21 May 2010

Relative pronouns in Etruscan

A small commentbox coalition developed recently against my Etruscan translation concerning the Cippus Perusinus such that ipa in ipa ama hen agrees in case with its antecedent, tezan 'cippus'. I remain unmoved. Rather than honest criticism, the claims made were boldly exploiting unreferenced half-truths and exaggerating the importance of minutiae while, as always, cloaked in complete anonymity. A bullshitter exposes himself when he approaches the grammar of one language by sole appeal to another unrelated one. Etruscan isn't Latin; apples and oranges. I appreciate the comical absurdity of the attempt though.

Back to linguistics, it's beneficial to explain why their "issues", or what I like to call, "turds", are inane so that no sensible reader could be confused by my judgement calls. The first turd was their imaginary "language universal" such that relative pronouns are always declined according to their role in the subordinate clause and never by their role in the antecedent. The second turd was the general ignorance they had regarding Etruscan's relative pronoun ipa (and about the language as a whole, for that matter).

Concerning these imaginary universal case-agreement rules

Speaking globally, the choice of a relative pronoun's case is *not* necessarily bound to the subordinate clause alone, despite the persistent shouting from this normally silent group of persons. For example, on the grammar of Old English, Gotti/Dossena/Dury, English Historical Linguistics 2006: Syntax and morphology, v.1 (2008), p.11 explains that a relative pronoun may share with its antecedent "features for number and gender, and, optionally, for case". An example is:
Ic wat witodlice ðæt ge secað ðone hælend ðone ðe on rode ahangen wæs.
"I know truly that you seek the Lord (ACC.), who (ACC.) was hung on the cross."
If a relative pronoun was only about its relative clause, we should expect "who" to be declined in the nominative since it's the patientive subject of the participle formation, "was hung". Classical Greek also throws a curve now and then,[1] and same too for Arabic where the dual relative pronoun agrees with its antecedent in gender, number and *case*.[2]

Regarding Ancient Ugaritic, Roger Woodard publishes in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia (2008), p.31: "The relative pronoun agrees in gender and number with its antecedent; whether the case of the relative pronoun itself is decided by the case of the antecedent or by the function of the relative pronoun in its clause cannot be determined [...]" Even Woodard is unaware of this alleged "language universal" that I'm being harassed with.

There's no need to elaborate further. It's official: my commentbox hecklers are bored latchkey kids.

Etruscan relative pronouns (for real, this time)

If we're going to talk about Etruscan relative pronouns, let's talk about Etruscan relative pronouns. Not Latin ones, Greek ones or Esperanto ones. In Etruscan, there's no question that the relative pronoun is declined for case as are all known pronouns and demonstratives. In the Cippus Perusinus, ipa is certainly in the nominative case (matching corresponding nominatives ita 'that' and ica 'this') but the question is whether this pronoun's declined according to its role in the relative clause or its antecedent, tezan, which I give the value of 'cippus':
Sleleθ caru tezan fuśleri tesnś teiś Raśneś ipa ama hen.
I admit that this is tricky to assert based only on this (despite the fact that my translation is still grammatically valid and contextually sound) but if one is so certain that Etruscan relative pronouns somehow must behave like Latin ones, then I defy such narrow-minded armchair linguists to explain the following on Laris Pulena's sarcophagus (TLE 131):
Χim culsl leprnal pśl varχti cerine pul alumnaθ pul hermu huzrna-tre
Things aren't so simple. First off, we may wager that pśl is an unstressed type of pronoun because it's spelled without vowels just as postclitic demonstratives are (eg. cl 'of this', tś 'to that'). Second, this pronoun appears to be doubly marked which is normal for Etruscan and observed many times elsewhere. In fact, in a language like Etruscan proven to operate under Suffixaufnahme, in what way can we meaningfully avoid interpreting this sentence as a genitive case agreement between three consecutive elements that I've boldfaced in the above phrase (ie. culs-l leprna-l pś-l)? And if we can see this, then we can see that the role of the antecedent in Etruscan relative pronouns might actually be important.

For now, I've never ever seen a decent and complete translation of this artifact so we're in uncharted territory. However, here are some hints I can most securely offer: χi-m 'and next' and culsl 'of the gate'. Have fun pondering on that. As always, everyone is free to have opinions but may yours be only productive ones.

[1] Croy, A primer of Biblical Greek (1999), p.164 (see link) gives the following example:
ἀκούομεν τῶν λόγων ὤν ἡ θυγάτηρ σου λέγει
"We hear the words (GEN.PL.) which (GEN.PL.) your daughter speaks."
[2] Ryding, A reference grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (2005), p.323 (see link):
li-l-zawj-ayni llað-ayni ya-ntazˤir-āni ħadaθ-an saʕīd-an
"for the couple (OBL.DL.) who (OBL.DL.) are awaiting a happy event"


  1. There's a different transcription of Laris Pulena's epitaph given here: http://www.archive.org/stream/lalanguetrusqu00martuoft/lalanguetrusqu00martuoft_djvu.txt

    Now I'm confused. Is this variant just poor reading, or is the inscription just that poorly preserved?

    And from the little I can get from matching the words in your dictionary, the sentence seems to be discussing something about the gates of the underworld, a room, and a school supported by a youth group - is it saying that the burial chamber was made by Pulena's students? Then is "the gates of the underworld" just a religious expression equivalent to "beyond the tomb, after passing through the gates of heaven"?

  2. First off, Seadog, reading the pdf format rather than the ugly machine code is easier. Second, the site tells you explicitly that the book is dated to 1913 back when my gramma was just a toddler. The book's author even died before WW2! Come on, now.

    Could you try something more recent like Rix, Etruskische Texte (1991), p.47? He indexes this artifact as Ta 1.17 which is equivalent to Pallottino's index of TLE 131. When you type in *Rix's* values into my dictionary program, you'll get further ahead.

    "Then is 'the gates of the underworld' just a religious expression equivalent to 'beyond the tomb, after passing through the gates of heaven'?"

    So far I'm experimenting with a value of 'of the underwordly gate' for culs-l leprna-l. According to rules of Suffixaufnahme, the bare nomino-accusative form would simply be *culs leprna 'underwordly gate'. If correctly valued, we could further extrapolate that *leprna literally means 'pertaining to the labrys'.

    "Gates of heaven" is a Christian concept whereas the Etruscan afterlife was subterranean in a gated city of the dead.

    "[...] is it saying that the burial chamber was made by Pulena's students?"

    If it's kosher to interpret alumnaθ as a derivative of the Latin word alumnus/-a 'pupil', then it's certainly sounding like the funeral arrangements of Laris Pulena were somehow being taken care of by those of a temple-school, yes.

    "Then is 'the gates of the underworld' just a religious expression equivalent to 'beyond the tomb, after passing through the gates of heaven'?"

    I think it's more along the lines of "we gave such-and-such offerings to Catha and Bacchus and later the sarcophagus was offered up to the gate of the dead (ie. the tomb was closed up, then sayoonara!)."

    Then again, maybe there's a better interpretation lurking out there still.

  3. What is the origin of the relative pronoun ipa? Its proximity in form to the demonstrative pronouns ita and ica suggests that it might originally be a distance-neutral demonstrative pronoun, or maybe an interrogative pronoun. With this outset, we can read the part culsl leprnal pśl as an archetypal Suffixaufnahme possessive construction, meaning something like "of its underworldly gate".

    Another interpretation would be to take pśl as an inflected relative pronoun. In this case, the reading of Χim culsl leprnal pśl varχti cerine … could be something like "and next (of) the underworldly gate, for which at(?) the sarcophagus was made …". If this is the case, we see that the relative pronoun takes first the case ending of its role in the subclause, and then adds the case ending of the antecedent. That would support Glen's reading of ipa ama hen.

    But is there a difference in meaning whether we interpret pśl as a relative pronoun or as a demonstrative pronoun? Let's look at the other interpretation again. Now, Χim culsl leprnal pśl varχti cerine … would mean somthing like "and next (of) its underworldly gate at(?) the sarcophagus was made …". That doesn't need to mean anything different. No surprise, really, because if the relative pronoun is originally a demonstrative pronoun, its widened meaning should have been derived from constructions where both interpretations would yield the same.

  4. Grahatt: "What is the origin of the relative pronoun ipa?"

    I'm guessing it's from the interrogative pronoun signifying "what?, who?" (but this word remains unknown thus far).

    The usage of (i)pa suggests that it's specifically a relative pronoun while a binary contrast exists in demonstratives between proximal ((i)ca) and distal ((i)ta). This binary contrast is exploited in LL 11.vii: etnam celu-cn, etnam aθumi-tn "then the earth (near us), then the sky (away from us)".