26 Jun 2009

Sinat - Graphics revised and computer algorithm enhanced

I've recently updated the graphics of my Egyptian game Sínat to look more 3D. I got tired of the flat, spartan look of the Flash game and decided to fiddle around with a 3D modeler called Swift3D to see what better things I could come up with.

Also, I've updated the strategy of the computer which I believe may be better than what I have so far. My new algorithm, which I call Seth (named after the Egyptian god of storms and chaos), first checks to see if there are any pieces to switch with the opponent. If no switching is possible, it moves the first piece closest to the end that can legally be moved. Of course, all of my programs now automatically avoid Par Maw (the water square) at all costs since its a penalty square. After testing 25 games, the new algorithm won 68% of the time against Lateesha, the "retarded monkey" algorithm that moves completely by random. Not only does it win more of the time but it wins by an average of two pieces against random play. Adaptation makes me giddy.

25 Jun 2009

Oddly formed locatives with inessive postclitic in Etruscan

I may as well put my latest response to a comment in a new blog entry rather than hiding it in the commentbox of What are Etruscans doing with those eggs?:
"I had another thought I should share. It might clarify things about *e-less locatives when a postclitic is applied.

In the context of the Liber Linteus where the word luθti is found, we also find another curious inessive locative haθrθi. Since its simple locative haθe ~ hanθe is found elsewhere in the same document, the only explanation I have for the unexpected -r- in haθrθi is that it is from earlier *e which has been sandwiched between the two thetas and subsequently shortened to a schwa. It may also have been further retroflexed due to alveolar stops.

So then, if *hanθe-θi has become haθrθi in the late dialect of the mummy text, surely *luθe-θi can be reduced in time to *luθrθi and even luθti under the power of a strong stress accent."
The Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis (the so-called "Mummy Text") postdates the 3rd millenium BCE and is agreed upon to have been written in a form of Late Etruscan. So such reduction of expected Old Etruscan locatives marked in -e with postclitic attached seems sound. The normal form of the locative with inessive postclitic is exemplified by spure-θi 'in the city' in TLE 171 (nb. spure alone means 'at/before the city'). In TLE 174, we find yet another locative seemingly lacking the characteristic suffix before a postclitic, Tarχnalθi 'in Tarquinia'. But yet again, perhaps this is just another example of the emerging Late Etruscan declension lacking overt locative marking in inessive forms? Food for thought.

15 Jun 2009

Contradictions with authors' accounts of Etruscan word Rasna

First off, I apologize once again for pressing "Enter" in just such a way that Blogger mindlessly publishes my unfinished post. I've wrote about this bug in their interface, aeons ago, but alas, Blogger programmers don't fix it with a programmatically simple-to-execute, user-friendly warning of "Are you sure?". Anways...

I was going to write initially about Dionysius of Halicarnassus and his gloss Rasen(n)a but as I was writing it, I realized that this would either require a 15-page essay on all the issues inherent in the topic and that I pull my hair out, or require me to break down the topic into mini-rants. I wager that you, the reader, would rather a mini-rant (and quite frankly so would my fingers). So I'll try to make this as mini as I can. Let's first talk about what's wrong with the translations commonly given for Rasna and why this is another reason why we should always question what we read.

Case in point, the Bonfantes (Larissa and her now-deceased father) who offer no precise definition of the term, flipflopping wildly in The Etruscan language (2002). If one consults their glossary in the rear of the book on page 218, they give the following translation:

Rasna = 'people; Etruscan, of Etruria'
On page 99 however they give this translation:
Rasna = 'Etruria, the Etruscan people'
Yet on page 180, this equation is employed for their very partial translation of the Tabula Cortonensis:
Rasna = 'people'
Now, how are we to understand the everchanging nature of this lexemic enigma? Does it have the value of 'of Etruria' or simply 'Etruria'? Is it just 'people' or specifically 'Etruscan people'? Is it a noun, an adjective or both? Neither?? And how can something mean both 'Etruria' and 'Etruscan'? This would be tantamount to someone in English describing someone living in the country called "United States" a "United States" as well! Am I a "Canada" just because I live in "Canada"? Obviously not. I've never encountered a language that behaves this way. So which one of these translations is appropriate for which context and how can we possibly know if the translation is justified at all? For some reason, these authors are unable or unwilling to give a consistent, logical account of anything and I personally expect much more from someone who is a historical expert to keep their book much more organized than this, particularly if I am to be compelled to buy it. If they are so unsure about how Etruscan grammar works, they should stop writing books about it.

Naturally, these erratic translations are too carefree and unscientific. This is unacceptable in the field of linguistics. So in order to navigate this academic minefield, we should go straight to the source and investigate how this word was actually used by Etruscans themselves. We must note on grammatical patterns as well as the proper context surrounding the word (ie. both textual and archaeological context). It's time to pull out my own database and see where we find this word and how.

The bare word is found only once, as far as I know, in the Liber Linteus (LL 11.xxxiii). Other than that, we have a proponderance of declined forms such as rasnal [TCort v, xxiv; TLE 632], raśnal [ET Ta 7.59], rasne [CPer A.xxi], rasnes [CPer A.v, A.xxii], rasneas [TLE 233], and rasnas [TLE 137]. Based simply on the forms found, we must conclude with certainty that the word is overwhelmingly a noun since Etruscan adjectives, which postpose the nouns they modify (just as in Modern French, for eg.), are never declined unless used as nouns by themselves. A clear example of this is Θefariei Velianas sal 'by the great Tiberius Veliana', inscribed in the Pyrgi Tablets where we should note that Θefariei is declined in the locative case (-i) while the adjective sal 'great, noble' is clearly not similarly declined at all). This grammatical feature is quite unlike Latin and many other languages of Indo-European descent. (Etruscan is, of course, a non-IE language.) Further, this then opposes attested meχl Rasnal (TLE 87) where Rasna, being declined in the type-II genitive (-(a)l), cannot be an adjective at all, unless of course we wish to throw consistency out the window. Thus any adjectival value assigned to this word such as 'Etruscan' must be rejected at once, even though this happens to be the most common value misassigned to this term!

The above deduction is quite unfortunate for Rex Wallace, author of Zikh Rasna: A Manual of the Etruscan Language and Inscriptions (2008) whose very book title betrays the purpose of his work. At most, ziχ Rasna can only awkwardly mean 'Etruria Text' or even 'People Text' but never what he no doubt intended to write, 'Etruscan Texts', which would be better translated as ziχcva Rasnal. Wallace's title would depend on a usage of the Etruscan term that, as far as I know, is completely unattested.

11 Jun 2009

Sproutbuilder ate my Flash game

Warning: The following will be a scary tech rant about how peeved I am at my recently disappearing Sinat boardgame on my blog and this business about what I call "Flashphobia". If you're not a Star Trek-loving geek like me, you may get bored with this post.

Anyways, it's looking now like Sprout Builder decided to go to a "paid model" and in the process destroyed any content links I or anyone else had associated with the company to effectively boost its traffic. Evil marketing? Just possibly. But possibly also bad marketing. At any rate, now my Egyptian Sinat boardgame I coded for you all is just *blank* when you go to my Extras page to the right. Thanks Sprout Builder for erasing my content. I'll be sure to sign up for your service... in hell.

Now I have to search for someone, ANYONE, that will house flash files for free (just like they do for pics and text) without imposing an irritating limit on format type for no clear reason. Blogger won't allow flash files. I can't even figure out what the big fear is about Flash programs when we have so many evil websites underhandedly exploiting HTML/CSS bugs that introduce viruses onto our computers every day. Why then is Flash so particularly evil? Because it introduces functionality to otherwise drab websites? Whatever.

Seriously, does anyone know where one can put their Flash programs on some free account without idiot marketers pulling the rug under their feet and forcing pay models down their throats? And what's wrong with Google that it can't do this? Picasa is effectively a picture storage system so where's the flash storage system of my dreams? Did I miss a memo somewhere or is the internet retarded? Grrrr.

And that's the end of my geek rant for now. Hehehe.

(Meanwhile an hour later...) AHA! Eureka! I've uploaded my game's swf file to my new Google Sites account...
...and this seems to link alright {crossing fingers}. Tell me, viewers, if you have any problems accessing the game. If everything is okay, then I guess Google does supply a solution to Blogger's lack of services, albeit a really friggin' convoluted one for even veteran computer programmers to wrap their noodle around.

10 Jun 2009

Dialectal loss of PIE voiced aspirated stops via Para-MIE dialect merger?

This is too big an idea for me to translate into words without writing a 20-page essay. I think I can spare you readers most of my inevitable pedantics with the following animated picture of what's on my mind lately, shown here in six basic steps as a colourful summary (click on image to see it animate):

My new brainstorm is a masala of my previous online thought experiments (cf. Proto-Semitic as a second language and Winter's Law in Balto-Slavic, "Hybrid Theory" and phonation - Part 2) that points me to a location of the Mid IE stage centered in the Balkans, rather than in the NW Pontic (surely the location of later PIE, by the way), and the most recent input from savvy reader Kiwehtin (read here) concerning a means of explaining PIE 'stop harmony' using breathy vowels as a vehicle for the phenomenon.

Having not thought deeply about PIE's curious phonotactic constraint that barred the tautosyllabic cooccurence of both a voiced aspirated stop such as *dh with a voiceless stop such as *t in a root, I've had no good explanation for it up to now. That is quite lazy of me and as I learn more I realize that every detail is a cerebral gem unto itself. I can only lament in futility that the day is not 48 hours long.

To the point, now. Kiwehtin (Christopher Miller) has brought up the issue of the possibility of breathy vowels in some stage of Pre-IE or PIE itself and while I would personally hesitate to reconstruct it for the finalmost PIE stage, I have to admit that breathy vowels solve the source of stop harmony without too much fuss. In fact, upon looking up 'stop harmony' as a keyword search, I found this gem from Google Books that precisely gives us a real-life language with the same phenomenon called Jabêm (Lynch/Ross/Crowley, The Oceanic Languages (2002), p.274)! Neato!

If it seems like I've been gone for a while, it's partly because this piece of the puzzle has been co-mingling with other thoughts in my brain that together were weaving a crazy tapestry of detailed mental images that has been fascinating me for days. Namely, if we combine the idea that Mid IE arose out of the Balkans and spread to the North-West Pontic from which the next stage of the language in turn spread outwards, and if Kiwehtin is pointing to a delicious possibility that breathy vowels had developped in some stage of Pre-IE (say, the middle of the Late IE period), could we perhaps further entertain ourselves with a wild speculation that as the Late IE dialect began to form from the NW Pontic, it percolated through "para-MIE dialects" (see graphic above) situated around it and caused some of the familiar features of PIE dialects such as those of Anatolian and Tocharian that both coincidentally merged the breathy stops into modal ones?

I know this is a flamboyant thought, but stay with me for a moment, readers. For this idea to work, I would have to presume that PIE stop harmony is a common artifact of breathy vowels in a shared past, regardless of dialect. In other words, breathy stops must have formed much earlier, regardless of what I previously suggested about some dialects never forming breathy stops at all in my 'Hybrid' proposal. Furthermore, given my views on MIE syllable structure which lacks consonant clustering altogether, I can only conclude that any such stop harmony due to breathy vowels is likeliest to have developped in the Late IE period. (Consider as an example *dheubh- that would have been two syllables prior to the event of Syncope occurring in the earliest point of Late IE.)

So, presuming at least a momentary adoption of breathy vowels within the middle of the Late IE period to induce stop harmony, it would then be a perfect time for Late IE to start spreading outwards to form the dialect area familiar to Indoeuropeanists. However, if Mid IE was in the Balkans originally (to best explain apparent Semitic areal influence) and Late IE spread from the NW Pontic, then it seems logically inevitable that the new dialects forged from Late IE innovations would collide back into the sister dialects formed from the bygone Mid IE period which lacked such innovations, i.e. my so-called "para-MIE" dialects.

To add, if breathy vowels only formed in Late IE, we should expect that living speakers of such theoretical paradialects were lacking these sounds in their speech inventory and therefore found it a little difficult to pronounce them when Late IE dialects began to popularize in these former para-MIE territories. As regional bilingualism would eventually lead to a single dominant dialect, it seems to me that this would produce new Late IE dialects in those regions located outside of the "Late IE epicenter" within which breathy stops or vowels were replaced with locally more familiar modal phonation (ie. substratal influence). Ergo, voiced aspirated stops would return to plain voiced stops, yet at a price. The price being an increased likelihood of merger of former voiced aspirated stops like *dh (now modal again) and *d (creaky) due to a reduction in perceptual distinction between the two series.

In a nutshell, I'm suggesting that the merger of plain voiced and voiced aspirated stops may in effect be the result of a clash between two different stages of the same language, in a manner of speaking, by way of the preservation of archaicisms in surrounding para-IE dialects which surely existed but which are otherwise undetectable to the historian or archaeolinguist. Insanely complex? Sure. Nifty? You bet! All I can hope is that I explained my odd mental musings well enough for at least one other person on this planet to understand. Lol.