24 May 2009

Phi Beta Kappa + masters degree = instant Etruscanist

Here's a little test for readers. Those who can't see anything wrong in the caption below taken from Google Books featuring Ilse Nesbitt Jones' Five texts in Etruscan: Early Gothic Language of Tyrrhenians and Ancient Jutes published in American university studies, Vol 35 (2002) should promptly remove themselves from this website and never return.

According to Peter Lang Publishing Group, Jones is apparently a Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Kansas with a Master of Arts (in what field, I wonder) from the University of Tulsa and has been "involved with Etruscan translation [for] more than twenty-five years." Now check out the frightening caption of parts of her book.

Jones has taken this text from the Cippus Perusinus and translates the first line as "Crowd extension not to be hidden - rule is weak...". ??? Seriously now. It even prompted Ian M. Ragsdale to give this review, a rather restrained and undeservingly verbose one in my honest opinion, on the WorldCat website poignantly labeled A Linguistic Fantasy:

"This book is a prime example of why mass comparison is so alluring, yet has the potential to be devastatingly incorrect. Jones' introdu[c]tion proposes that Etruscan is the lost Germanic language of the Jutes and throughout the book she throws any Germanic word or root - and any Proto-Indo-European root, for that matter - that fits the Etruscan words in her texts. [...] Academics and all careful readers will see through the veneer before finished reading the back cover."

You get the idea. It would suffice to cut to the chase and call it what it truly is with only two words: ahistorical crap. If we run the risk of discouraging this assinine pseudo-scholar, it can only be for societal good, I'm afraid. The tragic case of Jones's failures in linguistic decipherment and her obvious methodological handicap reminds of the following common-sense facts about the world we live in:

1) Academic programs don't teach nearly enough on logic theory.
2) Universities are driven by profit, not sense.
3) Publishers are also driven by profit, not content.
4) Universities don't really care about how the quality of their graduates impacts on their image.
5) Those with degrees can be just as clueless as the layman (... or much more so).
6) A sucker is born every minute.


  1. I've seen this book at the U of T library. When I first saw it, a little part of my soul wept.
    At least, at the very least, have big books of linguistic fantasy like the two vast volumes by Kjell Aartun. His interpretation and translation of the Phaistos Disc as a sexy ritual at least sounds poetic! But this Tyrrheno-Germanic mush... this doesn't even have poetic value...

  2. Unbelievable. It's hard to imagine that anyone can even consider Etruscan to have anything to do with Germanic. Especially if their 'translations' result in these kinds of completely nonsensical pseudo-phrases.

    1) Academic programs don't teach nearly enough on logic theory.
    I wholeheartedly agree. They teach the stuff in technical studies; but historical linguistics, and in fact, any form of science could really use it.

  3. As a layman, at least in the study of Etruscan language, I find you incredibly pedantic. However, your pedantry on second reflection, and deeper digging on your blog, reflects a genuine concern with scholarly truth, or the lack there of.

    I will definitely be coming back as I find the study of languages vastly appealing, but when I have more time to devote to a good root around your archives. Suffice to say, you have hooked another word and history lover. :)

    Oh, and more on topic, what twit could possibly link Etruscan language with Germanic? That university isn't worth the listing of its name.

  4. Seadog Driftwood,It's funny how substandard literature shows up in university libraries, isn't it? This is what a search for "Etruscan language" will get you in the tragically underfunded linguistics section of the U of Manitoba libraries: click here.

    Let's see, we have Fred Woudhuizen, beating a dead 19th-century horse by his attempts to force the square Etruscan peg into a round Indo-European hole once again, and Zěchariǎ Mayani, a confirmed nut trying to prove Etruscan-Albanian relationships, both victimizing the reader with their subjective, look-alike vocabulary comparisons of an undisciplined amateur. It's as if the person in charge of stocking the library's shelves was a) ignorant of the topic, b) ignorant of acceptable linguistic methodology, and/or c) under the now-ever-so-common but insidious belief that "fairness" to a topic means picking completely opposing viewpoints even when these viewpoints have been disproven a hundred times over eons ago.

    Yet regarding Massimo Pallottino's crucial list of Etruscan inscriptions called Testimonia linguae Etruscae (TLE), after months of witnessing its absence on the shelf at the U of M, I was told nonchalantly by a librarian I spoke to that it was probably stolen. No one cares.

  5. Phoenix, Since I was enrolled in Computer Science at the U of M, it was mandatory to take courses on logic (digital logic, discrete mathematics, boolean logic, programming theory, etc.). In Computer Science it would be senseless without a course on logic since programming is purely about telling an emotionless computer how to perform a task. Artistic types who rely on "intuition" and "feelings" normally crack under this pressure and last a day or two in these classes, hehe.

    However, what I came to realize is that surely logic, being a universal principle, should be taught in ALL programs of science and humanitarian studies to make sure that its graduates are absolutely clear on what are acceptable conclusions we may make based on evidence and what we cannot. Ideally then, those who are incapable of comprehending logic will simply never acquire a degree (since they will fail their required Logic courses), making the university degree much more meaningful than it is now.

    So far, my tiny philosophies on academics haven't made a dent in the elephant known as university bureaucracy. ;-)

  6. Rhianna, since I'm detail-oriented and love this subject, I can't avoid being labeled pedantic though it is mildly frustrating. I get the feeling that it's usually used as a knee-jerk term to deride those with academic interests while avoiding the energy of deeper thought for oneself. Oh well, to each one's own.

    You know how it is. It's "uncool" to be a bookworm while it's totally "cool" to be Beyoncé wearing a skanky bathing suit dancing spastically and singing "You shoulda put a ring on it". I'm not sure what Beyonce's message is here to women. Lol.

    "Oh, and more on topic, what twit could possibly link Etruscan language with Germanic? That university isn't worth the listing of its name.".

    True, but read my comment to Seadog Driftwood above about the meager selection at my local university's library on "Etruscan language". Check out your local university too and see what they have to offer. Be amazed. Be frightened. Be mad.

    (I apologize for having to redo this message four times. Blogger is doing something funny with HTML-enriched messages like mine and I've had to play around with the code to make my message come out legible for the past month since Blogger introduced its commentbox bug.)

  7. Glen, I used pedantic in a nice way. It is a term used against me by those who don't like me being so picky about details. My area is Roman history and Latin, thus I confess only a passing knowledge of Etruscan as it relates to Rome. I apologize if you found it offensive, it was not intended in that way. I've read some of your other posts and I find them very well reasoned, if outside my area of expertise.

    Funny you mention Beyonce, as a Texan myself I find her quite annoying as a person to look up to. Give me the greats of Sappho, Homer, even my beloved Claudius rather than the stupidity of modern American 'culture'.

    I have noticed that most scholarly books in libraries both public and university are far out of date and of no use to a true student. I suppose that's what happens when you spend 30 years writing a paper, better to get your time out of it than to get it right. Ah, the bane of true students of history and language.

  8. Oh no, Rhianna, I didn't think you were being insulting at all. Sorry, I was just being pedantic about the word pedantic, noticing **in general** how people use the term and their topsy-turvy sense of priorities seem to be. It wasn't addressed to you personally. Lol. See? Pedantics always gets people like us into trouble! No worries. :-)

  9. Utterly retarded (for lack of a better word)!

    Even I, who just recently obtained my Bachelor of arts in Nordic languages (with only extremely little knowledge of Etruscan), instantly saw through this idiocy.

    The thing that really amazes me is that the author links "vaxr" with "weak". Wouldn't a more sound conclusion (to the extent that one can be sound making such claims) be that "vaxr" is a cognate of "*wahsian", proto-germanic for "to grow", "vaxr" thus meaning something like "grown, large"? In this moronic context, wouldn't that be a more suitable cognate, as the Germanic root for "weak" is "*waikia-"?

    Note that I do not think this theory is correct in any way, but I just wanted to point out the lack of logic and competence in the lack logic and competence.

    Keep up the good work, though. I really love this blog.