29 Jan 2009

Nouns modifying nouns in Etruscan and related languages

I've been noticing a quirky grammatical pattern for a while in Etruscan but for the longest time didn't know how to interpret it. My journey started back at the beginning of my studies of this language when I was confused about why calendar dates and ages showed each element of a complex number declined in the same case ending. For example, in TLE 181, we read avil-s XX tivr-s śa-s meaning "of 20 years (and) of 6 months". In these instances, despite the meaning being clear, the grammar remains to be explained by specialists. If there is only one postposition in the English translation, why is the head noun tivr 'month' and the modifying numeral śa 'six' declined with the very same case ending to express 'of 6 months'?! The same curious phenomenon appears to exist in names where both a first and last name agree in case ending (eg. TLE 84: Larθi-ale Hulχnie-si Marce-si=c Caliaθe-si 'For Larth Fulchnie and Marce Caliathe'). If we dare to expand this phenomenon to all instances where nouns appear to modify other nouns, we help explain the complex grammatical structure of the noun phrase śacni-cś-tre-ś cilθ-ś attested in the Liber Linteus.

Now, I'm starting to wonder if this is not a special feature of all languages of the Aegean family, including Lemnian. On the Lemnos Stele, an as-yet undeciphered phrase is inscribed: aker tavarśiu vanalasial śerunai murinail. The overwhelmingly popular pet theory that has been published ad nauseum for decades is that murinail must mean "of Myrina" since Myrina is an ancient city on the Lemnos island. As admittedly intoxicating as this translation is, it has never been explained why we don't read a more grammatically acceptable *Murina-l instead. Indeed, I don't think anyone in their exuberant zest has bothered to notice their tiny grammatical faux-pas. Any acceptable analysis of this Lemnian phrase must account for the intervening iota before this perceived genitive ending -l.

So back to this grammatical pattern I'm observing in Etruscan, perhaps we can use this knowledge to help crack this Lemnian phrase in a more grammar-conscious way. Notice that we first have two possible noun phrases both inclined in the genitive-II ending: [tavarśiu vanalas]-ial and [śerunai murinai]-l. In turn, we might suspect that the second phrase is composed of yet another layer of case agreement, this time in the locative case: [śeruna]-i [murina]-i. *Vanalas may be understood as "of Venel (praenomen)".

If we piece this all together we get the following rough but promising partial translation of this Lemnian phrase: "an [aker] of Venel's [tavarśiu] (that is) before (the) [śeruna murina]."

21 Jan 2009

Mediterranean wanderwort fiesta

Back at Abnormal Interests, Duane Smith has been talking off-and-on about a few interesting terms that appear to have made their rounds across the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea and Near East, diffusing into a number of language families along the way. These words can serve as an inspiring focus of new conversation. The headings below are linked back to Duane's scholarly entries which I would suggest readers have a gander at:

q-n(-h) 'reed':

  • Semitic: Biblical Hebrew קנה (qnh), Ugaritic qn, Akkadian qunû, Aramaic קנה (qnh), Arabic قنا (qana)
  • Sumerian: Sumerian gina
  • Indo-European: Greek κάννα (kánna), Mycenaean ka-ne-ya 'related to reeds, made of reeds'
  • Egyptian: Egyptian qn 'reed mat'
ʔ-g-n 'bowl':
  • Semitic: Akkadian agannu, Aramaic אַגָּנָא, Hebrew אַגָּן, Ugaritic agn, Arabic إجانه 'urn, amphora' (ijjāna), Phoenician & Punic ʔgn
  • Indo-European: Hittite aganni, Greek ειγαν
  • Egyptian: Egyptian ỉkn, Sahidic Coptic aqan (aqan)

      With what I've learned so far about the evolution of the Ancient Egyptian language as it evolved into Coptic, I'm going to go out on a limb and deduce for myself that the vowelless transliterated words qn and ỉkn were probably pronounced around 1500 BCE something like *qánә 'reed' and *ʔәkánә 'basin, bowl', both matching the vocalisms of the other reflexes as well as accounting for the later Coptic result.

      I suppose what piques my interest about these particular words is their potentiality for being bona fide Minoan or Etrusco-Cypriot words, and by extension, evidence of the importance of a "Proto-Aegean" family in the second millenium BCE preceding the rise of the Etruscan civilization in Italy. Moreover, the first wanderwort skeleton, q-n(-h), reminds me a lot of the cityname Knossos as it is named in Greek whose ultimate source and underlying meaning is uncertain. Did it perhaps once mean 'City of Reeds'? Might we suppose Minoan *Kanózi behind the Greek name? Note HT 97 KA-NU-TI, written in Linear A script and which immediately precedes PA-I-TO (= 'Phaistos'?). And concerning ʔ-g-n, could it by chance be connected with the Etruscan hapax ucntm in TLE 87? The full sentence appears to be Ucnt-m hecce and could very well mean "And (-m) [it] was placed (hecce) in a bowl (ucn-t)", leaving a new word *ucan 'bowl' to add to my growing language database. The meaning of course needs to be verified with further instances in the future but for now I can always amuse myself with the tempting thought that it further derives from earlier Proto-Etrusco-Cypriot *ókano.

      As yet, the academic study of the Minoan language and the exact origins of the Etruscan language are kept in the fetal stage, but perhaps more fact-focussed discussions like this can bring this baby to term sometime in the next century.

      (Jan 22 2009) On further reflection, a Minoan cityname *Kanózi (rather than *Kanósi) would better explain both the Linear A spelling of KA-NU-TI and the Greek reflex. Furthermore, some evidence of s/t alternation in Minoan spelling can be seen in the verbal ending -si/-ti (eg. kana-si and umina-si on the one hand but also kana-ti) suggesting an underlying phoneme /c/.

      16 Jan 2009

      Etruscan grammatical sketch almost works

      I ran into a new link on Google Books concerning an interesting grammatical sketch of Etruscan supplied in Studies in the Etruscan Loanwords in Latin (1997) by Margaret Watmough (see link). On page 59, the author states: "The suffix -u may be added to a verbal (e.g. tur-, ces-), a preterite stem (e.g. alic-, zinac-) or a verbal abstract (e.g. zilaχnu). Intransitive verbs yield verbal nouns in -u of an active significance. Examples are zilu 'who presides' to zil- 'preside', zilaχnu 'who has occupied the presidency, president' to zilaχ 'presidency, magistracy' and lupu 'who dies, is dead, dead man' to lup- 'die'."

      Quite a detailed and competent grammatical sketch, if you ask me, and it's similar to what I've concluded in my independent investigation. However, there's one tiny headache in this text I've quoted: Where is zilu actually attested? It turns out that zilu is a hapax (i.e. a word that has only been attested once in all known Etruscan inscriptions) which the author admits to on the same page. It's only found in ET Fe 1.2 and according to Studi Etruschi reads incompletely as: xxxpetlnaś arnθial xxx zilu xxx. Oopsy.

      It seems to me that building a grammatical sketch on something so tentative is bad play and it perhaps reinforces my view that -u is rather a passive participle ending for only transitive verbs while is applied to intransitive ones. My view then helps explain why *zilu is so hard to prove when zilaθ is abundantly attested, or why turu "given" is commonplace while *turaθ is thus far non-existent. These two participial suffixes show a complimentary distribution.

      10 Jan 2009

      The "Tlusc Mar" Reading Error on the Piacenza Liver

      Today, I'm just making a brief note about yet another tiny detail that irks me about the common (mis)analysis of the Piacenza Liver (that is, the Etruscan artefact cast in bronze modelling a sheep's liver for the purposes of rather idiosyncratic divination, for those yet unfamiliar).

      I notice that there are far too many books on Etruscan mythology that casually transcribe one of the inscriptions (as depicted above) on the object as "Tlusc Mar" without a modicum of explanation as to how it was reasoned that it should be read this way. Afterall, if this reading is correct, we need to have a damn good excuse as to why the third line is read before the second line, and furthermore, why a perfectly sane reading of "c" which conforms to the overall direction of the inscription is forfeited in favour of a reading of "m" which forces our line of vision to rotate more than 90 degrees. What the...?! The question I put forth to the world is: "Why has a less opaque reading of Tlusc Arc been so avoided?"

      So while Larissa Bonfante et alia continue to publish their books with a historically distractive reading of "Tlusc Mar" or "Mar Tlusc" in them[1], I cringe each day wondering whether these assumedly learned people have simply overlooked this academic stain in the rug or whether the apparently glaring error is deliberate obfuscation for reasons well outside the hallowed domain of truth-seeking.

      Things that make you go... hmmm...

      [1] See Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan Language (2002), p.174 (see link).

      4 Jan 2009

      Piacenza Liver and The Palace Gate

      Now that we've survived another holiday season intact (more or less), I have a strange yearning to talk about the inner portions of the Etruscan Piacenza Liver artefact again. It seems to me that the first place to start in cracking the mystery is to compare the Etruscan liver model with Babylonian haruspical traditions yet oddly Etruscanist authors continue to fail to do that. So let's break away from academic status quo and see what we can't find, shall we?

      One link online concerning Babylonian haruspicy (i.e. the practice of divining the future through sheep livers) may oddly enough help us shed some light on Etruscan rites, beliefs and cosmology: Sacrificial divination: Confirmation of extispicy. It shows a map of the sheep's liver and explains the significance to Babylonian ritual. There is also a very informative book called Babylonian Liver Omens where on page 45 a graphic shows the various parts of the liver as they were identified in the Babylonian language. This is followed by a lengthy explanation of the religious significance of each section.

      Looking back at the Piacenza Liver, the middle section appears to me to have a direct connection to the Bāb Ekalli (aka. "The Palace Gate"). On page 46, it states:

      "Symbolic value (OBE, 60): the palace, its internal affairs and the city gate and its incoming and outgoing traffic. In 62 Pān tākalti Tablet 5 many apodoses concern life and intrigue at the palace, only very few refer to the city gate."
      This then seems to connect back to the tripartite division of the inner section of the Piacenza Liver that I suggested previously in Solving the inner portions of the Piacenza Liver. This particular section would correspond to the earthly "middle world", pertaining to the world of humankind.