29 Aug 2008

The Lost Vowels of Pre-Etruscan Syncope

It's been a while since I've wrote about issues concerning Aegean or Etruscan linguistics. However, lately the issue of lost vowels in Pre-Etruscan Syncope sprang to my busy mind.

Many suffixes that are consonant-final in Etruscan appear to come from vowel-terminating suffixes at some Pre-Etruscan. In fact the vowels were probably lost at a stage when Rhaetic, Lemnian and Etruscan were still the same undifferentiated tongue. So far, I think I can ascertain what some of these lost vowels were in some suffixes and words. For example, the Etruscan derivational suffix -aχ appears to have been in origin *-aku. “How can I be so certain?” you ask? Luckily, alternations exposing the past are still present in Etruscan such as seen in *araχ “falcon, hawk” (glossed as arakos by Hesychius) versus aracuna “(one) of the hawks or falcons” where former *u is preserved when the pertinentive suffix -na is attached. I've also ascertained so far that the intransitive participle was once *-ta whereas the homophonous agentive suffix (as in the names Aranθ and Vanθ) was once *-ti. I could be wrong but that's my theory so far.

Since all vowels seem to equally disappear word-finally during Pre-Etruscan Syncope, I would naturally assume that the transitive participle suffix -u must consequently come from an earlier diphthong *-au. In Minoan, this ending may indeed be preserved as a diphthong in the inscribed word DI-NA-U /'tʃinaw/ “moulded” in inscription HT 16 for example (c.f. Etruscan zinu).

That's where I'm at in regards to Pre-Etruscan Syncope so far but I still have a lot more questions to answer (and it certainly would be nice if an extensive Minoan document floated our way soon in order to make its translation a helluvalot easier).


  1. I wonder if this is related to the loss of short word-final vowels in "Pre-Latin" (perhaps even Proto-Italic). If so, then it could actually be an areal feature.

  2. Etruscan Syncope is dated to approximately 500 BCE but here I'm speaking about another event of syncope, a "*Pre*-Etruscan Syncope", which would have affected the mother tongue of not only Etruscan but of both Rhaetic and Lemnian (the language on the Lemnos island) as well. I presume that this protolanguage, with the first syncope already enacted, was still spoken in Western Turkey (not Italy) before 1000 BCE.

  3. Maybe I should clarify too: While Etruscan Syncope is well documented, "Pre-Etruscan Syncope" is my own theory that's open to improvements.

  4. Tropylium: "You mean 'apocope', don't you? :)"

    Nope, so I guess you should spare the smiley for now :P

    I don't think that the loss of vowel in Proto-Etrusco-Lemnian had only occurred in word-final position. There are a minority of words that appear to have once had stress accent on the second syllable before this change. A handy example is the Etruscan word tmia "temple" that was probably once *θamía (c.f. Etruscan θamuce "(s)he established (as in a building)"). We can also observe this shifting pre-Proto-Etruscan accent by comparing maχ "5" and muvalχ "50" (< ? Etrusco-Lemnian *máha & *mahálho).

  5. OK. As an aside, are you also reconstructing the aspiration contrast as originally about contemporary with this syncope? There seems to be much flip-flopping going on in your examples.

  6. Tropylium: "OK. As an aside, are you also reconstructing the aspiration contrast as originally about contemporary with this syncope?"

    I'm not sure what you mean so I'll just clarify that I think that aspiration contrasts in stops are an Proto-Aegean feature inherited and preserved by Etruscan, Lemnian and Rhaetic. That being said, word-initial consonant clusters seem to almost exclusively start with an unaspirated stop, leading me to believe that when clusters arose such as these, deaspiration of the stop also occurred.

    "There seems to be much flip-flopping going on in your examples."

    Can you give an example of me "flip-flopping" on something?

  7. -ax from *-aku and -θ from *-ta / *-ti all introduce aspiration. Not back-and-forth flip-flopping, but still a change. On first glance, it looks a bit like "aspiration develops before a vowel" but you might have a better idea for this too, then. Deaspiration in clusters certainly sounds good.

  8. Tropylium: "Not back-and-forth flip-flopping, but still a change."

    "Changing" and "flip-flopping" are slightly different concepts. A case of bad wording, I guess.

    At any rate, whatever happened in Etruscan there appears to be a neutralization in aspiration of word-final stops.