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 ...'.