23 Jun 2007

The f to h sound change in Etruscan

I'm on an Etruscan kick lately. Sometimes I go weeks without noticing new errors in books concerning Etruscan civilization or language but this past week I noticed another meme that I had to disinfect myself from.

When I reread through Massimo Pallottino's The Etruscans (1975), I notice he asserts that there was a general tendency over time for early Etruscan plosives to become aspirate and aspirate stops to become fricatives. He mentioned in the book that 'f' becomes 'h' in initial positions. His proof? A single name: Fasti / Hasti.

Am I crazy or is that a flimflam excuse to justify a purported sound change? So, just to make sure that I wasn't being too hasty, I consulted my beautiful personal database that I set up on my computer, now with 745 entries! I even queried all words beginning with 'f' and all words beginning with 'h' to see if there could be some records worth merging. Can you guess how many words I found that show this sound change? One: Fasti / Hasti. What's worse, unless my notes are in error, it seems that both names co-occur during the 1st century BCE in Perugia, implying that even if there was a sound change (affecting only one item, might I remind), it was only dialectal and incomplete at best.[1]

Hmmmm. Here we go again. Another farce. I think it's safe to say that there isn't enough evidence for the sound change at all and it should be thrown out the window along with the million-and-one other fabrications I've found in these books (cf. my Etruscan folder).

Now, the only question remaining is what is this Fasti-Hasti thing about? Are they the same name or are they different names altogether? (Fasti, at least is connected with the Roman name Faustia.) Luckily, being that I'm taking care of a friend's cat, events have nicely transpired such that I'm closer to the university library. Hooray! I'm such a geek.

[1] (June 23/07) I decided to do a quick search online for anything on this Etruscan "sound change" and... Faliscans. I had a hunch. I realized that Faliscan, an Indo-European language of the Italic family to which Latin belongs, also shows an 'f' to 'h' sound change, so if there is anything to this, it would come down to something dialectal again. Sure enough, I find this article called Is Faliscan a local Latin patois? [pdf] about how Faliscan shows a change of 'f' to 'h' in word-initial position. It specifically states that it is found also "in northern Etruscan dialects", thereby substantiating my understanding that it wasn't a true sound change in Etruscan as a whole and only dialectal. It gives the following example: Fuluna (masculine gentilicium) [TLE 401] from Volaterrae 3rd to 1st c. BCE vs. Hulunias (feminine gentilicium) [CIE 1900] from Clusium 3rd to 1st c. BCE. It even shows a hypercorrected name Ferclite which was originally Herclite. Again, both found at the same period of time and all involving names only! So "sound change" is not an appropriate phrase. A sound change implies that something has, well, changed! And a sound change doesn't affect only names. This reinforces my belief that if there is an alternation, not a sound change, between 'f' and 'h' in Etruscan *names*, it is only present because of external influence due, say, to Faliscan and their naming conventions. Again, there just doesn't seem to be a true 'f' to 'h' sound change in Etruscan affecting the native vocabulary itself.


  1. Have you considered writing a book called "Etruscan fallacies" or something like that? I'd buy it.

  2. Hahaha, thanks. At least, I would sell one book then ;) Maybe we could call it "Etruscan voodoo". That would be a hit! I find that everybody loves voodoo.

    If I wasn't so damn lazy, I just might do it because I think you could fill up a book on crazy errors that Etruscologists make, even modern ones. Did I mention two glaring errors I found in Jannot's 2005 book yet? Those are a dilly.

    I could write a billion rants on Etruscan alone but I find that my stats go down when I do. Hmmm... So maybe I need to intersperse my crappity Etruscan entries with another topic once in a while?

    So far I'm just using this blog to "think out loud" and explore ideas that I'm looking into. I'm a kind of tiny, dissenting voice to maybe shake up the field a bit and get people interested in Etruscans in a truthful way (or any of the "Sea Peoples" in general).

    I'm just tired of mysteries and think there's a huge section of history we're missing in our textbooks. Etruscan mysteries, Minoan mysteries, mysteries of the Sea Peoples, those whacky and mysterious Keftiu, etc. Enough mysteries, already!