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.