18 Apr 2009

The Etruscan verb root slic- in TLE 131

I've been contemplating the inscription TLE 131 lately. I'm pretty sure I know what it says in entirety but I just need to find better historical substantiation for the rites that seem to be described within it before I can be entirely confident of my translation.

One particular word, slicaχem, at the end of line 4 can be a headache for us decrypters because it's an unnerving hapax (ie. a word attested only once in all known texts of a language). Nonetheless, it's not all hopeless. We can at least start to comprehend this term by breaking it down grammatically to see what we get. First of all, -m is a very common phrasal conjunctive that normally marks the first element of a sentence, and usually a verb. The left-hand remainder, slicaχe, is indeed a valid verb form and shows the passive preterite suffix -aχ-e (TLE 282: menaχe "(it) was left"). Ultimately then, we're left with the verb root slic- whose meaning must be understood from the surrounding textual and archaeological context, together with the above observations on grammatical patterns. Failing to account for any of these three considerations leads to the typically shoddy, unusable translations we sadly still read in Etruscan literature up to this very year.

From the surrounding context of the word (ie. Slicaχe-m aprinθvale luθcva Caθas paχana-c...), I had already gathered that the word must mean something like "approach with" or "bring". However, recently I became curious of the etymology of the word, particularly because of the onset sl- which seems unlikely to come from either a Latin or Greek loan. So then I started reflecting on what the root might have looked like if its origin were dated to before the Pre-Etruscan Syncope (ie. the hypothetical "first" syncope which was probably dated to the end of the 2nd millenium BCE and which produced word-initial consonant clusters in at least Etruscan, Lemnian and Rhaetic). This event is not to be confused with later historically attested Etruscan Syncope of 500 BCE.

It stands to reason that if this root dates to this early time, the original protoform should be *salík-. At this earlier stage of the language, word-initial clusters would yet to arise, and any that later developped in Etruscan would have appeared predictably whenever stress accent wandered to the second syllable of this pre-Etruscan stage, inevitably leaving a doomed schwa in the first syllable to be eventually omitted. This is an alluring hypothesis particularly considering that there is an uncanny word match in both form and meaning in a language far far to the east of Etruria, in the depths of Anatolia: Hittite šalik- 'to approach'[1].

Yet it doesn't end there. I already have a growing pile of what appear to be ancient Indo-European loanwords of Anatolian origin in Etruscan (eg. sal "great" = Hittite šalliš) so this latest connection would just add to my tidy folder of evidence. However, apparently the etymology of this Hittite verb also remains unknown to current linguists[2]. As such, the alluring question for me then becomes: Did Pre-Etruscan truly borrow this term from an Anatolian language or does this Hittite term to the contrary reflect Aegean influence on Anatolian languages? Or, for that matter, have I simply overanalysed?

[1] Yoshida, The Hittite mediopassive endings in -ri (1990), p.65 (see link).
[2] Weeks, Hittite Vocabulary: An Anatolian Appendix to Buck's Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages (1985), p.137 (see pdf).


  1. Can you give your understanding of the context with slic- meaning "approach": Slicaχe-m aprinθvale luθcva Caθas paχana-c... My Etruscan is not as good as yours.

  2. Yes sir, a reasonable request. :)

    Thus far I have the following equations:
    aprinθu = [type of offering]
    luθ = 'egg'
    Caθa = goddess Catha
    paχana = lit. 'those of Bacchus'

    First, sentence structure. The phrasal conjunctive -m 'and (then)' is normally applied to a verb which must then head the sentence. This is a circumstance when the unmarked SOV order is disfavoured. The verb is conjugated in the passive preterite and unmarked for person (as always, similar to Japanese).

    The word aprinθvale appears to be a dative singular (-(a)le [dat.]) if aprinθu in TLE 494 represents its uninflected singular form.

    Next, luθcva is transparently a nomino-accusative plural because -cva [pl.] is an allomorph of the more typical form -χva following aspirate θ.

    The goddess name Caθa is declined in the genitive, indicating either possession or the recipient of an offering.

    Following that, paχanac is marked with the common nominal conjunctive -c "and", leaving paχana "(those) of Bacchus" (ie. Paχa 'Bacchus').

    Thus a word-for-word translation should be: "And brought for votives were the eggs to Catha and to '(those) of Bacchus'...". A more aesthetic English translation would be: "And the eggs were brought to Catha and to 'those of Bacchus' as votives...".

  3. Perhaps I should add a caviat, though. Even though it's clear that Caθas paχana-c represents a noun phrase joined by conjunctive, we should in all honesty expect instead both members of the pair to be declined in their respective genitive forms. Thus: *Caθas paχanal-c.

    Paχana, being unexpectedly undeclined, may simply be the result of a natural scribal error... or even more likely a faulty transcription by modern Etruscanists. I can't say for certain what the problem is yet.

  4. I don't know whether you have seen that Kloekhorst discusses a possible IE etymology for Hittite šalik- in his etymological dictionary (p. 820/821). Looking at the the need to explain away the /a/ of the first syllable as an epenthetic vowel and the not very straightforward semantics of the compared IE etyma, I feel it's safer to leave the status at "etymologically unexplained".
    From the Aegean etymologies you have reconstructed, I got the impression that CV'CV:C(V)- would be a typical structure for Aegean etyma before syncope. Is that impression correct?

  5. Hans: "[...] I got the impression that CV'CV:C(V)- would be a typical structure for Aegean etyma before syncope. Is that impression correct?"

    Not quite. There are no phonemic long vowels in Aegean languages and the only valid syllable shape would have originally been (C)V(C); no word-initial consonant clusters; the coda consonant being restricted to resonants /j/, /w/ and /n/. The accent was either on the 1st or 2nd syllable.

    So a root shape may be (C)V(C)-, (C)VCV(C)- or trisyllabic (C)VCVCV(C)-.

  6. Oops, it may also be (C)V(C)CV(C)CV(C)-. Well you all can see the pattern, I hope.