25 Sep 2010

Adapting the rule of Cyprian Syncope

Recap: What is Cyprian Syncope?

Cyprian Syncope is a sound rule that I noticed on my own several years ago when first pondering on the language origins of Etruscan. Having recognized like many others that Minoan must fall under a Proto-Aegean language family, distinct from Indo-European or Semitic, I then reasoned that Etruscan phonotactics must have been simpler in its more recent past, aligning more with the much-stricter phonotactics of Minoan which only appears to have allowed syllables of a (C)V(C)-shape.

Cleaving Proto-Aegean into two branches, Minoan and Cyprian, I noticed that some Minoan vowels were being deleted in later Cyprian tongues due to some sort of very early stress accent, sometimes creating new word-initial consonant clusters that couldn't have been possible in Minoan. Etruscan, Lemnian and Rhaetic all have word-initial consonant clusters, showing that if they were created from vowel deletion, this must have occurred when they were once a single idiom back around 1000 BCE (ie. when these languages first arrived in Italy). This rule of syncope is unrelated to a later second syncope in Etruscan which has already been widely remarked by past Etruscanists and which took place around 500 BCE. As far as I've read, no Etruscanist has published a word on this first Syncope that I'm exploring openly here, as I have in the past online.

A slight change

This past week, reviewing my research, a new corollary on Cyprian Syncope came to me. Vowel deletion isn't always guaranteed, it seems, and I've been striving to understand why. Certainly I long ago saw this in derivational suffixes of a CV shape, eg. Proto-Aegean *-na [pertinentive] becomes both Minoan and Etruscan -na without vowel deletion. I also noticed later that a word-final structure of -CCV within a word also blocks vowel deletion. Thus the original structure of Proto-Aegean *tʰaura 'bull' (> Greek ταῦρος) is likewise preserved in Etruscan θaura. Recently though, I've been grappling with other notorious wanderworts like 'apple' and 'bee' in Western Europe, seeking Aegean solutions to these riddles, only to find that there is a new implication that some trisyllabic words with initial accent fail to delete the word-final vowel.

Without going into details about reconstructions I haven't yet detailed on this blog, I think I've arrived at a very phonetically plausible revision of the general vowel deletion rule by noting a preceding accent shift in specific cases. Thus:
1. Euphonic Accent Shift: Word-initial *CəCV́- where both consonants (C) are plosives attracts stress to the first syllable: *CəCV́-*CV́Cə-

2. The Cyprian Syncope Rule: Any vowel in a syllable immediately preceding or following a stressed syllable is deleted.
The reason for the initial accent shift prevents consonant clusters like those perfectly valid in Greek (eg. κτεατίζω 'to gain' or χθών 'earth') from ever forming in Cyprian, thereby explaining why they are completely absent in Etruscan despite having several Greek loans.

The following table shows the regular patterns in correspondence I witness that are emerging from the attested and substratal data and will hopefully illustrate how the above rules can explain them:

(before Syncope)
(after Syncope)
*aléli 'lily'*əlélə*lel
*ápia 'bee'*ápiə*ápi
*apísa 'pear'*əpísə*pis
*árapo 'sprout'*árəpu*árpu
*talóza 'sea'*təlúzə*tlus
*ṭapúri 'village'*zəpúrə*spur
*ṭínau 'moulded'*zínəu*zinu
*tʰáura 'bull'*tʰáura*tʰáura

22 Sep 2010

From whence Sanskrit kapúcchala?

As I've probably mentioned before, I strongly suspect Julius Pokorny and followers have lazily lumped Sanskrit kapúcchala 'tuft of hair from the back of the head' in with other evidence supposedly supporting Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *kaput 'head', all just to give the illusion that the evidence is more robust and geographically dispersed than it honestly is. It's also a lot easier in any bureaucracy, including in academia, to simply go with the flow and ne'er question the status quo. However in this case, I'm fortunately not the only one out there that thinks this smells fishy. I insist that this PIE root never existed and that there are only Western European reflexes of this 'head' word, all attributable to loans from the Aegean family during the 2nd millennium BCE and later, ie. from either Minoan *kaupada (> Greek κεφαλή) or Etruscan *kaupaθ (> Latin caput; indirectly into Germanic as *haubidaz prior to Grimm's Law, perhaps through Venetic).

Though I found one lead online stating that Mayrhofer once dared to analyse kapucchala into a pejorative prefix ka- plus puccha- 'tail' (Mayrhofer, Kurzgefaßtes etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindischen [1956], p.157), I've just come across a curious entry in both Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionary and Capeller's Sanskrit-English Dictionary that identifies the syllable ka alone as 'head'. This tickles me. Since I knew already that पुच्छ puccha meant 'tail', this implies that कपुच्छ ka-púccha-la- with diminutive -la- just means 'little head-tail', perfectly fitting for a tuft at the back of the head.

If the word can be explained purely in Sanskrit terms, a PIE origin would be woefully extravagant by comparison and then easily dismissed as bunk. The other spelling kaputsala would be just an alternative phonetically-faithful rendering and certainly adds nothing to the arguments of the **kaput camp until they can substantiate both **kaput and **śala-. Even the justification for this unmotivated segmentation of the word is lacking. It seems to be based on wishful thinking.[1]

That being said, now I'm having trouble confirming the source of the equation ka = 'head'. Is it attested somewhere directly? Or is this purely assumed by 19th-century Indicists attempting to etymologize Sanskrit vocabulary (in which case, an asterisked *ka is in order)? Oddly enough, there a few other words that strongly seem prefixed with this morpheme ka-: क-स्तम्भी kastambhī 'prop of a carriage-pole' (cf. स्तम्भ stambha 'post, pillar') and कं-धर kaṃdhara 'neck' (lit. 'head-bearer', cf. धर dhara 'supporting').

Rejecting PIE **kaput, what then is the etymology of Sanskrit क ka 'head'?

[1] After posting this, I managed to discover one tantalizing lead that may help settle this issue (see Brugmann/Streitberg, Indogermanische Forschungen, v. 3 [1894], p.236) which I subsequently posted in my commentbox. If I'm reading the German correctly, it seems like the authors are admitting that kaputsala was caused by a more modern modification of kapucchala, based on an etymological whim.

19 Sep 2010

Minoan pulses and bitter vetches

I'm looking at another potential substrate word, this time from Minoan. I think there might be a lot more here than meets the eye so I'll just start with the preliminary leads first and perhaps expand in a future post.

This etymological safari starts by examining the origins of the Greek word ὄροβος 'bitter vetch' whose etymology remains unknown and very likely to be a product of Mediterranean substrate. The bitter vetch, despite the nasty sounding name, is a type of legume related to the bean. Another similar word, ἐρέβινθος 'chickpea', looks like a derivative of the former. Yet nothing in Greek grammar can yield one from the other, nor has anyone been successful in attributing either of these terms to a previous Indo-European form.[1]

Trying another approach, a Minoan root could underly both: *arapua 'pulse, bitter vetch'. Upon this we could build the form *arapuwinta 'chickpea', ie. from the base *arapu- plus *-inta, a productive derivational suffix already attributed to Pre-Greek substrate.

This leads to the possibility that if the term survived into Old Etruscan by inheritence, it might be *arapu. Towards Late Etruscan, /p/ before /u/ is expected to soften to bilabial fricative /ɸ/[2] with added vowel-raising before resonant /r/. This takes us to a Late Etruscan form *erfu. However reasons for this hypothetical Etruscan word present in Italian substrate requires added justification from me. So... more to follow.

[1] Burkert/Raffan, Greek religion: Archaic and classical (1987), p.19 (see link).
[2] This sound rule was previously mentioned on this blog (for eg.: Some observations concerning Woodard's The Ancient Languages of Europe).

17 Sep 2010

Sowing wild oats and plowing the fields

Observe the above picture of a man plowing the fields with his loyal quadruped. Do you notice anything pornographic here? You shouldn't, unless you're a sick creep. Let's move on. LOL!

Under my previous article Manly goats, the commentbox brims with input from readers. I continue to reject the validity of both *kapro- 'goat' and *kapr̥- 'penis' as true Indo-European (IE) roots. In fact, I'm starting to get the strong notion that the real reason why some Indoeuropeanists like Julius Pokorny had included Sanskrit kapr̥t- 'penis' into his cognate series under the 'goat' etymon was just to make it look less like a substratal loanword restricted to Western Europe and more like a fully attested IE root in order to fill out his 1959 book Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch. It drives me nuts. It's so sloppy and obvious to me that a lot of these so-called Indo-European roots are bogus fabrications. If my current opinion ruffles a few hobbyists, so be it. A voice of doubt is needed in a world of safely treading yesmen and yeswomen from time to time.

(And this isn't to say that the more core roots of the traditional PIE lexicon like *ḱwon- 'dog' or *pénkʷe 'five' aren't competently justified. I simply urge balance and rational skepticism in all things. All humans are fallible - me, you, and even the most educated.)

Sharing recently some online leads hinting that the aforementioned Indic word kapr̥t- is fundamentally 'ploughshare' rather than 'penis', I've met some disbelieving resistance. Yet even in English, 'to plow' is used in naughty ways to refer to coitus. To further arm against the doubt, one may cite another classical term, Latin vōmer. It's primary meaning is 'ploughshare' and its secondary meaning is precisely 'penis' (or 'membrum virile' in VictorianSpeak, if you may).

Once we finally plough Pokorny's root into the mire where it belongs, his posthumous 'penis' can't get in the way of a more credible Tyrrhenian root for 'goat', backed up by Hesychius' own admission which Pokorny appears to have dismissed too eagerly as erroneous hearsay in a presumed classical age of ignorance perhaps.

13 Sep 2010

A new post on Pre-Greek place-names

Mr Zeke has scribed a new post Pre-Greek place-names of the Aegean complete with detailed surveys like the one above that history buffs will delight in. As I discovered with Italian placenames and Etruscan's involvement in many of them, toponyms can be a source of endless fascination and learning about the impact that substrate languages have had on their region.

In the case of the toponyms in the environs of Greece, the Aegean islands and Turkey, there's an ever-going quest to tease out the Minoan (and also Hattic) threads that inevitably must exist here. What hampers our knowledge is the lack of information about these forgotten languages but it's also precisely that aching riddle that compels us to crack it.

6 Sep 2010

Pondering on the phrase 'capite velato'

In Latin, there's a phrase capite velato meaning literally 'with covered head'. The term is used in Roman religious contexts to refer to the act of covering the head with a veil when performing sacrifices. It's said that the Etruscans by contrast did things 'Greek-style' (ie. capite aperto 'with bare head').

Meanwhile, Fay Glinister has made a great article that seeks to smash apart what she identifies as a dogmatic belief by modern historians in Veiled and unveiled: Uncovering Roman influence in Hellenistic Italy (2009). Reading through it, I'm impressed by her daring push beyond facile analyses here. To paraphrase, she says that the act of capite velato can't be viewed as a strict ethnic marker and that it extends beyond just Roman culture. Further, the practice may be appropriate to some rites but not necessarily others. She explains that Etruscans too must have done rites in capite velato and that this shouldn't be assumed a priori to be from Roman dominance.

My interest was piqued by this phrase lately, however, due to something specifically linguistic. I've already been suspecting that despite some unconvincing attempts by Indoeuropeanists to make these words native terms, it seems to me that both Latin caput 'head' and Latin velo 'to veil' are both Etruscan borrowings.

We should reject Julius Pokorny's Indo-European root *kaput which is poorly justified both phonetically and distributionally. The only plausible cognates for 'head' are found in Italic and Germanic branches (ie. only in Western IE dialects and with difficulties in sound correspondence) while the Indo-Iranian words propped up as relevant comparisons are a desperate ploy to legitimize a terrible reconstruction. I've already theorized Etruscan *caupaθ 'head' motivated in part by Latin caput and Germanic *haubidaz (see Paleoglot: Edward Sapir and the Philistine headdress) and also motivated by a Minoan cognate *kaupada (see A hidden story behind Cybele the Earth Mother?). There is also enough evidence I think to reconstruct Etruscan *vel 'to hide' considering the comparison of Etruscan *Velχan 'Volcanus', lit. 'Hidden One', with similar epithets in Greek Ἅιδης 'Hades' (< *Awidēs 'Unseen') and Egyptian Amon, also literally 'The Hidden One'.

Most strange of all is that this Latin phrase can in theory be provided an almost identical Etruscan counterpart, despite differences in grammar: *caupaθe velaθ. Here, the first word ends in the Etruscan locative -e and the second word is an intransitive participle in -aθ modifying the preceding noun.

So I wonder: Is it possible that this phrase was originally an Etruscan saying, cleverly borrowed into Latin with parallel terms and grammatical endings?

3 Sep 2010

A little note on Etruscan adjectives and case agreement

A helpful and interesting post by Michael Weiss is to be found at OHCGL Addenda and Corrigenda on the Tyrrheno-Italic name Numasio-. Now for the bad news. The following is more of a tiny quibbling on Etruscan grammar as I see it rather than a major fault but I must question the Italian translation given to the Etruscan inscription found at the bottom of his post which is printed thus:
mi mlac mlakas larθus elaivana araθia numasianas
'Io (sono) il buon/bel (vaso) oleario di Arath Numasiana per il buon Larthu.'
[English: 'I (am) the good (vessel) of oil of Arath Numasiana for the good Larthu.']
I hate to be a stickler for grammar (no wait... I love it!) but for anyone actively studying Etruscan inscriptions, seeing someone miss the common phrase mlac mlakas is glaring. This phrase is repeated in a few other Etruscan inscriptions (eg. ET Cr 2.33, 2.36) and has been compared already to nearly identical formulae in Faliscan (duenom duenas) and in Greek (καλος καλο) as published by Agostiniani (SE 49:1981). This nugget of fact easily shows that overlooking this formula while parsing a sequence mlakas Larθus out of this is nonsense. Such a sequence doesn't even mean 'for the good Larth(u)' but rather *'of the blessed of Larth'.

I object doubly against this translation because I know that Etruscan adjectives (putting aside numerals and such) never precede the noun, nor are they marked with case at all. In Etruscan, there simply is no case agreement between noun and trailing adjective like in neighbouring, unrelated Latin. 'For the good Larth' would be more competently translated into Etruscan as either *Larθus mlac (genitive of giving) or *Larθe-ri mlac (locative with postposition -ri 'for').

Reexamining the inscription above, it's more likely to be translated as follows:
Mi, mlac mlakas, Larθus elaivana Araθia Numasianas.
"I, blessed of the blessed, (am) Larth's oil-vessel with Arath Numasiana."
Notice that now we see that Arath Numasiana is the one in possession of the vessel (in the commitative case ending -a) whereas Larth, whose last name is unspecified, is merely the donor (in the genitive, denoting origin).

(03 September 2010) After just posting this, a clearer translation had come to me by simply moving the comma over, all still in keeping with my grammatical analysis above:

Mi, mlac mlakas Larθus, elaivana Araθia Numasianas.
"I, blessed of the blessed from Larth, (am an) oil-vessel with Arath Numasiana."

2 Sep 2010

Blogger can't seem to handle long comments

Before some readers think it's my fault, I just need to make yet another Google-hates-us-all post concerning the bloated bureaucracy's inability to handle long comment posts in its Blogger sites. You may have seen the dreaded user-hostile Google error if your posts were too long. Strangely, when I reach this error page, it turns out that the comment had posted anyways! I recommend to commenters who experience this issue to first check whether your comment has posted despite the error on my page. (Remember to refresh the page.) Another very handy trick is to first highlight the entire message you're about to send (press Ctrl-A), then copy it (press Ctrl-C) so that if Google does eat your time-consuming message, you can still repaste it (by pressing Ctrl-V) into the commentbox again or by saving it in a file for a later attempt. Keeping messages brief and to-the-point is always well-advised of course. Sorry about this but my hands are tied here.

Google has sat on their ass for at least two months on this important issue while commenters keep voicing the problem. Which is why I assert...

Google hates us all. <;o(

1 Sep 2010

Subtle truths about Etruscan letter-names

Long ago, I had privately indulged in tentatively reconstructing letter-names in the Etruscan alphabet based on the hunch that they could likely be related to those found in Greek (ie. alpha, beta, gamma, delta, etc. < West Semitic). Perhaps we could theorize something like *alφa, *peta, *camla, *talta, etc. Contrary to this, it seems that many specialists have assumed that the Etruscan letter-names had inspired, or were even identical to, the Latin names that the Western world now learns from gradeschool.[1] The Latin alphabet rejected the original but arcane Semitic-derived names and had opted for a more phonetic naming system, as follows:
ā, , , , ē, ef, , , ī, , el, em, en, ō, , , er, es, , ū, ex (ix), hy (ī Graeca), zēta
I've never heard of conclusive facts proving the assumption that this is derived from Etruscan naming practices, however there are simple facts that can easily abolish this belief. For example, Latin maintains a contrast in the alphabet between and . This is patently impossible in Etruscan with only unvoiced stops. So if the claim were true, Latin's allegedly Etruscan antecedents could only have been *pe for both! The same contradiction immediately obstructs us concerning Latin and which can equally find no source in Etruscan due to a more restricted phonology. So evidently it was the Italic population that innovated these names, not the Etruscans who no doubt used the original Semitic-derived names familiar to Greeks. For Latin & , Etruscans can be predicted to have uttered *peta and *pei respectively.

[1] Arthur Gordon, On the origins of the Latin alphabet: Modern views (1969) (see link); Ullman/Brown, Ancient writing and its influence (1963), p.167 (see link).