30 Dec 2012

Aegean coleslaw, anyone?

After months of slacking off, I should probably get back to work and blog something. It's not as if I ever ran out of ideas. So today I want to talk about a package of vegetable terms that seem related but I believe may be misetymologized.

Let's focus on *kremus- 'onion', an unanalysable Proto-Indo-European root presumed to be a nominal derivative in *-us-, concocted to explain Old Irish crem 'garlic', Germanic *hramuson ~  *hramsaz 'onion, leek', Greek κρέμυον ~ κρόμυον ~ κρόμμυον 'onion', Polish trzemucha and Lithuanian šermùkšnis. The forced assumption here is that if enough branches of Indo-European exhibit a particular root word as we have here then it must be because it existed in the proto-language spoken over 6000 years ago. "Assume" makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me", as they say.

An alternative possibility that must always be kept in mind is that a word has merely managed to expand due to cultural transmission and dissemination from a substrate language that is not necessarily Indo-European. Lacking further knowledge on very historically important yet largely unknown languages like Minoan and Hattic, we can hardly pretend that we can so easily reconstruct many of these claimed Indo-European roots securely. So for the sake of further discussion, I present an alternative view of this particular root.

Instead of pushing the origin all the way back to Indo-European, why not a simpler alternative and presume a much later date, in the first millennium BCE? We could start with an Aegean root *harápʰa 'cabbage, kale' with a diminutive *harápʰazo 'onion, garlic, leek' becoming Minoan *harámpa and *harámpazo. This then can explain both the source of κρέμυον ~ κρόμυον with its unmotivated vowel alternation as well as the curiously similar forms κράμβη 'cabbage', ῥάφη 'a kind of large radish' and ῥάφανος 'cabbage' in a way that an Indo-European origin cannot. As Etrusco-Rhaetic speakers traded heavily in the Adriatic with the Greeks, their presumed cognate, *χramφza, would be quickly disseminated into Baltic, Slavic, Germanic and Celtic circles. Simple commerce and loanword adoption.

23 Dec 2012

Happy 13th baktun

December 23 2012 is the start of the 13th baktun according to the Mayan Calendar (using 584285 as the correlation constant). Some may have gone by the other popular correlation constant of 584283 making it December 21 2012. Either way, everything went by without a hitch. Peachy! Congratulations to all who have survived this precious moment. Lol. If we assume that an age lasts 13 baktuns (13 x 400 years = 5200 years), we might consider this now the Sixth Age.

Then again, the Mayans had also recorded extremely ancient dates into the far past like the alautun which equaled approximately 63 million years. So perhaps we lack some important facts about their conceptions of time and cosmos.

We shall now await the Unix apocalypse as the cycle of silly pop fears rolls onward. The Mayan calendar date for tomorrow, the 2nd day of the 13th baktun, will be 5 Imix 4 Kankin G1.

26 Aug 2012

Etruscan future tense?

Carrying from my previous post, I've been thinking about tense and the workings of Etruscan grammar. Generally in world languages, I notice a tendency for temporal concepts like past, present and future that we find in verbs to be expressed respectively by ablative, locative and lative markers taken from nouns.

For example, in French, one may hear the phrase "Je viens de..." to express an action that is just completed. So "Je viens de laver la vaisselle." (literally "I come from washing the dishes.") expresses the idea that in English would be "I just finished washing the dishes". Thus a construction with an ablative meaning is being directly used for a past tense. Likewise even in English, we may say underlyingly lative-like constructions such as "I'm going to study now." to indicate an action that's set in the future. "Coming from" for past, "being at" for present, and "going to" for future. It's a pretty neat pattern that makes one wonder about how our brains fundamentally process space and time.

Returning to Etruscan, we have this construction in -eri (ie. -e [locative case] + postposition -ri 'for, to') and I've been questioning what to make of it. If the construction is taken literally, it may be described as an optative or necessitative as in "one is to X → one should X, one must X". On the other hand, it's quite natural and conceivable that it could have developed into a future tense and so perhaps we should translate it as "one will X". I find that oftentimes the semantic differences between future potential on the one hand and future certainty on the other are blurry in any language. In the long text of the Liber Linteus, I can translate the many verbs in -(e)ri into English either as true futures with "shall/will" or as necessitatives with "must/should" and still get satisfying results either way.

I also ponder on how the Etruscan verb is constructed and notice that, ignoring constructions in -eri for a minute, verbs obey a certain order of suffixing such that any mood markers come first (eg. mediopassive -in-), followed by aspectual markers (eg. perfective -ac-) and only finally by tense markers (eg. preterite -e). This perfectly explains forms like man-in-c-e '[it] has been left' (found in TLE 398) from the root man 'to remain'. However what do we make of -eri within this master plan then? If we explored this route of reasoning, we might then say that there may have come to be not just two tenses in Etruscan, past and non-past (as I've been stating up to now), but rather three tenses: -a (present), -e (past) and -eri (future). Is it feasible?

What holds me back from adopting this three-tense model just yet is the presence of eniaca in the Pyrgi Tablets. It resides in the closing sentence: Itanim heramve avil eniaca pulumχva. I interpret this verb to have a future meaning of "will have lasted", correlating perfectly with what is expressed in the Punic portion to the effect that the age of an erected temple statue "shall be as many years as the stars above". The perfective in -ac- conveys result or finality but, unlike the Bonfantes and others, I assert that verbs ending in -(a)ce are composed endings consisting of this perfective marker -ac- plus the preterite -e, to form what should be more accurately described as a perfective past. Judging from a form like eniaca then, and according to my model, -a must convey not only the present tense, but also the future tense as well (ie. -a must be described more generally as a present-future or non-past marker). So it seems to me that -(a)ca marks a lesser-used "perfective present-future" that occurs this one time.

This is one argument I can think of against just assuming a separation of future and present in this language as we find in modern European languages. This simpler two-way tense distinction surfaces elsewhere in some unrelated languages like Hittite and Proto-Germanic.

23 Aug 2012

Finiteness, tense and other crazy things about Etruscan verbs

Let's talk about the notion of a "finite verb" in Etruscan.

From what I understand thus far, Etruscan has two tenses: past and non-past (aka present-future). So given a verb am 'to be', the past tense is ame 'was/were' (-e for past tense) and the present-future tense is ama 'am/is/are' (-a for non-past). We can further elaborate on these verbs with additional aspectual markers like -ac- for the perfective, thus amace 'has been'. I have yet to find evidence that the Etruscan language had any markers of person, so these verb forms might very well have been used for any person, singular or plural, in the same way as Japanese tabemasu 'to eat' is likewise completely unspecific for person or persons.

This brings us to the topic of finite verbs in such languages. According to Richard Norquist's definition of a finite verb, it is "a form of a verb that shows agreement with a subject and is marked for tense." Yet, as I just wrote above, it may very well be that the Etruscan verb, as in Japanese, never agrees with the subject because it simply lacks personal markers. As such, I gather that the difference between finiteness and non-finiteness in the Etruscan verb relies strictly on the presence or absence of the meager tense marker in -e or -a. This difference then is so slight that there are cases where it appears that Etruscans freely reincorporated non-finite forms, even noun stems, into finite verb forms with the simple addition of tense markers, creating some interesting derivational complexity in the process. An example of this liberal agglutinative process may be seen, for example, in the form trinθaśa attested in the Liber Linteus (LL 7.vi), built on a stem trinθ, a tenseless mediopassive participle, in turn derived from the mediopassive trin (LL 7.iv), derived yet further from its fundamental root, tra 'to pour' (hence its own transitive participle trau as witnessed in LL 4.xxii, 9.xxix).

This language never ceases to amaze me in its simple rules but brilliant sophistication and communicative freedom.

15 Aug 2012

An excerpt from Liber Linteus chapter X

In the Liber Linteus, I identify a sentence in chapter 10: Ce-pen sulχva maθcva-c pruθseri. The grammar and vocabulary is pretty straight-forward and we have a typical SOV sentence pattern, the default word order in Etruscan and one of the most common word orders on our little planet.

The word cepen has been horribly mistranslated by several Etruscanists as "priest" due to an absurd and forced connection with Latin cupencus but, ignoring the already significant fact that the two words are nothing alike aside from a vague consonantal resemblance, this semantic value is frightfully inadequate for the many contexts in which we find it. The most apt translation that more respectfully obeys its context, and which may doubly be explained morphologically, is 'here below', composed of cai 'here' (> Late Etruscan cei) and pen 'below'.

The sequence sulχva maθcva-c is united by a trailing conjunction in -c and is thus a noun phrase. Both words are marked with the inanimate plural marker -χva, with its allomorph -cva when following aspirated stops. The two nouns are therefore plural, countable and, being inanimate, incapable of being the true agent of this sentence.

This brings us to the interesting verb pruθseri. It ends in a postposition -ri 'for, to' which is often interpreted with a necessitative aspect, although one could also think of it as a future tense. Stripping away the ending, this leaves the stem pruθ(a)s, which I've interpreted to be made up of a root *pruθ- plus a derivational marker -as (a common verb formant as in acas; perhaps a stative or passive-like marker?). For now I will assume that the most sensible value here is 'is to be set down' or 'shall be set down' in which case we can trace this word to a Greek loan from προθέω 'to set before'.

Together that leads to my translation of Ce-pen sulχva maθcva-c pruθseri into English as "Here below the cereals and gathered fruits(?) are presented." As we should rationally expect from this type of document, we read from it a prescribed religious ritual to be performed on a particular day. Being able to break these sentences down into understandable grammatical constituents is very important in the translation process and is better than just assigning values willy-nilly as has been the far-too-common practice in this stagnant field.

6 Aug 2012

Narrowing down the meaning and etymology of acil

In my previous post, I've deviated away from the translation given by the Bonfantes of the Etruscan word acil as 'work, thing made' and have used the value of 'abundance' instead. Truth be told, I'm not confident with my own value but on the other hand I know that the value assigned by the Bonfantes doesn't jive with the evidence. Let me explain what I mean.

Assigning acil the value of 'work, thing made' seems at first adequate

The repeated inscription Putina Ceizra acil (ET Vs 6.7, Vs 6.8, Vs 6.9) seems to accommodate the Bonfantes' interpretation of 'work, thing made', although more especially 'thing (made)' seems to fit the best. We have exactly the same analysis for Θanses ca Numnal acil "For Thanse this [is an] acil of [the] Numana [family]" (TLE 215 = ET Vs 6.24) written on a vessel.

Both a verb and a noun

Etruscan morphology takes a messy turn here. While the above examples suggest a noun with a very common formant -il, the phrase vinum acilθ ame in the Liber Linteus (LL 8.xiv) shows that acil may be a verb too. The shape of the term acilθ is of the form of an intransitive participle in . Given the essential meaning of "wine was acil-ed", one might presume a value of "made" or "produced" to complement the meaning of its related noun.

Yet a middle preterite acilune surfaces in the Cippus Perusinus. Given the sequence eśta-c velθina acilune turune ścune, devotion is received in a particular sequence. If we assume acil means "to make", this still produces a nonsensical translation of "The family Velthina also is made(??), is given [things], [and] is blessed." We could of course ignore the valence-changing qualities of the verb through this n-marking just to interpret it in an active sense but this just gives us "[they] make, give, and bless". It seems odd to use "make" in this context without it being clear what is being "made". I see nothing immediately prior to this sentence on the artifact that indicates anything being physically made. The verb just hangs there. Awkward. Something can't be quite right.

Towards a stronger translation (hopefully)

If we can say anything clear about the value of acil as a noun, it must at the very least refer to a 'thing'. But then, perhaps that's all this means in nominal contexts, equivalent then to Latin rēs 'thing, act'. In this particular case, perhaps the Bonfantes were correct afterall. The Latin word however came to mean secondarily a religious act, act of worship or sacrifice.

I notice that if we use this Latin word as a semantic guide, a kind of linguistic precedent, acilune could likewise mean 'was given rites' just as the noun might secondarily mean 'rite' rather than just a 'thing' or 'act'. In this way we have a coherent translation of eśta-c velθina acilune turune ścune as 'The family Velthina too was given rites, was given [offerings], [and] was blessed." Then vinum acilθ ame means "the wine was given rites" or in other words that a prescribed holy ritual was performed upon the wine in order to bless it before the gods and make it holy by ceχa sal, ie. by "proper rite".

Summary of the larger word family

Given all this, I think we could define the English translations of the whole word family much better as part of a grander morphological design:

*aχ (v.) = 'to do, to make, to cause'
> acas (v.) = 'to craft, to make'
> acil (n.) = 'thing, act; rite, holy service' (> acil (v.) = 'to do rites, to worship')

The implied underlying verb here, *aχ, reminds me very much of the Indo-European *h₂eǵ-, as if borrowed from Latin agere 'to drive, lead, conduct, impel'.

2 Aug 2012

On the 18th of Acale

In the middle of chapter 6 of the Liber Linteus (aka "The Mummy text"), it reads: eslem . zaθrumiś . acale . tinś . in . śarle // luθti . raχ . ture . acil . caticaθ . luθ . celθim // χim . scuχie . acil . hupniś . painiem // anc . martiθ . sulal .

Lacking any clear translations of this passage from other Etruscanists and online contributers, I'm left to my own judgement calls based on the data I've collected so far in my Etruscan dictionary database. I've been parsing this into sentences as follows:

Eslem zaθrumiś Acale, Tinś in, śarle luθ-ti raχ, ture acil. Caticaθ luθ cel-θi-m. Χi-m, scuχie acil hupniś. Painie-m An-c martiθ sulal.

My transation so far is "On the 18th in Acale, for the Sun, with ash in a filled egg, they gave abundance. Then this very egg [went] in the earth. Then next, abundance was dedicated to the ossuary chamber. Then He shined upon the farmer of cereal."

Certain hapaxes here are hard to decipher for lack of information. For now I understand painie to be a preterite verb borrowed from Greek φαίνω. Its connection with the overall solar theme of the passage shows promise.

The Bonfantes have given the value "liquid used in sacrifices" to a root *sul but the accompanying word martiθ appears to be built on mar which I'm pretty confident means 'to harvest', as in Mariś, the 'Harvester', the god of agriculture and the antecedent of Roman Mars. So assuming that martiθ is a derivative noun meaning 'harvester, farmer' (< marθ, an intransitive or subjective form of mar, plus  [agent]), this suggests that sulal is a type of plant, probably cereal, declined in the genitive case. Thus 'farmer of cereal', which seems to jive with a June harvest of barley in Latium and Etruscanists agree that Acale is the month of June, as per the Roman gloss: Aclus Tuscorum lingua lunius mensis dicitur. = "The month of June is called Aclus in the Etruscan language." I still search a satisfying etymology for the root *sul however and can't be certain of its exact meaning.

I find śarle most difficult to translate but I gather that it is a locative-declined form of a noun *śaril (itself presumably composed of a verb *śar plus a common noun formant -il). A tenuous connection with Ugaritic ṣḥrr 'to burn, to shine' assumes a Bronze Age borrowing back in Lydia and would support a value of "with ash", or something related to the practice of immolation appropriate for a solar rite.

In all, if my translation is on the right track, it may remind one of the story of the rebirth of the Egyptian phoenix whereby at its death it was said to be reborn fully-grown from the ashes of its old self. The newborn child then encases the ashes in an egg of myrrh to be transported to a solar temple in Heliopolis. The legend of the phoenix is of course a mythical account of the cyclical solar year and probably also of the associated yearly ritual performed by devoted priests.

29 Jul 2012

Now she speaks Mandarin

So I'm sitting at home, browsing the net for info as I always do and what pops on the telly but a commercial for Rosetta Stone language learning software. Towards the end of it, a spunky white woman declares in both Mandarin then English, "Now I speak Mandarin!"

I always get tickled by this sort of out-of-the-box iconoclasty towards cultural norms. I wish a lot more people were as adventurous. Considering the rise of the Chinese economy over the past decade, it's a little surprising to me that Chinese isn't more common than it is among the non-Chinese community. Then again, there continues to be insulation between European and Asian cultures after centuries of persistent isolation from each other - culturally, politically, economically and linguistically.

Now what exactly is she saying in Chinese? To convey "Now I speak Mandarin!" in Mandarin, one might expect a word-for-word translation such as 现在我说汉语! Xiànzài wǒ shuō Hànyǔ. Mandarin by and large has the same word order as English making the grammar relatively simple even if the pronunciation and tones present a dilemma for speakers of languages without word-tone distinctions. As I strain to listen to her rapid execution of the Chinese sentence, my ears detect the addition of huì /xwe(ɪ̯)/ (会) 'can, be able' but she misapplies the term guóyǔ (国语) 'national language, official language' as an equivalent to 'Mandarin'. This is best translated as Hanyu instead (literally 'language of the Han', the Han originally being a culture from northern China) since if one resides in the States, one's guoyu should be Yīngyǔ (英语) 'English', not Mandarin.

The thing that throws me off the most in her sentence is what's happening at the end of it. My brain expects to hear guoyu but it instead sounds like *guoyuan. This can't be right. I can only surmise that she's added a sentence-final particle a to denote a statement of fact.

The transcription I'd expect then is: 现在我会说国语啊! Xiànzài wǒ huì shuō guóyǔ a! "Now I can speak the national language!" Perhaps I'm missing something so I'd love to hear feedback. The phrase may not be the best but then again she's one of the very few Mandarin-speaking blondes represented on TV to date so we should cut her some slack.

28 Jul 2012

Etruscan such and such

There's a curious lexeme with an interesting inflection in the Liber Linteus (LL 6.xviii): caticaθ. Another similar form is found again at LL 7.xix but this time as cnticnθ. Are they related and if so how? What is the origin?

Contextually it appears that an English equivalent like this very (one) is a nice fit, or alternatively such. The word might then be compared to the semantics of Latin talis 'such, such like, the like'. It preposes the noun it modifies as is seen in caticaθ luθ. Since nominative ca 'this' and its accusative can ~ cn is so well attested, it makes sense that we should trace both caticaθ and cnticnθ to the respective case forms of their simple demonstrative counterparts.

But what is going on with these forms? Why, in a language that agglutinates with suffixes, are there internal case changes in this form? My solution is that caticaθ stems from a reduplicated earlier form *kati-kati (in the Proto-Cyprian stage), itself built on the form *ka-ti 'like this'. The corresponding accusative form at this stage would be *kanti-kanti which over time is reduced to cnticnθ. The source of this alternation is thus easily obscured.

I propose that this postposition -ti 'like, as', which is not to be confused with -θi 'in' pronounced with an aspirated plosive, is also found in clanti 'stepson, adopted son' (literally 'like a son; son-like') paralleling in meaning and form the Latin term fīliaster 'stepson' (< fīlius 'son' plus derivational suffix -aster).

16 Jul 2012

The river, the lady and the egg

I'll just cut to the chase on this one by first unleashing a data dump of three interesting crosslinguistic word themes ("lady", "egg" and "river") I've noticed that suggest some fascinating substrate influence emerging from the region of the Eastern Mediterranean. I also don't believe that any of these words can be convincingly explained by appeal to Proto-Indo-European as is so often attempted but rather that this is the product of a common package of religious beliefs shared across the area.

*lota 'seed, blossom, bud; egg'

- Greek λωτός lōtós 'lotus', λῶτα lōta 'bloom, blossom', λυταρίς lutarís 'poppy-like flower', λωτάριον lōtárion 'lotus flower'
- Egyptian *lāṭa 'growth, bud, plant' [rd]
(Note Loprieno reconstructs *rāduw 'plant' with *r yet there is Sahidic rōt together with Fayyumic lōt.)
- Hebrew לֹט lōṭ 'myrrh'
- Etruscan luθ 'seed, bud, blossom; egg'

*laṭá ~ *laṭó 'lady, woman'

- Hieroglyphic Luwian and Lycian lada- 'woman, lady, wife'
- Greek Λητώ Lētṓ 'Leto' (Doric Λᾱτώ Lātṓ), mother of Apollo (sun) and Artemis (moon)
- Etruscan lasa 'lady, woman' (usually overspecified as 'nymph')

*lata 'flowing water, flood, river, stream'

- Greek Λήδη Lḗdē 'Leda', mother of Castor and Polydeuces (the Dioscuri).
- Greek Λήθη Lḗthē (Doric λάθα), a river in the underworld (< λήθη lḗthē 'forgetfulness')
- Etruscan laθ 'flood, river, stream' (> Leθams, the god of streams)

When presented this way, we can see the opportunity for clever interplay among speakers of some Bronze Age substrate language containing these three lexemes together. I do believe this substrate to be "Aegean" (ie. the family to which I attribute Minoan and Etruscan among other Cyclado-Cyprian dialects). The fact that we know so little of Minoan merits exploring this idea.

The surviving Greek myths add to this hypothesis. Through Zeus, Leto is the mother of Apollo and Artemis who were considered twins representing the two orbs in the sky, the sun and the moon respectively. The similarly named Leda was by coincidence said to be the mother of Castor and Polydeuces, revered together under the term Dioscuri among Romans and Tinias clenar by the Etruscans. They two are also twin offspring and can be understood to represent the sun and the moon. The father is Zeus as in the story of Leto, this time in the guise of a swan. Surely these stories are the same and contain repeating symbolisms that shed light on Etruscan mythology. Given the external evidence in comparative mythology, the Etruscan Dioscuri must have been the sons of the sun god Tinia, king of all gods, and the mother would have been the "river swan" seen on one mirror (ET OI S.45). In these stories are the curious combination of a "stream" (as a swan), an "egg" and a "lady" that would appear to outsiders as absurd associations. A common set of vocabulary as a source of pun gives us a decent explanation of this odd jumble of images.

This is only a summary of a wealth of other pertinent connections, mind you, but it's best to absorb these ideas in parts so as not to overwhelm discussion and distract from this larger picture of religious symbolism that spans several linguistic and cultural boundaries around the local maritime region.

15 May 2012

Athene's theory of everything

An interesting video that relates a lot of science together into a thought-provoking package.

28 Apr 2012

On the computational nature of syntax

I found an amazing article called On the nature of syntax (2008) by Alona Soschen who, in a nutshell, uses language as a means to examine possible underlying features common to other adaptive systems. Strangely enough, this intrigues me as a programmer too. To quote the abstract:
"There is a tendency in science to proceed from descriptive methods towards an adequate explanatory theory and then move beyond its conclusions. Our purpose is to discover the concepts of computational efficiency in natural language that exclude redundancy, and to investigate how these relate to more general principles. By developing the idea that linguistic structures possess the features of other biological systems this article focuses on the third factor that enters into the growth of language in the individual. It is suggested that the core principles of grammar can be observed in nature itself."
While this is a powerful subject in itself, there are also some interesting facts mentioned within about extreme language structures. It's stated that nouns technically rank higher than verbs universally speaking and this helps explain why the Australian language of Jingulu quite astonishingly has only three true verbs in its vocabulary: "do", "go" and "come". More extreme yet, the Nigerian language Igbo (aka Ibo) has, in place of verbs proper, inherent complement verbs which are made up of -gbá plus a noun (eg. –gbá egwú "to dance", literally "do dance"; –gbá igwè "ride a bicycle", literally "do bicycle"). This confirms my prior impression through my experience with computer programming that verbs are equivalent to "computer functions" that operate on input data (ie. nouns). Nouns then indeed are most primal since one must have data first before any function can operate on it. Nonetheless verbs too are a close second in importance since not much could be expressed without them and likewise not much could be programmed without functions. The interrelationships between language, logic and the qualities that create an adaptive system keeps me busy for hours.

14 Apr 2012

The first person pronoun in Afro-Asiatic languages

My mind lately has been seduced by some non-linguistic, programming-related material I've been researching busily on the side. However I'm ready to hop back into some lingering issues in my comment box where the latest discussion had ended off with the dilemma of reconstructing the first person pronoun in Proto-Berber. Let's zone in first on this Proto-Berber word for "I" before extending the topic to the rest of the Afro-Asiatic family.

Among available Proto-Berber reconstructions, my personal notes so far record Kossmann's *nǎḱḱ and Dolgopolsky's *ənakkʷ. However to compensate for Zenaga's cognate niˀkan with an out-of-the-blue glottal stop, and in keeping with known sound correspondences, alternatives like *nəʔḱḱ and *năɣḱ are suggested by my commenters. Afterall, if both Proto-Berber and produce a Zenaga glottal stop, these are reasonable ideas on the surface. However I've expressed my dismay about these word-finals because I don't find them to be terribly "pronounceable". This is my plebeian shorthand for saying that the forms in question border on the phonemically exotic at the expense of phonotactic rules.

I figure that if we're going to brainstorm it would be best to keep one's fancies to some clear-minded structure that includes a vision of not only the sound inventory of the protolanguage but rules governing its syllable structure. In both alternatives, we have a rather heavy word-final dump loaded with a bunch of articulatory features that, according to general rule, should be the least able to maintain complex contrasts in world languages because of the issue of saliency in an expiratory position. This to me just raises more questions than answers. In a form like *nəʔḱḱ, we would have an inaudible glottal stop nestled within the shadows of a palatalized geminate. To reconstruct word-final *-ˀḱḱ is to imply that there are simpler codae that contrast with it such as *-ḱḱ or ˀḱ but I suspect that such exemplary forms will be hard to come by leading to a reasonable suspicion against the validity of such a sequence. Likewise, if we go with *năɣḱ, we're left with similar questions. Where then are the examples of its implicit voiceless counterpart *-xḱ? How is this alleged word-final palatalization to be articulated? Would this palatalized velar plosive be pronounced with pre-palatalization or would it be accompanied by a non-phonemic release by way of palatalized aspiration or a subtle vowel? All of these issues must be addressed and it's not sufficient to me to only pay heed to phonemics. What is unavoidably enmeshed with the riddle of its exact form is simultaneously the manner in which these phonemes may be assembled into valid Proto-Berber words. We must pay attention to both issues at once in order to provide more realistic alternatives. These questions are just as much questions that *I* must address, and do indeed feel obligated to address, when seeking a better answer.

After much deliberation I realized one piquant possibility that agrees with my determined obeisance to Occam's Razor while (hopefully) being more congruent to extent facts. Abandoning my previous skepticism for a moment, let's simply accept for the sake of argument that some palatalizing element is original to Proto-Berber because of pesky details like Shenwa's cognate nəč. Why then not opt for a more streamlined form like *nəky? In this way, the glide can credibly serve as both a source for palatalization and gemination at once. It satisfies my phonotactic constraints which restrain me from indulging in overloaded coda of more than two consonants and, if this may be pursued to its ultimate conclusion, it might reduce Berber's commonly reconstructed phonemic inventory by eliminating palatalization as a phonemic feature altogether. Note too that as I write this, I recognize that I must investigate how Zenaga's -ˀk- in its cited pronoun niˀkan contrasts with geminated kk because if it doesn't and if it's merely a matter of orthographic style, then there should be no issue left regarding the possibility of such a glide creating later geminates in light of the fact that in Three irregular Berber verbs: 'eat', 'drink', 'be cooked, ripen' (2008) Maarten Kossmann posits quite similar developments for Proto-Berber, or at least for "Pre-Proto-Berber".

Yet this still leaves me with a mysterious remainder to solve: How does this Berber pronoun relate to the rest of Afro-Asiatic (AA) and its forms? I have doubts towards the notion that the final palatalizing element, whatever its nature, is original to Afro-Asiatic. While we have Classical Hebrew אָנֹכִי (ˀanoki) alongside Akkadian anāku, the former is likely contaminated with the 1ps possessive suffix. This implies the latter to be more conservative, thus Semitic *ˀanāku with final *-u. In Egyptian too, evidence mounts against a final *-i or *-y when we observe that there is no palatalization evident in the final velar of ỉnk (> Sahidic Coptic anok) in contrast to the 2ps feminine dependent pronoun with palatalization: ṯm (*cim) < AA *kim. This leads me to wonder if Berber, like Classical Hebrew, has innovated by contamination with the same common 1ps possessive element *ya found throughout AA.

6 Apr 2012

Emergence of the Rank-5 society

The evolution of cognition by William Benzon and David Hays is an endlessly fascinating read. I get the same sort of inspired buzz as when watching the Matrix and probably for the same reasons.

Their basic proposal is that human societies can be classified according to different ranks representing different modes of thought as we edge towards more complex societies. As an overview, they explain that Rank 1 is associated with the invention of language, Rank 2 with the invention of writing, Rank 3 with the invention of calculation, and Rank 4 with the invention of computation. Each stage of that procession, they explain, is dominated by a certain way of seeing the world that adds something new and valuable to our collective understanding in the previous stages. It has as much to say in sociology as it does in the science of computation.

I take away a lot of new ideas and questions in this piece. One curious absence in the entire article is a direct mention of a Rank-5 society. What would that entail? What would its hallmark invention be? I come to the conclusion that it's a society that through the medium of machine language has delegated the process of algorithm creation to digital agents, through the process of universal induction and by a mechanism of conscious adaptive system design.

In such an age, I gather that beyond our need to "control" systems, as now, the new way of seeing the world will recognize that a means to balance is paramount in all lasting systems. The notion of "control" thus will evolve to a point where we accept a hands-off approach by creating a good system to begin with that suits our needs, a system that no longer requires our direct involvement because its embedded balance keeps it dependable. Self-managing systems will become the norm, breeding a whole new way of seeing the world and our place in it. The beginning of this age then will be announced by the emergence of AI.

25 Mar 2012

Learning, the unending battle against paradox

I use my own personal models in order to understand things rather than merely adopting the exact model of another (ie. blind rote learning). I believe it's only by allowing oneself to freely explore and question within one's personal models of things that one can learn more rapidly and gain a deeper understanding of things. After an interesting discussion with a commenter about my model of Egyptian vocalism, we uncovered some small inconsistencies in my theory. Of course, there were inconsistencies in his account of things too. Despite being a zealous Peust fanboy, Peust's theories apparently weren't enough for him to reconstruct the Egyptian word for 'man' with any confidence (whether *zī*zij or *zijV; I'd wager *ziˀ or *zaˀ). While he seems to insist there's some sort of "consensus" out there for Egyptian reconstruction, the undetermined vowels in Woodard and Loprieno's representation of Egyptian shows that there are still large gaps in the field. Let's not be deluded.

So since not all is written on this subject and we all have something to learn here, this online discussion helps us get our bearings straight on where we each need to improve. I can certainly take a few things from this exchange, myself. I've been inspired as of late to begin keeping stricter notes on the Coptic language in my personal offline database. It can't hurt, and it's already helped me gain a clearer picture.

One of the inconsistencies that popped up in the discussion was my understanding of the pattern of Egyptian noun-plus-possessive forms such as nb.f 'his lord' and rn.f 'his name'. I now perceive that Middle Egyptian nouns with long vowels must have drawn stress to themselves in these possessives, away from a penultimate default. So, while *rin 'name' with short *i leads to *ranífa 'his name' (nb. the preservation of Pre-Egyptian oblique case marker *-i correlating with that in Proto-Semitic), a word like *nība 'lord' must lead to *nībafa 'his lord' with accent on the long vowel of the first syllable (nb. the original vowel quality of the petrifact oblique marker is reduced in unstressed syllables). This seems to work well. For example, I account for the cuneiform-rendered personal name Bukurninip with *Boˀka-n-Ranífa [ˈbɔˀkn̩ɾəˌnɪfə] 'Servant-of-his-Name' (from an earlier *Bāˀka-na-Ranífa).

Another question I came face to face with as we were talking was: How precisely do vowels evolve from a Loprieno-derived model like mine to Coptic proper. After sitting on this for a few days while looking at a number of Coptic examples of my sound changes at work, I see that just a few minor modifications can fix things.

Let's say, as before, that by the 1st millennium BCE only Middle Egyptian long  leads to Proto-Coptic *o (nb. no phonemic length anymore) mirroring the contemporaneous Canaanite Shift in North-West Semitic languages. I maintain that short *a simply must have remained a in Sahidic in at least some cases, judging by how MEgy *sanáwi 'two' (rendered directly in cuneiform as ši-na-ah-wu in EA 368) became Sahidic snau. The AA cognates of this numeral only add to this likelihood. With  becoming a Late Egyptian *o, the selection of either omikron or omega in Sahidic (a matter of phonemic quality, not phonemic length) should depend only on whether the syllable was closed or open at the time, respectively. The presence of nasal stops just adds a slight twist by raising *o further to ou /u/, as in Sahidic noute 'god' < *note and moui 'cat' < *moya.

Likewise, as long  and  merge to *e (with loss of length contrast) this vowel must have similarly split into either eta (/e/) or iota (/i/) based on the openness of the syllable. However, in contradiction to my previous version of things in the commentbox, I now realize that I have it backwards. Sahidic i appears to correlate with *closed* syllables while ē (a front-high /e/ without phonemic length) matches best with open syllables in a later stage of the language[1]. This then necessitates some interesting tweaks.

For Proto-Coptic *CéC (closed syllable), we then have:
  • MEgy *pasīj 'nine' > PCop *pset > Sahidic psis
    (Note EA 368 pi-ši-iṭ in cuneiform.)
  • MEgy  *maḥīt 'north' > PCop *mxet > Sahidic mxit 
For Proto-Coptic *Cé (open syllable):
  • MEgy *mūˁat 'truth' >  PCop *méˀe > Sahidic mēē
  • MEgy *rīˁa 'sun' >  PCop *réˀa > Sahidic  
  • MEgy *mūḏa 'ten' > PCop *méta > Sahidic mēt
Now this seems nicer and more regular (cross fingers). Just the way I'd like to keep it - facts willing! Of course this makes me think up new questions about the exact processes of the language. My understanding is, as always, a work in progress. One way or another, however, I'm determined to figure out those undetermined vowels because I've always loathed wildcard symbols in reconstructions. It's the principle of it all, you understand.

[1] I botched that up again! So sorry. I wrote "Sahidic i appears to correlate with *open* syllables". Please read the opposite. Sigh. Of all the typing mistakes, I make the most confusing one. LOL!

3 Mar 2012

Picking at TLE 939 some more

I feel like revisiting artifact TLE 939 (aka ET Cr 0.4). There are a lot of different versions of the story on this and translations are hampered by irritating transcription disagreements and, alas, few clear photos available to the general public. I can only suspect for now the following tentative translation until I learn more about this object and the roots of some of the hapaxes involved:
Zusa tunina atiuθ arvasa aφanuva-θi, masuve-m
The cleansed wrapped body is lifted among the families, then before the tomb.

Maniχiur ala alχuvai, sera Turannuve.
The ancestors lie with the laid, and they remain with Turaniu.

In Elusisnial, θui uria-θi.
They are of the Elysium, united in bliss.

Litil-ta lipile-ka Turanuve.
The sacrifice and this libation is with Turaniu.

Ec mimari.
They shall remember.

Matesi, ara Turanuve Velusinase χeθai.
On behalf of the gathering, (he) is raised before Turaniu of Volsinii with fish.

Ara ina asi.
He is raised by them through burning.

Ikan ziχ akarai.
This text shall be done.
The translation is amenable to change. However, if I'm not mistaken, the text is detailing a series of fascinating Etruscan rites used toward someone's burial service. The sequence is expected: a burial procession, a presentation of holy offering, a cremation of deceased and offering, then the final entombment of the urn containing the ashes. Somewhere in all of that we also expect a burial banquet, a kind of "last supper" with the dear departed.

To tackle the phrase zusa tunina atiuθ, I first assume that zusa (if properly parsed) refers to the physical 'body' of the deceased. It's interesting then to note that the Latin word tunica has an unknown etymology but is thought to be Etruscan. I wonder. Is it from a form such as *tunaχ 'wrapping, cloth'? Assuming then a native underlying verb root tun- 'to wrap', tunina could reasonably be interpreted then as an adjective in -na conveying 'wrapped'. Analysis of atiuθ points to an intransitive participle of  which I've so far attributed a transitive meaning to: 'to clean'. To be grammatically consistent, I'll have to ammend slightly to 'to be clean'. The text in the Tabula Capuana gives the sequence ita eθ aθene which could mean "that herein was made clean." The verb arvasa should be a passive derivative in -va of ar 'to lift, to raise'. It all seems to fit together coherently, if I do say so myself.

The sequence elusisnial is hard to miss and its connection with the Elysium (Ἠλύσιον), the Greek conception of the afterlife, is rather tempting considering the other burial keywords of this text. This would suggest that Elusisna was the corresponding Etruscan term for their City of the Dead. Elusisnial is its type-II genitive form.

The pronoun form ina is also interesting and I've already noted ana from TLE 27. They must be oblique forms (ie. non-nomino-accusative forms) for the third person. The use of ina for human plural agents could mean, as I've predicted for a while, that third person pronouns have a quirk such that plural 'they' was conveyed by the same pronoun as the inanimate 'it'. This isn't too far from the situation in English where our three singular choices of 'he', 'she' and 'it' collapse to the undifferentiated plural 'they'. One would need only further contemplate the result of collapsing 'it' and 'they' together and one would understand the Etruscan situation as I've suggested it.

What I still don't understand though is how I'm supposed to interpret Turaniu. In the name we have the diminutive suffix -iu and it simply means "Little Turan". The name's use on one mirror to label a cupid-like deity described as an Etruscan version of the divine boy Eros doesn't help me understand the emergence of this deity in this context. However it makes me start thinking instead of the significance of the neighbouring Kore cult of the Greeks. Kore means 'little girl' or 'maiden' in Greek and is the byname of Persephone who, among other things, was the lady of the dead, wife of none other than Hades. It makes sense if Turaniu here is functioning as a deity of rebirth and the immortal soul. A child-like deity would fit the image of eternal youth.

27 Feb 2012

The magic of literacy

As I read through Duane Smith's latest entry, Cuneiform writing and scribal values, I'm reminded once again that writing wasn't just a practical tool to store information for ancient people. It was something magical by a great many, and for most of our recorded history. Once upon a time, we saw magic in the mere act of representing spoken language in a visual form. (Or in the case of the Inca, the magic was tactile in the form of knotted strings called quipus.) The smallest word pun or special use of a symbol was an opportunity for awe and contemplation, regardless of the writing system used.

Then I think on one of my favourite scenes from Black Robe, demonstrating a dramatic culture clash between the Algonquin perspective and that of the European point-of-view of the priest. The French Catholic priest, referred to as a "black-robe" by the locals, has made it his mission to "educate the primitives" through the love of his Saviour. He takes for granted that writing in his world is an everyday thing, For him, writing is something good and, in the case of his bible, divinely blessed as well. To the Algonquin band journeying with him however, the priest's alien ideas are shocking to their traditional way of thinking and he comes to be seen as a harbinger of death, an otherly curse. The magic of his writing that he demonstrates to them is interpreted negatively as a sign that he's a demon using black magic.

This dramatizes well both the positive and negative reactions to this power to communicate, two halves of our human quest into the unknown country beyond the comforting territory of what we know, the reverence and the fear, the worlds of our angels and demons. Both holy writ and written curses well up from the same source, an infinite universe of imagination within, incapable of ever being conveyed in its purest totality, and only insufficiently so through our finite systems of language. In our modern internet culture, we still swing between awe and dread in regards to what kinds of information exchange are to be considered good and what are to be assigned to evil (ie. copyright issues, piracy, Wikileaks, etc.).

22 Feb 2012

Devotions to an Etruscan deity in TLE 939

According to Helmut Rix's Etruskische Texte, an important resource that lists inscriptions on Etruscan artifacts, an inscription written on a vessel from Caere in the 7th century BCE labeled ET Cr 0.4 (aka TLE 939 in Testimoniae linguae Etruscae) is transliterated as follows:
zusatunina atiuθ: arvasa
aφanuva θi masuvem maniχiur:
ala alχuvaisera turannuve
inelusisnial θui uriaθi litilta
lipileka turanuve
ecmima-ṛịmatesi ara turanuve
velusinas eχeθai ara ina asi
ikan ziχ: akarai
It seems apparent to me that the continuous text as it's presented here demands more accurate parsing. Some of these words are just too long and are likely multiple words strung together. So I would suggest that it be parsed more like this:
zusa tunina atiuθ: arvasa
aφanuvaθi masuvem maniχiur:
ala alχuvai sera turannuve
in elusisnial θui uriaθi litilta
lipileka turanuve
ec mima-ṛị matesi ara turanuve
velusinase χeθai ara ina asi
ikan ziχ: akarai
Let's first approach this with what we know. This text is quite a few centuries older than the text of the Zagreb Mummy Text. This is Old Etruscan. The intent of the final sentence is rather apparent: Ikan ziχ akarai "This text shall be done". (We'd expect *Ecn ziχ acari in 1st-century Etruscan.) This is a commitment by the parties involved to respecting the gods by proper rite and it recalls the concluding sentence of the Cippus PerusinusIχ ca ceχa ziχuχe "Thus this rite has been written". Preceding this concluding sentence then, we expect a list of rites being performed to bless an event, most often being the passing of a loved one and their final journey to the underworld, but there are many other reasons for ritual blessings such as to honour certain deities during yearly celebrations, to solidify contracts between people, to implore the gods for aid, etc.

I find the thrice occurrence of turanuve interesting and it seems to be a locative form of Turaniu which is in turn the diminutive of the name Turan, the goddess of fertility. According to Larissa and Giuliano Bonfanteturnu on one mirror represents Eros, the child of Turan. The meaning of the name is thought to be read in that case as 'The dear (one of) Turan' rather than 'Dear Turan'. However I wonder whether in TLE 939 we're not dealing with Turan instead of the more minor deity Eros. The last occurrence of the name is suggestive of a specific epithet declined in the locative case: Turanuve Velusinase 'before Turan of Volsinii'. Volsinii is an ancient Etruscan city, modernday Bolsena. The word masuve-m refers to a burial (nb. mas 'to entomb, to inter').

21 Feb 2012

Plagiarism versus the new online reality

Memiwanzi recently touches on the origin of the word plagiarism but in this one case, the meaning is far more interesting than the etymology to me.

Ah plagiarism and its related demon, intellectual property rights. With the digital age, "plagiarism" becomes terribly confusing morally and intellectually, if not effectively meaningless. Some intellectual issues follow:

1. Define "copy". Copying can be whole or in part, so at what point can the act of copying be sensibly called "plagiarism"? How can such a fuzzy delineation be made methodical and fair?

2. Define "author". On the net, what does "author" really mean if, say, someone remixes a preexisting song? What if the derivative work of another gains more social value than the original work of an original author? And then should one be paid for derivative works too? How derivative is "too derivative" though?

3. Define the basic moral issue with "plagiarism". Is plagiarism an issue about recognition of authorship, financial compensation, social appreciation, a combination of the above, or something else? Or is this more broadly about the fair compensation of any contributor (anonymous or otherwise, online or off) by means of any "currency" (based on financial value or some other value) according to the overall "value" of the contribution (evaluated by any kind of value or group of values)?

4. A new participatory economy? How might the pre-digital-age free-market model adapt to the new reality of open information exchange where "copying" is a gradient concept, "value" includes non-financial metrics, and where collective contribution and exchange blur the lines of an agent with her environment?

To resolve this pesky issue of plagiarism, we need a new digital economy that:
A) upholds the netizen's inherent right to copy and paste information.
B) recognizes doubly that mere copying adds no participatory value to the system.
C) sufficiently rewards contribution according to its measure of originality and overall social worth.
D) destroys any meaningful gain (in time and money) from stealing another person's work.

Cage Innoye has many interesting insights on just such an economy at his blog Diverse Philosophy. Whatever their exact details may be, competent solutions demand less laws and a more developed value theory.

14 Feb 2012

Flights of fancy and ornithomancy

Duane Smith over at Abnormal Interests makes mention of The birds in the Iliad - Identities, interactions and functions by Karin Johansson. This is an excellent and welcomed addition to educational resources on the net and I will be going through it to try to gain insight into the religious practice of ornithomancy in Etruria. It's worth learning everything we can about this ancient science made out of observing birds and their paths across the sky because it's a central component in life and faith in Etruria. Without knowing this, we can only understand Etruscan civilization at a distance.

While the author states "The methodologies in bird divination differed in different parts of the world, such as in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Etruria and Rome," I respectfully doubt that there is enough known about Etrurian religion to be secure with that claim. There is little way thus far to accurately gauge that "difference". More likely there are connections, many connections, that continue to be missed by Etruscanists who as yet still have a hard time deciphering much of the language and rely, perhaps too much, on the second-hand reports of Romans rather than reading the extant Etruscan-language works like the Liber Linteus or Tabula Capuana directly.

11 Feb 2012

Lasa and the transgendered deity

The consensus on the Etruscan term lasa is that it may be equivalent to the Greek concept of 'nymph'. "It might be possible someday to establish some kind of correspondence between Lasa and the Greek concept of nymph," states Roman and European Mythologies by Yves Bonnefoy under the heading Etruscan Daemonology on page 41. However the Bonfantes have cautioned in The Etruscan language: An introduction (2002), "Lasa Sitmica, however, is a male winged figure." At times like this, I find myself briefly chagrining, "Why does everything have to be so complicated?" But then I realize that life wouldn't be so interesting if there wasn't a new puzzle to solve.

First off, I'm toying with the idea that lasa isn't referring to some specific deity or kind of deity but instead might be translated simply as 'lady, woman'. This has benefits. For one thing, back in Anatolia, it's curiously similar to the Lycian word lada with an identical meaning. Second, rather than apply an over-specified meaning without established reasons, applying a more generalized value such as 'lady' can at once explain its use with Venus-like characters on mirrors, its use with some nymphs, and... as I will get to in a moment... possibly the problematic male lasa aforementioned.

This is where the tale of the transgendered deity comes in. Before any of you scough and giggle, there really were transsexual deities in existence in classical times, popular ones. Across Anatolia, there was a particular cult revolving around Attis, Cybele and Agdistis. In one tradition it is said that the handsome vegetation god Attis, who cyclically died every year to be reborn for the benefit of humankind (long before Jesus was invented), was esteemed greatly by Cybele, goddess of fertility. Yet he was also desired by Agdistis, the hermaphroditic deity associated with (of all things) walnuts. This created quite a mythical love triangle. Agdistis, having lost his "walnuts" one fateful day when the fearful gods of Olympus felt the need to "correct" this alternative biology, was magically transformed into a woman for all intents and purposes. Cult worshipers of this tradition were even inspired to become eunuchs in the service of this deity and this must have been one path in ancient society for many naturally transgendered people.

So coming to the mirror in question (ES 115) with the "boy" Lasa Sitmica who appears next to Atunis (= Attis) and Turan (= Cybele), I can only suspect that Lasa Sitmica might be performing the role of Agdistis. I'd be surer if I could nab a photo of that mirror but the available facsimile shown above still gives me the impression that, indeed, lasa might in this very special case be referring to transgendered Agdistis who, upon losing his male genitals, or at the very least his testicles, was considered a lady in the mindset of Etruscan culture, either as a hermaphrodite, or as in the illustration of this mirror where male features are unmistakable, as a possible eunuch.

What then is sitmica in the epithet? No specialists seem to have piped up about it, leaving me to ponder on my own. One guess I thought of is that Lasa Sitmica may mean "The Lady in Sidon". Taking away the phrase-final article -calasa would be 'lady' and Sitmi then could be the locative of *Situm 'Sidon'(?). Sidon was an important Phoenician city where such eastern cults might be easily imported. No guarantees though. It's better than nothing for now and it would be one way of explaining away the curious gender conflicts inherent in the attestation of this term.

(2012 Feb 13) Gazing at and thinking over the mirror some more, I consider a new possibility. How are we entirely sure whether Lasa Sitmica is attributable to her male attendant or whether it is referring back to Turan? Perhaps Turan is described twice, both with her direct name and by the title Lasa Sitmi-ca 'The Lady in Sidon'. Afterall this phrase seems more in line with the historic fame of Sidon as a destination for the worship of the equivalent fertility goddess Ashtarte more than anything. The attendant then would be an unmarked feature of the background, merely a servant aiding Turan (still possibly a eunuch attendant as many chamberlains were and as many men in devotion to the Asian Cybele were).

6 Feb 2012

Thoughts to think about next...

Alas, I have no methodically thought-out post for you all today. It's not as if I don't have thoughts to write about but it takes some time to structure ideas, find relevant links and get out nicely proved points. So I'll just simplify my life this week and jot out half-thought-out ideas. Some commenters out there might have unexpected perspectives to add on some of these things so it's constructive to share in whatever small way we can. Consider this "Glen's January 2012 leftovers", a big pile of leftover thoughts demanding my attention lately, loose threads that need to be tied.

Old Chinese phonology problems

Baxter-Sagart's Old Chinese uvular stops still irk me. I need to resolve that problem in my head. While I'm well aware of the reasons they use for proposing this, nothing can convince me that this reconstruction is sound. Oh sure, the phonemes may be properly identified in abstract terms at least, but these sounds are certainly not mapped properly to real-world phonetics and this is a flaw that needs to be fixed. When I see their sign for a labialized, aspirated, pharyngealized uvular stop, my mind keeps screaming "Bullocks!" The unnecessary complexity of some of their phonemes is beyond sanity. Yet what creates a problem is that they have some interesting evidence for reconstructing the uvular stops in the first place, based on an aspirated/plain/voiced alternation in some roots, the same as already established for pre-existing plosives. Thus Baxter and Sagart reconstruct *q/*qʰ/ even though every fiber of my being reviles this suspiciously rare series.

Mysteries of the Piacenza Liver

My eyes are focused on the "celestial" region of the interior portion. My previous analysis has been that tlusc arc should be reconstructed as *Tluschval Arcam 'Bow of Tluschva (Seas)', hence the rainbow as messenger of the gods (like Greek Iris). Going with this and my prior identification of the eight gods seated in the shadow of the prominent "celestial peak" as male-female pairs of the four winds, I wonder more about the significance of this structure and the significance of each character in the pantheon. The concept of such a rainbow deity coupled with the wind gods reminds me of Greek myth regarding the rainbow goddess Iris and her sisters, the Harpies. A connection? Are Harpies just wind gods in the end? What is the nature of the pairs I observe among the wind gods? Catha (Earth) and Fufluns (Hades) seem to represent the west, the direction of the setting sun as it sets into the underworld. Tins Thneth (Thundering Tinia) and Thufaltha (Truth) then should represent east (the rising sun). This leaves Tins Thufal (Tinia of Oath) and Lasa (presumably like Venus) in the south and Lethams (Rivers) and Tul(??) in the north. But then perhaps I've paired them improperly. What I need is an analogy with surrounding religious beliefs of that period with this same motif.

I also need to find an analogy to the six infernal gods seated around in a wheel pattern on the opposite side of the liver. Is this an omphalos in the center of it? How should all these things be tied together conceptually? What are the analogical concepts behind these interesting representations of the cosmos?

Phonation, root and tone in Pre-Indo-European

I had a flashback of some unresolved business between Phoenix and I regarding the reasons for why known Indo-European phonotactic rules in a monosyllabic root show us that only voiceless stops can co-exist, or voiced breathy stops can, but not both types at once. Curiously, the voiced plain (ie. creaky voiced stops in the revised phonology) can coexist with either voiceless stops or voiced breathy stops just fine. There are even apparent alternations between voiced and unvoiced variants of a same underlying root. Does this indicate "phonation harmony" across a syllable? Or tone? How can it properly fit in my model of Old and Mid IE? I haven't come up with firm answers yet but then again, I haven't devoted enough time on it.

25 Jan 2012

A resting place

Recently I've been investigating the Etruscan word hupni. Looking at the word, I had assumed a native formation in -ni which normally seems to mark persons elsewhere. I shrugged off the slightly awkward use of -ni, open to the possibility that the suffix might have a broader usage than I thought. Through this analysis, one must assume a root *hup-. In turn, with the apparent meaning of the full word being that of an 'ossuary chamber', I'd surmised that the underlying root might then mean, perhaps, 'bones'. Admittedly tentative but this is how I do things.

I dare to explore until I find paradoxes. If we don't dare to explore the consequences of a promising idea, our theory will become stagnant. Yet if we don't keep our theories in check by distinguishing between fact and hypothesis and by carefully prioritizing the relative probabilities of each proposal, we lose track and our theory goes to mush. (This is why I always mark anything I propose with an asterisk in my lexical database for the sake of clarity, for me and for others.) Sometimes, all you're able to do, given limited information, is to try out things and hope new information comes along. Sometimes this new information arrives in the form of a paradox or a better proposal than the one we have.

At last I stumbled across a comparison between hupni and Greek ὕπνος (húpnos) 'slumber', which I suppose implies a derivative in that language of *ὑπνις (*hupnis) 'resting place'. At that I realized that this very well is likelier than the view I held as my default answer. I feel compelled to abandon the root I tentatively put down now since this etymology is cleaner than assuming a root *hup- which up to now hung in mid-air, both in terms of its exact meaning and its utterly untraceable history, and it also cures the problem of the seeming inappropriate use of the suffix -ni. Another exciting contradiction to push me towards greater accuracy. Adaptation is far more exhilarating than idées fixes.

20 Jan 2012

The holy goddess of sewers

It started with looking up North African terms for 'rainbow' in Berber and Arabic. I confirmed that one Arabic expression is similar to the hypothetical Etruscan expression *Tluscval arcam that might lie behind the aforementioned abbreviation tlusc arc inscribed on the Piacenza Liver where its religious significance might have something to do with a role as messenger between sky and earth. That expression is qaws al-māʔ 'bow of the water', spoken in the Maghreb. Another rainbow expression in Berber, 'bride of the jackal', led me to the Roman Virgo Caelestis, the Latin name given to the Carthaginian goddess of the sky. To the delight of my humour bone, this then led me straight to something I hadn't come across before: Cloācina, goddess of the sewers and of the Cloāca Maxima (ie. The Great Drain of Rome). Yes, the Romans had a goddess of sewers. It's very amusing but also a natural product of a polytheistic religion that maintains that all things great and small, glorious and foul, must have a deity governing it. Stinky as this tale is, something perverse within me needed to dig further.

The name of Cloācina immediately takes hold of my attention because it could be quite easily an Etruscan name. Many Etruscan names end in -na, including those of divine epithets (eg. Aracuna 'Of the hawks', a byname of the death goddess Vanth). In fact, the Cloāca Maxima herself was the ingenious invention of Etruscan engineers to efficiently take away much of the daily filth naturally produced by its inhabitants in the city. Etruscans were master architects and founders of Rome before the Latin-speaking population became dominant so it naturally makes me wonder if the name Cloācīna and the term cloāca 'sewer' could be hidden Etruscan lexical items.

Immediately when looking it up, one will find an ample number of etymologists connecting it with cluēre 'to cleanse, purify'. Perfectly sensible. But... Latin has two homophones here and the other meaning of this verb is  'to hear, be spoken of, be said'. This latter verb is without a shred of doubt traced back to Proto-Indo-European *ḱleu- but does the other verb truly go back to PIE  *ḱleuh₁-  as often claimed by Indoeuropeanists? Etymological dictionary of Latin and the other Italic languages by Michiel de Vaan lends doubt under the heading cloāca:
"Since an original sequence *klowV- would have yielded *clau- (at least, in pretonic
position), Vine 2006a: 2l7f. posits an adj. *kleuH-o- 'clear, clean' from which a
factitive pr. *kleuH-eh₂-ie/o- > *klewāje/o- > *klowā- could have been derived. This
verb might be preserved in the Servius gloss cloare, although its reliability is often
doubted. From *clowā-, the noun cloāca can then be explained. WH and Rix argue
that cluō may have been invented by Plinius to explain Cluācīna but it might also
derive from *cluwere < *klowere < *kleuH₁-e/o-. For the root, Derksen (fthc.) reconstructs *ḱlh₃-u-, whereas Rasmussen posits *ḱleh₁-u-. If one accepts such a root structure, the ablaut *kle/ou(H)- of Latin must represent a secondary full grade based on a zero grade *kluH₁- < *klHu-C-. The short vowel of Greek κλύζω remains unexplained under any account."
So given the limited cognate set (limited to Western IE languages only) and dubious attempts to derive these words using IE-based grammar, there seems to be room for another hypothesis from outside of Indo-European. Is it possible that Etruscan had a verb *cluva 'to cleanse, to purify' that led to an adjective *cluvaχ 'clean, pure'? Through *cluvaχ, we could obtain *Cluvacuna /ˈkluwəkʊˌna/ '(She) of the pure' leading to Latin Cloācīna. We'd also have the basis for Latin cloāca 'sewer', now to be understood as a loanword and nothing to do with Proto-Indo-European. The instance of cluce in the Liber Linteus could be translated as a perfective 'has purified' (< ? earlier *cluvace), a verb to be expected in a ritual text.

15 Jan 2012

Explaining away "tlusc arc"

A commenter reminded me of some unresolved issues regarding tlusc arc, written on the Liver of Piacenza artifact. The inscription in question can be seen inside the blue box in the picture above. To get to properly solving this inscription, we must overcome a few lazy misanalyses that still stifle any progress in the field. First, there's the persistent misanalysis of Tluschva as a "plurality of gods", even though the suffix -cva is already well-known to be grammatically inanimate (see Paleoglot: The nonsense about the Etruscan god Tluschva). The second problem is the whimsical misreading of *tlusc mar instead of reading it simply with respect to a single direction of writing as tlusc arc (see Paleoglot: The "Tlusc Mar" reading error on the Piacenza Liver). In search of a legitimate explanation of this elusive deity that specialists fail to offer, I've come to my own conclusions that Tluscva must be the Etruscan sea god, like Roman Neptune or Greek Poseidon. His name then likely means "Depths" and his positional opposition to Tinia, the highest of all gods in the pantheon, on the outer rim of the same artifact solidifies this interpretation.

Given this new analysis however, we're still left wondering what tlusc arc could refer to. We can see that the first element of the epithet is abbreviated for the full name Tlusχva (as shown on another inscription). Is the second word abbreviated in this cramped space as well? I suspect so. Arcumna and Arcmsna appear to be the only plausible comparisons we can make in the available Etruscan lexicon to date but this in itself tells neither what the epithet should mean nor the names.

Not accepting a dead end, I extended my search further, finding Latin arcus 'bow' in the process. The received wisdom among Indo-Europeanists is that the Latin term must stem from PIE *h₂érkʷo-. However this is one of many roots listed by IEists that fall on tenuous evidence. It could just as well be yet another substrate word passed off as a valid IE term. The compared Germanic neuter *arhwō 'arrow' doesn't entirely match the formation seen in Latin and a purely Germano-Italic term does not make for a strongly argued IE root. This naturally leads those like Donald Ringe to concede doubt of its thinly accepted IE origin and this naturally in turn makes me wonder if an Etrusco-Rhaetic word is at the heart of it.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that Arcumna and Arcmsna are built on a word *arcam 'bow' (later *arcum*arcm due to syncope). The Germanic word in *-ō then would be a reflex of Old Etruscan /-əm/ in *arcam presuming that the word was borrowed (perhaps through the Veneti) before Grimm's Law had occurred, sometime in the early 1st millennium BCE. The trading of bows and arrows between the Etrusco-Rhaetic population and northern Italian peoples would be historically expected and natural (particularly if we assume an Adriatic point-of-entry of Etrusco-Rhaetic people from the River Po). The above two names would then mean "Of the bow" and "Of the archer" respectively (if *arcamis = 'archer' with agent suffix -is). Coming back to tlusc arc, we might fill this out as *Tlusχval Arcam "The bow of Tluschva". Granted, my idea is cursed with little evidence either way but it's worth a try, if anything, because it will inspire others to come up with something better.

But what then would "The bow of Tluschva" refer to, if so? Latin arcus, aside from meaning simply 'bow', has a secondary meaning of 'rainbow' as in pluvius arcus 'rainbow' or literally 'bow of rain'. Even in French we say arc-en-ciel for 'rainbow', literally 'bow-in-sky' and other Romance languages have similar phrases. Perhaps there's a connection. Or perhaps not. However, the inscription's presence in the celestial zone should be noted. Additionally, according to Hesiod's Theogony, the goddess of the rainbow Iris is the daughter of Thaumas, a sea deity. The other daughter of Thaumas, twin sister of Iris, was coincidently named Arke. If this is all innocent coincidence, we have to agree that it's an interesting one to ponder over.

10 Jan 2012

Coffee is culture

Yasemin extolls the virtues of coffee and the culture surrounding it in Turkey on her blog Yasemin's Kitchen. I'm not Turkish but I do relate. She's got it right. Coffee isn't just the drink; it's the self-reflection, the contemplation, and especially the company you're with to enjoy it. There's an entire philosophy behind that cup. She shares a lot of other delicious recipes from the Mediterranean too combined with personal stories and thoughts. I thought I'd pass it along.

8 Jan 2012

Ghost words and anti-dictionaries

I've mused before that what we need is an Etruscan "anti-dictionary" to reference all the words that have been made up over the decades out of thin air due to misanalyses by various scholars. Lazy authors spread these infectious memes the most, of course, but even careful scholars can overlook things. These words end up being taken as 100% fact by more naive readers and it's difficult sometimes to talk them out of their factless stupor. The more everyone shares information however, the more we can crush these little fibs and understand our history just a little better.

Michael Weiss at OHCGL Addenda and Corrigenda likewise has noticed some phantom words in the Hittite lexicon and calls attention to *itar/*itnaš, explaining some details behind that inaccuracy.

3 Jan 2012

Baxter-Sagart reconstructions and Occam's Razor

The internet abounds with information if we make the effort to search. One interesting find is a pdf of the Baxter-Sagart reconstruction of Old Chinese roots in tabular format. Excellent! But being an analytical bad news bear, I also see some important issues that tie in with my stance on developing orthographies that properly conform to Occam's Razor. This is out of respect for logic, for necessary simplicity, for clarity and for general readers, some of whom may not be well-versed in linguistics but which nonetheless are interested in the beauty of a language and its history.

Contempt for Occam's Razor inhabits even mainstream linguistics and the field is far too often misconceived as an intuitive art than a logical science. I put my money on organized phonologies and uncluttered orthographies that express only what's necessary for the topic at hand. It's not necessary to show exact phonetics of a word each and every time when the discussion is not about the exact phonetics of a language. If we have a list of roots, it doesn't make sense to list it all out in excruciating phonetic detail any more than it makes sense to write English this way. As such, mixing IPA symbols into your orthography often spells more trouble than what it's worth. "IPA" doesn't stand for International Orthographic Alphabet. At some point a decent linguist must come up with a sensible, legible, optimal, uncluttered orthography to express their language of study beyond the microscale phonetic level. A means, in other words, to quickly and clearly cite words in a vocabulary, pruned for immediate and sufficient comprehension by an everyday reader. Abusing symbols to complicate the message is as corrupt a practice as abusing unnecessary specialist terms for little other reason than for show.

On the top of the list, the Baxter-Sagart team begins with roots like *ʔˤra. This shows us that they envision a phonemic pharyngealized glottal stop. Fine. However unless */ʔˤ/ is phonemically distinct from other phonemes in the language, say */ʕ/, why be so precise on the orthographic level? Why not use a single clear symbol for this instead of mixing up orthography with the phonetic level far below it? If the orthography, in its necessary simplicity, doesn't make the phonetics you intend very clear, one may simply write a quick primer on it and be done with it. If only this, then I can concede that perhaps there's some reason for it that I've overlooked.

Further down the list, we also have *qˤrep which is quite the tongue-twister. One may dismiss this as within the bounds of plausibility although I do admit that this apparent pharyngealized uvular stop is unusual for its Schrödingeresque ability to inhabit two places of articulation at once. Then again, there are many consonant rich languages like Klallam around, right? We also have to keep in mind though that these kinds of languages are also quite rare and there's nothing scientific and methodical about a theory that strives towards the exotic rather than the minimal. Strong proof should come before the addition of a new phoneme to a reconstruction.

But when we come across *qʷʰˤat-, what is Baxter and Sagart trying to express to us and how does it fit into a plausible phonological system? A labialized, aspirated, pharyngealized, uvular stop??? How on earth could this possibly be contrastive with another phoneme? Surely at this point we have to concede that Baxter and Sagart have not respected the differences and proper uses of phonetic versus orthographic transcription. It gives the impression of a poorly organized phonology and orthography, mixing exact and even unlikely phonetic symbols together to create a visual mess that ends up being more confusing to the reader than helpful. At this point, it's just not reflective of the facts, even when (and especially when) armed with knowledge of the IPA system!

Keep in mind that there are already expressed concerns by others about the use of "j" in Middle Chinese onsets in words like gji  (祇 ) considering that the "phoneme" doesn't seem to exist when compared to some loanwords coming from outside Chinese (eg. MC *bjut [Baxter] < Sanskrit buddha 'enlightened one; Buddha'). There is indeed informational value behind "j" here but it's very unlikely a true semivowel or a palatalization of the preceding consonant. At some point then, we have to get back to reality, paying careful heed to creating a balanced, minimal orthography because overcomplexity quite simply hampers progress in all things.