14 Oct 2010

Missing Etruscan onsets

This time, a much shorter post about the implications of Cyprian Syncope on Etruscan and about gaps in the expected available onset possibilities. If I've defined this Pre-Etruscan syncope properly, then it's curious that Etruscan lacks some expected clusters that could not have been reason to trigger stress shift to the first syllable. As I said before, wholesale onset deletion is unlikely to have happened to deal with impending invalid clusters since this would surely overload the vocabulary with a deluge of monosyllabic homophones which would in turn undoubtedly trigger tonogenesis like in Chinese in order to compensate with this imagined "lexical condensation". (But there's no evidence for tones in Etruscan so we aren't going there.)

I now have 1800 entries with over 4300 word forms in my database so I expect to find ample stuff when I search for words in Etruscan starting with pr-. Yet what does my simple search yield? I have only 11 headings starting with this onset! Six of them are names of either Italic or Greek origin (Prastina, Prisina, Priiamne, Prumaθe, Prumaθina and Prusilna). Of the remaining words (besides the one mystery term prezu I have trouble assigning a value and origin to), pruχu 'pitcher', pruχuna 'of the pitcher', prumaθś 'great-grandson' and prunta ~ frunta 'augur of lightning') are all Greek or Latin loanwords (cf. πρόχους, pronepos and βροντή). This same pattern happens when I search for pl- , seeing likewise only 11 terms consisting of many names and few words, all non-native terms. Why should this be so? What's so exotic about this onset cluster in a language with ample terms starting with #tr or #sr?!

We might invent a rule that *pR- (R = resonant) was somehow avoided in Proto-Cyprian by its aforementioned stress shift rule while *tR- and *sR- were allowed but I wince at the irregularity in that. Yet if the cluster survived into the post-Cyprian era, it suggests one possible thing: word-initial clusters of the form *pR were regularly simplified in Pre-Etruscan by deleting *p. I must remind myself to investigate this pattern further.

15 Oct 2010: I changed "Yet if the cluster survived into the post-Cyprian era, it suggests one thing" to something less absolute: "Yet if the cluster survived into the post-Cyprian era, it suggests one possible thing". Afterall we must rationally acknowledge other logical possibilities that may not be considered such as, perhaps, a general softening of *pR to *fR (although I have only five headings thus far in #fR making that particular idea impractical).


  1. Speaking of your database, are you considering adding an English-Etruscan function anytime?
    After all, 1800 entries, while very small for a dictionary, is quite substantial for a language that's been dead over 2000 years (except compared to Hittite, Sumerian, the Semitic languages and Egyptian), and considering that yours is currently the largest Etruscan dictionary available, it would be a boon to have an alternative search format available.
    In addition, related words could be that much more easily spotted, which would aid in internal reconstruction.

    (Actually, I'm also curious - why don't you have a word list version? I'm not trying to be greedy or anything - I'm just curious)

  2. "Speaking of your database, are you considering adding an English-Etruscan function anytime?"

    Yes, I just need to add some coding to make that happen but I just didn't get around to it.

    "Actually, I'm also curious - why don't you have a word list version?"

    I'm just as curious why one would need a word list in pdf when an interactive, searchable database is more functional.

  3. I look forward very, very much to when that coding is added!

    I agree that the database is highly functional and should by all means be kept, but the database vs. PDF list issue can be compare to the issue of e-books vs. printed books. One can bring printed material places without Internet access.
    In addition, I find lists very useful when it comes to comparing variant forms of words, e.g. ica, icha, ca, cha.

  4. Interesting find!

    *tR and *sR clusters do have in common though, that both elements of the cluster are homorganic, which of course isn't the case with with *pR- as a cluster. That would explain the ireggularity.

    But there are *kR- clusters too aren't there? So that would be problematic if we'd go by 'only homorganic clusters are allowed'.

  5. "But there are *kR- clusters too aren't there?"

    Yes, there are certainly cr- words in Etruscan and it's true that only 15 headings occur in my database, similar to the pr- words. But unlike the latter, crapi (or perhaps craφ in the unattested nominative?) at least holds out as a possible native word.

    Then again, perhaps we have here a stop deletion in both *kr- and *pr-onsets, implying that all these words are datable to the first millennium BCE.

    I can't say I have everything figured out yet. I'm just in exploration mode right now and openly vocalizing what I see.

  6. Some further possibilities:
    - *pr *kr became /p k/
    - or they (both) became /tr/
    - /tr sr/ were retain'd because they were rather monophonemes /ʈ ʂ/
    - /tr sr/ originated from prefixes *t(V)- *s(V)- (while *p- *k- didn't exist)

    Just tossing some ideas out there.

  7. Tropyllium: "Just tossing some ideas out there."

    Yes, I notice you favour your own random ideas over any thoughtful ones I try to propose. Yawn.

    The erosion of *r in an onset is plausible, of course, but that Etruscan had "monophonemes /ʈ ʂ/" while writing them as two letters or that "*p- *k- didn't exist" in Cyprian are random, baseless deviations of yours again that don't even have linguistic motivation.