a priori based on valid Logic since all statements must be evaluated regardless of their source to avoid one of the most common and ugly pitfalls of reasoning referred to as argumentatum ad hominem (literally 'argument towards the person') or simply ad hominem. How can a competent reader ignore the myriad of tall tales woven by these same classical authors regarding eponymous ethnic origins and wild legends incorporating both gods and men? Ceteris paribus, authors (regardless of who they are or when they lived) can be both correct or incorrect. At face value we can't tell. So source is patently irrelevant no matter how artfully a heckler stands on his head. Nice try though. DELETE!

A related argument, invalid for the same reasons, I had already allowed through to my commentbox:
"No offense, I find far more reliable the glosses of ancient Latin authors who might have even heard Etruscan in their lifetime than the speculations of a modern blogger based on formal resemblances."
Offense or no offense, the statement is patently ridiculous for several reasons. It makes me frankly a little annoyed that the reader apparently fails to realize something he could have looked up for himself. The most important fact is that the relationship of Latin tōfus and Etruscan tupi cannot be labeled a "modern blogger speculation" at all since blogs hadn't been invented yet ** in 1932 when Fiesel's article entitled Etruskisch tupi and lateinisch tofus had been published in Studi Etruschi **! Yes, folks. This blogger speculation has been around for at least 77 years! Again, nice try but no cigar.

As far as I've personally read, this interesting connection remains unresolved which is why I find it's important to talk about it. Speculation-haters be damned. If only certain commenters stopped feeling the need to cast stones at new ideas when ironically unwilling to look up the absurdity of their own statements and views, but then maybe that would take a bit of the spice out of scholarly life. Can't have the good without the bad, I'm afraid.

Blogger lynchmobs - Get out the pitchforks!

Given recent comments, let's overtly explain what my intentions are as a blogger and how I moderate my blog against the general intrusions of internet nonsense. Paleoglot discusses comparative linguistics (most often on Proto-IE and ancient Aegean languages), but I will often speculate about things that are of interest to me based on existing facts. Please note the following:
  • Fact-based speculation and random speculation are not the same nor on a par.
  • Healthy fact-based skepticism is not equal to toxic absolutive skepticism based on petty feeling.
  • Speculation is not a danger to Reason for those with minds sophisticated enough to separate fact from fantasy.
  • In fact, without speculation, we lack a vital step in the learning process since speculation helps us reflect on the implications of new information.
  • We must have clear reasons for our objections, not just for our personal conclusions.
  • I reserve the right to delete comments that I deem unconstructive (whether abusive, factless or downright nutty).
  • I don't distinguish trolls from genuine but stubbornly ignorant persons - both are unworthy to have voice in an academic forum. (ie. This isn't a kindergarten.)
There are no quicker ways to make my trigger-happy finger delete your comment, besides being insulting to other commenters, than to have people repeat facts and references over and over, chastise me for merely blogging/speculating/expressing, or reducing one's rebuttals to vacuous denials of facts presented without further substantiation.

5 Oct 2009

The etymology of Latin tofus 'tufa' isn't written in stone

Authors Liddell & Scott in A Greek-English Lexicon, first published in 1819, claimed that Greek tophiōn (τοφιών) means 'tufa quarry', attested in Tab.Heracl.1.137, then further suggested that it be traced to Latin tōfus 'tufa' which in turn was stated to probably come from an Italic dialect.[1] However, the exact dialect remains unspecified and it's unclear why the source must be an Indo-European language, let alone precisely an Italic one.

It's often claimed that tufa, an Italian borrowing inherited from Latin tōfus, is originally from Greek tóphos (τόφος).[2] Yet *tophos is apparently unattested and theorized on tophiōn[3] which leads us to a reminder that conscientious authors must give proper courtesy to their readers by meticulously placing asterisks before any conjectural constructs to make clear distinction between fact and theory. It's possible that the spelling variant tōphus, alongside the other form tōfus, was introduced into Latin through hypercorrection and folk etymology with an imagined Greek source.[4]

At this point it should be known that Etruscan tupi is attested in the Tarquinian Tomb of Orcus (TLE 89) in the phrase Tupi Sispeś next to an image of a man carrying a boulder. It's no stretch of the imagination to read it as 'Rock (Tupi) of Sisyphos (Sis(u)pe-ś)' because of its obvious connection to the Greek myth of a sinner who in death was sentenced by the gods to Tartarus (the lower underworld) and doomed to push a monumental boulder up a mountain forever. Sadly, despite all the academic accolades of co-authors Etruscanist Larissa Bonfante and British Museum Head of Italian Collections Judith Swaddling, all the two experts can cook up in their 2006 book Etruscan Myths is a less-than-accurate translation, 'the *crime (or punishment)* of Sisyphos'[5], which simply overlooks the above facts and which thereby frustratingly obscures a source for these Latin and Greek words whose origins are otherwise unknown.

As I've remarked before on my blog, Etruscan p consistently shows lenition to a bilabial fricative /ɸ/ whenever it neighbours the high rounded back vowel u. Surely this phonological quirk is from whence the fricative ef and the aspirate stop phi of the respective Latin and Greek reflexes owe their origins. So it looks like we have a simple solution here. Alas, much like Sisyphos, I suppose we linguistic-obsessed souls are doomed to eternally strive for the heights of etymology with a boulder of unknowns strapped to our back. Ah, but what a fun and glorious torment life's mysteries are!

[1] Perseus Digital Library, excerpted from Liddell/Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (1940), 9th edition: Greek tophiōn (τοφιών) (see link).
[2] Skinner, The origin of medical terms (1961), 2nd edition, p.406 (see link): "Latin - tophus or tofus, from the Greek τόφος, a loose, porous, kind of stone (Hebrew, toph)." Note that Skinner mistakes Hebrew toph (תֹּף) as 'stone' instead of 'tambourine, drum'. The English term toph stone is rather from French tuf, again of Latin origin like Italian tufo/tufa, as properly explained a hundred years earlier in Arthur, Treatise on Architecture, Including the Arts of Construction, Building, Stone-Masonry, Arch, Carpentry, Roof, Joinery, and Strength of Materials (1867), p.123 (see link); Haubrich, Medical meanings: a glossary of word origins (2002), 2nd edition, p.242 (see link): "tophus is a Latinized version of the Greek tophos, 'a porous volcanic stone'".
[3] Valpy, The Etymology of the words of the Greek language in alphabetical order, with the omissions generally of plants and sometimes of the more uncommon animals (1860), p.171 (see link).
[4] Diab, Lexicon of orthopaedic etymology (1999), p.353 (see link): "NB: the spelling tophus perhaps was introduced into Latin as the more learned form, as though it were of Greek origin."
[5] Bonfante/Swaddling, Etruscan myths (2006), p.32 (see link).