7 Jan 2011

On Rex Wallace's interpretation of a new Lemnian inscription

In early December at Rasenna Blog, Rex Wallace, a published professor of the Classics Department faculty at the University of Massachusetts, contributed a clear photo of the new Lemnian artifact whose inscription I had mused on earlier. Wallace then insists that soromσ and aslaσ "are not s-gentives[sic] because they end in palatal fricatives". I feel this begs criticism.

Why assume this? The Etruscan san (ie. an M-like letter) represented *either* /s/ *or* /ʃ/ due to differing regional writing traditions in Italy as noted in Helmut Rix's must-have inscription catalogue Etruskische Texte. In early Greek too, san was pronounced /s/ since a separate esh-like phoneme was unavailable in the language. The 4-stroke sigma is nothing more than the san turned sideways[1] and the Lemnians were surrounded by Greeks. In light of this, what does the mere co-existence of san and sigma suggest phonologically? Absolutely nothing. We don't know a priori which writing tradition the Lemnian san is based on. At face value, both /s/ and /ʃ/ could be possible values here. Yet it appears that Wallace's entire argument against analysing these lexemes as genitive forms rests entirely on his one narrow interpretation.

Worse still, it's a falsifiable interpretation. The Lemnos Stele consistently placed the 3-stroke sigma, not 4-stroke san, before /i/ in the dative ending -si. Surely we'd expect this -s- to be palatalized before a notoriously palatalizing vowel of all places! The two sigmas present in siasi only taunt Wallace's opinions further.

So this orthography must be backwards: the Lemnian 3-stroke sigma is /ʃ/ and the 4-stroke san is /s/. To the complete contrary, soromσ and aslaσ are indeed probable genitives, to be read more accurately as śurums and aślas.

[1] Speaking on Etruscan and its letter san, the late Giuliano Bonfante and his daughter Larissa note the self-evident graphic relationship between it and the modern Greek sigma in Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction (2002), 2nd edition, p.62 (see link).


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