19 Oct 2007

Liber Linteus and religious formulae, part 2

(Cont'd from Liber Linteus and religious formulae, part 1)

The great irony is that in regards to the Etruscan language, we depend far too greatly on specialists from areas other than linguistics to give us a competent account of its grammar. What honestly does a historian, archaeologist or museum curator know about structural linguistics unless they are willing to devote themselves to this study directly? This is precisely why little of substance has been published on the language for decades and ludicrous claims continue to fester.

There are numerous examples of false claims so ad hoc that they were provably false before they ever made it to printed page. Despite what has been published, it's plain to see after a little deduction that -a or cannot be "imperatives" because this is only based on ad hoc comparisons with imperatives in Indo-European languages of similar appearance; there is no such thing as a "definite accusative" *-ni (an utterly desperate analysis of spureni based on ad hoc association with pronominal 1ps oblique mini "me") [1]; un is not the 2ps pronoun because both un and unχva, the inanimate plural, are attested in the same document (i.e. Liber Linteus); anan is not the 3pp pronoun "they" because of its inanimate genitive plural anancveś, and the absurd list of claims goes on and on and on. If we should all be completely confused about how the Etruscan language works, it's a by-product of a hundred years of shameful nonsense by irresponsible academics who have been more concerned with the number of pages in their books than the number of credible claims. It's because of this irritating confusion that I started this project in the first place. I was tired of my mind being held hostage by other people's unmethodological claims.

So to really understand a document like the Liber Linteus, we need to start down our own lonely path. Much of the Etruscan grammar has been arrived at through random look-alike comparisons to Indo-European at a time when it was believed that Etruscan was of that family and linguistics was in its infancy. We have to do a lot of slashing before we can get to the kernel of truth.

I want to freely explore a new explanation that might clarify why we have both śpural (a type-II genitive) together with śpureś-treś (which seems like a type-I genitive) without rhyme or reason. The key perhaps is in rejecting altogether the Indo-European-motivated term "genitive" and in seeking a more descriptive term that is consistent with its actual usage. Even Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante have admitted that the so-called "genitive" (often having a meaning of "of" or "from") is also used as a "dative" (i.e. a meaning of "for" or "to") [2]. Unfortunately, these specialists are too confused themselves to be of much help since they also claim -si to be a "dative" in the same book, albeit with unsettling question marks beside their creative analyses [3]. Let's reanalyse the Etruscan declensional system for nouns as follows:

nomino-accusative: (unmarked)
attributive: -s/-l
directive: -is
locative: -e
By renaming the genitive case as "attributive", we make it clearer that these endings are not just restricted to mere "possessives" or "ablatives" but rather we recognize their many other usages. The case serves the more general purpose of marking attribution, whether it be signalling ownership or reception (as through ditransitive verbs like tur "to give"). With inherently inanimate nouns like "stone" or "tree", neither possession nor the act of receiving is logically possible so in these cases, it's more linguistically natural that it indicates association. By also recognizing a case undifferentiated by gender which is distinct from but deceptively similar to the type-I genitive, we then explain away the coexistence of śpural and śpureś-treś. The former is attributive (with benefactive nuance here), and the latter is directive (indicating motion towards) with the addition of a postposition -tra which itself is declined. So despite the form śpureś, we may continue to understand spur "city" as a type-II noun using -l for "genitive".

We might now notice that the three variants of the aforementioned religious formula seen in the Liber Linteus document, despite superficial differences in declension, are likely to revolve around the same, general semantics:

1 (sacni)2 (cilθ)3 (spur)4 (meθlum)5 (en)

Ignoring for the moment any controversies regarding a proper translation of the phrase śacni cilθl, I would like to suggest that pattern A effectively translates as "for the [śacni cilθl], for the city and for the people everlasting" (locative -e + -ri = purposive/benefactive), pattern B means "to the [śacni cilθl] (and) to the city everlasting" (directive -is + -tra-is involves an action directed towards these things) and pattern C states "to the [śacni cilθl], to the city and to the people everlasting" (attributive -s/-l, implying an act of offering or dedication). What I suspect is that the three case patterns are united by a particular semantic overlap that in general conveys to us that these three things are the subject of ritual devotion. I would also gather that the alternation between cilθl and cilθś is due to the coordinated marking of both elements in the first noun phrase of pattern B with the directive case -is. I wonder if this "coordinative marking" or "double marking" occurs particularly in cases where two nouns in a phrase serve to convey something that as a whole is distinct from its individual elements (e.g. English "boob tube" conveys neither a "boob" nor a "tube"). But for now, just consider that last idea an idle, untested thought.

Now if this new analysis of Etruscan declension is kosher, then why are these three patterns used here? Is it artistic whim or is there something more afoot?

(Continue reading Liber Linteus and religious formulae, part 3)

[1] G. & L. Bonfante, The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (2002), revised edition, p.83
(click here). Here an unclear passage spureni lucairce is excised from its original context. You may remember this phrase from my previous post entitled Etruscan 'lucairce': How good is your eyesight? where I explained that the artifact is far too damaged to make certain of anything. One would think that a responsible academic would never use damaged text such as this as a direct example of anything but this didn't stop the Bonfantes however.
[2] G. & L. Bonfante, The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (2002), revised edition, p.82 (click here): "The genitive frequently has the function that we attribute to the dative: e.g. 'Venel Atelinas gave this to the sons of Jupiter' [...]".
[3] G. & L. Bonfante, The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (2002), revised edition, p.84 (click here). Notice that -si is claimed to be "dative of agent" and yet the absurdity of this analysis becomes quickly apparent in TLE 84 (Larθiale Hulχniesi Marcesi-c Caliaθesi munsle) where Larth and Marce cannot possibly be "agents" but are *deceased* recipients! Yet another hilarious Etruscologist goof-up that should never have been published. I got a million of 'em.


  1. An interesting reinterpretation so far.

    I have a question though. I can imagine that the tra- suffix somehow governed the animate attributive(or genitive) making the suffixed word take that suffix too. But what I don't understand is why cilθ alternates between animate and inanimate gender.

    It looks like some kind of phrasal gender harmony. Maybe due to the formulaic nature of the phrase, the writer tried to give it a sort of repetitive rhyme-like feel?

  2. Right. And this is what I try to answer here (I try). I think of *śacni-ca cilθl as conveying a single concept, perhaps "the souls of the funerary niche"? (The typical translation is something like "sanctuary of a deity Cilθ" which sounds just as ad hoc as anything I can come up with).

    So if we apply this directive ending to both nouns of the phrase, we would get *śacni-cś cilθlś, but I then have to suppose that either the l-genitive is dropped off (perhaps due to phonetic assimilation), or that the l-genitive is only optionally part of the phrase, perhaps because cilθ doubles as both a noun and an adjective. I'm really not sure on the details yet but I decided to brainstorm out loud for the hell of it.