3 May 2009

Some observations concerning Woodard's The Ancient Languages of Europe

As I've done before, I will now pick apart yet another Etruscan author and his errors for the informative benefit of my readers. This time, Roger D. Woodard is going to be put through the ringer. Woodard's The Ancient Languages of Europe (2008) is a decently edited book for sure, but it's no more immune to errors than any other book, even though published by the Cambridge University Press and even though Dr. Woodard himself is an academic with an impressive education and array of publications to his name. In fact, no matter what the background of the author sometimes we can catch some pretty horrible errors in judgement. I think these are important to discuss. I can only confidently discuss issues in the Etruscan section but there may be errors lurking under the headings of other languages discussed therein. My point as always is both to look past credentialism to find historical truth and caveat lector.

The first, immediate stain in the Etruscan section is an outrageous attempt to revise the Etruscan phonological system on page 145. He begins by explaining the typical communis opinio, making a minor faux-pas by misrepresenting Etruscan f as a labiodental rather than a bilabial fricative.[1] He insists on a labiodental fricative without any explanation further down the page, just in case the reader might assume that it was just a silly accuracy error in IPA notation. Now, this is a matter of detail perhaps but worth noting since p has occasionally eroded to f in Etruscan, particularly next to tautosyllabic u, and this sort of lenition can only rationally happen with a bilabial phoneme, not a labiodental one.

After this it turns for the worse, much worse, as he bravely suggests that the Etruscan letters corresponding so clearly to the Greek aspirated stops, are a series of palatal consonants! His only real evidence is an apparent spelling variation between Larθia and Larθa. However, the simple fact that the omission of such word-internal vowels occurs not only following stops but after all consonants (eg. TLE 880: Arznal compared to TLE 566: Arzneal) proves this to be quite an ignorant hypothesis that wasn't well thought-out before it was printed. The names shared between Etruscan and Latin show no such palatalization either in these stops. The claim is positively absurd.

As if this isn't enough, even though his revisal of the phonology is fundamentally flawed with the basic data available to us, he goes on to add that chi is not a palatalized velar as his proposed pattern would suggest, but a velar fricative /x/. Again, just in case we might simply dismiss this as another crazy but forgiveable editing error mixing IPA /x/ with Greek letter χ, he buries himself further in his own lack of expertise by enforcing it at the end of page 151 by informing us that -χva was pronounced [xʷa] rather than [kʰwa]. He bases this on the allomorphs of the plural suffix, -χva and -va. Yet onomastics between Etruscan, Latin and Greek prove once again that this assumption is false since Etruscan Χalχas is borrowed from Greek Κάλχας, Paχa is from Greek Βάκχος, leχtumuza is a diminutive based on a loan from Greek λήκυθος (nb. Etruscan chi here corresponds to Greek kappa), the Etruscan name Marχar (in TLE 113) corresponds to Latin Marcarius etc. Nothing tangible at all in the classical linguistic corpus suggests to us that chi is even occasionally a fricative in the Etruscan language, although I've spoken about the probability that velar fricatives existed word-internally in a more ancient stage of Pre-Etruscan some time ago (see Paleoglot: The loss of mediofinal 'h' in Pre-Proto-Etruscan).

[1] Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction‎ (2000), p.78 (see link): "The Etruscans had a sound f (a bilabial, voiceless fricative, pronounced approximately as in English labiodentals: find, soft, stuff) for which the Greeks had no sign."; Many languages have bilabial fricatives such as Irish, Andalusian and Japanese. Speakers of Japanese coincidently pronounce h as [ɸ] before u because historically, h [ɸ]~[h]~[ç] < Old Japanese p. Yimas also lenites /p/ specifically before high back vowels and particuarly before /w/ (cf. Foley, The Yimas Language of New Guinea (1991), p.39). These real-world examples serve as close parallels for the Etruscan development.


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