30 Mar 2008

The net doesn't have to be an intellectual wasteland for Etruscan studies

All this networking and groupThink undermines clarity and logic. So far, the majority of discussion online is hijacked by perversely dim-witted discussions. On the topic of Etruscan, Google Groups gives us a typically worthless result. The highest-ranking link changes from day to day but a week back, the first thing that popped up in the search list was entitled Etymology of these Serbian words, followed by Basque and Etruscan, and in third place, Answer From Alan Wilson Reference Alphabet & Etruscan Decipherments. If I don't feel impelled to follow the "crowd", it's because the "crowd" is certifiably insane. In fact, one could argue that it's this follow-the-leader mentality that helps maintain perpetual global war. Extremism of all sorts is now in and subtlety of thought is going the way of the dodo bird as we network ourselves to extinction by denying ourselves the empowerment of individual reason.

Case in point, one of the few "in-depth" (I use the term loosely) conversations on the Etruscan language online has been in forums like Conlang hosted by Brown University. Ray Brown and Jörg Rhiemeier commented about Etruscan issues in 2005 while tripping over themselves with schadenfreude glee to "shame" me for questioning the status quo interpretation of Etruscan numerals (see link) using emotional rhetoric instead of hard facts. Here's an excerpt of the silliness I'm talking about:

Jörg Rhiemeier:
Yes. Actually, Glen Gordon gives a handful of further "cognate sets", but those don't look much better and many of them are based on controversial interpretations of Etruscan words.

Ray Brown:
Yes, it is surprising what one can do with controversial interpretations of Etruscan words - so much easier to prove connexions with them than with those troublesome certainties! I've been pestered for the last last two or three months by some guy who is convinced that Etruscan = Pelasgian = Albania {groan}
What's happening here is that these angry, narrow-minded people are confusing a bunch of very different topics together without having the mature subtlety of thought to properly address them in seriousness. Insecure pomp has replaced intellect. Here are the main topics that they've managed to misassociate together:

  • 1) The purported "certainty" of Etruscan word huth = 'six'.
  • 2) The possible relationship between Proto-Aegean (i.e. ancestor of Etruscan, Lemnian, etc.) and Proto-Indo-European.
  • 3) Etruscan-Albanian crackpot theories
So let's try reasoning through this instead of bragging childishly about who should be placed on some arbitrary academic blacklist and who shouldn't.

1) The purported "certainty" of Etruscan word huth = 'six'

A good teacher will tell his students to question all that they read and skepticism must be tempered at all times by Logic, not through one's feelings, gut instinct, hatred, or preconceptions. There must also be some limit to skepticism to ever be able to absorb input properly. The naive in contrast will assume that whatever is considered status quo by a majority is automatically "certain" (a complete lack of skepticism altogether). This is the classic logical fallacy known as argumentum ad populum. While the status quo certainly does appear to apply the value of 'six' rather than 'four' to huth, we cannot dismiss the value of critics because the only piece of "evidence" to give us any sense of "certainty" at all of this value are the Tuscania dice whose flaws in argumentation I've already written about. Since Etruscanist personalities such as Larissa Bonfante and Massimo Pallottino have written about these dice so overassertively while irresponsibly hiding important details, the layman is given the false impression that everything here has been solved and that there is no room for debate.

The fact remains that *not* all dice (whether Etruscan dice or classical dice in general) had opposing faces that added to seven. A significant number of dice had different configurations and this remains an inconvenient fact to this day. This very fact naturally undermines the supposed certainty of the "evidence" (or rather mere interpretation) of the Tuscania dice. The good Dr. Brinton way back in 1889 even went to the trouble of calculating the uncertainty that this represents and came to a significant result of more than 10%[1]! This shows us that the only competent way of convincingly translating these numerals is not through mere interpretations of dice but through the careful study of all contexts in which these numerals are found in inscriptions. Sadly, Ray and Jörg didn't get that memo and mistake popularity for certainty.

2) The possible relationship between Proto-Aegean (i.e. ancestor of Etruscan, Lemnian, etc.) and Proto-Indo-European

While it's pretty certain that Etruscan, Lemnian and other related languages cannot be classified as Indo-European languages because of too many dissimilarities, it's not at all certain that a relationship can't exist further back in prehistory between the two groups. Certain similarities of morphemes with secure values in Etruscan such as mi 'I' and mini 'me' (PIE *me 'me' and *mene 'of me, mine'); the genitive -(a)s (PIE *-ós); the demonstratives ca 'this' and ta 'that' with respective accusative forms can and tan (PIE *ḱo- 'this' and *to- 'that' plus the accusative ending *-m); and postclitic -θi 'in' (PIE *-dʰi 'in') would make any rational person wonder. The similarities aren't just idle look-alikes of general vocabulary but instead seem to suggest that an entire grammatical system has been inherited from a common ancestor.

Naturally, the unresolved topic of Indo-European & Aegean relationship has no bearing on the proper translation of Etruscan itself. Long-range linguistics must strictly be kept out of any efforts in Etruscan translation. However, it's important to debate on these issues and not allow simplistic rhetoricians to stifle intelligent communication where no facts as yet make anything certain about these more long-range relationships.

3) Etruscan-Albanian crackpot theories

First off, the fact that I'm being associated with a silly position I've never had in my life is one of the lowest forms of debate known as the strawman fallacy. Naturally, Etruscan is not related to Albanian for so many historical reasons that it goes well beyond the limits of what I consider to be sensible debate. The fact that Ray feels the need to compare me to people with radically different views and methodologies is easier for him than understanding what I actually said which requires extra mental effort.

The world to me seems, as I say, split between extremes of thinking more and more each day. One split in popular cognition that I've noticed involves the attraction towards either dogmatic relativism (i.e. that anything can be right) or dogmatic skepticism (i.e. that everything must be wrong). Both deny the value of Logic in their own way, but the practitioner of the former lacks a sense of self (i.e. a connection with their internal world) and the practitioner of the latter lacks a sense of social belonging (i.e. the connection with the external world).

So among those that are infected by these two cognitive diseases, there may be little hope to bring them back to healthy mental balance. All that I can say to appeal to people's reason or what's left of it on the internet is that a "crackpot" if anything might be defined as an individual who insists on only one idea while constantly ignoring the facts that conclusively disprove it. Dogmatic skeptics however have great difficulty in sifting between those with fact-based, evolving theories and those with stubborn, rigid convictions who never address facts. Dogmatic skeptics are too busy finding fault in everything and everyone to pay attention to the fact that a theory is not the same thing as a conviction and that the only way to finally recognize the difference in others around them requires letting go of their anger towards everyone else's imperfections, whether real or imagined, and allowing themselves to see their own errors in judgment as well.

[1] Brinton, The Ethnologic Affinities of the Ancient Etruscans (Read before the American Philosophical Society, Oct. 18, 1889.) (see link). While I admit, Brinton's views of the Etruscan language are very misguided today, the fact that classical dice have different arrangements has never gone away and his criticisms on this issue remain valid.

28 Mar 2008

Checkmate has me 'at a loss'

I have to give a plug to the blog Bradshaw of The Future who recently wrote about the origin of the word "checkmate" and then added further to this interesting etymological puzzle by writing a follow-up entry.

Excellent and thorough work done, congrats. I've been a chess buff since I was still in gradeschool which fortunately had its own chess club. I've been hooked by the intricate logic of the boundless game ever since. So I always had assumed that checkmate meant "the king is dead" and was from Arabic. I had read that the "mate" part was from Arabic mat 'dead', which ultimately comes from the Semitic root structure *[mwt]. The Semitic root in turn has an Afro-Asiatic cognate in Egyptian also as mwt (presumably pronounced *māwat, hence Sahidic Coptic mou). It all seemed airtight and my normally curious mind never revisited the issue again.

Well, it turns out that it may very well be from Persian and instead means 'the king is at a loss', not 'dead', as the blogauthor of Bradshaw of The Future goes to the effort of pointing out.

27 Mar 2008

Four Stone Hearth - Volume 37

"The art from the 1960s reveals an expectation that we had about the way things might be, should be, or perhaps the way we were afraid things would be. Jet packs, streamlined rocket ships with fins, girls in space with tight fitting spacesuits, and killer robots and aliens."
On to Volume 37, which is served up by Hot Cup of Joe. The blogauthor is a University of Texas anthropology graduate with an added fascination for the psychology behind modern pseudoscientific myth. This is a very fun edition of Four Stone Hearth, reflecting on the thoughts and visions of yesteryear. To access this volume directly, click on the link below or the image above:
Four Stone Hearth: Volume 37

26 Mar 2008

What are Etruscans doing with those eggs?

It seems fitting, considering the recent Easter season, that I should start thinking about Easter eggs and by extension, the interesting origins of the symbolism. Long story short, the original meaning behind these eggs involved rebirth and renewal. In the context of Easter, the symbolism pointed to the renewal of the year (i.e. springtime). The egg is the beginning of a bird's life and so by extension, the abstract notions of birth/rebirth and renewal lend themselves well to that biological form.

Etruscans too used the symbolism of the egg for the same intention and often in funerary contexts such as the above frieze of an Etruscan couple. The male holds up an egg in an exaggerated gesture, which should tip us off that he's not merely holding a literal egg but rather that he is comforting the mourning observer of the painting. The message here is that the deceased in question is in effect 'renewed' in the afterlife. "All is well. There's nothing to be sad about," the artist conveys to us. This art was meant to provide the same reassurance to the religiously devout as, say, Christian, Muslim or Hindu art which also seeks to inspire in its beholders a reassurance of faith in the metaphysical beyond. It's important when looking at ancient art to step into the shoes of the people for which this art was intended.

Moving on to linguistic matters, I believe that I might have identified the word for 'egg' in Etruscan, but it's not without controversy. The word appears to be luθ. I've recently decided that my two entries, lut and luθ, are one and the same word and that the two forms should both be given the value of 'egg'. Phonetically, Etruscan appears to have not distinguished word-final aspiration in stops and this explains alternations in the spelling (e.g. hut/huθ 'four'). The loss of contrasts in word-final position is rather common crosslinguistically as we can observe in German where the word Hand is pronounced /hant/ since voicing contrasts are likewise neutralized word-finally. Grammatically, luθ appears to be inanimate since it's attested in the inanimate plural, luθcva, in TLE 131 (Laris Pulena's sarcophagus). The word is also used as the object of verbs (such as tur 'to give') that normally involve religious offerings (LL 6.xviii: ture acil caticaθ luθ celθim), so it really seems that this object is some kind of possible offering to the gods. I'm delighted to learn that Etruscans in fact buried eggs in tombs, as did Greeks.

While this all makes sense phonetically and grammatically, contextually I'm not in the clear quite yet. It's this damned stele, indexed by Rex Wallace as ETP 286. It looks like this:

This almost seems to put a dent in my eggy hypothesis but I have one last hypothesis to pursue. It seems that this stele is meant to mark a boundary and it's presumed that it marked the boundary of a sanctuary. Let's go with that. The question that comes to my mind is: "To whom is this sanctuary devoted?" The use of the genitive in -l is grammatically interesting to me here because it's often used to attribute something to someone. Thus, on the surface, we can at least claim that luθcval canθisal probably means "To the [luθ]s of [canθis]" or alternatively "To the [canθis] of [luθ]s".

If we apply my value of 'egg', we get "To the eggs of [canθis]" or "To the [canθis] of eggs", depending in which order we are to read this. While it sounds absurd at first, the annoying thing is that without knowing for sure what canθis means, we can't rule out the possibility that this is potentially an epithet of a god or goddess. Afterall, there is this swan deity that keeps popping up on mirrors and referred to as Tusna. For all we know, this could mark a sanctuary of Tusna. Or perhaps the 'eggs' in question could refer to a particular myth of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, who were said by some to be born from eggs. The Dioscuri were quite important in Etruscan religion and were known in the Etruscan language as Tinas cliniiaras 'Sons of Tinia' (TLE 156).

These appear to be fruitful possibilities but so far I can't crack what canθis might mean if luθ really is 'egg'. The word canθis in turn is probably related to canθce, a verb inflected in the perfective in TLE 99.

24 Mar 2008

Something that bugs me about Indo-European's higher decads

Let's talk more about numerals in Proto-Indo-European (PIE). From what I read, the general consensus is that the numbers in PIE representing the words 'twenty', 'thirty', 'forty', 'fifty', 'sixty', 'seventy', 'eighty' and 'ninety' are formed on a root *(d)ḱomt-/*(d)ḱm̥t-. It's both the parenthetic *d and the unexplained ablaut that really bugs me... a lot.

It's understandably assumed that the word for 'ten', *deḱm̥, and the root used for the higher decads, *(d)ḱomt-, are etymologically related and so this is fundamentally why *d is added, however this voiced stop doesn't actually show up in the linguistic data! The only thing that shows up in its place is an added length in the preceding vowel, if anything. For example, since in Latin we have quadrāgintā '40', it's presumed that the first long vowel that precedes the decadic ending -gintā is from a lost *d. Hence, some presume the reconstruction *kʷetwr̥-dḱomt- with the implied intermediate form *kʷetwr̥̄-ḱomt-. Proponents of the Glottalic Theory, a variant of the standard account of PIE, assume even further that if *d were really an ejective *t’, then it would make sense that it would have simply eroded to a glottal stop. Once the glottal stop disappeared it would have lengthened the previous vowel due to compensatory lengthening. Given my Hybrid Theory, I could probably get away with the same explanation but so far, I'm having trouble buying these ideas even though they seem to explain the long vowels nicely enough. One would think that if *d really were present in these words in PIE, at least one language would retain it, no? Fishy. Very fishy.

To me, it begs the question: Are these IndoEuropean specialists strictly reconstructing PIE here or are they reconstructing some idealized pre-IE stage and then repackaging it as though it were PIE itself? I would like to suggest something new, if anything, just to be cheeky.

What if the underlying forms for the higher decads are instead inanimate compound words with the first element of the compound marked in either the attested dual ending *-h₁ or collective plural ending *-h₂ to explain the "compensatory lengthening"? And what if the second element is simply the root that we see attested, *ḱomt-. Thus:
*wih₁-ḱm̥tíh₁ ~ *dwih₁-ḱm̥tíh₁ '20'
*trih₂-ḱómth₂ '30'
*kʷetwr̥h₂-ḱómth₂ '40'
Perhaps these compounds then could be fossils of entire phrases in an older stage. Perhaps something like the following in mid Late IE:
*(d̰waiʔ) km̥tíʔ 'two tens'
*treiχ kámtχ 'three tens'
*kʷetwárχ kámtχ 'four tens'
I think this accounts for the data better and may help us move forward with the origins of the IE numerals because it's simply not necessarily the case that the decadic ending and the word for 'ten' must have exactly the same consonantism. That's an untested assumption that isn't directly observable from the evidence. For example, we have no way of knowing just by looking at the IE data if *de- in *dékm̥ was once a seperate morpheme or whether the two roots are even related at all.

21 Mar 2008

A possible relationship between 'four' and 'eight' in PIE

Before I begin, let me just reiterate the order of changes I propose from MIE to PIE in chronological order:
- QAR (Quasi-Penultimate Accent Rule)
- Rhotacization of word-final *-n
- Dephonemicization of labialized dentals
- Reduction of unstressed *a to schwa and supershort schwa *ᵊ
- Laryngeal Vocalization (in some environments)
- Syncope (with Paradigmatic Strengthening & a-Epenthesis)
- Vowel Shift
There are many other changes I propose but they extend beyond this particular topic. I really should get off my lazy arse and put this in a pdf for you because quite frankly, it's tiresome to repeat this over and over to explain myself.

In PIE, the word for 'four' is reconstructed as *kʷetwóres while 'eight' is *h₁oḱtóu (*h₁ is most likely a glottal stop /ʔ/). I admit it would seem strange that those two words could be related but then again there are stranger things that happen. Let's explore a possibility.

Based on my theory so far, *kʷetwóres should predict Mid IE (MIE) *kʷatʷáras. This is because Paradigmatic Strengthening during Syncope prevented the first *a preceding stress from eroding in order to avoid overly obscure alternations between different case forms. A system in a language can only handle so much obscurity before levelling kicks in. This corollary to Syncope helps explain the otherwise mysterious vowel change in *pedós 'of the foot' (< *pod- 'foot'). So this logically implies that during the event of Syncope, both *kʷatʷáras with animate plural ending *-as and forms in *kʷátʷar- with stress on the initial syllable and without plural ending coexisted. Reconstructing further back, MIE *kʷátʷar must be the more ancient form but this has the look of a heteroclitic, a class of inanimate nouns that alternated between *r and *n. Inanimate marking would make sense for a number word if it was perceived as a word for an abstract grouping regardless of the animacy of the entities grouped. This then would imply early Mid IE *kʷátʷan before Rhotacization, the change of word-final *-n to *-r, thereby explaining the odd r/n alternation in heteroclitic stems (e.g. PIE *yḗkʷr̥ 'liver' versus *yekʷ(e)n-ós ~ *yekʷén-s 'of the liver') . Ultimately then, since this *-an is a type of inanimate suffix, *kʷátʷa- must be the most original pre-IE root form for '4' recoverable from this brainstorming exercise.

As for 'eight', a-Epenthesis could help solve its etymology since an MIE form *kʷatʷáxʷa should in theory first change to *kʷatwáxʷa (via Dephonemicization of Labialized Dentals) then *kʷᵊtwawᵊ (via Reduction and Laryngeal Vocalization). Without a-Epenthesis we'd get a bizarre result with a crowded onset of three phonemes in the first syllable: **kʷtwau. However a-Epenthesis solves this catastrophe by easing pronunciation during the growing pains of Syncope by adding *a in the first available spot from left to right that will repair the awkward syllabics. So here, a prothetic position is most efficient which yields a pronounceable *ʔaktwáu, eventually becoming *h₁oḱtou via Vowel Shift. This explains the suspicious relationships between other pairs like *h₂awi- 'bird'/*o-h₂uy-om- 'egg' and *h₁eḱwo- 'horse'/*o-h₁ḱu- 'swift' that plague the minds of other IEists who have trouble explaining the unsemantic "o-prefix".

So with early MIE *kʷátʷan '4' and *kʷatʷáxʷa '8', the etymological relationship between the two numerals would then be clear. That is, the word '8' would have been formed in Old IE from *kʷatʷa- '4' and the inanimate collective *-xʷa, signifying literally 'fours'. If PIE's words for '3', '6' and '7' are Semitic loans as well, this means that mindful Nostraticists are logically only left with '1', '2', '4', '5', '9' and '10' to use in their tentative claims.

(Mar 22 2008) Eeek! A mistake: "This then would imply early Mid IE *kʷátwan before Rhotacization, [...]"! That should read *kʷátʷan with superscript w after the t. I also repaired the error in "while 'eight' is *h₁októu (*h₁ is most likely a glottal stop /ʔ/)". That should show k with a diacritic: *h₁oḱtóu. I follow traditional notation on my blog despite the issues I've mentioned concerning PIE phonetics and despite the unlikelihood that "palatal k" was actually palatal at all. (Alas, if I use my own notation, IEists and paleoglot hobbyists are likely to get confused so I'll stay conservative here to keep life simple.)

18 Mar 2008

Semitic and IE in the Neolithic: How intensive was the language contact?

Okay, let's tackle this issue once and for all. The "borrowing hierarchy" mentioned in Elsik and Matras' Markedness and Language Change: The Romani Sample (2006) has got my mind turning and churning ever since I read about it. While I was always aware of the widely accepted early IE-Semitic contacts[1] and presumed that it was the result of direct contact, I never thought about quantifying the level of contact between these two protolanguages until this past year. That is to say, whether it was a light contact or whether it was an "intensive" contact one shade removed from creolization. Despite the naysaying nihilist badnewsbears who say the past can never be figured out, I for one have no interest in desperate people's grandiose and arrogant prophecies about what our human species somehow cannot know in the future. I want to know exactly what happened. Scientific inquiry is about asking questions and seeking answers and those who say "I give up!" should be left behind in the dirt to rot in their depression.

About the borrowing hierarchy

The borrowing hierarchy presented here prioritizes which kinds of words are more likely to be borrowed in a language depending on the intensity of contact. So let's start with verbs. It's suggested on page 320 of Markedness and Language Change that the following borrowing hierarchy exists:
content verbs > modal verbs > existential verbs
So what this is saying is that verbs from general vocabulary (content verbs) are likely to be borrowed first before other verbs that express moods such as "can", "would", etc. If contact is intensive enough we should even observe borrowed verbs denoting existence such as "to be". Later on in the same page of this book, it specifies the hierarchy followed by nouns:
content noun > pronoun
So again, we expect ordinary nouns borrowed into a language before loaned pronouns find their way into a language. If we see a borrowed pronoun, it can be a sign of rather intensive language contact, as happened in Old English when the language borrowed the Norse pronoun "they". To add to this, I personally suspect that third person pronouns are more likely to be borrowed from one language to the next than first or second person pronouns and I might be tempted to modify the chain to: content noun > 3p pronoun > 1p/2p pronoun. But I digress. That assertion isn't important to the evidence I'm about to shamelessly suggest to demonstrate intensive contacts between an early stage of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and Proto-Semitic (PSem) around 5500 BCE.

Evidence for intensive contacts between Proto-IE & Proto-Semitic

As already explained with a footnote, the idea that early Proto-IE speakers and Proto-Semitic speakers were in contact with each other isn't controversial, but debate continues on as to how, where and when they were in contact with each other. The neolithic is really the most sensible time for this to have occurred since it gives widening trade as a motive for this cultural and linguistic exchange. The how is clear then: growing trading networks in the Neolithic and exchange of goods. The relations at this time between the Balkans and Syria are reflected firmly in archaeology which show commonalities in ceramics and material culture. However, Neolithic trade only gives us a window between 6000 and 4000 BCE, so as far as I'm concerned, the precise "when" is too obvious to feign confusion. The matter of where this contact occurred continues to be a senseless debate, egged on by sensationalists like Ivanov and Gamkrelidze who attempt desperately to place Indo-European in Anatolia. It doesn't fly. The least controversial hypothesis is that PIE was centered around modernday Ukraine and there's no reason to rebel against this economical view. However, it must be understood that if this contact started a millenium or more before PIE proper, there's no guarantee that earlier stages of the language existed further to the south as I suggested earlier for the stage of PIE I refer to as Mid IE (MIE).
So let's get straight to the chase and start mapping the possible loans from PSem into PIE and see how intensive this contact might have been:

content verbs:
PSem *šáðrawu 'he causes to scatter (caus.)' (root *[ðrw])
=> PIE *streu- 'to scatter' (via MIE *satréwa-)
modal verbs:
existential verbs:
PSem *yiθ 'there is'
=> PIE *ʔes- 'to be' (via MIE *es-)

PSem *báwiʔu 'it is come (stat.)'
=> (?) PIE *bʰeuh₂- 'to appear, to become' (via MIE *béuxa-)
content nouns:
PSem *θáwru 'bull'
=> PIE *táuro- (via early Late IE *tä́urə-)

PSem *gádyu 'kid, young goat'
=> PIE *ǵʰáido- 'goat' (via early Late IE *gä́id̰ə-)

PSem *sábʕatum 'seven'
=> PIE *septḿ̥ (via MIE *séptam)
PSem *šu 'him, himself'
=> PIE *swe 'oneself' (via MIE *sʷa).
So I hope you all enjoy these ideas. I'm still stuck on finding an example for "modal verbs" because PIE morphology expressed mood by way of inflection not seperate words but I'll be continuing to adapt my argument in the future. If I goofed up on the Semitic verbal forms, please let me know and correct me because I had to derive them from their root forms and I'm more familiar with IE and Aegean languages than Proto-Semitic which I've sadly neglected far too long.

[1] Hock/Joseph, Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship: An Introduction to Historical and Comparative Linguistics (1996), p.513 (see link): "Given the evidence of 'bull' and other pastoral/agricultural words in western Indo-European languages that are likely to be borrowed from Semitic or Afro-Asiatic, one may begin to wonder whether the western Indo-European agricultural words for 'field', 'plough', and 'sow, seed' may likewise owe their origin to Semitic or Afro-Asiatic influence. Archeologists find much evidence indicating that many important aspects of European agriculture, perhaps even all of agriculture, spread from the ancient Near East."

(Mar 19 2008) I decided to throw PSem *báwiʔu and PIE *bʰeuh₂- into the list as a point of discussion. The verb 'to become' is considered an existential verb in the cited book, and hence would be more evidence of the strongest kind of language contact. I add a question mark here because I'm undecided as to which of two competing proposals work best. Nostraticists often link PIE *bʰeuh₂- to Uralic *puxi 'tree' with an underlying meaning of 'to grow up from the ground' and hence later 'to appear' and 'to become' in PIE. This is plausible and I must admit that in order to establish a clear link between the PIE and PSem words, the fact that the laryngeals are incongruent (i.e. a glottal stop in PSem but a uvular fricative in PIE) needs to be addressed. Otherwise however there is an alluring semantic and phonetic link between the two that would postdate the etymology that many Nostraticists provide. So chew on that for a while. ;)

The apocalypse... atheist-style!

I'll get to serious stuff in a moment, but first some levity. A great comic called Subnormality at Viruscomix explores a 'scary' world of atheism and reasoning.

The Atheist Apocalypse!
(It sort of goes along with my previous post about the current trend of populist-driven anti-intellectualism.)

17 Mar 2008

Creativity and society

Just today, I found this article called Why is there Anti-Intellectualism?. Steven Dutch uses Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel as a base in his inquiry into what it means to be truly creative. It's very thought-provoking and, well, creative!

Some questions that arise in my mind are:
  • Might we say that 'tinkering' is a prerequisite to 'true creativity' even if the latter is not the inevitable result of the former? Hence: tinkering > true creativity.
  • In such a curiosity hierarchy that we may infer from this, might curiosity be in part connected to Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Afterall, I can't imagine people stuck in survival mode having the time or energy to expand their minds beyond the immediate here and now, even if they are capable and willing of higher thought under better circumstances.
  • And extending now far beyond this immediate topic, might this pyramid of thought already be instinctively understood by power-hungry dictators who seem to always manage to reduce the governed population to abject poverty in order to make mindControl and groupThink more effective? Who has time to think about government corruption when one's home is being seized because of a housing bubble and one's job is being exported overseas by way of out-of-control globalization?
  • Finally, could the latest surge of anti-intellectualism in the past decade (albeit based on my own subjective perception drawn from the increasingly influential internet culture which is replete with cowardly anonymous trolls that exploit logical fallacies at every turn and often attack people like me who are just innocently blogging my thoughts) be just the pretext to establish a modern tyrannical regime by brainwashing the population to blindly ridicule anyone who dares exhibit signs of enjoying scholarly pursuits? Quite frankly, if I were a dictator, corrupting the will of the people through poverty and anti-logical political rhetoric is a deliciously evil way to establish systematic censorship of thought in all levels of society without needing to enforce oppressive rules by myself.

15 Mar 2008

Etruscan Dictionary Draft 008 now available

Here is the 8th draft of my Etruscan Dictionary, available free to download:

Yes, resistence is futile. My philosophy is that being self-sufficient and productive is cooler than being a network-addicted self-defeatist. My only regret this month is that it's been hectic and I haven't inputted as much into my database as I would have liked. I still need to explore a recent idea I had about the Capitoline Triad (the three most important deities in the Etruscan pantheon) being behind some of the phrases in the Liber Linteus.

As usual, this is an ongoing project that welcomes logical debate about the Etruscan language. There should be no confusion at this point as to my insistence on strict methodology and attention to detail. I'm determined to base my translations on something more sensible than ad hoc comparisons with foreign languages as I find constantly in the prevailing literature on the Etruscan language. If a translation is not grounded in the context of the artifact on which an inscription is found, ignores grammatical structure and/or applies multiple meanings to the same word in different contexts, then these status quo translations cry out for improvement by brave souls who aren't afraid of stepping on a few academic toes to seek out a theory more worthy of modern linguistics.

14 Mar 2008

Four Stone Hearth - Volume 36

"It has been an interesting few weeks in anthropology, so without further ado here are the submissions (in no particular order)."
Volume 36 is hosted by Afarensis who gets straight to the chase with a menu of tasty dishes concerning anthropology and human evolution. To access this volume directly, click on the link below or the image above:
Four Stone Hearth: Volume 36

Proto-Semitic as a second language

This will be something to ponder for the weekend. It's another crazy idea I had that may not be so crazy. Let me just first spit out the revelation I'm having and I'll explain it all afterwards.

I will start with the claim that Proto-Semitic originated from the Syria-Palestine area[1], rather than from Southern Arabia as has been so often claimed. Then, considering the well-known fact that Neolithic innovations originated from Western Asia and only later spread into Europe, I'm going to suggest that Proto-Semitic speakers were not only people with agricultural know-how, but that their language became a vibrant trading language well beyond their immediate area. What I'm suggesting is that multilingualism was not only common during the Neolithic but even vital for communities and their material well-being. I don't know why I didn't clue in before, but if Proto-Semitic speakers were ahead of everyone in terms of technology, naturally their language too might become a hot commodity. And if knowing that language was in demand for trade, then it follows that there were large areas surrounding the immediate Proto-Semitic language area where people would have adopted Proto-Semitic as a second language!

Think about it now. Around 5500 BCE, speakers of "Mid Indo-European" (MIE), ancestral to later Proto-Indo-European (PIE), might have been situated further into the Balkans to take advantage of goods coming in from the south, perhaps along the coastline, and these people would have been at least semi-fluent in Proto-Semitic in order to communicate with the incoming traders. (I mean, how else could they likely communicate with each other other than becoming bilingual?) The Syria-Palestine area was afterall a center for agriculture and we know that there are words in Proto-Semitic relating to agriculture as the American Heritage Dictionary explains in detail: "There are many Proto-Semitic terms referring to agriculture, which was a significant source of livelihood. Words for basic farming activities are well represented: fields (*ḥaql-) were plowed (*ḥrθ), sown (*ðrʕ), and reaped (*ʕƛd); grain was trampled or threshed (*dyš) and winnowed (*ðrw) on a threshing floor (*gurn-), and ground (*t’ḥn) into flour (*qamḥ-)." As for multilingualism in ancient communities, this shouldn't be much of a shocker considering the examples of Quechua and Swahili. Multilingualism was much more common in ancient times than we often appreciate.

My idea hopefully will raise mindteasing issues concerning the loanwords in PIE. Are they really the product of direct Proto-Semitic contact or is it even more direct than I thought. That is, are these loanwords rather the natural result of generations of bilingual speakers of both languages? Bilingual interference like this happens all the time and I can speak with authority on that, being bilingual, that it is a common tendency for two languages that reside in your brain to jumble together sometimes, producing spontaneous loanwords. I remember the time I accidentally blurted out the word *distach instead of detach while talking to a friend. I realize now that this was because of a subconscious mental association between the French prefix dé(s)- and English de- or dis-. Even though my native language is English, French obviously had an affect on me. It only took a second for my tongue to say it, but hours to reflect on the implications of my dysphasic faux pas. Unlike in the modern age of grammatical simulacra, there would be no anal-retentive grammarian in the Neolithic to stop a bilingual person whose mother language was PIE from slipping up now and then, using a Semitic word for a PIE word that he or she may have momentarily forgot. It would only be a matter of time for the products of this language switching to become normalized in a community and spread to neighbouring communities.

I have tonnes more ideas on this, such as the "borrowing hierarchy" issues in relation to intensive language contact which were brought up in Elsik and Matras' Markedness and Language Change: The Romani Sample (2006) which I cited in an earlier post, but I'll just have to take this one blogpost at a time. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in... Hehe.

[1] Lipinski, Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar (2001), p.43 (see link): "Since the Semitic languages go apparently back to a common origin, the question of the location of the speakers of this Proto-Semitic language has been often considerederd of importance. Various regions have been taken into account: Syria, Arabia, and Africa." Sadly, Lipinski seems to overrely on geographical names to draw a conclusion about the likelihood of Semitic speakers in Syria. He seems here to be ignoring or is ignorant of the important issue of Semitic loanwords in PIE altogether.

(March 14 2008) I should just clarify something just in case people incorrectly add two plus two together to make five. The graphic above is not meant to endorse in any way the "Out-of-Anatolia" fringe hypothesis promoted by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, which is in my view assuredly wrong. I've been convinced by Alan Bomhard's view that Indo-European originally came off the steppelands of Western Asia from the east. However, I'm tossing around a new idea that Late IE was largely an offshoot of northern Mid IE dialects (although I haven't the foggiest idea how I could prove this!).

10 Mar 2008

Determining the exact meaning of the Etruscan verb 'put'

So far I've had the Etruscan verb put marked down in my database as a transitive verb[1], but upon review I think I will call this a slight booboo. It should be a ditransitive verb, meaning that it takes two objects, one in the accusative and one in the genitive. There's an interesting formula in the Liber Linteus that deserves further examination: Cis-um pute tul θansur. The sentence seems a little vague from what I can make out of it but it's certainly tied to the ritual being mentioned, whatever that ritual is. It would have been swell if those 19th-century archaeologists (which I affectionately call 'bastards') were kind enough to pay careful attention to the surrounding context from which they, shall we say, gingerly plucked this important 'mummy wrapping' text. Its resurfacing in Egypt of all places smells particularly fishy. Oh well, what can you do, really? We all know that the Museum, despite its noble image, has sexy nocturnal trysts with the Graverobber from time to time but we have no choice but to work around this thieving adultery.

So far, by insisting fiercely on strict translations that are thoroughly cross-correlated with all other known texts, I find myself deviating further and further from the status quo. Normally this would be inauspicious but this is Etruscan studies afterall where "linguistic voodoo" is still the norm. In the formula Cis-um pute tul θansur, it seems that 'participants' or 'mourners' (θansur) 'left' (pute) 'three things' (cis) 'to a boundary stone' (tul). The ending -um is just the phrasal conjunctive meaning 'and, and now, then' which carries a train of thought from the previous sentence. If we interpret put as a ditransitive verb similar to tur 'to give', we can gain insight into Etruscan grammar. Please follow along with me on this fun morphological journey.

Looking first at the verb tur, it has already been discovered by others that the recipient to which something is given is declined in the genitive. The object being given is declined in the accusative case. Since the accusative case is unmarked in nouns, it can easily be confused with the nominative unless augmented by an optional accusative demonstrative (either cn "this" or tn "that"). We might suspect that other ditransitives work similarly. Thus, I feel inspired now to propose that put marks the recipient in the accusative case while the object offered is declined in the genitive case. Note that this is slightly different than in tur because of differences in semantics between the two verbs. So, while tur means "to give", put must mean "to leave (something) behind (to)". In this case, because put appears to have a directive nuance built in (i.e. the notion of "leaving to" is implied already by the verb without needing to mark nouns specifically for "to"), the accusative case is sufficient to handle the recipient of this action.

Wrapping it all up now, my spidey senses are telling me that Cis-um pute tul θansur means "And then the mourners left the three (things) to the boundary stone." I just need to figure out what the three things are that they left behind and whether there are similar rituals elsewhere, which isn't a small task. The worship of boundary stones or termini was common in both Etruscan and Roman societies.

[1] In The Etruscan Language: An Introduction on page 218, Larissa and her father Giuliano Bonfante tell us that put- or puθ- is a type of "vessel" which they whimsically connect to random Latin and Greek words, as is the typical (pseudo)methodology of Etruscanists. Since the inscription ET AT 1.41 (a.k.a. TLE 188) attests to the word puθce with a verbal suffix -ce (perfective), clearly this root isn't even a noun and the Bonfantes had this information before them back in the 1970s when the book was first published. The Bonfante team goofs again, I'm afraid.

(Mar 10 2008) Admittedly, upon posting, another interpretation comes to mind: "And then the mourners left the boundary stone to the three." The advantage of this is that the genitive case thus remains consistently used for recipients while the accusative is used for the object affected by the action. This then begs the question "Who are 'the three' that receive these gifts?" to which I'm tempted to reply "But the Capitoline Triad, of course!". So far, however this is all idle conjecture that I haven't yet pursued in greater detail. Just brainstormin', is all.
(Mar 10 2008... upon waking up) Added footnote #1 to show the typical translation published (and republished) by people like G&L Bonfante.

8 Mar 2008

Hey, what do ya know?...

Considering that many IEists believe that there is a succinct possibility of there having been contact between early IE speakers and Semitic speakers, whether direct or indirect, I think that this much neglected subject needs to be explored further. I've always been thrilled by the classic example of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *septḿ̥ which is a perfectly preserved fossil of Semitic grammar, with *-t- representing the Semitic feminine marker and *-m̥ marking the so-called "mimated" form, presumably a definite marker in function. I then wonder about the potential of Proto-IE and other neighbouring protolanguages to show us snippets of Proto-Semitic grammar in action. Newbies and ultra-conservative IEists may be afraid of these ideas but they have to learn to deal with it because it's not going away. We need to figure out exactly what happened instead of continuing to hold onto and exploit 'mystery' in these areas. Personally, I've developed an elaborate theory based on internal reconstruction of PIE that predicts that Mid IE's counterpart was *séptam with accent originally on the initial syllable. (The accent would later fall on the last syllable because of being affected by the accent of the numeral *h₁októu "eight" but the zerograded last syllable is testimony to its former accentuation.)

There's some confirmation that I might not be offtrack when it comes to another word that I'm really suspecting is a loanword from Semitic into Pre-IE (specifically in Mid IE). While the consonantism for the Semitic verb "to know" is normally reconstructed as *[ydʕ], Old Canaanite Cuneiform Texts of the Third Millennium (1979) speaks on the uncertainty of the root's form on page 193, footnote 11: "It is not clear whether to reconstruct w or y as the initial consonant of the Proto-Semitic root." That's somewhat interesting because if the Semitic root was in fact *[wdʕ], its potential relationship to PIE *weid- becomes stronger.

Based on my theories concerning Mid IE, *waid̰a should be the antecedent form of PIE 3ps *wóide. If so and if it were yet another Semitic loanword, we should expect that this is taken from the Semitic stative form *wadiʕu with accent on the initial syllable because there are no heavy syllables here. That is, there are no non-final syllables of the form CVC or CV: which attract accent from the default initial position in Proto-Semitic as they tend to do in its daughter languages[1]. This correspondence is interesting because it would hint that prepalatalization was heard on the Semitic *-d-. (Note also the correspondence of Semitic *gadyu 'kid, young goat' and PIE *gʰáido- "goat" which also shows a curious metathesis of alveolar stop and glide.) Presumably then, the exact pronunciation of the Semitic word would be *['wæʲdɪʕʊ] and received into MIE as *waid̰a ['wajd̰ə].[2] This would then imply that perfective *wóid-e came first, and then through the process of ablaut *wēid-ti was formed, in turn becoming present *wéid-e-ti and aorist *weid-t once Anatolian went its seperate way.

I can't believe so few are talking about this. Doesn't anyone else find this fascinating? Doesn't anyone else think that the subject of early Indo-European loans is our priority over reconstructing Nostratic roots blindly and that it's terribly important to Indo-European studies? Drink more coffee, people. There's tonnes more to cover on this topic.

[1] What I suggest for the stress accent placement of Proto-Semitic is much like in modern Arabic. See Ryding, A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (2005), p.37 (link here).
[2] Whether this metathesis would be due to the peculiar pronunciation of Proto-Semitic speakers themselves or due to inaccurate perception and imitation by Mid IE speakers, such a switch-up in the transmission of a word from one language to the next is perfectly natural and found elsewhere. Darya Kavitskaya in Compensatory Lengthening: Phonetics, Phonology, Diachrony (2002) relates her own story about perceptual metathesis on page 48 in footnote 8: "Indeed, in teaching Russian to American students, I noticed many instances of palatalization of the consonant being heard as some kind of diphthongal property of the preceding vowel, for example, [banʲa] 'bath' was misheard and pronounced as [baʲnʲa] or even [bajna]." (link here).

5 Mar 2008

Lehmann's dismissal of PIE *swe

Under the heading 4.3.4. The Reflexive and the Reciprocal, the cited author named Winfred Lehmann who was coincidentally the former director of the University of Texas' Linguistics Research Center until his passing in 2007 writes: "As indicated above, § 4.1.5, the categories for reflexivity and reciprocity are commonly expressed with verbal affixes in OV and also in VSO languages. Only in SVO languages can we expect to find pronominal forms for use in expressing these categories." I've bolded the part of his statement that irks me a bit. The author subsequently explains how the mediopassive category of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) verbs is used and then finally more crazy ideas are claimed: "In PIE, as in many OV languages, there was no reflexive or reciprocal pronoun. In the dialects an adjective *sew(e)-, meaning ‘own’, was taken over as a reflexive adjective; it was also adapted as the basis for the reflexive pronoun." Eeeek! Here are the problematic assumptions I see:

1) Bizarre reconstructions like 1ps subjunctive **-oxoi and 1ps optative **-yeʔxo are first assumed.
2) A mediopassive affix **-o- is extrapolated from #1 for PIE (and Pre-IE).
3) It's claimed that only SVO languages are expected to have reflexive/reciprocal pronouns.
4) Since PIE was not SVO and based on #2 and #3, *swe cannot be a reflexive pronoun.
5) Since it's not a pronoun, it cannot have originally meant 'self'.
6) It must mean 'dear' based on the Greek example of philos.

Holy non sequitur, Batman! First of all, the 1ps subjunctive is typically understood to simply be *(-o)-oh₂ (although Jasanoff convincingly argues for a purely "athematic"[1] *-oh₂ in the earliest stage of PIE, contrasting with present indicative *-mi) and the 1ps optative is normally *-yeh₁m. So Lehmann first forces us to swallow his unique brand of PIE. Since Anatolian, Italic and Celtic share a mediopassive in *-r due to their geographic proximity to each other during their development in the PIE speech area, it's immediately clear why a language would expand the usage of the ending *-i seen in the active to the mediopassive by way of paradigmatic levelling. It's not clear however how or why a language would adopt a suffix *-r ex nihilo specifically for the mediopassive and replace a former *-i. This is why many IEists bow to common sense and recognize that the r-mediopassive is the true archaicism here, hence 1ps mediopassive *-h₂ór. There simply is no affix **-o- seperate from the following *r and it needs to be explained why there is no sign of this *-ór element in the 1pp and 2pp counterparts. Already Lehmann's theory tormented by his hyperanalysis is falling apart.

As for assumption #3, the SOV languages that I'm aware of do indeed have reflexive morphemes other than affixes but some may argue pedantically about what qualifies as a "reflexive pronoun". Whatever. The point however is that the unmarked word order of the language (whether SOV, SVO or VSO) has no bearing on the presence or absence of a reflexive pronoun or its equivalent. In Japanese, there is zibun; in Burmese, there is ko; in Turkish, there is kendi. All of these languages put the verb at the end of a sentence and all of them avail themselves of morphemes other than verbal affixes to convey the reflexive. So again, I fail to understand Lehmann's train of reasoning.

Given this, we can't justify the wholesale dismissal of the PIE reflexive pronoun (or whatever one prefers to call this morpheme). Regardless, *swe is still reconstructable for PIE and it still demonstrates a reflexive sense throughout the entire family from Germanic to Indo-Iranian despite the coexistence of a mediopassive. It's proposterous at this point to claim that all these branches somehow developed the meaning of 'self' in tandem without this all deriving from an available reflexive word in PIE! Talkin' about denial.

What we might come to conclude is that Lehmann put the cart before the horse and where the wild passion of his meandering argument lied was in comparing the semantics of Greek philos to PIE *swe. Yet this, like all the other claims are empty assumptions that haven't been proven. They're merely impressive connections that ignore so many other better possibilities in the process. One need not have to think long and hard about how a reflexive word can used to good use even in a language with a mediopassive that often covers reflexive actions. Consider for example a verbless phrase like "One's own horse." Can someone please tell me how to avoid using *swe or any of its related forms in this context? Or what so many other contexts where reflexive pronouns can add value?

Then there is the matter of the etymology of *swesor- "sister" which has already been determined rather brilliantly to derive from *swe and *-sor-[2], the same feminine ending seen in the ancient stem *kʷetwor-sr-es, the feminine form of "four" preserved in Celtic languages. The word "sister" probably literally meant "one's own girl" and may reflect patriarchal attitudes in prevailing Indo-European cultures at the time concerning patrilineality, kinship, and societal roles.

In light of this, to say that "statements in the handbooks ascribing a reflexive pronoun to PIE must be revised" is hasty bunk. Don't dare touch my *swe, people!

[1] By "athematic", I mean this in terms of traditionally theorized PIE grammar. In Jasanoff's view however, thematic verbs (e.g. *bʰér-o-h₂ 'I carry') are underlyingly the original subjunctive forms while athematic verbs (e.g. *h₁éi-mi 'I go') are archaic presents. Over time, Jasanoff presumes that as subjunctives became presents in their own right, they developed "doubly marked" subjunctives (hence the original subjunctive *bʰer-e-t(i) was replaced by a hypercorrected *bʰer-e-e-t(i) -> *bʰer-ē-t(i)). Thus by comparison with the traditional "thematic subjunctive" *-o-oh₂, Jasanoff's new interpretation of *-o-h₂ is relatively "athematic" although ironically the *-o- here is still the distinctive thematic vowel of the subjunctive seen in the "athematic verbs" of the traditional theory. Sorry for the confusion but this is a confusing topic that's hard to explain without juggling between two very different accounts of PIE grammar, traditional and progressive.
[2] This theory was published by Benveniste in 1969 (link).

(Mar 05 2008) I decided to add footnote #1 because my use of "athematic" is ambiguous here. Also updated **kʷetwe-sor- to proper *kʷetwor-sr-es in light of OInd. cátasraḥ. I guess my memory is failing me. Good thing I crack the whip on myself and verify details like this. Oy veh! (To add though, this "feminine" numeral form is certainly post-PIE because feminine gender is not reconstructable for the earliest stage of PIE and was no doubt built on a noun *sor- "woman" existing at the time.)
(Mar 05 2008... later on that evening) Damn! I've been punked, yo! By IEists! Szemerenyi reconstructed *kʷete-sor- (1977) in Studies in the Kinship Terminology of the Indo-European Languages (see link). No wonder I'm confused. Oh well. This is all just fun trivia because this post-IE numeral form really has nothing to do with PIE itself anymore. But now I know I'm not forgetful, arrrgh! :)

3 Mar 2008

Pre-IE Syncope has an easter-egg surprise for you

In Proto-Indo-European (PIE), it's easy to show that in some stage of Pre-IE, there was once a heavy stress accent (as in English or Italian) that caused unstressed vowels to erode and disappear altogether. In the later PIE stage, tonal accent is reconstructed. Pick any noun that shows accent alternation when declined and we can see the evidence of Syncope plain as day. The animate word *h₂éwis 'bird' (nominative case) is *h₂wei-s 'of the bird' in the genitive case, and likewise *ḱwōn-s 'dog' (nominative case) is *ḱun-ós in the genitive. The only sensible conclusion is that these forms were more regular further into the past. Hence we may infer that before Syncope, there was a vowel between the consonants of *h₂w- in genitive *h₂weis (say, *h₂VwéisV) and that *ḱun- in *ḱunós was originally something along the lines of *kVwVn-ósV[1], thereby matching the nominative and accusative forms which would have been the same shape but with accent on the preceding syllable.

In my theory, the stage preceding Syncope (i.e. Mid IE) appears to have a perfectly predictable accent which is always found on the penultimate syllable unless the word ends in any of a handful of suffixes originating from particles agglutinated sometime around early Mid IE (MIE). Antepenultimate accent is found in the nominative singular in *-sa becoming PIE *-s (from *sa 'the' > PIE *so 'this'), the 3ps verbal ending *-ta(i) becoming PIE *-t(i), (based on *ta 'that' > PIE *to-) and the pronominal inanimate in *-ta becoming *-d (also based on MIE *ta 'that'). I presume by Occam's Razor that all initial clusters in PIE dating to Mid IE were the product of Syncope until such time as it can be proven that some clusters were inherited from before Syncope (and I still haven't found any good reason to believe otherwise). By letting logical simplicity be my guide, this has given me a consistent and simple syllabic structure in MIE that allows only *CV(C) (where C = 'consonant' and V = 'vowel').

So this is all straight-forward and has been concluded by many people before me (such as the previously-mentioned linguist, C.H. Borgstrøm). However I'm dismayed that, whether it be Nostraticists who can't see the trees for the forest or conservative Indo-Europeanists (IEists) who can't see the forest for the trees, no one seems to have noticed what this event of Syncope inevitably implies beyond these more obvious examples.

We are soon confronted with a problem if, by chance, we allow our imagination to dream up a hypothetical word form for the sake of argument, something perhaps that doesn't behave so nicely as we would like. Let's say that there was an MIE verb root like **makéra-. As I've described MIE above, there is absolutely nothing objectionable about such a form. It's only when Syncope operates on it that we start to notice a snag since without any interference, we should expect **mker-. In fact, it's rather silly to expect such a thing because although almost anything is possible in languages around the world, a sequence like */mk-/ in a verb root is unheard of in PIE . We would expect perhaps that *m would remain syllabic somehow but verb roots in PIE simply don't look like this and conform to a stricter structure that disallows many shapes.

Therefore, since all sorts of run-of-the-mill sequences in MIE can lead us very easily to awkward consonant clusters when Syncope is applied, this one example illuminates for us that something more drastic must have happened in pre-IE. This 'something' is phonotactic restructuring which would reestablish sanity in the language's syllabicity despite the murderous deletion of so many unstressed vowels, and this likely occurred through various means depending on the nature of the syllabic violation in question. Metathesis might be one possible tactic for languages undergoing these reductions but in this particular example and knowing what we know of PIE, **mekr- isn't any better than **mker- since we find neither sorts of verbs in PIE at all. If we take our cues from Middle Chinese however, we might expect that the offending onset element was simply deleted. So perhaps we should expect **makéra- to become **ker-, not **mker-, after Syncope. One might also suspect that some phonemes were altered to fit better with sonority hierarchy. Perhaps for example, odd resulting clusters like **ml- might have been fortified to *pl- or *bʰl-[2]. As you can now see, my previously-mentioned suspicion that *mad- 'to be drunk' goes back to maxéd̰a- by way of the vocalization and loss of laryngeal in the onset is implicated in my elaborate network of interconnected thoughts and wasn't just some whim I had at the spur of the moment. (That is, regardless of whether this word is connected to a Proto-Semitic passive participle, I really do suspect that this word once had a laryngeal in the onset because of the root's vocalism.) IEists need to ponder on these riddles more but so far either extremist conservatism or extremist whim are the soups-du-jour. I try to walk the path of balance through this age of bipolar extremisms and I hope that my readers do too.

At any rate, one thing is for certain: Syncope directly implies that a lot more went on than just vowel deletion. So if anyone is searching for a thesis topic, this is an itch just waiting to be scratched.

[1] I prefer to be more precise than this and reconstruct *kaxʷánasa (nom.)/*kaxʷanása (gen.) in MIE. The reasons for this however are largely beyond the scope of Mid IE and in part related to the rule of Laryngeal Vocalization in late Mid IE which I haven't yet talked about. It suffices for now to observe that PIE's initial consonant clusters are caused by Syncope and placement of stress accent.
[2] I must admit that this particular idea might perhaps be a hasty suggestion considering *mleuh₂- "to speak". At any rate, as you can see, there are many ways in which a language may try to normalize words that violate its syllabicity rules.