24 Nov 2010
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.