18 Nov 2007

False Etruscan-Latin bilingual equations

I found something new to irritate me today. As usual, I trek across the edges of the internet looking for informative leads on the Etruscan language and as you may have suspected, I'm loving Google Books. Bad for copyright but stupendously wonderful for nefarious data-miners like myself. I seldom find anything sensible or certain on the Etruscan language, but I'm learning more and more how this field has been hijacked for a full century by such a large pile of false doodoo by a number of university-educated authors that one almost gets the depressing feeling that people just don't want the Etruscans to be solved at all. Maybe people prefer mystery and fantasy over something less ideal. Maybe it makes more money. Maybe my linguistic nincompoopery (is that a word?) bores the hell out of everyone. Neah, snap yourself out of it, Glen! There's gotta be somebody out there that cares about dead mystery languages as neurotically as you, right?

Anyways, today I learned that someone published the idea that the Etruscan phrase helu tesne Raśne which has been ripped from the Cippus Perusinus with utter disregard for context is equivalent to the Latin phrase terrae iuris Etruriae as mentioned in Aeneid (Aen.I.2). The conviction of the author threw me off for a brief bit. You can read the claims here (in Italian):

Mazzarino, Antico, tardoantico ed èra costantiniana (1980), p.275

Shame! What I would like to know is why educated people are just not putting their thinking caps on. For one thing, it's obvious that in an artifact like an exclusively Etruscan text like the Cippus Perusinus, where not a shred of Latin is to be found, it's child's play to equate any random words from the undeciphered text and force it to look like some existing Latin phrase that one found while skimming through reknowned Roman authors. Mayani has used this same tactic to fill up his wasteful books on Etruscan-Albanian look-alikes. One can dream up whatever one's little heart desires but the only snag is that it's all self-delusion. There's no talent in such a desperate ploy. However, even if we are momentarily duped by the seeming certitude of the above equation, these empty assertions quickly fall to ruin whenever we apply a healthy dose of structured thinking to them.

The claim that there is an Etruscan "oblique case" in -u to explain away this silly equation is provably wrong. It's already been published by the 70s by the Bonfantes (if not sooner if my memory serves me well) that there is no such case ending in -u and that the nominative and accusative cases are without marking in nouns. The ending -u is in fact a verb ending, marking the passive participle. Further, the word tesne is in the locative case, as is Rasne, which means that this text fragment already doesn't equate with the Latin phrase as claimed! There's also a naivety in merely assuming that vowels just change at whim without feeling any pang of responsibility to explain the supposed phonetic changes intelligently (i.e. helu versus the compared word hil as attested in TLE 675). Then finally, to close the coffin, there's no guarantee that these three Etruscan words really form a coherent phrase at all because this author, as many authors before him and since, has never bothered to translate the artifact in question in its glorious entirety.

Horrible, horrible stuff. So let that be an example to you budding paleoglots out there of how not to translate an obscure, dead language.


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