10 Aug 2007

Enclitics and noun phrases in Etruscan

I am always impressed by how complex a simple language can be. Etruscan is very deceiving. There doesn't seem to be any trace of pronominal affixes attached to verbs like we might find in many other languages that surrounded it (like the inflection hell endured in Latin, Phoenician and Greek) and it opted for a more analytic approach by using independent pronouns, much like in Modern English. Etruscans declined their nouns, of course, but in a way that's much more straightforward than those Romans. All we have to remember is that the subject and direct object of a noun were completely unmarked, then -s or -l for the genitive depending on gender, -e or -i for the locative, and an occasional use of -a which is commonly believed to be an archaic genitive. Some additional postclitics can be added to these case endings such as -θi, -ri or -tra to specify more precise nuances. Other than that though, nothing more elaborate is explained. Etruscan grammar is a piece of cake, right?

Not exactly. The only reason why there isn't anything substantial about the grammar is because experts don't yet have any clear idea of how Etruscan works[1]. So maybe with my linguistic know-how and pompous attitude, I can help remedy that. I decided to make a graphic to quickly illustrate a certain pattern in noun phrases that personally threw me for a loop and probably will for you too. If one is not prepared I believe that Etruscan enclitics can severely damage the would-be paleoglot's brain.

For those that want background information, the above phrase is taken from TLE 890 (also known as Ta 1.107 in Helmut Rix's Etruskische Texte). Here's a picture of this inscription so you can see history for your own eyes:

Thankfully the scribe added reader-friendly, word-seperating colons and it reads from right to left as:

Felsnas La., Leθes, svalce avil CVI.
Murce Capue Tleχe Hanipalus-cle.

(August 10/07)
Stephen Carlson gives me the example of English's "genitive enclitic" (a common misnomer, but no matter). I looked towards Swedish and its demonstrative enclitics. But still, none of these languages are doing it for me. I need a stronger parallel, something with declined demonstrative enclitics.


Maybe a Romanian example is even closer: declinare-a substantive-lor = "the declension of the nouns". The ending -lor is an encliticized form of Latin illorum, making Romanian a language that declines its enclitics too.

[1] Apparently Massimo Pallottino didn't know what he was talking about when he completely misread the term lautneś-cle. He took it to literally mean "in that of the family" and hence "gentilitial" (The Etruscans (1975), p.216). As usual, when one carelessly rips a word out of its full context, one loses meaning. For the studious, the full noun phrase can be found in TLE 619, θaure lautneś-cle, where we can now properly see that locative enclitic -cle agrees in case and gender with the noun θaure which is declined in the locative as well. Precisely the grammatical pattern I describe here.


  1. The Queen of England's language also seems to permit enclitics on entire noun phrases.

  2. I'm not sure how you mean here. You're saying that screwy phrases with complex combinations of declension and postposed enclitics (like tleche Hanipalus-cle or hetrn acl-tn) exist somehow in English? How? Examples?

    Keep in mind that in Etruscan, there is both a use of independent demonstratives which precede the noun, and enclitic ones which are attached to nouns as a suffix. So in theory, cei tleche Hanipalus would be a non-enclitic version (and somewhat more archaic form) of the example in TLE 890.

    This sort of thing, however, is paralleled in North Germanic languages like Swedish (e.g. -en in pojken or -et in huset) where their definite suffixes arose in the same way that Etruscan appears to have been evolving.

    However, I'm not even sure that Swedes use definite enclitics in this complex way either. Hello... any Swedish grammarians reading my site? ;)

    And I haven't even explained case agglutination yet (e.g. -clel from locative -cle plus genitive -l). Neither Swedish nor English have that can of worms.

    I don't think the Queen would approve at all.

  3. Here's a relevant example, taken from Wikipedia's Swedish Language article:

    mannen i grå kavajs hatt
    "the hat of the man in a grey suit"

    The genitive (-s) indeed marks the entire phrase mannen i grå kavaj which makes it literally "the man in the grey suit's hat". That phrase is passable in English, in fact, although it might not get you an A+.

    However, still not quite like in Etruscan which might require that this Swedish example be mangled into:

    hatt mann-s kavaj grå-i=en-s
    "hat-the man-of suit grey-in=the-of"

    The final enclitic here would then be Etruscan -cs, agreeing in case and gender with the noun "man". Advil! I need Advil. Where's my damned ibuprofen?

  4. No need to go to Swedish for an example. My original sentence had the example--"The Queen of England's language"--where the possessive clitic 's applies to the entire noun phrase.

  5. Hehe. Pedantic as it seems, yes, there was very good reason.

    First, the genitive case (i.e. "of", "from", "-'s") and demonstratives (i.e. "this", "that", "the") are in no way related to each other semantically, so your example is only an illusion of similitude by applying too much importance on the vague word "enclitic". Swedish demonstrative enclitics then were more appropriate to the discussion of Etruscan's demonstrative enclitics, not English's "genitive (pseudo)enclitic".

    Second, is there something that you don't know about Early Modern English? There was this viscious rumour that started back then that English "-es" was an encliticized form of "his". Hence nowdays we bastardize the ending by writing "-'s" as if it were short for something. Despite what you've heard, it's not a true enclitic and rather comes from an Indo-European suffix, *-os. It has remained a suffix now for more than 6000 years.

    This is doubly why I couldn't understand what you were getting at. My brain doesn't register "-'s" as an enclitic at all due to the above mentioned facts.

    I'm sorry if this may have caused distress and I do appreciate your response. Sometimes I get autistic and piss people off. Mea culpa ;)

  6. How did you roll in studying Etruscan anyway?

    One of my classmates did a paper on loanwords in Latin from Etruscan, and that's about all I know of the language.

    So I was wondering how you'd get into it.

    Besides that, isn't it depressing to study a language which such an enormously small corpus of texts?

    Or is it bigger than I think?

  7. I find ignorance more depressing than studying ;) And there are supposedly about 10,000 Etruscan inscriptions, a thousand of which were published in the TLE fifty years ago. Despite the Liber Linteus being a very long text, people for more than a century have failed to decipher it! I find that more a testimony to human laziness than to the complexity of this problem. You can start deciphering for yourself... now. I've been taking a crack at it by creating my own theoretical models of Etruscan grammar, especially concerning verb structure, gender and transitivity.

    Etruscan isn't alone either. It may seem odd but some scholars have already been noticing connections between Lemnian, Etruscan, Eteo-Cypriot and Minoan (see here). I for one am convinced that a "Proto-Aegean" family existed in the Aegean islands and Western Turkey, but without hard data published it's all dismissable as conjecture.

    Don't forget to check out the Rhaetic inscriptions. Especially note Schum. CE 1 and its use of the preterite verb trinaχe. The same verb is mentioned in the Liber Linteus in other forms like trin and trinθaśa. From my own investigation, I'm pretty sure the verb refers to the pouring of ritual libations in all of these contexts.

    These links will give you leads to help you track down books and follow-up on this information. So, there's tonnes and tonnes and TONNES of information but no one yet has really brought it all together in an intelligent way.

    "One of my classmates did a paper on loanwords in Latin from Etruscan [...]"

    Oh no... Let me guess. (S)he thought that Latin persona is derived from the Etruscan hapax, Φersu? <:(

  8. Oh no... Let me guess. (S)he thought that Latin persona is derived from the Etruscan hapax, Φersu? <:(

    Probably not. I just know that the old etymologists in the past had some pretty funky idea's about etymology, and whenever they didn't know where a word came from they assumed it was Etruscan.

    She researched which words were actual loans, and which words weren't, what kind of changes in sounds happened etc.

    She noticed soon enough that there is a lot of, excusez les mots, bullshit going on in Etruscan studies.

    I never got round to reading her paper though, maybe I should.

    (The paper was for our class in historical linguistics by the way)