28 Apr 2008

Rhaetic inscriptions Schum PU 1 and Schum CE 1

After not a peep after five days, I feel guilty for not blogging. So here's a fiesta of more thoughts I have on the Rhaetic language. Enjoy, everyone!

Schum PU 1

This one particular inscription that looks especially Etruscan-like. It seems to read as follows, although Adolfo Zavaroni transcribes it differently on his website under Schum PU 1:

iχ χan φelturies kala hepru śia hil / klanturus
I swear I see a legible sentence in here whose equivalent in Etruscan would be:

*Iχ, can Velturies-cla hepru śia hil.
If we interpret the hapax hepru as a noun referring to the artifact on which the inscription is written, we get the following phrase: "Thus (), this (χan) plaque (hepru) from the Velturie (Φelturies-kala) is set down (śia) to the property (hil)."

The verb here appears to be śi, conjugated in the present tense (-a). The direct object (χan hepru) is then separated by the name of the donors in the genitive case (Φelturies) further augmented by a genitive-declined demontrative postfix (kala). This leaves the unmarked nominative hil which I've already translated as 'property, land' in my Etruscan database. This word curiously follows the verb, however this is not unusual in Etruscan for reasons I'm currently developing. It may have something to do with animacy whereby an inanimate noun (which hil is proven to be in Etruscan due to plural hilχva attested in the Liber Linteus) probably cannot be treated as the subject of a transitive verb and therefore is dethroned to a position after the verb to specify mere agent of the action instead (like a kind of 'afterthought', let's say) while still treated as an unmarked nominative noun. So, I would dare say that in both Etruscan and Rhaetic (and probably also in Lemnian), OVS word order may signal agent-focussed sentences, much like how Mandarin's passive is constructed by marking the agent with preposed bei and placing the agent/object before the verb and after the patient/subject despite the default SVO word order.

Schum CE 1

I recently came across Philip Baldi, Foundations of Latin (2002), p.154 which provides translation to another one of Rhaetic's inscriptions, Schum CE 1 (see corresponding picture on Zavaroni's website or on p.155 of the aforementioned book). The translation was suggested by Pisani 1964:323 as follows:

laviseśeli velχanu
lup.nu pitiave
kusenkus trinaχe
φelna vinutalina

"(Of the son of Lavis), to Velxanu (someone) gave (this)wine-bearing tankard, for Pitiave of Kusenku."
This is somewhat similar to what I'm interpreting, except that, despite the denialist account of Rhaetic's relationship to Etruscan in Baldi's book, I know of perfect Etruscan parallels available, both of each words individually and of the sentence structure as a whole. First off, I would think it wise to resist reading the above as a single sentence since these different lines are written in various places on the surface of a situla and cannot possibly have been intended to be read as a single sentence as Pisani suggests. It looks like this book needs to be reedited a tad.

There is such a name in Roman records as Lavus (as well as Lavinus), and appears to be present on the Tabula Cortonensis in its list of names. The same name resurfaces in Schum WE 1. It should be self-apparent that Velχanu refers to none other than Velchans, a deity that Etruscans also worshipped. Naturally, the object is being dedicated to him. I suspect that the Rhaetic language changed all instances of word-final -l (as we would find in Etruscan) to -u. Such a change is interestingly reminiscent of a similar development in Old French where word-final /l/ became velarized to a 'dark l' which most English speakers are familiar with. Note Schum PU 5 (inscribed simply: vaku), which corresponds nicely with Etruscan vacil 'votive offering', as testimony to this change.

The reading of lup(i)nu as a part of a compound name of Velchans is ad hoc and unlikely because, as I said earlier, the artifact simply cannot be intended to be read as a single sentence, based on the way the phrases are positioned throughout the artifact. The verb lup is found in Etruscan which I currently give the value of 'to cross over; to die' (n.b. most Etruscanists simply give it the value of 'to die'), commonly used in Etruscan funerary inscriptions, but it appears to be further marked with mediopassive -in- and participle -u (unless of course the latter is the genitive-II ending).

The word trinaχe is immediately recognizable by the Etruscan verb trin (attested several times in the Liber Linteus) and appears to be marked by passive -aχ- and preterite -e, just as we would find in Etruscan. That gives it a semantic value of 'it was poured'.

If I understand correctly Pisani is equating vinutalina with 'wine-bearing' but we also find Etruscan vina and θalna which together give it a similar meaning while also providing thought-provoking cognates. The use of -na as a derivational suffix is characteristically Etruscoid but Baldi dismayingly tries to give us a Latin etymology by what is in effect a whim without carefully explaining the disparity in its phonetics and without expounding on the morphology exhibited in these words that, as I've already shown, is more Etruscan-like in nature than Latin-like.

Certain elements are still a mystery to me. I don't have a clue what kusenkus is supposed to be or whether it really is a name. I have never seen it in Etruscan records and I can't think of a parallel Roman name for the life of me. All I can say for now on that item is that it appears to be marked in genitive -s and may more likely refer to either the situla itself or to the liquids to be poured from it. Likewise, I'm unsure of the value of pitiave either but the claim that it's a name seems to be a slothful ex nihilo. If not a name, it has the look of an inanimate plural noun declined in the locative (-va [plural] + -e [locative]). Perhaps lup(i)nu pitiave "dead with [pitia-things]"?

So, obviously nothing too certain yet but I think there are some interesting connections with Etruscan to be had here. I guess I'll just have to work harder to crack this walnut.

22 Apr 2008

Rhaetic for Dummies

Here's something light-hearted to enjoy for a laugh (because it's not good for much else). Giancarlo Tomezzoli and V. A. Choodeenov take us through a mental safari journey in The "Spada di Verona". It starts off looking somewhat professional enough with an abstract of the article framing the topic that follows:

"The Maniscalchi - Erizzo Museum in Verona (Veneto, IT) hosts an interesting collection of Roman, Venetic and Rhaetic antiquities among which a copy of the so called 'Spada di Verona' i.e. Sword of Verona. The inscription is redacted in the alphabet, closely resembling the Venetic, in which the Magrè inscriptions are written. The use of the Magrè alphabet would indicate a Rhaetic origin of the inscription. The inscription appears to be written from right to left in continuo and no indication is provided in it for indicating a possible separations between the words."
Ignoring the glaring grammatical error (i.e. "a possible separations"), the use of obscure Latin phrases like in continuo might lure the curious neophyte into the pitfall of mistaking it for something academic until the authors' psychoses finally leap off the page...

"A possible method of separating the words is to directly recognize in the inscription similar or corresponding Slavic language elements like name and verbs. However, in applying this method two alternative word separations and consequently two alternative interpretations of the inscription emerged."
To be blunt, this is the reasoning of a gradeschooler. I'm thinking of an IQ number between 0 and 90. I daren't investigate from which university this abstract might have come, if at all. A creative whim should not be mistaken for a "method". Of course, the abstract immediately begs the obvious question: Why Slavic? And the obvious possible answers are: a) half-baked nationalism, b) lack of education, c) cognitive deterioration, d) a poorly executed joke, e) all of the above.

The whole point of a method is to eliminate possibilities through deduction, not to add to them with baseless assumptions. Sufficed to say, no sensible linguist recognizes this "method" as they describe it and it's a case study of how not to crack an undeciphered language. If their method has a name, why not call it the Dumb and Dumber method? Although, come to think of it, this may infringe on Hollywood copyright. Language Log explains a very similar, oft-used scam called mass lexical comparison normally operating on protolanguages in Bill Poser's The Emperor's Clothes (April 18, 2006). Say no to drugs, kiddies. That includes the drug of idées fixes.

21 Apr 2008

Some random thoughts on Proto-Aegean languages

The Etruscan cluster ml-

I can't let this issue go. I'm obsessive maybe. There are tonnes of things to explore here and it's important for me to iron out these issues because my entries depend on a clear structure. I've decided it's best to represent the entries in an idealized "Proto-Etruscan", an earliest form of each word. But what is the proper representation of Proto-Etruscan and how should I handle word-initial consonant clusters?

What's starting to affect my decisions on the proper representation of citation words in my listing is not only my early realization that all Etruscan word-initial clusters are derived from pre-Etruscan syncope but also my investigations into related languages like Rhaetic. The existence of Rhaetic klanturus (i.e. showing a word-initial cluster) seems to suggest that my current entry forms are a little too archaic and should be toned down a little to include consonant clusters.

It's examples like mulaχ in the Liber Linteus, rather than mlaχ, that have eluded me up to now. After looking through the data I've amassed though, I notice that it may be better to represent this word under the heading mlaχ and to presume that the insertion of u is a later development. This epenthesis is seen elsewhere, as in Herecele where its Greek origin emphasizes that this phonetic process did indeed happen.

Etruscan mler and fler

I've been curious about the word mler because I dare say this is starting to look like an archaic form of fler. When I look at the dates of the artifacts in which mler is found, I seem to get a consistent range of between the 7th to 5th centuries BCE, while fler is found in later artifacts like the Liber Linteus. The meanings of the two words also seem to be identical to me. (See D'Aversa, La lingua degli etruschi (1979), p.378.) So I'm now wondering if I should put this all under an entry mler. The sound change would be sporadic but not without credible phonetic motivation since the height of the vowel e and the preceding palatal l which is naturally [+high] as well might have lacked sufficient saliency for speakers to maintain without further fortition of the preceding m. In other words, I'm envisioning the following development: mler /mler/ -> /βler/ -> fler /φler/.

Semitic-speaking Minoans and words of sanity from Yves Duhoux

Since I'm at the university today, I may as well avail myself of some yummy academic literature on the topic of Aegean languages like Minoan. As a blogger, I often get silly attacks from the peanut gallery that my views are somehow outlandish which is strange because I'm really quite conservative and becoming more so as I age. I like ideas to make sense. That's all I want in life, really, for common sense to prevail. It's silliness like Cyrus Gordon's The Semitic Language of Minoan Crete (1981) that make the popularity of credentialism so mindless to me. (Sufficed to say, I must make clear on the outset that I'm of no relation to him. We merely share the same last name.)

At any rate, Cyrus Gordon's work on Minoan makes it crystal clear to me that a university degree in no way guarantees that its possessor is competent in logical thinking. Afterall, I don't recall any intensive "logic classes" as a requirement before obtaining a history or archaeology degree. It's merely assumed by most, and rather naively, that graduates have completed their studies with complete sanity of mind. Here's a quote from Yves Duhoux on pages 223 of L'étéocrétois (1982) talking about Gordon's views and his poor grasp of linguistic methodology despite university education:
"L'hypothèse sémitique ne nous paraît, dès lors, pas moins (ni plus) respectable que toute autre - mais elle doit, comme les autres, passer au crible de la critique (ceci deviendrait, sous la plume de GORDON 1975, p.158: 'blind denial is no more scientific than blind acceptance')."

Translation: "The Semitic hypothesis doesn't seem to us, at first glance, to be less (nor more) respectable than any other - but it must, like the others, be subject to critique (this would become, in the words of GORDON 1975, p.158: 'blind denial is no more scientific than blind acceptance')."
Then on page 227, it gets uglier:
"Il arrive rarement que Gordon traduise complètement un texte étéocrétois, et ceci est déjà en soi suspect. Dans un cas, cependant - un seul! -, il a interprété et traduit séparement tous les elements d'un texte. [...] Il paraît inutile d'insister: on n'a affaire ici qu'a une suite de mots sans queue ni tête, qui montrent mieux que tous les discours la faillite de l'essai entrepris."

Translation: "It occurs rarely that Gordon translates completely an Eteocretan text, and this is already in itself suspect. In this case, consequently - a single one! -, he interprets and translates seperately all the elements of the text. [...] It seems useless to insist: we have nothing here other than a string of words without tail nor head, that show more than anything else the failure of the attempt undertaken."
Ouchy. So it always frustrates me to see the same loose standards applied on the internet to forward some crazy idea or hypothesis, all the while demanding of more restrained netizens that a degree must be flashed before these extremo-skeptics accept a point of view. Let's all agree though that slicing and splicing words from historical artifacts without any ordered rationale to translate undeciphered languages is precisely the way to make yourself look like a complete jackass, degree or not.

17 Apr 2008

More comedy with the purported Etruscan name Ruifri

In a previous post entitled Religion in Ancient Etruria: A comedy of errors that keeps on giving, I was mopping up the floor with Jean-René Jannot and the numerous errors and self-contradictions in his recent book. I must say I skewered him well but it's time to start stabbing again. It seems that one of his errors is even bigger than I thought. This error (or perhaps just a teensy transcription anomaly?) involves the name, or supposed name, Ruifri which is extracted from an inscription written along one leg of a bronze votive statue of a nude male. The bronze statue in question is the artifact indexed as TLE 737 by Massimo Pallottino.

Jannot spelled the name three different ways on pages 140 and 144, either as Rufri, Ruifri or Riufri, in Religion in Ancient Etruria (2005). This leads me to believe that both French editors and the English translator were sleeping on the job. Zacharie Mayani on page 261 of The Etruscans Begin to Speak (1962) spelled it Ruifri but he's not known for academic precision and can't be relied upon for much without additional verification (which usually proves him wildly off-mark). The Bonfantes on the other hand have also spelled the name as Ruifri in The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (1983). This spelling seems to be quite old, going back as far as Deecke/Pauli, Etruskische Forschungen und Studien (1881) and when I look for myself at the tiny picture of the statuette provided in Jannot's book, I must admit that I'm pretty sure that I see a iota between the upsilon and the ef too.

However, from what I reckon, the only root rationally possible for this name must be Latin in origin, from rūfus 'red' inherited from Indo-European *h₁reudʰ-[1]. There are related names in Latin such as Rufus and Rufius, and further, even Rufrius exists (CIL III 1129, VI 25579), confirming that this name must be originally Latinic. To add icing to the cake however there is also another instance of the name in Etruscan itself, Ruvries (TLE 32), and no iota is present after the upsilon either.

So then, does this mean that Ruifri of TLE 737 is a scribal error for Rufri? Should I then place all of this under the heading Rufrie and declare it an Indo-European borrowing? That's my understanding so far.

[1] I wrote too hastily here and it should be added that while Latin contains the word rūfus, the word appears to be ultimately from Oscan rufus. The native word for 'red' in Latin is ruber. See Sihler/Buck, New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin (1995), p.140.

(April 21 2008) I added clarification of the word rufus in note #1.

12 Apr 2008

The celestial bodies Etruscan-style

I'm not updating my blog as frequently as I'd like to. As I said, crazy stuff is happening in my offline life and, well, let's just say that karma owes me bigtime at this point. Grrr. Anyways, I'm so distracted by things that I'm almost at a loss for content and the only thing that's springing to mind is the connection of the classically-known celestial bodies to Etruscan deities. What the hell, let's talk about it.

When you look at the days of the week, you'll notice that each day was originally associated with a deity. In English, the names of the week are based on Germanic mythos (Sunday = day of the sun, Monday = day of the moon, Tuesday = day of Tiw, Wednesday = day of Woden, Thursday = day of Thor, Friday = day of Frige and Saturday = day of Saturn). In French, the gods associated with each day are functionally the same but are derived from Roman mythology instead (Dimanche = day of the Sun, Lundi = day of the Moon, Mardi = day of Mars, Mercredi = day of Mercury, Jeudi = day of Jove, Vendredi = day of Venus, Samedi = day of Saturn). The symbolism of 'seven' was long ago associated with the seven known celestial bodies since the times of Babylon. In Roman terms, we see the following order Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. Each are represented by the Roman gods Sol, Diana, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn respectively.

So in that light, I have a simple question that still vexes my brain: What deities did the Etruscans associate with each of these known celestial bodies? Surely they must had some similar belief system of the cosmos as that of the contemporaneous cultures surrounding them. Further, if we are so bold as to reconstruct these seven celestial deities, how can we be sure that the connections that we propose are correct ones even when based on the existing artifacts? Are there subtle symbolisms on mirrors and paintings that might give us a hint, and how can we be sure of any of our interpretations?

7 Apr 2008

Defining valid Etruscan word-initial clusters

Okay, long story short, it's true what they say: Bad things come in threes. One of the problems lately has been that my internet connection has been for some reason impaired and I will have to get that fixed. The cable gods must be angry. So I'm here now at a library making my next blog entry. Other crap has happened at the same time and maybe some day I'll share that with you all. At any rate, let's get back to the last subject I wrote about: Etruscan phonotactics.

Etruscan phonotactics are intriguing to me because it's the kind of details that never ever show up in current books on the Etruscan language. Most authors seem to be effectively hijacked by an overhyped mystery of Etruscan civilization to be capable of moving forward and coming up with new questions to resolve and explore with the reader. I feel as though the available reading materials are impoverished and I'm starving for something new. So I'm treading new ground here and I realize in hindsight that my definition of these onset clusters isn't complete. None of you piped up to correct me either! This saddens me but nonetheless at least I'm interested in these nagging details and my devil's advocate is fully oiled.

I feel compelled to expose glaring counterexamples to my previous claims such as fler 'offering' and the rather uncommon gentilicium Fnesci which I failed to account for. In these instances, we have a bilabial fricative followed by a resonant. While rarer than word-initial stop+resonant sequences, such clusters appear to be legal formations in Etruscan. Certainly the cluster fn- is so unusual that it emphasizes my point that at some point in a Pre-Etruscan stage, accent must have fell at times on the second syllable and then had succumb to syncope to produce these and other fascinating clusters (i.e. the word tmia 'temple' also comes to mind). So it seems that we need to expand these rules a bit before they're acceptable.

Let's then restate the rule as the following and see whether this sits well on my conscience: Valid word-initial clusters in Etruscan are either of the form FR-, sS- or (s)SR- where F = fricative (/s/, /ɸ/), R = resonant (/m/, /n/, /l/, /r/, /w/) and S = stop (/p/, /t/, /k/, //, //, //). In this way, lexical items like sren, fler and Fnesci are covered by FR-; staile and scuna are covered by sS-; and finally tmia, tnucasi, tleχe, tva, clen, θresu, and streteθ are covered by (s)SR-. Does this sound good? Speak to me people! Share questions.

3 Apr 2008

Cool stuff about Etruscan phonotactics

While everyone else is hohumming about how the Etruscan language is a big, unsolvable mystery, I'm more interested in finding out new information and learning more. You don't need a degree to extrapolate and develop a good theory. You just need a brain and hopefully the one you're born with because they don't hand them out during graduation ceremonies. So I shamelessly ponder on the Etruscan language myself, and after having made my own language database on my computer, I'm starting to see new patterns in how Etruscan words are shaped.

One pattern that I saw long ago was the "intrusive y". You can see this, for example, by comparing the word śa 'six' with śealχ 'sixty' (TLE 98: śealχls-c 'and of sixty'). Notice the vowel change here? The reason why a changes to e is not by random. The vowel e is often derived from the Old Etruscan diphthong ai. So when also comparing Late Etruscan śealχ with the Lemnian root sialχv- present on the Lemnos Stele (sialχveiś 'of sixty'), we may postulate earlier *śa-i-alχu, showing clearly an intrusive glide between the terminating vowel of the root and the initial vowel of the decadic ending. It appears to me that this intrusive y pops up any time two non-high vowels would otherwise clash in a derivative form and is probably related to the fact that words avoid initial /y-/ altogether in all Proto-Aegean languages, including Minoan[1].

Then there's the nifty issue of initial consonant clusters in Etruscan. The language doesn't allow just any cluster to occur at the start of a word. Rather, the only legal initial clusters seem to be SR-, sSR- or sC-, where R is any of m, n, r , v or l, S is any stop, and C is any consonant in general. The words tmia 'temple' (PyrT 1.i), streteθ (LL 6.iii), and sren 'image' (TLE 399) are examples of the three possible types of word-onset clusters.

Just recently however, I noticed that the words in my database are showing me something else. It looks like Etruscan words have a resistence towards initial clusters with aspirated stops. So far, I've found no clusters of the SR- type with φ or χ even though there's nothing phonetically implausible about such clusters. Occasionally though, I have found the aspirated dental stop in just a few clusters (e.g. θresu in TLE 222). Here again though, it's rare which then makes me think that there's an underlying resistence to aspirated stops in Etruscan clusters. Just thought I'd share that with yo'll because I think that all these details might be useful to someone out there.

[1] That is to say, the symbol used for A in the Minoan Linear A writing system and the symbol used for YA were used interchangeably in word-initial position by scribes. This can be seen in the word or name YA-SA-SA-RA-ME inscribed on libation tables which is written also as A-SA-SA-RA-ME. See for example Interaction and Acculturation in the Mediterranean, edited by Best and de Vries (1980), p.160 (see link).

(April 3 2008) Just after posting this, I thought of another letter that occurs in the R slot, namely v /w/ (as in tva 'it shows'). So I changed "R is any of m, n, r or l" to "R is any of m, n, r , v or l".