3 Jun 2007

The odd inessive of Etruscan *hantha

I'm still plugging away at my Etruscan database, entering in new data and continuously pondering on new connections and insights that I seem to be the only one caring about. Grrr!

I just noticed another oddity in the Liber Linteus, a long text which people presume concerns Etruscan rites. It was written on linen which was wrapped around a mummy but as far as I know, no one yet has bothered to translate it so there's a lot of fruitless hearsay that still floats around. But let's face it: Compared to learning history, isn't it far more fascinating what Paris Hilton is getting arrested for today? Bah!

Anyways, there's one word which is repeated over and over in a particular formulaic phrase of apparent ritual significance. Despite historians recognizing this pattern, no one for decades and decades has bothered to nail down what it means for some bizarre reason. It's spelled and inflected in various ways, such as:

Cis-um pute tul θans, hate-c repine-c. (LL 3.xxiii-xxiv)
Cis-um pute tul θans, haθe-c repine-c. (LL 9.xi-xii)
Cis-um pute tul θansur, hatr-θi repin-θi-c. (LL 2.xv-xvi)

Thus far, I've recorded the word as *hanθa "front" in my personal database with the following inflected forms as we can see in some of the phrases above:

hanθin [LL 11.iii, 11.vii], hante-c [LL 3.xxiv], haθe [LL 9.iv], hate-c [LL 4.vi, 4.xvi], haθe-c [LL 9.xii, 9.xx] (loc.sg.) // haθr-θi [LL 2.iv, 2.xvi, 5.v, 5.xii] (iness.sg.)

Larissa Bonfante likewise claimed hanθin to mean "in front". Some may be tempted to connect the etymon haphazardly to Egyptian [ḥȝt] 'foremost' (Sahidic xach) or to Hittite hanti 'front' but I think we need to resist that temptation unless no internal etymology can be found. From what I see the above shows a variously-declined derivative noun *hanθa meaning "front" which in turn can be based on a postpositional particle han "before, in front of" (hen [CPer A.v, A.xxiv]; ce-hen [TLE 619] "this here") .

Inspired in part by Bomhard's views expressed in Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis (1996), I would personally conjecture that any similarities here between Hittite and Etruscan are the product of individual inheritance from an Indo-Aegean protolanguage circa 7000 BCE that would later produce Indo-European (including Hittite of its Anatolian branch) and Aegean (producing Etruscan, Rhaetic, Lemnian, Eteo-Cypriot and Minoan). But that's just me.

What I'm interested in here is not so much the etymology but a curious loss of medial -n- as well as an otherwise unattested alternation (at least as far as I know) between locative haθe and inessive haθr-θi. If the loss of -n- can be explained here, the locative form is otherwise the natural result of Old Etruscan -ai (stem-final -a plus locative ending -i) turning to -e. However the inessive throws me for a loop. Where on earth is that -r- coming from? It's placed so consistently in the Liber Linteus between the stem and the inessive ending that it can't be an error.

I have no firm answers yet (nor do I believe that many Etruscologists have even noticed this yet or really thought about it), but the only answer I can give right now is that maybe this is what happens when a vowel is squeezed between two aspirate stops. Thus, what we would expect to be *haθe-θi is transformed by some as-yet obscure morphophonetic rule to haθr-θi with syllabic liquid.


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