29 Feb 2008

Four Stone Hearth - Volume 35

"Because our only home is bone, we must ask the question, how sleepless is the egg knowing that which throws the stone foresees the bone?"
The Four Stone Hearth blog carnival has come to Archaeoporn, a blog by Thaddeus Nelson (a PHD student at Stony Brook University in Long Island) who devotes his site to "archaeology, religion, and pseudo-science". This is all better explained on his About page.

To access this volume directly, click on the link below or the image above:
Four Stone Hearth: Volume 35

Update on the 'rejoice' root in Proto-Semitic

It's looking like I may have incorrectly cited the root 'to rejoice' as *[ḫdʔ] when it may really be *[ḫdw]. I just found the cognate in Ugaritic ḫdw online. However, the exact phonetic nature of the last so-called 'weak' consonant of this triliteral doesn't affect my conjecture that PIE *mad- may be from a contraction of Mid IE (MIE) *maxéda- to explain away the origin of *-a- here (i.e. through voicing and disappearance of laryngeal during Syncope) and that it may ultimately be borrowed from the passive participle of this Semitic root. So instead of what I wrote before (*mu-haddiʔ-u), it probably should be *mu-ḫaddiw-u (Akkadian muḫaddū) which would still end up in MIE as *maxéda- anyway. So I'm still sticking with it for now.

Like I stressed before, I realize this is just a tentative conjecture but it's not a random conjecture. The brainstorming ideas that I blog about should be understood within the context of two of my observations about long-range linguistics: a) that Nostraticists need to focus on more recent loans first before reconstructing Proto-Nostratic roots blindly, and b) that conservative IEists need to get it through their stubborn noodles that PIE didn't evolve in a bubble but was most definitely affected by neighbouring languages in a much more extensive way than is currently stated in textbooks. We need to figure out exactly what happened instead of chalking it up to 'a mystery'. (I have more contemplations about Semitic loans in MIE in the near future that I need to get off my chest and I want to tackle the borrowing hierarchy mentioned in Elsik/Matras, Markedness and Language Change: The Romani Sample (2006), p.320 which I cited in Borrowing copulas - Never say never because there are more tasty connections I've noticed between Indo-European & Semitic that tie into this model nicely.)

28 Feb 2008

Sporadic phonetic changes in the Indo-European case system

As usual, I'm always inspired by other bloggers as much as the neverending "idea fountain" that is my busy brain. I honestly don't know how anyone could get writer's block when there are so many questions to explore and find answers to.

Phoenix recently pondered on the dialectal variation of Proto-Indo-European *-oso and *-osyo in the genitive case signifying 'of, from'. I'm always fascinated in particular by where words and morphemes come from, especially when working out the details of protolanguages. For me, the origin of this variation of the genitive case ending in Indo-European is sufficiently solved. My take on this "extended" genitive case, using my previously mentioned chronology as guide, is that it probably developed during the middle of the Late IE period by simply agglutinating an endingless locative *ya signifying 'to which' to the original genitive in *-s. The end result in semantics would be 'to which (is the) X' (X = a noun) as a circumlocution for 'of the X'.

The reason behind this seemingly pointless circumlocution would make sense if acrostatic nouns, which fix their accent only on the first syllable of a word no matter what the grammatical case of the noun, had evolved out of protero- and hysterodynamic nouns, which alternate accent between noun stem and case ending depending on grammatical case. So if, for example, there originally was a nominative *ʔékwa-s 'horse' vs. a genitive *ʔekwá-s 'of the horse' in early Late IE and, let's say, a new "acrostatic" rule was imposed on vowel-ending noun stems (a.k.a. thematic noun stems) to fix their accent always on the first syllable regardless of case (thereby getting rid of some clunky root-only alternations of accent), then I would suppose that the resultant homophony of nominative and genitive *ʔékwa-s would be as disturbing for some Indo-European speakers as it is for modern English speakers who are prone to hypercorrect "Thomas' shoe" to "Thomas's shoe" to maintain the same distinction between the nominative subject "Thomas" and its potentially identical possessive form. I might also mention a Guyanese acquaintance who, in his dialect, says 'he own book' for 'his book' where the addition of 'own' to 'he' likewise reinforces a genitive form of the pronoun distinct from the nominative in a similar phenomenon of, shall we say, "unsettling case merger" (i.e. Standard English 'he'/'him'/'his' -> Guyanese English 'he')[1].

After the dialectal variations of the Proto-Indo-European genitive rolled around in my brain for a while, I started pondering on the *-bʰi-/*-mi- isogloss line that seperates some dialects from each other by virtue of an innovation in instrumental plural case endings[2]. It's an interesting fact that both Germanic and Balto-Slavic dialects in the dialect soup known as "Proto-Indo-European" agreed on changing certain case endings with *-bʰi- to *-mi-. This indicates to IEists that the area in which Germanic initially formed was right beside the area in which Balto-Slavic formed. They're two peas in a pod. We know which way the change went too because the postposition *bʰi 'by, near, beside, with'[3] which is the basis of English "by" itself is naturally the origin.

So it provokes the question: Why did *bʰ change to *m in this one case? In Traditional Theory (i.e. where *bʰ is a 'breathy voiced stop') , the phonetics don't work well. It's less likely for a breathy // to become a non-breathy /m/ than it is for a plain voiced /b/ to soften to /m/. It just so happens that in Germanic *bʰ became *b while in Balto-Slavic *bʰ and *b merged so it would then stand to reason that it was after this change that the case endings were free to be mistaken with those in /m/ (like the accusative *-m and genitive plural *-om). However, this is the Traditional account which in all likelihood is inaccurate for several reasons. In my Hybrid Theory (a subtler variant of Glottalic Theory), breathy stops are interpreted as plain ones while 'plain stops' are 'creaky stops' which in some pre-IE stage evolved out of ejective stops. Now we observe instead that Germanic and Balto-Slavic retain conservative phonetics (much like in Glottalic Theory) and that the sporadic change of /b/ to /m/ here was a tempting potential for speakers, right from the beginning. Naturally, in dialects such as Proto-Hellenic (Greek) and Proto-Indo-Iranian where phonation shift from /b/ to // would have occurred, it would no longer be as possible because of the added breathiness of the stop for case endings in *-bʰi- to be mistakingly pronounced as *-mi-. Indeed, we coincidentally see no such innovation in these dialects that would have underwent this shift in pronunciation. So Hybrid Theory would give us a clear post-IE date for this change of *-bhi- to *-mi-, likely occurring sometime after the phonation shift in dialects neighbouring the Germanic/Balto-Slavic sprachbund. Phonation shift would in effect be a barrier to this burgeoning isogloss wave.

Everything seems airtight if I do say so myself.

[1] An example of this is in Peake/Trotz, Gender, Ethnicity and Place: Women and Identities in Guyana (1999), p.157 (see link).
[2] It's a commonly known fact mentioned, for example, in Bloomfield, Language (1994), p.318 (see link). If I recall properly from memory, it was also mentioned for easy reference in Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 22, Languages of the World within the Indo-European section.
[3] The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, ed. by Barnhart (1988), p.83 (see link).

26 Feb 2008

Some new changes to my commentbox policy

I certainly don't want to offend my readership but I'm forced to either strengthen my commentbox policies or be dragged down to the level of Wikipedia and Youtube debates where no distinction is made between a five-year-old, an educated adult and a mad person. "Neutral point of view" (i.e. Wikipedia's famous policy: see here and here) is really just a form of maoist control that undermines experience, knowledge, wisdom and respect for individuals (i.e. the very things that moved our civilization forward in the first place) and replaces it with immaturity, stupidity, shallowness and political correctness.

So at the risk of making it more difficult for anonymous individuals to comment nonsense on my blog, I will now only post comments from individuals demonstrating established identities. If you are a blogger whether on Blogger/Wordpress/whatever, naturally your blog constitutes an established identity and I want to see your identity visible through your name when you comment. Even a real email address is a better alternative to anonymity. If not, I will not post it for whatever reason. More honest identities will discourage anonymous vandalism and lack of accountability to one's actions and words. I hope readers understand my dilemma with online trolls but I think readers will appreciate reading more of the kinds of great input I've received up to now (coincidentally often from responsible and productive netizens with great blogs of their own) and less of the comments to the mentally numbing effect of "u stink and ur mother shud have aborted you, booooo!"

The recent number of trolls on my site has definitely increased since Language Hat made mention of my blog and this experience has informed my ever-evolving philosophy on blogging. Some bloggers focus more on publicity and quantity of viewers at the expense of truly thought-provoking content. A blog's content definitely includes the commentbox but it's often neglected by blogauthors to appear popular. Others prefer to use their blog to exercise their own power of free speech without coercion, cultivating quality content without it being tainted by marketing numbers. It's not just about cultivating quality of my blogposts as an author, but of the readership and of the comments of this readership. Everyone's interpretation of quality is different and so that's why there are so many blogs out there about as many subjects and in as many styles as there are stars in the sky.

My philosophy definitely sides with quality of speech over quantity and I refuse to compromise by threats of unpopularity. There are more important things in life than being loved by a bunch of anonymous people anyways (i.e. like being loved by your family and friends perhaps) and I figure that if I really wanted 85 000 subscribers, it would make more sense to make a porn site than a linguistics site! Lol!

25 Feb 2008

Etruscan Dictionary Draft 007 now available

While some are stuck in a rut, life shall go on here at Paleoglot. Yay for productivity! The seventh draft of my Etruscan Dictionary is available free to download:

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.

The Language Hat caper solved -- Fraud

I'm sorry to dwell on this one more time so I'll be brief. This is important to fellow bloggers, particularly linguistics bloggers, who may have seen a rise in trolls lately in their stats. It may even shed yet more enlightenment on the ailing psychology of modern society.

Upon consulting my blog stats, I have confirmed that the IP address of my recent attackers (namely has been emanating entirely out of Massachusetts, home of Language Hat (aka Stephen Dodson). Considering Stephen's strained credibility in his comments pictured above (link to his site here), I'll just go out on a crazy limb and suggest that Stephen Dodson is masquerading as "Vanya" and other names. It's now looking like he's trying to sabotage other blogs, whether for fun or for something more calculating, through the guise of numerous trolls both on and off his site. Perhaps this helps his ratings, or he's bored this month or he needs a hundred more Google Ad clicks to pay his rent. Whatever the motives, proof is in the pudding.

These spiteful people always like to use the threats of social disgrace or feign offense to try to coerce people into not speaking up when people are being hurtful. (Echoing the tactics of the Bush administration to silence opposition and free speech covertly and... rather successfully.) Of course, having grown up in a pacifist religious minority and then becoming open about my sexuality, somehow my toughened sense of individuality is not threatened by popularity vote. People who aren't trying to be cool have more interesting things to say on life than fashion-conscious (or is that fascism-conscious?) drips anyway. You know I'm right. ;)

Thankfully Language Hat has released Paleoglot from his blog links. Amen. I should expect to see a sharp drop in troll comments on my own site now. Any readership of mine worth keeping will only be intelligent adults who have the sense to see through Language Hat's poorly played game. It's unfortunate that Stephen is so gifted in one kind of intelligence (i.e. literary and scholastic) and yet lacks the social intelligence to understand when the game is over, if not ended before it even began. It's time to put away the toys and find purpose in life without putting down others for it.

On that note, despite trolls, my next draft for my Etruscan Dictionary project will be posted later on today unabated (or is it 'unbaited'?) . Quite frankly, I'm all so ashamed for being so damned productive. Must be my alleged Asperger's flaring up again.

24 Feb 2008

Some words on the 'Free Speech' fallacy and the true purpose of blogs

Oh dear, the readers of the blog Language Hat have finally flipped their little lids. The attacks against me have now gone from "fallacious but almost believable"... to "downright kookoo". Stephen Dodson, the American author behind the Language Hat blogsite heralding from Massachusetts continues to, as he says, 'defend free speech'. While naturally concerned at first (as a non-anonymous netizen should be) about the slander allowed to exist in his commentbox, the absurdity and desperation of trolls have reached an all-time low. It now turns out that Queen Elizabeth I herself has joined Language Hat's "intellectual debate" to denounce me and have me hanged while Prince, the famous musical artist, agrees. Chris Crocker however is in my defense. How honoured I feel to be mentioned in the presence of so many celebrities. Now I just have to laugh about it, LOL!

As Karma works its magic on Language Hat, linguists might be interested by the topic of free speech and how, despite all our fuzzy and warm intentions bred by political propaganda, it can never be honestly 'free' at all. Other blogs have written about this too and one site by Henry Hessing clarifies for us what's really going on here and the treasonous self-defeatism Language Hat is fostering in humankind:

"The fundamental basis for freedom of speech is a respect for the rational mind, which requires the freedom to weigh the evidence, to dispute and debate, without fear of coercive interference. By their reliance on violence and brute force of mob gatherings, the vandal shows contempt for the mind. It is confession of intellectual and moral bankruptcy, a confession that, for them, rational argumentation does not matter: all that matters is that their opponents are cowed into submission." (Click here for full article)
Flamewars transpire on the internet 2000 times a minute and it's only getting worse as anonymity has the negative side-effect of promoting a lack of accountability to reality. Any rational person who still goes outside once in a while and smells the daisies must eventually say "Enough is enough". We have to start fighting back against the Tyranny of the Stupid. Can free speech ever be truly unlimited in practical life or is this just abstract dogma? This is easily answered by pointing to clearcut examples where people's credit card numbers and other personal data have been shared online by malicious criminals whose actions can never be undone. No one, not even Stephen Dodson would want his credit card number or pictures of his wife and kids exposed online without his consent, obviously. So if even one instance of free speech is indefensible in civilized society, then waving the "I'm a defender of free speech" flag is exposed as nothing more than a stunted, extremist ideology. A tactic perhaps to maintain a double standard.

Interestingly, Mr Stephen "Free Speech" Dodson has since erased these joke comments in the picture above while defending more abrasive jokes by commenters named Anonymous and John Emerson under the hypocritical banner of defending free speech. Apparently jokes directed towards serious cognitive disorders like Asperger's Syndrome (i.e. Michael Farris' comment: "a) Gordon is an Asperberger's kind of case who can't perceive anything beyond the surface meaning of words.") are of greater value to Dodson than other jokes without a prejudiced slant. If only Dodson were more honest with us about what logic or lack thereof lies behind Language Hat's nebulous policies on the demonstrated limitations of his inconsistent free speech doctrine.

Accepting then the limits of free speech, are we clear on what those limits are? Have we really thought through what the overblown catchphrase "free speech" really means and what value it can possibly maintain in a sea of unmoderated gibberish? With only a few specks of intelligence strewn about in this media muddle, Truth eventually becomes indistinguishable from Lie and Value becomes indistinguishable from Valuelessness. If speech loses value, the value in defending individual speech will assuredly be the next thing on death row... and then our rights in a democratic society.

Dodson also misunderstands the true purpose of his and everyone else's blog. He continues to cowardly hide behind a politics-laced statement "I'm a defender of free speech" without confronting the logical meaning of his ideology. The fact is that blogs are not here to defend everyone's free speech at all. Blogs are here to defend one's own free speech. If everyone has the power to make their own blog, then free speech needs no defending on any single blog because it is the continued collective power of many voices in unison that defends free speech by virtue of their combined existences. Why do I as a linguistics blogger need to defend your free speech on my blog if it fails to have relevance to the clear purpose of my site (i.e. linguistics) and undermines logical, knowledgeable debate by promoting a culture of fear and lies driven by trolls? Unlike Dodson, my stance on comment deletion is clearer and more objective: Comments without relevance, whether their purpose is to jet ad hominems at me and others or to exploit other logical fallacies, are deleted without such purely negative trash ever being published to infect debates with emotional irrelevancies. I remain unremorseful about this policy.

In a nutshell, this insanity exists because of a prevailing mental disorder called dogmatic relativism which sabotages individuals into feeling unentitled to uphold individual principles or to distinguish right from wrong for themselves. It seeks then to devalue individual choice, logic and speech itself. This societal impairment in reasoning that so often arises in various ways throughout history is not only of interest to linguists, psychologists and historians but to all people who value the inherent right to learn and grow in a democratic civilization that choses to defend free coherent speech while shunning persistent fools.

23 Feb 2008

Drinking in more of the drunk-joy connection

I thought I would extract some important points from the dungeon that is the commentbox of my previous entry Enticed by a Drunken Thought and add new stuff that seems to strengthen my conjecture that PIE *mad- 'to be drunk' was a loanword during the Neolithic from Semitic *mu-ḫáddiwu (a form based on Semitic triliteral *[ḫdw] 'to rejoice' that I deduce based on Akkadian muḫaddū 'gladdening' until such time as I'm kindly corrected by a knowledgeable Semiticist or I find the contradictory evidence on my own) .

Before I begin, it needs to be stressed that while some of my commenters have mistaken me for being "illogical" for exploring these admittedly unproven ideas, what is truly illogical is proposing ideas that have already been proven to be conclusively wrong despite being aware of this or when experts overlook such simple details within their own field that you really have to start wondering what the scope of their supposed expertise really is. An example of what I would call illogical are Creationists who continue to dismiss evolution as nothing more than a cheap card trick despite all the evidence including nature right outside their window and the several wildly different breeds of man's best friend that show otherwise. That's wacko.

In this case however, there is no secure etymology for *mad- (unless a kindly IEist can show me to some contrary evidence) and therefore it's not illogical to ponder on these things. To the reverse, it's our moral prerogative as scholars to indeed explore educated hunches just as long as all relevant facts are heeded at all times. Perhaps by exploring this issue, we can discover new facts that either affirm or deny my above conjecture. However, one need not fear that I'm somehow unaware of the fact that if I want to really insist on this idea, the onus is squarely on me to justify it. Believe me I'm all too aware of my personal philosophical obligation to Truth at the expense of ego.

Let's begin. Upon consideration I want to optimalize my initial idea. I suggest that it may be better to begin with the value of 'to be rejoiceful' for my construction of Mid IE *maxéd̰a-. In this way, we don't have to deal with both the transfer of a loanword from Semitic and a semantic shift at the same time.

It's important to note however that the close semantic association between 'joy' and 'drunkiness' is pervasive cross-linguistically, as Sanskrit मद्- (mad-) 'to be glad; to be drunk' and the English phrase 'drunk with joy' show us. The association even pops up in the Hebrew word šimah 'made to rejoice', a potential circumlocution for wine and drunkiness, which appears to have been adopted into Greek as the name Semachos associated with the cult of Dionysos, god of wine. Plus, as David Clines informs us in his book On the Way to the Postmodern: Old Testament Essays, 1967-1998, the Old Testament is riddled with the same association as the surrounding 'pagan' religions where "wine is referred to as gladdening the heart". However, trying to prove the association between bliss and inebriation requires nothing as pedantic as that. Just pick up a glass of rum, say a prayer and let it slide down your throat. Feel the loving warmth? Doesn't alcohol make you want to rejoice? No? Then have another glass, my friend, until you see the stars in the daytime sky... Skål!

So from a form like Mid IE *maxéd̰a- 'to rejoice', we can simply proceed as I had explained in my previous post which relies on a certain phonotactic-based rule I'm now hypothesizing during the Pre-IE event of Syncope that changes initial sequences of expected **CHe- (C = continuant, H = laryngeal) to *Cä- instead (MIE *maxéd̰a- 'to be rejoiceful' > eLIE *mäd̰- > PIE *mad- 'to be drunk'). So now I propose that somewhere along the way, a semantic shift happened, starting from the more direct semantics of 'to be rejoiceful' to the more metaphorical and implicit 'to be rejoiceful (on alcohol); be drunk'. This change in semantics is no different than when we say in English that someone is 'high on life' while rolling our eyes, the latter being the visual cue that tells us that 'high' implies more than just sober elation.

But I'm going to have to lay off all this booze talk though cuz, boy, am I gonna pay somethin' fierce come mornin', hehe.

(Feb 23 2008)
Right after posting this, I realized that if PIE *sal- "salt" is to also be explained by the same phonotactic rule I propose then I had better change the statement "that changes initial sequences of expected **RHe- (R = resonant, H = laryngeal) to *Rä- instead" to the revised "that changes initial sequences of expected **CHe- (C = continuant, H = laryngeal) to *Cä- instead". That's better. Mea culpa.

(Mar 03 2008) Due to the cognate in Ugaritic, ḫdw 'rejoice', I've changed what I wrote as *mu-ḫáddiʔu to *mu-ḫáddiwu. Apologies. This doesn't affect the validity of my claim here however since the post-stress syllables in such a loan would not have been salient to Mid IE speakers anyways given the apparent reflex (i.e. Semitic *-iCu following the stress accent is being reduced here to MIE *-a, a schwa sound, no matter what the weak consonant *C happens to be). I also corrected a missing macron in Akkadian muḫaddū which is important because the length is a sign of a reduction of a weak consonant.

22 Feb 2008

The early Illych-Svitych on Indo-European and early Semitic contacts

I came across a paragraph from page 8 of Joseph Greenberg's Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives: The Eurasiatic Language Family (2000) (see link) that I found amusing:

"A new stage is reached in Nostratic theory in the work of Illich-Svitych, who is generally regarded as the founder of Nostratic in its modern version. His earliest comprehensive statement was published in 1967 in the form of a series of etymologies from the six families usually cited as 'classical Nostratic.' However, it is interesting to note that in a slightly earlier publication (1964), significantly called 'Oldest Indo-European-Semitic Linguistic Contacts,' he considered that the case for a relationship between Semitic and Indo-European was weak and that most of the resemblances were due to borrowing from Semitic by Indo-European."
You have to understand that Greenberg, the proponent of mass comparison to the chagrin of the rest of academia, was trying like most Nostraticists and related enthusiasts to promote his grand vision of an Ice Age protolanguage while tipping his hat to whom he exaggerates as 'the founder of Nostratic in its modern version'. The modern version as it was in 1950, more like. In fact, Illich-Svitych's reconstructions suffer from the same flamboyant problems that Starostin's did with an over-emphasis on parentheses and an under-emphasis on rational, regular sound correspondences. The kind of things that a trained eye immediately recognizes as poorly worked out and farfetched without needing to waste one's time examining it in closer detail.

But Illich-Svitych's reconstructions aren't what amuse me in the above quote. I find it oddly interesting how Illich-Svitych went from the more conservative idea that any similarities between Indo-European and Semitic are due to borrowing (as the case of 'seven' conclusively shows) to an unlimited self-indulgent anything-goes view that would give him carte blanche to hallucinate linguistic unicorns. What went wrong? How did he go astray like so many other misguided souls that fumble about with their painfully doomed Indo-Semitic comparisons?

Much like the more recent long-ranger named Sergei Starostin with his obsession with diacritics, Illich-Svitych had a peculiar, romantic soft spot for ejectives which he marked with an underdot in his transciptions. Markedness was violated everywhere according to his lavish brand of Proto-Nostratic and even some of the most common words in a normal human language such as pronouns and particles were replete with these articulatorily taxing ejectives. To add further irony, Allan Bomhard had recently offered an excellent alternative to Illich-Svitych's ejective-rich theory to finally address markedness problems by turning ejective stops into plain stops. Finally, real linguistics at work. Yet, since no one's perfect, Bomhard too committed the same mistake as any other linguist obsessed with the big picture over meticulous details by failing to recognize the undeniable layer of Semitic loanwords in PIE. This is why I still think that the many instances in his lexical comparanda that suspiciously fail to show anything but PIE and Afro-Asiatic evidence may be, if not complete red herrings, mere post-Nostratic loanwords.[1]

So I wonder: Is it possible at all for Nostraticists to move forward instead of running around in circles by finally recognizing the obvious? Can we all not see that PIE and Pre-IE was surely in contact with neighbouring languages throughout its prehistoric development (just like any normal language ancient or modern)? And if we can all reason that far, then can't we start taking the time to weed out those later post-Nostratic contacts first before we publish mere conjectures about a remote paleolithic language?

[1] Ilya Yakubovich from the Department of Linguistics in the University of California in Berkeley writes in her online article The Nostratic linguistic macrofamily: "According to Moscow scholars, he frequently confuses cognate words with later borrowings (e.g. by trying to reconstruct Nostratic numerals)."

21 Feb 2008

Revisiting TLE 193 and 'The City of Dirt'

I don't want to fill up my blog with too much nonsense about other unmentionable blogs with poor commentbox moderation. This is strictly about linguistics :)

My mind has been on the Etruscan inscription TLE 193 again. There's something so fishy about it and I can't let it go. Readers may remember that I previously flipflopped on whether to interpret uples in TLE 193 as a name or a word. This artifact is an inscribed urn which contained crematory remains of an individual female discovered in Tuscania during the middle of the 19th-century. (I still haven't uncovered a picture of it. Was it stolen from a museum somewhere along the way?) To refresh our memories, let's look at the inscription again:

larθi . ceisi . ceises . velus . velisnal . ravnθus . seχ
avils . śas . amce . uples

I'm looking at that perplexing last word, uples, and not knowing whether to interpret it as Upaliie, a gentilicium or as a reflex of a seperate word ufli which is found in the Liber Linteus mummy text and which cannot possibly be a name because of its context (LL 11.ix-xi) :

θui . useti . catneti . slapiχun . slapinaś . favin . ufli . spurta . eisna . hinθu . cla . θesns

As usual, the Etruscan specialists are even more indecisive about what ufli means than I am. It appears that there is no well-argued reason for interpreting uples as a last name in TLE 193 other than the existence of the Italic-derived name Upaliie (from Oscan Upfals) elsewhere.

However as I scrub for data even harder, I'm noticing that there is an interesting pattern in the way that this inscription has been translated over the past couple of centuries. Right after it was discovered, we see that throughout the 19th century, the phrase śas amce is simply considered the age of the deceased. Due to competing theories at the time, people argued back and forth whether this numeral was '4', '5' or '6'. We now know that it signifies '6'[1]. Regardless of the debate at the time, it seemed to be agreed that this was the tragic remains of a young prepubescent girl.

This is odd, because after Pallottino's academic career came into full swing in the 20th century, I notice that some scholars were swayed to the idea that this artifact speaks of a grown woman married to a man named Uple for 'four' or 'six' years. When I assimilated evidence for the name Upaliie from other inscriptions, it gave me a pang of fear that I may be wrong about my initial reading and needed to be honest to my readers. So I promply wrote an apology even though it was technically in keeping with earlier views. However, this more modern interpretation is full of even larger holes than the original reading when I think about it more.

It seems insurmountably odd, amid all the known inscriptions available where age of the deceased is consistently recorded in funerary inscriptions, for this one mysterious artifact to go astray and replace the expected number of years lived with the duration of her marriage. Women's ages were just as important as the men's to Etruscans. And yet, how do we deal with uples? So I'm revisiting my original idea that uples is indeed the same word as the locative noun ufli (for earlier *upil-i). If the value is 'dirt' then avils śas amce uples would read "At six years, (she) was (given) to the dirt", a circumlocutive euphemism for the burial of her urn. Here, I think we could interpret uples not as a genitive form (which should be *upil-s, by the way), but the directive case in -iś (uples < *upil(a)-iś). The directive case is observed in the Liber Linteus indicating 'to' or 'toward'. But you may wonder why I insist on the value of 'dirt'.

Aside from 'dirt' fitting well with TLE 193, I noticed that it may completely unlock the phrase in the Liber Linteus ufli spurta eisna hinθu. We are told that spur means 'city', eisna means 'divine' and hinθu means 'below'. Upon reading something about Ugaritic mythos a while back, I noticed that it kind of sounds a lot like the Ugaritic city of the underworld which they called Qrt Hmry[2] 'City of Mire', doesn't it? Thus "ufli (in dirt) spur-ta (the city) eisna (divine) hinθu (below)" = "the divine city in the dirt below".

Since we know that Etruscans did indeed believe in a city in the underworld[3] because of carved reliefs that depict it, we have yet another tempting association with the Near East that critics can't seem to absorb yet. Nifty idea, no? Yes, I know. You can thank me later, hehe.

[1] We know that śa means 'six' because of TLE 181 where the age recorded (avils : XX : tivrs : śas) can only sensibly read "20 years (and) six months old" (i.e. "20 and a half years old"). I'm sure you'll all agree that "20 years and four months old" is by contrast quite unusual to find in any funerary inscription worldwide, past or present. In fact, such a thing would almost seem sacrilegious. The Bonfantes et alia remain completely unaware of this simple deduction. Note Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan Language (2002), rev.ed., p.94 (see link) as a typical example.
[2] Watson/Wyatt, Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (1999), p.187 (see link): "Mot's domain is described as being a town (qrt) called 'Miry' (hmry), in a land called 'Filth or Mud' [...]"
[3] Bonnefoy, Roman and European Mythologies (1992), p.35 concerning the Etruscans: "The realm of the hereafter was represented as a city lined with towers, whose door is guarded by demons." (see link)

Language Hat goes from 'hot' to 'not' in 7 days

Not only five days ago, Language Hat's positive mention of my blog was an honour because I respected him as a skillful writer. While his review mentioned skepticism towards my views on a 'Proto-Aegean' language family from which Etruscan would derive, there is obviously ample room to disagree on that. I use my blog to both inform and explore new ideas. So I expect my readers to distinguish an established theory from a conjecture or to disagree when I've gone overboard with specific points rather than childish name-calling. At any rate, things were going kosherly for a while but it hasn't taken long for things to sour on his site.

John Emerson, one of his regular commenters, set the tone for the incoherence that would follow:

"His anti-Dravidian bias vitiates Gordon's entire research projects. Hard words, but the truth."
Strike one. After this fallacious statement that Emerson fabricated out of random fragments of pseudo-intellectual jibberish, I decided to investigate this odd character further only to find that he maintains a rather 'erratic' website filled with this same childishness which is devoted to simply shaking a fist at the establishment without goal. What value among adults is a person who disguises his disdain for structure as a form of 'comedy'?

After three whole days, Language Hat finally found the time to redress things (and only after some of my readers questioned Emerson):

"That's John's little joke. He pretends to believe that everything is descended from Dravidian. Don't mind him."
Strike two. It's mentally perverse to expect readers to waste their time weeding through trollish drivel to get to the good stuff. I would definitely call that a lack of appreciation for one's audience. Intelligent adults don't come to academic-oriented blogs to read flame wars caused by a resident troll. They want blogs to inform them and inspire them with new insights on a subject. Anything less can be easily replaced by a computer program. Unfortunately, this lack of comment moderation goes on and the blogauthor doesn't know when to stop:

"Hey now, I didn't say you were wrong about Proto-Aegean, just that talk of such things makes me nervous. As I'm sure you're aware, in the wrong hands such talk can be a sign of all sorts of weirdness."
At this point, something is obviously lost in translation since I never object to disagreement if it's grounded on facts, but this persistent insinuation of 'weirdness' is condascending rhetoric which attempts to both imply something negative about the addressee while dodging logical debate about what was actually claimed by the person. At this point, I look at Language Hat as merely a puppet, whether consciously or unconsciously, for John Emerson's scholastic Dadaism.

Some of my own readers piped up and presented themselves well but coherency was short-lived when another troll under the rather expected nickname "Anonymous" decided to chime in with more rhetoric:
"Gordon talks the talk but doesn't quite walk the walk."
And then today, this gem that obviously sinks to a new low of lunacy in order to desperately discredit my Etruscan language database project that never hurt anyone:
"The guy seems unbalanced and possibly mentally unstable."

Strike three, you're out. How can one ever respond intelligently to such a desperate attack? It speaks for itself. Whether we can say that Language Hat is a direct contributor to this commentbox madness or merely a passive middleman, it conveys a total lack of respect for not only me but also his readers who are forced to weed through mindless trash in order to find anything informative if at all. Without comment moderation, a blogger diminishes the value of his or her blog. This latest fiasco demonstrates why it's important for bloggers to be clear-headed and assertive on policies from the beginning concerning what comments are beneficial and what comments are without value to even publish. On my blog, people like Emerson are always deleted. There is no space here for chitchats about alien conspiracies, bigfoot or the latest discovery of Noah's Ark because those kinds of unmoderated blogs and websites are a dime a dozen. And we obviously don't need to go around mudslinging others to feel alive, do we? We're all looking for something better than that and this blog is about linguistics first and foremost. Not comedy or stupidity. Free speech isn't free.

Therefore, I've eradicated Language Hat from my blog. In the end, you have to laugh though. Why compliment someone and then immediately afterwards try so hard to rip out their heart and eat it? It's really over-the-top.

19 Feb 2008

"Proto-Aegean" - What I mean and what I don't

Language Hat recently gave me good review[1] and of course I'm very thrilled and flattered. However, there was something in there that made me want to write a response and clarification:
"Talk of things like 'Proto-Aegean' makes me nervous, but this guy is no pushover for sloppy comparisons and hand-waving correspondences"
Gee, thanks! Erh, I think? Well, I can't say that I didn't bring upon myself this nervous skepticism. Being skeptical of what one reads, particularly when reading a quirky online blogger one isn't familiar with, is actually healthy and I expect it if one's skepticism is based firmly on objective reasoning rather than subjective feelings. It's a good sign that one's brain is functioning. The term "Proto-Aegean" isn't part of the linguist's general lexicon as yet and I'm fully aware of that fact. So I need to explain what I mean by "Proto-Aegean" in order to help people understand that I'm not as kooky as I may seem at first glance.

First off, let's go through all the nutty ideas commonly out there that I absolutely reject. I reject any attempts to translate an undeciphered language such as Etruscan or Minoan based purely on look-alike matches with random foreign languages. I do however support methodical analysis of grammatical patterns and context to deduce a more sensible translation that's a little more multi-dimensional. I reject the work of those who casually connect Minoans to Semitic by extracting inscribed words out of context or who believe that Etruscan is a language closely related to Turkish, Luwian, Abkhaz, Klingon, Esperanto or any other clearly absurd language. I really don't care whether these nutty theories are published in a book or not, or whether the theorists have a degree or not, so I guess I'm irreverent that way. I do however accept detailed morphological comparisons between language groups that show me that the author actually thought about what (s)he was writing at least several months in advance. For Etruscan however, no such detailed analyses of grammar or comparisons to other language families currently exist. In fact, 'mystery' is far more sellable than the nauseating details that I like to explore on this blog, so I doubt that I'll see a comprehensive book published on the Etruscan language for some time to come. This blog is in large part a rebellion against the dumbed-down websites and books out there on ancient languages and proto-languages. I feel that we can do much better. Our global society needs to stop thinking like mindless, relativistic vegetables and to start valuing the power of logic and self-education more.

So concerning the issue of the origins of the Etruscans, everything that we may attribute to the term 'Etruscan', whether it be Etruscan religious practices[2] (e.g. haruspical rites), alphabet[3], or language[4] appear to point to eastern origins. Whatever trivial aspect of Etruscan civilization remains which can be said to be autochthonous often turns out to be of non-Etruscan origin, attributable to some Indo-European-speaking people such as Faliscans, Romans or Sabines. Herodotus records in Histories 1.94 that the Etruscans are of Lydian origin and I think that this is fundamentally correct. It's easy in the modern age to dismiss Herodotus as the 'Father of Lies' as I've sometimes read, but how many of these armchair skeptics have bothered to read word for word what the classical historian actually said in original Greek to know what they're fighting against? I've seen people distort Herodotus' account to mean somehow that Etruscans were Lydian speaking or that this is some proof that Etruscans spoke Turkish (even though the Turkish language is an import from Central Asia during the Middle Ages and closely related to Mongolian)! So given all these simple facts, I like to connect the dots and state the obvious: The Etruscans are from Anatolia. If others are too fearful of this conclusion that many other academics have suggested despite my footnotes and the several facts I cite throughout my blog, well sheesh. What can ya do?

Etruscan is also not alone but is widely accepted to have been related to Lemnian and Rhaetic[5]. Lemnian was spoken on the island of Lemnos in... {drumroll please}... the Aegean. Big shocker there. So moving on with my spooky Proto-Aegean concept with my head held high, I think I'll get a little cocky. I suggest (more tentatively, I admit) that Eteo-Cretan, Eteo-Cypriot and Minoan[6], languages also centering around the Aegean islands and Cyprus, were also part of this Proto-Aegean linguistic group.

So now let's draw a circle around Greece, Western Anatolia, Cyprus, Crete and the Aegean islands. We then start to see the linguistic pattern that I'm getting at. An entire language family forgotten in the mists of time and modern-day mystery mongering. What's somewhat irritating to me and which should be irritating to you, the reader, is how we have an 'Etruscan mystery', a 'Minoan mystery', an 'Eteo-Cretan mystery' and an 'Eteo-Cypriot mystery' going on at the same time. If you research any one of these subjects, you'll get next to nothing on their languages or their translations. It's all "Who knows?" and "What if?". Why is this region and this time period such a freakin' mystery? Is it really because we lack information to piece it all together or is it because our power of concentration lacks get-up-and-go to solve problems without the use of a computer crutch?

Anyways, this is what I mean by "Proto-Aegean". It sits there before you readers, waiting to be developed further.

[1] While Language Hat gave me a good review, the blogger for whatever reason has a very laissez-faire policy on comments such that his commentbox filled up quickly with the most obscene rhetoric from anonymous trolls. I deemed it wise therefore to promply divorce this blog from that senselessness completely. The original review with comments are here but I also made a response with pictures of the original comments on his site that I found were deeply offensive for him to have published.
[2] I've already discussed the comparison of the Babylonian liver model with the Etruscan Piacenza Liver model as one clear piece of proof that Etruscan haruspicy originated from the same practices found in Western Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent in my unfinished, multi-part rant called Finding Structure in the Piacenza Liver despite academic claptrap. If you don't believe me, you can always consult the Encyclopedia Britannica at your local library that will tell you the same thing I am here (minus the museum photo of the Babylonian artifact, that is).
[3] See for example Fischer, A History of Writing (2001), p.88, fig.54 (link). Keep in mind that the author here falls into the trap of assuming a priori that Etruscans obtained their alphabet from the Greeks rather than directly from Phoenicians. However the existence of the Pyrgi Tablets proves that trading contacts between Etruscans and Phoenicians were already well established before 500 BCE. Simultaneously, there is no conclusive proof as yet that Etruscans obtained their alphabet specifically from the Greeks, nor do I wager that we will ever find it.
[4] R.S.P Beekes explores the Anatolian origin of Etruscans in his article The Origin of the Etruscans [pdf]. Also some words are clearly of direct Semitic origin which can be seen most clearly in the numerals (e.g. Etruscan śar '10' versus Phoenician ʕsr, Hebrew ʕeśer-, Tigre ʕasər and Ugaritic ʕašar-).
[5] Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2004), p.246 (see link).
[6] An interesting quote from Chadwick, The Decipherment of Linear B (1967), p.34 (see link) reads: "In 1940, a new name appears for the first time in the literature of the subject: Michael Ventris, then only eighteen years old. His article called 'Introducing the Minoan Language' was published in the American Journal of Archaeology; [...] The basic idea was to find a language which might be related to Minoan. Ventris' candidate was Etruscan;" However interestingly, Ventris sought to connect Linear B, rather than Linear A, to the Etruscan language. Too bad. Regardless, he managed to decipher Linear B as an older form of Greek, leaving Linear A undeciphered to this day.

(Feb 20 2008) I created a quick illustrative graphic of this conjectured Proto-Aegean. Enjoy!

17 Feb 2008

Enticed by a drunken thought

It's a long weekend for me in The 'Peg, thanks to the new stat holiday christened Louis Riel Day. Louis Riel was, to make a long story short, a rebellious Métis and the founding father of the Canadian province of Manitoba. Some people loved him, some people hated him, some might have even called him bombastic or full of himself. A friend of mine asked me what I'd be doing this day and I told him that I would of course speak a lot of French, get drunk and try to avoid getting hanged. (This only makes sense once you understand the history of our dear Louis Riel and after you've gulped a few pints under your belt already.)

In Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the verb meaning 'to be drunk' is reconstructed as *mad- based on Sanskrit mádati, Greek μαδάω (madáō) and Latin madeo and came to be conjugated in the third person singular as *mádeti 'he/she is drunk'. It's a fun root even without your beer goggles on, one of the few roots in PIE it seems to have a genuine instance of the low vowel *a that isn't the product of a neighbouring laryngeal *h₂ colouring a former *e to *a[1]. Or so it seems at first.

Personally, I've been a little suspicious of some of these true instances of PIE *a, and not because I believe that *a didn't exist in PIE either. It did. Natural vowel systems always contain a low 'a'-like vowel without exception. A vowel system without an element of vertical height is extraterrestrial. Frankly, if there were an exception out there at all, it's so rare as to be negligible anyways. All languages have a low vowel in some form, whether rounded or unrounded, whether pronounced as front /a/, central /ɐ/ or back /ɑ/. So to try to erase this vowel from PIE simply because it's oddly rare in roots, as some have tried to do in the past, is a terribly foolish thing to do. However, I'm starting to convince myself that this vowel may have a special prehistory that may still owe its existence to laryngeals lost in a stage before Common PIE. Several centuries before, at the end of the MIE period[2], to be exact.

This is my suspicion which I may not be able to prove conclusively, so take it or leave it. Before the event of Syncope in late MIE that deleted almost all unstressed vowels, the root *mad- was originally *maxéd̰a-. According to what I've worked out on my own, MIE velar fricative *x ordinarily survived as PIE *h₂ which I believe may have acquired a uvular articulation /χ/ during the Late IE period. However, after Syncope, I would expect that such a form should in an ideal world become *mxed̰- in early Late IE (eLIE). Of course, this is an oddly formed root judging by what I know about PIE phonotactics. I don't recall any nasal-plus-laryngeal cluster at the beginning of words such as **mh₂- reconstructed at all.

This is where the "disappearing laryngeal act" comes in to explain at least one source of the 'true' *a in PIE. Consider the possibility that an MIE form like *maxéd̰a- should instead be expected to reduce to eLIE *mäd̰-, not **mxed̰-, in order to avoid an awkward cluster and to in effect retain the memory of the lost Pre-IE laryngeal in the resultant colouring of the neighbouring stressed vowel. It's a nifty idea that I can't get out of my head. Here I write umlauted front in early Late IE to distinguish it from instances of plain *a which derived from MIE *a. Just before PIE proper, I theorize that a chain shift happened ( > *a > *o) which I often just refer to as Vowel Shift. So after that, eLIE *mäd- becomes *mad- without much fuss.

But I hear the jeers of disapproval, "Why go through all this trouble, Glen? Why stuff a laryngeal in there? Are you 'mad' or 'drunk', pardon the hoaky pun?" No, believe me, I'm quite sober as I write this because I notice that by slipping in a laryngeal in some of these other roots in PIE with true *a, some alluring etymological possibilities start to open up. The association of *nas- 'nose' with *h₂enh₁- 'to breathe' is too tempting to pass up (perhaps MIE *xanʔ-ésa- 'nose' > eLIE *(x)näs- and MIE *xénʔa- 'to breathe' > eLIE *xenh- ?). Apparently I'm not the only one that's tempted in adding a laryngeal in this roots[3], by the way.

Then there's an intoxicating connection between *mad- and a Semitic root that I want to have fun with. We have to ponder for a moment where the Indo-Europeans got their inspiration to make alcohol. The idea that they acquired this skill during the Neolithic from people south of the North-West Pontic isn't too much of a stretch, is it? So when I find a triliteral root in Semitic languages meaning 'to rejoice' (Aramaic hd', Ugaritic ḫdw, Akkadian ḫdū), which in its substantivized form becomes Akkadian muḫaddū 'causing joy', I wonder a little if we have another instance of prehistorical crosscultural contact that's been blurred by internal Pre-IE changes like Syncope since the time of its borrowing.

All I know is that I do indeed feel rejoiceful with a frosty glass of beer in hand. Salud! Happy Louis Riel Day!

[1] Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2004), p.72 (see link).
[2] I define Mid IE (MIE) as the stage of PIE spoken between approximately 6000 and 5000 BCE (See "Mid Indo-European", Semitic and Neolithic numerals for further info.)
[3] See Schrijver, The Reflexes of the Indo-European Laryngeals in Latin (1991), p.98 (see link).

16 Feb 2008

How debate is done in the hive

Rasna is a forum giving non-blogging Etruscan enthusiasts a voice. Here I found some chitchat about me discussed only yesterday: Interesting Links,Books,Articles,Topics, etc etc on the mysteriousetruscans.com website. Delicious! Here's the basic run-down of the conversation:

"http://paleoglot.blogspot.com/search/label/etruscan ... I found this blog spot about Etruscans what you think of it?"

Tanaquil Lupus:
"He might pay some attention to his English while he's at it. He spelled 'Bear with me' as 'Bare with me,' [...] I have no idea from a brief glance what his credentials are and how valid or not his assertions."

Marce Camitlnas:
"Reasonably literate I guess, but the point is that he makes a few basic blunders. [...] Adolfo Zavaroni came up with pava meaning young man independently. I don't know if he's right or not, but he sounds very convinced of himself (warning bell number 1). His grammatical argument is sound as far as it goes, but given than there are 'weak' and 'strong' genitives in Etruscan, he's way too sure of his conclusion. I think he's pushing the envelope too far given that we don't really know how the genitive worked in practice. The other section that had me (even as a non etruscologist) slightly bemused: "Massimo Pallottino hypothesized in 1979 that Tarχies refers to Tages, a child divinity with the wisdom of an old man that popped up in the fields one day. I'm usually skeptical of what many of these Etruscologists say but I think I can swallow that idea nicely." [...] Terms such as 'blasphemous'[1] tell me that it's not exactly a serious site."
As of now, this is where the rather depressing discussion has ended. Sigh. Dare I say, yet another classic example of internet hivemind[2]: a mob of sheepish people hiding behind impersonal names, blending anonymously into the crowd to avoid the responsibility of reciprocal criticism. And then there's this disturbingly unremorseful attitude towards confessing how unknowledgeable they remain in a field they profess to love while still talking about it as though they were knowledgeable or interested. That's the kind of self-defeatist attitude of a pathological nihilist with strong feelings of low self-worth that I'm trying to shake everyone out of because the subtext of their words then scream out: "I'm cool because I'm a zero. I prefer to remain a shallow, happy-go-lucky child rather than take up responsibility for my self-respect, my self-directed education and my individuality. Rather, I will attack people for their own self-respect, self-directed education and strong sense of individuality to make them feel like a nameless nobody as I feel."[3] We all have seen the latest tendencies in modern society to attack visible people as "arrogant", "bombastic" or "full of oneself" when in fact it's often the attackers themselves that aren't psychologically strong enough to step up to the plate and contribute something healthier to society. Warning bells? Right. I'd think the real so-called "warning bells" that Marce talks about would be the use of anonymous nicknames and cowardly ad hominems directed towards others without even a hint of informative value embedded within the jabs. You know, something that actually addresses what was said in full, rather than in teensy-weensy meme-sized bits of irrelevancy?

Let's make something clear. Who I am should be completely irrelevant to everyone. What my 'credentials' are logically take second-stage to the factual validity of what is being said as a whole. How badly I may be said to spell is irrelevant. How ESL my grammar may appear to language purists is also irrelevant. I speak only to express and share ideas for the benefit of others and to attract other like-minded inviduals as well. I want to encourage others to express their own ideas too. And I mean positive and constructive ideas that shouldn't have anything to do with personal politics. I always hope that people have the mental clarity to see that. When I appear to "attack" an academic, it is based squarely on what they say, not who they are as human beings.

Debate is not about a bunch of catty, uninformative, "Fox-News"-like blabber about occasional spelling mistakes, errors in academic trivia and how their knowledge in NewSpeak do's-and-don'ts (e.g. don't use "hypothesize" for anyone other than the originator of an idea no matter how far buried in the recesses of time, apparently) empowers them with a metaphysical prescience to evaluate in some small way who is 'serious' in an academic field in absence of mindful studiousness and profound contemplation of the (un)read material. This is a posterchild for what's wrong with all anonymous networking sites that only encourage flamewars like on Wikipedia, YouTube and Yahoogroups.

Of course, I'll seek and destroy these spelling errors mentioned, and will look up other errors in trivia factoids that I've committed, but it would be swell if people could rise to the challenge of being honestly passionate about their interests and having the consciousness to attack issues head on instead of dismissing people because of how they say something based on subjective criteria. I welcome criticism but only logical criticism. The kind that's a shade more profound than just singing one's ABCs or roaring to hear your echo in the void of inhuman cyberspace.

[1] Marce Camitlnas extracted a single usage of the word 'blasphemous' out of context from Pava and the boy hoax to weave his rhetoric. I specifically said: "I know I sound blasphemous [about my questioning status quo as a non-Etruscologist] but keep reading." Context, people, context.
[2] This fascinating article named Hyper-Real Wikipedia and the Evolution of Mu-lacra delves into the problems of hivemind. One interesting insight: "Present day archeology and anthropology commit themselves to the study of past-human groups which had no substantial cultural changes for many thousands of years. Future such Mu-ologies will be so deeply embedded in these interweaving cyber-realities that history itself will have to be forgotten in order that the present have any identity." and "No-one within the cyber systems destined to encompass this world will be able to see anything but Mu-lacra-like concepts buzzing around their digital heads." Indeed. Now reread the conversation of that forum. Similarities? Notice the lack of diligent critique about anything other than minor details that have been so far presented in the forum by people who admit to knowing little to nothing about the subject they participate in but who nonetheless voice strong opinions about it. The internet makes this mad paradox possible. Sadly, most of these forums rehash the same issues over and over and over years later, even by the same people! Has the mere appearance of knowledge and learning already become more important than knowledge and learning itself? Beware.
[3] As author Jaron Lanier's thoughts in Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism are expressed by Jock Brockman: "Where is this leading? Lanier calls attention to the 'so-called' Artificial Intelligence and the race to erase personality and be most Meta. In each case, there's a presumption that something like a distinct kin to individual human intelligence is either about to appear any minute, or has already appeared. The problem with that presumption is that people are all too willing to lower standards in order to make the purported newcomer appear smart. Just as people are willing to bend over backwards and make themselves stupid in order to make an AI interface appear smart (as happens when someone can interact with the notorious Microsoft paper clip,) so are they willing to become uncritical and dim in order to make Meta-aggregator sites appear to be coherent."

(Feb 16 2008) I've clarified Marce Camitlnas's misreading of my sentence in Pava and the boy hoax. He's A) misunderstood what "hypothesize" means, B) took my usage of "blasphemous" out of context and C) misread "Massimo Pallottino hypothesized in 1979 that Tarχies refers to Tages [...]" to mean that I somehow credit Pallottino "for the origins of the legend of Tages". Indeed it's from Cicero, but nonetheless Pallottino hypothesized a link between Latin Tages and attested Etruscan name Tarchies in 1979. Please, people, calm your little selves down and read first. Thanks.

15 Feb 2008

A fireside chat with Glen

Concerning the Etruscan Dictionary Project

I'm feeling particularly de-energized today. Today is the due date for the next update for my Etruscan Dictionary. However, I haven't changed much this month and couldn't find a lot of time these passed few weeks. January and February are the death of winter in Winnipeg. Today the temperature is a sunny -4 degrees (Fahrenheit, that is). However, in metric-loving Canada, we state the temperature in Celsius which makes it even more depressing. So I suppose this is why my first instinct is to hibernate until April when the glaciers in my yard finally melt. At any rate, while I'm praying with tears in my eyes for the geese to return, I'm also hacking out a new program to "ram in" some data I've been wanting to enter into the database. The program would make my data entry a heckuvalot faster if I can get it to work the way I want. Thus far it's coming along fabuliciously so the next draft changes will be a bit meatier than they've been so far this month but I've decided to postpone the dictionary draft due date another ten days to give me sufficient time to hack out this latest programmatical miracle: February 25th. Bear with me.

Four Stone Hearth: 34th Edition

In the meanwhile, Four Stone Hearth has snuck up on me once again. They have the 34th edition ready for eager eyes, so check out their yummy articles designed for the intellectual gourmet: Click here. This time, it's hosted by the blog Cultural World.

14 Feb 2008

The hidden binary behind the Japanese numeral system

I've been inspired to write this after recent comments on my ire-provoking entry How NOT to reconstruct a protolanguage showcasing Sergei Starostin's posthumous reconstructions as exemplary anti-scholarship.

One important fact that everyone needs to know about Japanese numbers before blindly reconstructing Proto-Altaic numerals for themselves is that the entire decimal-based system shows a series of pairs in Old Japanese that "rhyme" through the use of internal vowel alternations. Please direct your attention to the folowing table:

fitö- '1'futa- '2'
mi- '3'mu- '6'
yö- '4'ya- '8'

Everyone sees this phonetic/mathematic pattern crystal clear now, ja? The pattern is undeniable. We see two regular vowel alternations, one of i with u and the other of ö with a, by way of rounding and derounding vowels in one root to derive the other. This was written about in detail by Miller in 1967[1]. However, it seems upon my brief Google Book search that it was remarked upon as far back as 1873 by Ellis[2]!

So when poor ol' Mr. Starostin had reconstructed *ŋ[i̯u] "3" and *ńu- "6" (using both Old Japanese mi- '3' *and* mu- '6' as examples in the two cognate sets), I can only assume that he lacked adequate literature in his local library to have possibly overlooked this simple fact about binary vowel alternations in Old Japanese numerals. Oopsy daisy! Naturally, it shouldn't have to be explained that only one of each pair in the table above may logically ever be attributed to Proto-Altaic. We have to choose one. This is yet another reason why Starostin's online database of reconstructions must be taken with a big pinch of salt (or perhaps an entire truckload of salt).

(2010 Jan 28) I fixed the links to Starostin's reconstructions in his lingering database online. Someone wrote me lately that the reconstruction, *ŋ[i̯u] "3", shouldn't have brackets but they're clearly there in the database, only adding to the dubiousness of relationships claimed.

[1] Miller, The Japanese Language (1967), p.337.
[2] Ellis, On numerals as signs of primeval unity among mankind (1873), p.50 (see link).

12 Feb 2008

Borrowing copulas - Never say never

I was thinking more on my idea that the verb "to be" in Indo-European was borrowed from Semitic. There's a common tendency, I find, for people to want to reject something like this outright because of the instinctive belief that "to be" is so basic and intrinsic to a language that it can never be borrowed. However one important rule I've learned in linguistics is: "Never say never".

First off, not all language speakers in the world find a verb for 'to be' particularly necessary or "fundamental to the language" at all. In fact, it could be claimed that most don't. However, in Europe today, since there is a predominance of Indo-European languages such as English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc. which all treat 'to be' as a grammatically obligatory verb, Europeans and North Americans may therefore have a distorted view of what is really seen around the world and through history (or even prehistory). Consider the Uralic languages, for example. These languages show us that we don't need the verb 'to be' to express presence or equality. We can just as well omit the verb altogether, particularly in the present tense. In fact, Proto-Indo-European itself is believed to have omitted *h₁es- too in certain situations[1]. So it's hardly a stretch that Pre-IE should have showed even more of this zero-copula predication (as this type of omission is called), much like many of these Uralic languages today.

In my frenetic search through cyberspace, I uncovered some other neat stuff on this topic. Slovenian Romani apparently has borrowed negative copulas nije '(s)he is not' and niso 'they are not' directly from Slovenian (Matras, Romani: A Linguistic Introduction (2002), p.209). Yet Romani is not a creole because of its preservation of Indo-Aryan inflections (although it's sometimes a problem determining what constitutes a creole). We might also note the Altaic language named Santa. Yes, that's right, Santa. Sounds Christmasy doesn't it? According to S. Robert Ramsey (The Languages of China (1987), page 199): "One particularly striking adaption to Chinese is the hybrid construction made in Santa using the Chinese copula shi 'is.'" It gives an example of this phenomenon, Bi kieliesen kun shi ene we 'The person I was talking about is this one.' where both shi (from Mandarin Chinese 是 shì ) and we (a native copula) are used together at the same time to convey 'to be'. The author then goes on to explain that this language my have borrowed up to 30% of its vocabulary from Chinese due to extensive, long-term contacts with that language. Wow! Then, finally, let's ponder on the following revelation about a universal hierarchy regarding nominal and verbal borrowings in languages around the world (Elsik/Matras, Markedness and Language Change: The Romani Sample (2006), p.320): content verbs -> modal verbs -> existential verbs.

The final link basically tells us that if a language goes so far as to borrow existential verbs like 'to be', it must also have borrowed other kinds of verbs first. So in other words, it suggests that the language in question must have already underwent extensive borrowing from a neighbouring language for this to eventually happen, probably involving a high degree of bilingualism and bilingual interference as has apparently happened in the language of Santa vis-a-vis the dominant language in the area, Mandarin.

[1] Stassen, Intransitive Predication (1997), p.212 (link here).