29 Dec 2010

Etruscan trees and related grerbage

No, it's not a typo - I really did mean to type grerbage. According to Anderson (2003)[1], a distinct lexical contrast between the tree versus the generalized grerb had existed in Latin, West Germanic, and East Germanic as opposed to North Germanic which had a slightly different contrast between tree versus grass. These possible taxonomical differences and global tendencies might be helpful to details of ancient semantics.

If Etruscan lied geographically between Germanic and Latin, could Etruscan also show a similar lexical pattern? Furthermore if Proto-Aegean *árapu (previously explained on my blog) evolved to Cyprian *arpu and it was loaned into Latin through Etruscan as arbos ~ arbor 'tree', could it be this early Proto-Etrusco-Rhaetic language that had sparked this specialization of floral terms when it expanded early in the 1st millennium across the Alps? Were neighbouring languages Venetic, Celtic, Umbrian, North Picene and South Picene also implicated in this sphere of increasing nuance in plant vocabulary?

[1] Anderson, Folk-taxonomies in early English (2003), pp.366-7 (see link).

26 Dec 2010

Foreign accent syndrome

I was notified of this first while watching BBC. It would be a lie if I said I didn't choke on my tea. I'm not sure how to weigh this. Part of me thinks that a disorder like this is within plausibility since I myself find that my brain, thus far, can compartmentalize different phonologies of different languages quite well. Would it were that I had a stroke, Athena forbid, who's to say that my own mental walls between the set of English phonemes of my native dialect and the distinct set of French ones I've adopted might become blurred? If the data chemically coded in my cerebellum were mangled just right, I might conceivably enounce my English ar with a uvular panache.

Yet, the skeptical and pessimistic side of me (the one that's done so well to keep me out of trouble in life) appreciates the immense attention hypochondriacs can receive from being misdiagnosed with this hazy disorder. No, strokes and cognitive disorders are certainly not funny but one has to admit that it elicits a little doubt.

Below is a Youtube clip of an interview with a woman who says she acquired an Asian accent after an acute migraine caused some brain damage.

(26 Dec 2010) Browsing more online, I notice two other blog links tackling the bizarre subject. One is Neurologica: Foreign Language Syndrome which rightly compares this to the absurd glossolalia of some fundamentalist Christian sects, hinting at other disturbing motives here and not just scientific ones, unfortunately. Then Language Log: Foreign Accent Syndrome speaks of a similar disorder with a suspiciously similar term that also can so easily be sensationalized with notions of miracles serving to reinforce an irrational belief system.

When I think of it, I'd be more prone to interpret this news story as genuine if it weren't for the sensationalist term used. It's clearly not a genuine foreign accent being acquired and its proponents explain it as a kind of dysphasia. So why not just call it that and show greater respect for the intellect of viewers? This issue combined with the stunted debate about how "Chinese" her accent really is is, to be frank, just plain stupid if not potentially offensive.

18 Dec 2010

A Mediterranean term for 'lower back' and 'loins'

I was messaged the other day about an interesting word with a mystery etymology. In Greek, there is ἴσχιον or ἰσχίον 'hip, hip-joint, haunches' which may be compared with the Hittite s-stem iskis- 'back'. This pair of comparanda seems to be where most inquiry stops however.

The OED mentions that this Greek word is "probably from iskhi 'loin,' of unknown origin" yet I can't find this word in Perseus online. Perhaps the editor rather meant an underlying root iskhi-, as in the word ἰσχιάζω 'move the hips', but there's no mention of the Hittite term. Many like Anna Prins (Hittite neuter singular - neuter plural: Some evidence for a connection [1997], p.218) have however acknowledged the Hittite link that establishes that this word at the very least straddled a Greco-Anatolian region, even if its exact source is unknown. Predictably forced attempts have been made by some IEists to explain this away through a hypothetical s-stem *h₁isgʰís-. This is unlikely to be true since the zerograded accented syllable dates it to Late IE at best and the word's meaning and derivation appears obscure (not to mention the severely restricted attestation of the word).

Exploring a possible Proto-Aegean (PAeg) term, we might note that the Greek evidence points to a specifically voiceless, aspirate velar stop. Aegean languages are notable for their lack of voiced stops and use of aspiration contrast in its place. Thus PAeg *iskʰis(a) 'lower back, hips, loin' might explain both although I must admit that the shape of the word seems as odd for this language just as *h₁isgʰís- does for PIE. Maybe there's a third possibility in all this that I'm not considering.

Of course I'm exploring conjectures here but it's always worth pondering alternative ideas to either illuminate further possibilities or to fully expose the absurdity of the path of thought. So far, the word for 'back' isn't known in Etruscan nor do I have the foggiest clue what it might have been, but there does seem to be an Etruscan derivational suffix -is. I'll keep my eye out for further info on this term, of course.

14 Dec 2010

The poppy pops up from nowhere

In 1862, volume 94 of the publication The North American review wrote on page 384:
"We are told that the use of the common white poppy as a soother of pain and giver of sleep, has been familiar from the earliest times; and an ingenious attempt has been made to derive the name poppy, or papaver, from papa or pap, because the plant was commonly mixed with the food of young children, to secure their sleep. This is one of those etymological postulates more ingenious than probable."
Nearly a hundred-and-fifty years later, I still can't get a straight answer on the origin of Latin papāver. If it somehow were to have something to do with the nursery term pāpa for 'food' (cf. pāpārium 'pap') as implied above, and even ignoring that such a semantic link is trying in itself, how would this poppy word have been grammatically formed from such a root? There are oddly only five terms in the Latin dictionary on Perseus ending in -ver (excluding vēr itself) which could suggest that the word was loaned from elsewhere, yet if so, establishing its source so far eludes me. What a frustrating word.

12 Dec 2010

Giving and having in Indo-European

In my last post, I was noticing the link between Etruscan genitives in "give" constructions which mark the recipient of a gift and clauses conveying "having", as per John's Newman's Give: A cognitive linguistic study (1996). On that note, there are some extraneous connections that come to my mind in other ancient languages I know of.

I've reasoned for a while now that the source of Indo-European's thematic genitives in *-osyo like *h₁éḱwosyo 'of the horse' is quite simple: the athematic genitive *-ós plus endingless relative pronoun *yo-. This construction would have first developed in Pre-IE (specifically Late IE) as *-asya, replacing former accented genitive *-ás, when Acrostatic Regularization risked making the nominative and genitive identical in the thematic paradigm. The addition of *ya (the original endingless form of the relative pronoun used for nominative, locative and inanimate accusative cases) helped disambiguate and reinforce thematic genitives. This resultant construction, instead of conveying the direct but potentially ambiguous phrase "of X", used the circumlocution "(with) which [is] of X".

With Newman's insights, we might even reinterpret "which [is] of X" as "which X [has]" since a lack of "to have" in Proto-Indo-European encourages a speaker to use the verb "to be" plus a genitive noun to express the possessor. The distinct but semantically equivalent phrases we take for granted in English like "the horse's speed", "the speed [which is] of the horse" and "the speed [which] the horse has" all become a little blurry in such languages.

Then I wonder further. I've already noticed that there's no rational motivation to reconstruct a distinct dative case in pre-IE, if not in IE itself[1]. The dative in *-ei must have only later originated from the pre-existing locative ending in *-i and/or from analogy with *h₁ei- 'to go (to)'. So in pre-IE or IE, without an available dative form, what case is left to express the recipient in phrases using the verb *deh₃- 'to give'?

[1] Francisco Adrados, On the origins of the Indo-European dative-locative singular endings published in Languages and cultures: Studies in honor of Edgar C. Polomé (1988), p.29 (see link).

6 Dec 2010

The semantics of giving

Avid polyglots may eventually notice that so many innocent things can get lost in translation. Translation is a comical affair at times. I believe Etruscanists are also getting lost in translation when they try to wrap their heads around the syntactics and semantics of a quite innocent-looking verb like tur 'to give'.

First an example of bilingual confusion

Before I explain the Etruscan problem, let me illustrate a living example of confusion between, say, English and Chinese speakers. The verb "to rain" seems like such a simple little verb. How can anyone misunderstand it? When waking up to a rainy day, an English speaker may announce, "It's raining today!" while a Mandarin speaker may say, "Jintian xia yu le!" (今天下雨了!) Roughly this means the same thing, but more specifically the Chinese sentence might be translated back into English literally as "Today (jintian) has started (le) descending (xia) rain (yu)!"

What can be confusing in this language clash is not just the slightly different idiom used but also the way in which "rain" may be perceived by the speaker by way of the words and syntax chosen. In English, it's a continuous action marked in the present tense and the focus is on the state of raining. In Chinese, the action is inchoative and punctual; the verb is also unspecified for tense. What is being focused on in Chinese is the very split-second it's started raining, something which can naturally only occur abruptly. So this is why the Chinese sentence ends in the punctual marker le, leaving many Anglophones perplexed (especially when they further mistake the aspect marker as a past-tense marker).

My intended warning here is to avoid forcing one's own native semantics on foreign vocabulary. Sometimes the most straight-forward equations between tongues turn out to be a little less than exact. When Etruscanists who write books on language and who are otherwise well-versed in linguistic science linger on about the "mystery" of why the genitive is used to express the recipient of tur 'to give', I get the impression that even they are having a hard time stepping out of the boxes of their own native speech patterns.

The moment of gifting

So why is the recipient of tur marked in the genitive instead of, say, the dative? Instead of trying to force our assumed patterns on Etruscan, let's begin by just accepting what we see: What could the Etruscans be trying to express by this? Since the genitive elsewhere is so regularly used to mark the possessor, taken as is, it means simply that the recipient must be understood as equal to the possessor in these instances. Suggesting otherwise presumes added, unnecessary roles for the case ending. We should heed Occam's Razor and hold back the temptation to assume.

Personally I reason that perhaps the aspectual focus of tur, unlike in English 'give', focuses on the final result of the transfer rather than on the moment of transfer. When is the recipient equal to the possessor? When the act of giving is complete. Once the action is complete, the donor is naturally no longer the possessor. Thus, with tur treated as a punctual and resultative action, there's no need to speak of a special "dative usage" for the genitive. The genitive instead can now be seen to consistently mark the possessor, even in cases where "give" is used.

Recipient as possessor

I've just noticed that John Newman has written the perfect book to understand cases where the recipient is equal to the possessor in "give"-constructions called Give: A cognitive linguistic study (1996). Page 98 begins with a relevant example from Australian Dyirbal and then compares with a Chinantec example from Southern Mexico that employs a relative clause signifying "which X has" to express the recipient X. So with that in mind, it suggests that examples like mi tn Arnθal turuce "I gave that to Arnth" are short for mi tn [ipn cei] Arnθal [ama] turuce "I gave that [which is now] of Arnth." My perception of inherent punctual aspect in this verb can coexist with Newman's interpretation and gives a secure answer to a "riddle" that Etruscanists have been sitting on far too long.

3 Dec 2010

By whom, for whom

According to Bakkum, The Latin dialect of the Ager Faliscus: 150 years of scholarship, vol 2 (2009), p.305 (see link):
"The Etruscan forms in -si and -(a)le can be used to designate both by whom and for whom the object was made (Steinbauer 1999:174-6)."
In case the absurdity isn't noticeable, "by whom" and "for whom" are opposite roles in these inscriptions. How did this nonsensical statement make its way to modernday print? What happened to the concept of structured, coherent grammar? In his solitary example of ET Fa 3.4, a vessel from Vignanello, the solitary name Vultasi doesn't help much to decide the matter. I can't help but appreciate too how, by using an unclear inscription, the author can quickly pass a shaky statement over the reader without being too obvious.

Luckily for us, TLE 651 does decide the matter. As pictured above, this is a statue of a standing nobleman nicknamed The Haranguer. The only names present in the entire inscription at the base of his toga are in the first line and they're declined in this same case: Auleśi Meteliś Ve. Vesial clenśi. Who would think that the image of this mystery man can be anything other than Aule Meteli himself? The inscription must read "For Aule Meteli, for the son of Vel and Vesi." If we interpret this case ending as by whom the statue is made, the inscription fails to explain who this man is while giving us useless information about the statue's creator. This data is hardly as important to an average, literate Etruscan as the man for whom all this metalworking effort was devoted!

Then too, we also find tinśi tiurim avilś χiś repeated several times in the Liber Linteus and since tin, tiur and avil are certain to mean 'day', 'month' and 'year' in these passages, forcing an agentive sense on an inanimate noun like tinśi is absurd. It must therefore mean 'for the day' in the context of the rituals to be performed on specified dates. An Etruscan agentive case has been concocted from nothing.

Bakkum goes on to write something that I'd gauge to be naive wording for a linguist:
"[...] in most other cases, the use of the -si or -(a)le form is due to a verb, usually mulu-."
To observe that this case ending occurs often with the verb mulu- is justified, but to say that the use of this case marker is "due to" a verb, combined with his odd reference to Steinbauer above, seems to disqualify his expertise on structured grammar itself, let alone on Etruscan grammar. Need it be said, the use of this case ending or any case ending isn't incumbent on the verb itself per se but demanded by the overall semantics of what one is expressing. If one doesn't comprehend why -si/-le is used with some verbs like mulu- while not for other verbs, one fails to comprehend the very meaning of these individual grammatical units. The verbs haven't "caused" these endings to occur any more than the Oracle of Delphi.

The correct answer is simple: -si/-le must be consistently translated as 'for', as in 'for the purpose of' or 'on behalf of', never ever 'by' (whether in a locative or agentive sense). This value is evidenced not just in several Etruscan inscriptions but in Lemnian ones too.

30 Nov 2010

Elementum, my dear Watson

The assumption of Etruscan letternames is real

During my latest admonitions against Etruscan letternames being the source of Latin ones, some commenters seem unaware that other careful scholars have published the same stance, even several decades ago:
Avrin, Scribes, Script, and Books (2010), p.60: "The naming system is believed to have been an Etruscan invention, although there is no documentary proof for this. These Latin names were in existence by the first century B.C.E." [link]

Hammond, Latin: A historical and linguistic handbook (1976), p.57: "These may already have been discarded by the Etruscans, but since evidence for the Etruscan letter names is lacking, it cannot be asserted that the Romans adopted the Etruscan names, although they probably did take over the Etruscan versions of the Greek letter forms." [link]
That some authors persist with outdated theories is not because the theory is legitimate and proven. It's simply a sign of bad research or error in reasoning.

Assumption: Latin elementum is Etruscan

Built on the unproven belief in Latin-like Etruscan letternames, the Latin word elementum 'letter of the alphabet; element' is further assumed to be Etruscan based on a purely theoretical lettername-sequence of *el-em-en in that alphabet.
Hooker, Reading the past: Ancient writing from cuneiform to the alphabet (1990), p.330: "Four words dealing with writing came into Latin by way of the Etruscan language, confirming the Etruscan transmission of the Greek alphabet to the Romans: elementum, whose earlier meaning was 'letter of the alphabet', litterae, 'writing' (originally derived from Greek diphthera, 'skin', a material on which people wrote); stilus, 'writing implement', and cera, 'wax' (for wax tablets on which to take notes)." [link]
If el, em and en are already attested Latin letternames, why must we go to the bother of assuming Etruscan origin based on letternames that haven't been attested?
Archivio glottologico italiano, vol 82-83 (1997), p.83, fn.5: "Brent Vine (p.c.) points out that there would be some indirect evidence for Etruscan letter names if the «letter-name» etymology of Latin elementum could be taken back to the Etruscans. Unfortunately, any connection between Latin elementum and an Etruscan source is purely speculative at this point." [link]
Not only speculative but, it must be overtly confessed, absurd.

The halfway point

Even ignoring all my prior proof on this blog against such letternames in Etruscan, the view may still be rejected for important reasons. Nagy clearly explains the reasons behind this strange origin of elementum from letternames:
Nagy, Poetry as performance: Homer and beyond (1996), p.216: "To start with L M N and so on is thus symbolically apt, in line with the archaic Roman custom, derived from earlier conventions in the writing traditions of Semitic languages, of dividing the alphabet into two halves for teaching purposes, with the recto, as it were, starting at A-B-C and the verso, at L-M-N." [link]
Taking this explication for granted, compare it with the published drawing of an artifact with the Etruscan alphabet inscribed on it in Rogers, Writing systems: A linguistic approach (2005), p.171 [link]:

While the Latin alphabet might be divided into two equal, 10-letter halves once we take away the last three Greek-influenced letters (ex, ī Graeca, zēta), the halfway point of the Etruscan alphabet is different as can be seen in the picture above. The halfway point is not el but en. We have no excuse to get rid of the last three letters to make it the required el either. We have no valid reason to go to extra effort to repair this ailing theory with a multiplication of hypotheses.

We witness then yet another turkey theory that capitalizes on the marketed artifice known as 'the Etruscan mystery'.

27 Nov 2010

The bear taboo

According to The linguistics encyclopedia (2002), p.237:
"Taboos may even cause the loss of a word, as in the classical Indo-European case of the word for 'bear'. [...] Avoidance of the term is thought to have occurred in the northern Indo-European regions, where the bear was prevalent, and another name, (employed, perhaps, not to offend it), was substituted in the form of *ber- 'brown'; that is, 'the brown one'."
Now, upon reading accounts like this, the first question that comes to me is this: How can one know with any degree of certainty that this word had been displaced in Germanic, Baltic and Slavic because of taboo and not because of garden-variety lexical replacement? In Slavic, 'bear' is replaced by a new word meaning 'honey-eater', unrelated to Germanic's choice of 'brown one'. This is exaggerated as a 'circumlocution' in keeping with the assumption of taboo but if these sorts of creative epithets constitute in themselves evidence for taboo replacement, then could we not then claim that any new word coined is a "circumlocution" or "taboo" for the original term? Should we start insisting that Latin aqua 'water' is a taboo replacement for *wódr̥ too? It's rather convenient to pin taboo explanations on the vocabulary of obscure northern cultures that lacked written records.

Sure, no one can deny that the bear was a powerful symbol to northern European cultures for millennia, but if we replace 'bear' in the above quote with 'pickle', the emptiness of this taboo assumption becomes a little clearer.

24 Nov 2010

Aegean bread and grain

I think I might have hit upon the Proto-Aegean word for 'bread' and 'grain'. At the base of this suspicion is Greek σῖτος 'grain, wheat, wheaten bread' which has proven difficult to etymologize into Indo-European terms.

The Greek word appears best connected with Assyrian šeˀatu 'grain, barley', feminine derivative of šeˀu which is probably loaned from Sumerian še, but the devil's in the details. What's missing in our picture of the word's hypothetical transmission is the meddlesome four-dimensional hole that hovers over the space between Turkey and Greece and between the periods of the 3rd and 1st millennia BCE. In this case and the many others I've already talked about, it can be filled in by a Proto-Aegean etymon.

An Aegean word *sayáta, presumably spoken around 2000 BCE, could reasonably be loaned from šeˀatu. The phonetics in this transfer pose no problems since Aegean languages, like Etruscan or Minoan, show no evidence for phonemic glottal stops. Indeed they show the use of interloping y to break up colliding vowels between stem and suffix, as in Etruscan śealχ 'sixty' /ˈʃejəlkʰ/ < *śa-y-alkʰ (cf. Etr śa 'six'). This 'bread' word can be an added example of this intervening phoneme showing how Aegean speakers would have perceived /-ʔ-/ in neighbouring Semitic and Egyptian languages as just an allophone for /-j-/.

Minoan *siata /ˈsiə̯tə/ can evolve from the Aegean root which in turn explains Mycenaean *sitos (written si-to) and later Greek σῖτος. What's uncanny about this adventure in extrapolation here is that there exists an Egyptian scroll recording the existence of an 'Asiatic illness' for which an incantation is recommended in 'the language of the Keftiu' (ie. Minoan). These Egyptian symbols were written out phonetically to reflect actual Minoan words. One of the words is written sata (that is, sȝ-t) and is followed by a bread determinative. This fact teases me to ponder further: Is this so-called bilingual incantation actually just a ritual prescription to placate deities of illness and death with a votive offering of bread? Such a bread offering to heal the body may remind one of later Biblical symbolism associating unleavened bread with the body of Christ.

Further yet, if we follow this idea to its full conclusion, one would reasonably expect that Aegean *sayáta would contract to Cyprian *śatʰ according to the rules of Cyprian Syncope as I explored it in a few earlier posts. Strangely, we also seem to have a genitive form śaθaś in the Liber Linteus (LL 3.xviii). So can the phrase nunθene śaθaś mean '(they) brought some bread' with the genitive being used in a partitive sense, just as with du in French ils amènent du pain? It's worth a shot.

21 Nov 2010

Caper of the three kays

In Subtle truths about Etruscan letter-names, I explained why minimal pairs such as and among Latin letter-names were impossible in Etruscan because the language lacked these voicing contrasts. Surely then such pairs could only be distinguished in Etruscan by Semitic names, similar to those of Greek. There's yet another piece of proof.

Regular patterns emerge in the naming of Latin letters:
  • Vowels are named entirely by their phoneme (eg. ā, ē, ū, etc.)
  • Plosive letters methodically terminate in ē (eg. , , , etc.)
  • Letter-names of fricatives & affricates begin with short e (eg. ef, el, em, etc.).
  • Most recent Greek borrowings, hy and zēta, disobey the more ancient pattern.
Missing in the above are the outlier letters , and whose exact motivations are obscure.

Ecce cē, kā, qū que...

Note the 'three kays' of the Latin alphabet which represented the same sound /k/: , and . What's more, the Roman 'q' was restricted to positions before 'u'. This habit was borrowed from Etruscan which in its oldest stages chose 'k' before 'a', 'q' before 'u' and 'c' everywhere else. Many take these arcane rules for granted[1] but in attempting to solve this mystery, we should also be aware that these same spelling rules were even in effect among early Greeks who used the equivalents gamma, kappa and koppa respectively. The earliest Greeks likewise restricted koppa to positions before /o/ and /u/, kappa elsewhere.[2]

After much thought, I realized that the rule must be motivated by the very names of these letters. Look again at the Greek pair kappa and koppa. Since Semitic /q/ was an exotic sound to Greeks, the functionality of koppa (= Semitic qoph) was modified to convey non-aspirated /k/ just like kappa. To justify the usage of both however, the first syllable of the letter-name koppa must have inspired its eventual restriction to positions neighbouring back vowels in Greek before fading into oblivion.

Yet for Etruscan scribes, the merger of phonemic contrasts seen in the Semitic alphabets extended further since voiced /g/ was also a foreign sound to them. A confusing trifold representation of Etruscan /k/ by the three former Semitic letters (gimel, kaph and qoph) was the result. Like Greek but more extensive, a spelling rule seems likely to have been based rather trivially on the first syllable of each of these letter-names. This would help us reconstruct the native Etruscan letter-names for these 'kay' letters.

Refining the reconstruction of Etruscan letter-names

Using Greek and Semitic letter-names as guide, together with this odd spelling rule, I now find myself reasoning that Etruscans had originally called 'c', 'k' and 'q': *cimla[3], *capa and *cupa. In this way, the first syllables of each (ie. ci-, ca- and cu-) serve as fine basis for the attested spelling rules of Old Etruscan while simultaneously providing an elegant etymology for Latin , and . In other words, when the Romans simplified the Etruscan alphabet names, they simply clipped them down to their first syllable and used them doubly as spelling mnemonics.

This devilishly implies separate sources of the Etruscan and Greek alphabets since the required vocalism in *cimla is less like Greek gamma and more faithful to its Modern Hebrew counterpart, gimel.[4] This suggests that Etruscans didn't adopt their alphabet from the Greeks but instead gained the alphabet more directly somehow, directly from West Semites in Asia Minor rather than Euboea perhaps.[5]

[1] Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction (2002), p.75 (see link). Here, the spelling rule is mentioned but the authors leave out any further explanation.
[2] Woodard,Greek writing from Knossos to Homer: A linguistic interpretation of the origin of the Greek Alphabet and the Continuity of Ancient Greek Literacy (1996), p.161 (see link); Threatte, The Grammar of Attic Inscriptions: Phonology (1980), p.21 (see link).
[3] I had reconstructed *camla in previous entries but I reckon that the spelling-rule argument will justify *cimla in its stead.
[4] Hamilton, The origins of the West Semitic alphabet in Egyptian scripts (2006), pp.57 & 283 admits to variants for this Semitic letter name: *gaml-/*giml-. (see link).
[5] Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction, 2nd ed. (2002), p.52: "On the other hand, the Etruscan alphabet also seems to preserve the traces of a very early Greek alphabet, older in part than the split between 'Western' and 'Eastern' Greek alphabets, since it preserves all three Phoenician sibilants, the signs samekh, sade, and Sin [...], which neither 'Western' nor 'Eastern' Greek alphabet possesses any longer [...]." (see link).

18 Nov 2010

Just hang loose, blood

Do you think you know your own language? Sure? Are you also sure about the fine lines between language, dialect and accent? Have you ever pondered on how subcultures shape language? Am I the only geek here? Is this mike on?? Well, whatever. Just watch this comedy skit below, a scene from the 1979 movie Airplane!.

Sometimes comedy keeps it real. Language is an amazingly flexible form of communication and, yes, it's always funny to watch unsuspecting characters transcend behavioural norms and poke fun at society. In the following two clips, Barbara reminisces in a later interview while both the creators and the two jive-talkers (Al White and Norman Alexander Gibbs) explain the collaboration involved in making this classic scene happen.

14 Nov 2010

The Etruscan soul through Egyptian eyes

Continuing with some thoughts I pursued in What sort of 'soul' is the Egyptian ka? in which I searched for a more comprehensible understanding of the Egyptian concept of a three-part soul, I wanted to delve into the Etruscan notion of soul as it can be glimpsed by various clues in the historical record.

As stated in previous posts, the comparison between Etruscan and Egyptian ontology is motivated by the Egyptian influence quite apparent in Etruscan scarabs found as tomb offerings, invoking the Egyptian god Khepri which, because of the convenient pun in the Egyptian language between *ḫāpar 'becoming' and *ḫapúri 'beetle', had led to the creation of this curious beetle-headed entity representing the rebirth of the sun in the morning horizon and simultaneously also the rebirth of the human soul after death. Therefore, the source of this hope in the deceased soul's rebirth can be asserted with certainty to be Egyptian. Yet if so, this implies that other ontological concepts also were welcomed into Etruria from this North African civilization.

So if the Egyptian believed in the ka, ba and akh and if I'm further correct that they represent subsets of each other rather than equal portions of a soul, then what were the Etruscan equivalents if any?

If the ka is the soul when unified with the living body, with a representative image, with a statue or with some other sort of physical vessel (as per my previous entry), then it's interesting to note the difference of burial practices between Egyptians and Etruscans. To the Egyptian, the destruction of body in a cremation must have seemed horrible since it denied the ability for the deceased soul to ever reunite with its body again. Yet this consideration must not have fazed the Etruscans. The repeated mention in the Liber Linteus of cletram srencve 'lectica with icons', a portable litter filled with representations of their honoured gods, as well as the habit of leaving useful articles for the dead as if they lived on in the physical realm suggests that nonetheless the Etruscans must have believed that a soul, whether of a deity or a human being, had the ability to reside in physical things much like the Egyptians. The Etruscans believed in their own version of a ka.

With the ba translated as the spirit itself (regardless of containment within a physical host), we can be certain that the Etruscans believed this too and so this needs no further explanation. One of the Etruscan terms used for 'soul' appears to be sacni, literally 'sacred one'. We might also translate it as hinθial 'that which is below' which alludes to the soul's destined path through the underworld.

The most intriguing part of this comparison though is how the Etruscans might have perceived the Egyptian akh, the most obscure part of their conception of the soul which I suspect might be best understood as 'life-force' or 'will' and thus a component of the larger ba. Its connection with stars is particularly interesting because we know that Etruscans conceived of stars as nails hammered in the sky. We also know that nails were employed in ritual (nb. Roman accounts of the goddess Nortia) and that they had a connection with fate and the tracking of time.

We know that the nail was associated with the human soul but the confusing imagery of the death god Charun seemingly hitting dead people with hammers as if they were nails befuddles De Grummond who thinks that the hammer was "his weapon of choice" against all who die! Surely not. This is *not* to be taken literally or a sign of Charun's malevolence. This is simply a metaphor of death. Quite simply, when someone died, it must have been believed that a new star would be tapped into the vault of heaven. We can only sensibly interpret the hammering of the star-nail in the sky, the pulum, as being synonymous with the reception of the soul within the gates of the City of the Dead. Yet if so, this parallels the joining of the Egyptian akh to the field of stars that Egyptologists know as the Akhet.

11 Nov 2010

Plato's Atlantis and the modern political war of extremes

I notice Kirkus Reviews' reviewed Rodney Castleden's work, Atlantis Destroyed, which attempts to thoroughly debunk the myths regarding Plato's story of Atlantis. Putting aside certain details, I'm reasonably satisfied with the book. I feel that it's brave of any scholar to explore a topic in depth and its variety of potential relationships by respectfully laying out the supportive facts and reasoning. The reviewer gave a good review too overall but I'm drawn in by the subtlety of his jaded remarks that lie between the lines; the kind of remarks that remind me of the childish battle of absolutist extremes that plays out so often in daily life and in the hysteria-oriented media which strives to make every instance of public discourse an infuriating, hellish swamp of shallow analyses, void of resolution. When ideological extremes are allowed to take control of the podium, there can be no united intellectual advancement, just division, stupidity and hatred.

Now, in the review in question, the critic remarks on an unqualified perception of "pseudoscholarly tone", a serious accusation that requires better explanation, while subtly but effectively holding Castleden in jaded contempt for of all other authors prior to him who've abused the topic. Within the essay, another book's suspiciously advertised and compared, Richard Ellis' Imagining Atlantis, also it so happens reviewed by Kirkus Reviews. In that second review, it's explained that "Ellis leads the reader ineffably toward the firm conclusion that Plato invented Atlantis." This seems to be handled as a comparatively better position to that of Castleden, yet this conclusion comes across to me as insultingly self-evident and a lazier position.

And so I come to a larger thought about politics, both in and out of academia, that seek to polarize people to one insane extreme or another while ridiculing moderation. Certainly Atlantis is a lightning rod for cranks with ridiculous positions that seek to find meaning in anything and everything without facts. Yet we need to simultaneously be aware at all times of the cranks on the other end of the spectrum who will insist beyond sense that something simply has no meaning or relevance at all. Both sides are destructive parasites to reasoned debate. This is an ageless battle between two equally nutty camps of thought: the relativists and the nihilists.

So when an author like Ellis insists that Plato has no influences and that it's purely of Plato's own isolated creation, he is falling into the same trap as the most extreme opposition he seeks to diminish, by insisting as they do on an indefensible position. In an attempt to oppose one extreme with its equal and opposite, one must pretend that Plato's work was spontaneously created in a bubble, snuffing out all other logical considerations, even though this assertion is bluntly counter to reality. I hope we can all agree that there are simply no works ever published by anyone that are not influenced or inspired in some way by the works of others. There is no idea that's not sparked by the idea of another. Originality is ultimately an egotistical illusion, like fruitlessly scanning the ocean to pick out its individual raindrops. So the story of Atlantis can only be influenced by something other than Plato's own lonely mind.

A more moderate position on Atlantis is as follows. First off, yes, it should be quite obvious to the learned historian that Plato intended his entertaining tale to be in allusion to contemporaneous politics and his own theories on building a better civilization. This motive might even be justified as the main force in his recountal of the legend. However we must acknowledge that we have no rational basis to deny a priori other possible sources of this tale if they're based on logical considerations. For me, Plato's Atlantis can validly be seen as a lot of things without this multiplicity being self-conflicting. It's a cautionary tale; it's an illustration of Plato's views on societal progress and morality; it's also most probably a remnant of older tales based loosely on the Mediterranean history of the 2nd millennium BCE. For this topic to be treated with respect, we must avoid absolutes and blind literalism. This is a more well-rounded position; a more complex position. And sadly, moderate positions may forever be too complex to be condensed in a 30-second soundbyte and too bland for the more extremist academics to respect or understand.

10 Nov 2010

Etruscology moving at a snail's pace

Have a look-see at the glossary supplied by Decke/Pauli/Bugge, Etruskische Forschungen und Studien, vol 1-3 (1881), pp.89-96. Yes, I know. It was published back in 1881. Now fast forward 121 years to the meager glossary in Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction, 2nd ed. (2002) starting at page 214. If the two glossaries seem effectively identical, it's because they are.

So at this rate of breathtaking progress, I shall predict that a published translation of the Liber Linteus will finally be available during a particularly hot spring in 2346.

8 Nov 2010

Translating a new Lemnian inscription

Michael Weiss has just notified us of a new Lemnian inscription published last year by Carlo De Simone. More details about its context are found here in Italian. According to Weiss, the inscription is:

soromš : aslaš hktaonosi : heloke

Weiss attempts to crack it by properly noting the preterite verb at the end. However drawing blanks on precise values, he describes hktaonosi as a possible 'pertinentive' and suspects that soromš : aslaš looks like a subject phrase. The last suggestion must be based on his training in Italic Indo-European languages but this language family won't help him here. Scholars agree that Lemnian is related to Etruscan and entirely non-Indo-European.

To begin deciphering this inscription, we must first transliterate this inscription better. Since we know from the Lemnos Stele that the Lemnian alphabet used omikron for /u/, we should replace o with u. If anything, this helps make the relationship with 'o-less' Etruscan more obvious, aiding in translation. Also the third item, hktaonosi, is surely malformed since we also know from Etruscan study that this is a language with a fixed stress accent on the first syllable. The cluster hk- is quite impossible so this spelling must either be a transliteration error or a scribal misspelling for, presumably, *hektaunusi.

surumś : aslaś h[e]ktaunusi : heluke

Weiss is correct that the last word is a preterite verb, specifically a perfect preterite which Etruscan marks in -ace. The stem hel- is also comparable to Etruscan where it appears to mean 'to slay, to kill'. This immediately establishes that this sentence refers to an offering being made.

We should analyse hktaunusi as a dative in -si signifying 'for' since this case suffix is found identically in Etruscan. Presumably then, aslaś h[e]ktaunusi is to whom the sacrifice was performed. Judging by other inscriptions of this nature, it's no doubt the name of an individual. This leaves surumś, an apparent type-I genitive in -ś which must be what was sacrificed.

We arrive at a provisional translation of "[Surum] has been slain for Axulos Hektaion." I presume here that the name of the recipient in question is Greek, a conclusion that I doubt would be objectionable considering its context on an Aegean island.

5 Nov 2010

What sort of 'soul' is the Egyptian ka?

Oddly enough, all this latest talk in my commentbox of the European Urnfield culture and Etruscan cremation practices led me to thinking about Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife. I suppose that lacking comprehensive resources on the Etruscan concept of death and afterlife, something which I doubt exists yet, I look to the Egyptians for even a shade of insight, particularly since there are so many connections to be made. (Remember that the Etruscans used scarabs as tomb offerings directly proving that they were affected by Egyptian beliefs in some form or fashion.)

Now, as I understand it, the Egyptian spirit is often said to be divided into three parts: the ka, the ba and the akh . These names are modern Budgisms based on the vowelless spelling of the Egyptians but I gather that they were pronounced more like *kuˀ, *baˀ and *ˀaḫ respectively at around 1500 BCE. I notice the Wikipedia under Egyptian soul currently claims there are five components of the Egyptian soul but then piles on even more concepts in its schizophrenic, multi-author account. Added is the sheut 'shadow' (or rather *šawīt), the ib 'heart' (*ˀib) and the ren 'name' (more accurately *rin), helping to thoroughly confuse the reader rather than elucidate. I consider these last three related but incidental to the fundamental Egyptian notion of 'soul'. In the following I want to explore a new idea that came to me.

The ka is sometimes translated 'soul', sometimes 'image' and sometimes 'double'. Many other translations are also attempted. Yet I wonder recently if this odd translation confusion exists because this term wasn't just referring to the spirit itself as modern theologians might understand it but instead to the containment of the spirit in a vessel, a vessel such as a body or statue. If so, this gives a whole new nuance to the *Ḥáˀat-Kuˀ-Patá, a famous temple in the city of Memphis. It would then suggest that this temple wasn't just housing the 'soul of Ptah' (*kuˀ Patáḥ) but that it was so named because it was believed, at least by its cult leaders, to be the temple in which the very body *and* soul of Ptah was present. This gives me a vision of a grand building within which an impressive, monumental statue of Ptah sits, around which rituals were enacted by its devout priesthood as if he were the living article, all for the wonder of the entranced commonfolk. Such a subtle notion of the word *kuˀ would emphasize this particular temple's central importance to the worship of this god of death and resurrection. Why go to just any temple of Ptah when one can experience Ptah's holy spirit 'in the flesh'? It would certainly have been great temple marketing if my perception here is realistic.

Also by reconceiving of the ka as the 'soul' specifically when contained in its physical manifestation rather than just 'soul' proper, contrastively then the ba must be the spirit itself, particularly when it was separate from the *ẖīˀat or body. It would be the ba, I think, that is most appropriately translated as the English-speaking notion of 'soul'. So maybe we can get away with thinking of the ba as a *subset* of the ka rather than on a par with it.

This theoretical structure of an ancient belief system leads me to wonder if the akh was in turn yet another subset (of the ba, that is). In the resulting reinterpretation, the soul really isn't divided into three parts, or even five. Instead the soul is composed of three layers with the akh, as 'life-force' or 'will', being the innermost of the three metaphysical strata. In this ontology, the 'will' (akh) is a component of the 'soul' (ba) which is further merely an ingredient in the union of body and soul (ka).

I'll have to explore this idea further and see what evidence is in its favour or against it.

2 Nov 2010

Taking away another root

Ever since I began distinguishing between well-grounded Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots and mistaken ones built on historical confusion and an unhealthy denial of a non-IE Mediterranean-centered language family[1], I can't stop finding more issues to write about! I sometimes wonder if the methodology used by Indo-Europeanists truly contrasts that by a Nostraticist or Proto-Worlder, but I try hard to suppress this rebellious, philosophical notion. I'm convinced now that many beloved PIE roots are in reality nothing more than a mirage built on a package of loanwords diffused from an Etrusco-Rhaetic language in the bustling Po Valley of early 1st millennium BCE. The previous reconstructed etyma that I've suspected openly on this blog show specific distribution patterns that imply such a geographical origin. I dare now suspect another cherished root: PIE *h₁em- 'to take'.

First of all, Julius Pokorny's 1950's work is online showing his pre-Laryngeal-Theory reconstruction, *em-, justified by evidence found in Celtic, Italic, Baltic, Slavic and Anatolian. At first blush, my skepticism appears too sensational. Yet we can first quickly peck away at the falsely segmented Hittite word *u-emiyami based on *actual* wemiyami 'I find'. The word has been connected with a quite different root, *gʷem-(ye-) 'to come', which happens to be a more convincing etymology.[2] The habit of spelling the syllable we with two symbols, ú and e, instead of just one was a normal Hittite practice, it turns out.[3]

So now we're just left with comparanda from Celtic, Italic, Baltic and Slavic - precisely the language groups easily accessible by trade from the Po Valley around 1000 BCE. The meaning of the verb also lends itself well to the language of trade and we may note the coincidence of Latin emere 'to buy' (hence caveat emptor 'buyer beware').

For the purposes of this revision, an Etrusco-Rhaetic verb *em 'to take' is in order to provide the source for the surrounding Indo-European forms. Etruscan evidence is rather easy to find. It's long been noted, thanks to the numerals expressed in the Liber Linteus, that numbers between 10 and 100 whose last digit is higher than 6 are conveyed by subtractive terminology. So while 13 in Etruscan is ci-śar (simply a compound of 'three' followed by 'ten'), 17 on the other hand is ci-em zaθrum, literally meaning 'three minus 20' much like Latin duo-de-viginti '18', literally '2-from-20'. Yet how do we analyse the grammar of this expression? Considering that the infinitive is expressed as the bare verb stem itself as in many other languages, this element em may very well not just mean 'minus' as the Bonfantes suggest but more specifically 'taking away from'. Thus ci-em zaθrum is literally 'taking away three from (ci em) twenty (zaθrum)'. Just like a proper SOV language is supposed to do, the infinitive verb is placed after the noun phrase and thus we know that 'three' is what is being taken away. Its simple preterite form, eme, is written twice in the continuous script found on a cup (TLE 366): nacemeuruiθalθileniθaliχememesnamertanśinamulu. In both these instances, in fact, the verb happens to follow two very common adverbs, nac 'when' and 'thus', guaranteeing that I've properly divided these words.

We now need to explain what this root is doing in a non-IE language and the easy answer would be to blame it on loaning from an IE language into Etruscan, perhaps from a language like Umbrian (cf. emantur) or Latin (cf. emere). Yet lacking other evidence outside of this Po Valley trading circle, how can I be sure that this IE root even exists? Lacking further evidence, Occam's Razor guides me to the simplest answer, that it was my aforementioned Etrusco-Rhaetic root *em that spread throughout the northern territory into surrounding Indo-European languages. In a manner of comical speaking, these early IE peoples would not only have taken in novel goods from afar through exchange, but also would have taken the very verb 'to take' as well!

[1] Surely at the very least it's undeniable that the non-Indo-European language, Minoan, was positively influential on local languages up to 1400 BCE. Study of such a Mediterranean language family is abundantly warranted yet so entirely neglected.
[2] In Hittite historical phonology (1999), p.297 (see link), Kimball must assume a compound dependent on a preverbal particle *u preceding an Anatolian root *em-, however note the original etymology given that doesn't require such a faith-based word-slicing in The Classical journal, vol 31 (1936), p.452 (see link) and Sturtevant, A comparative grammar of the Hittite language (1933), p.90 (see link) where the verb is derived squarely from *gʷem-ye-, a construction further attested outside of the Anatolian branch. As per the next note, the division of we- into u-e- based solely on spelling constitutes unnecessary assumption.
[3] Melchert, Anatolian historical phonology (1994), p.25 (see link).

26 Oct 2010

The Etruscan month-name Celi in the Liber Linteus

Eslem zaθrumiś Acale is a direct calendar reference at LL 6.xvii of the Liber Linteus, the infamous "mummy text". We can easily translate it as "on the 18th of Acalva". Likewise at LL 12.x, θunem cialχuś Masn is translated as "on the 29th of Masan". Both month-names are attested in other documents (note the Latin gloss Aclus, equated with June, and the reference to the month of Masan in the Pyrgi Tablets). Both these examples show the same word order mirroring that of Modern French with the date preceding the month-name. The date number is declined in the directive case suffix, -is, referencing an instantaneous point in time.

Now let's look at LL 8.xix, celi huθis zathrumis, which is commonly translated as "on the 26th of (the month of) Celi", as has been done by both Jean Turfa and Larissa Bonfante[1]. Putting aside the fact that huθ means 'four', not 'six', many Etruscanists depend too much on the Latin gloss Celius, said to be equivalent to September (TLE 824). They've become blindly convinced that if celi should be found next to a number, it must be a month reference even though this month-name is attested nowhere else. Even if this were a month-name, why does it precede the date, in contradiction to the other confirmed calendrical phrases in the same text?

Regardless of whether there was a month-name *Celi in Etruscan, there is a reason to reject the view that celi in the Liber Linteus meant anything other than 'before/upon the earth' with locative case marker -i. That major reason is Occam's Razor and the avoidance of unnecessary assumption. We don't need to evaluate celi as a month-name in any of these instances but we do need to evaluate it as a form of 'earth' in at least the majority of instances in this and in all other artifacts.

In the Liber Linteus itself, this alleged month-name is strangely found a lot beside the word suθ 'tomb' (cf. LL 9.xviii). If we can agree that celi is referring to 'earth' here then celi suθ sensibly means 'before/upon the tomb earth'. The form cel-θi-m 'and in the earth' is already found at LL 6.xviii matching cel-ti in TCort B.iii. This is all in perfect alignment with the noun stem present in cels in TLE 368 and 625. It's certain that none of these last examples can sensibly refer to a month *Celi. They strictly point to 'earth' and so there is simply no methodical reason to continue insisting on the opposite value.

So celi suθ is surely 'before/upon the tomb earth', celi pen equals 'on the earth below' in LL 11.ii (pen = 'below' and ce-pen 'here below') and celi huθis zathrumis must instead mean 'upon the earth on the 24th'. The opening phrase is followed by the offering of gifts to Neptune that are to be dedicated on this day. This sounds a lot like the Roman festival of Neptunalia but this event is thought to have been celebrated on July 23rd. The date number is curiously one day off.

[1] Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction (2002), p.183 & Harvey/Schultz, Religion in republican Italy (2006), p.76 (see link).

23 Oct 2010

To conceal a dead tongue

As already suggested in the works of those like Larissa & Giuliano Bonfante, the meaning of celu or cel as 'earth, ground' is well-founded. In more detail, we find calu in Old Etruscan and due to the regular raising of low a to mid e before resonants, the root eventually evolved to Late Etruscan cel(u)- which is why Liber Linteus shows locative forms like cel-i 'upon earth' (< *calv-i) and cel-θi 'in earth' (< *calv-i=θi). This word is usually however confused with the gloss Celius which was claimed centuries ago as a month in the Etruscan calendar.

Simultaneously, Indo-Europeanists have reconstructed a root *ḱel-/*kel- meaning 'to conceal, to hide' and since Indo-Europeanists seldom if ever dabble in the Etruscan language, as I hope to explain, there is a subtle logic conflict here. Ultimately I believe that this IE root may be yet another misidentification of a non-IE verb.

It's striking that Etruscan calu can so readily mean '(that which is) covered' by supposing an Etruscan verb root *cal- 'to cover' plus the transitive participle ending -u. This idle assumption isn't substantial in itself, of course, but it is when all direct evidence of the competing Indo-European root just so happens to be restricted to Europe.

The comparanda for PIE *ḱel-/*kel- has been from Germanic (*haljō- 'underworld' and *haljanan 'to hide') and Latin (cēlāre 'to conceal, hide, cover'). Some scholars will add Greek καλύπτω 'to cover, to hide' yet as Robert Beekes notes, the word is unanalysable in IE terms and shows a non-IE suffix *-u[p/b]- (cf. καλύβη 'hut, cabin'). It should also be asked why the Greek term should contain *a in its root. Some push a little too far, implicating "Indian šaras- 'skin over milk'"[1] (which I'm having trouble verifying) in an apparent try to capitalize at once on r/l-alternation, satemization and shifting semantics to build an even flimsier house of cards. This strategy is far too easy and unconvincing. Adams and Mallory simply label it "WC" (West Central)[2] which is a quiet way of admitting that the evidence is restricted to Europe and that they can't validate it as a genuine Indo-European root. All in all, while the root has become part of accepted Indo-European vocabulary, it nonetheless appears to be weakly justified.

This is where it may be wiser to look to Proto-Aegean to explain why the root is restricted to the west and why Etruscan looks in all appearance to be built on the so-called "Indo-European" root even though Etruscan isn't an Indo-European language. If we propose Proto-Aegean *kal- 'to cover over', then Greek καλύπτω and καλύβη is sourceable to a derivative *kalúpa. It's certainly better already compared to racking our brains wondering why the odd a-vocalism and suffix conflicts with IE grammar and with other identified cognate forms to the west. Likewise, the resultant Etrusco-Rhaetic transitive verb *kal can then explain the source of the Etruscan 'earth' word (perhaps also reflected in Rhaetic as χelθi 'in the earth'(?) in Schum SZ 12) while supplying a source for both Latin cēlāre and a Pre-Proto-Germanic *kal- whose initial plosive shifted to *h by Grimm's Law sometime after 1000 BCE. As with so many of these other curious Etrusco-Germanic correspondences, a language intermediary (Venetic *kal- ?) is plausible.

[1] Szemerényi, Scripta minora: Selected essays in Indo-European, Greek, and Latin, vol 63, part 4 (1991), p.2042 (see link).
[2] Mallory and Adams, The Oxford introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European world (2006), p.492 (see link).