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.