21 Jul 2009

The Etruscan vineyard has longer vines than I thought

I've long been skeptical of the communis opinio regarding the Etruscan phrase vinac restmc cenu in the Tabula Cortonensis. The Bonfantes simply translate vinac as 'vineyard' and restm as 'cultivated land' without any references showing how on earth they decided on this. When people fail to show their references I get annoyed because a lack of references is a good sign that someone is either telling a deliberate fib or that they sincerely don't know what they're talking about. This apparently ad hoc interpretation of the vinac hapax has then provided the foundation for a more elaborate pop belief that this artifact must be speaking of a transfer of property from one person to another regarding a vineyard and estate on Lake Trasimeno. All based on snippets of text that can't hope to be truly understood until an internally consistent translation of the entire text is finally provided. Readers should feel hoodwinked.

Besides the fact that the archaeological and linguistic context alone cannot afford us an a priori equation of vinac as 'vineyard', I just noticed a new fact that makes this value especially suspect. It turns out that there's a Georgian stem, wenax-, which just so happens to mean 'vineyard' as well. Rather than believe in a sincere connection between these geographically well-separated languages which a good historican can tell immediately would be an utter fantasy, my instincts are telling me rather that some person or persons of the academically isolated Trombetti camp[1], desperate to translate Etruscan by any unmethodological means, decided randomly that this Georgian word from the Kartvelian (aka. South Caucasian) language family must be the key to this Etruscan riddle. Why Kartvelian? Who knows? Who cares? Given the many crazy books on Etruscan published each year, this would hardly be an unmotivated suspicion on my part.

While Gamkrelidze and Ivanov have suggested that the Georgian word is borrowed from PIE **weinag-[2], I must in all good conscience cite this with double asterisks rather than one because their shoddy evidence not only denies the plausibility of this alleged stem at the Proto-Indo-European stage, but it also makes it unlikely that *wenaq- is anything older than dialectal Kartvelian, restricted instead to the Georgian-Zan subset. Plus, G&I's largely unaccepted reconstruction hardly looks like a well-formed Indo-European stem to begin with.

Since the Bonfantes aren't overt in The Etruscan Language (2002) about the sources of their deductions, I can only surmise that this odd connection is what they themselves secretly believed once the artifact had been discovered in 1992, a notion possibly built on the works of their misguided linguistic antecedents like Trombetti. If so, I can see why such poor references and reasoning would be disassociated from the value they give in the short glossary, out of the scope of sharp-tongued, skeptical readers such as myself.

If we reject these fish stories, what could this Etruscan word really mean? We must put methodical grammatical analysis before willy-nilly tripe from the start: the noun phrase vinac restmc is properly segmented as vina-c restm-c once we accept the obvious that they're both extended with the common conjunctive -c, giving us the two direct objects of the subsequent transitive participle cenu 'brought'. Any reasonable translation must then be of the form "Both vina and restum (were) brought." This double conjunctive pattern is inscribed also in CIE 6213 (apa-c ati-c "both father and mother") and emphasizes the conjunction expressed (ie. X-c Y-c → "both X and Y.") in much the same way as the French disjunctive ni is likewise repeated for additional force in ni le garçon ni la fille "neither the boy nor the girl".

The grammatical patterns of the phrase themselves and the uses of these words in other inscriptions (vina (na.sg.) [CIE 310], vinai-θ (loc.sg.) [TCap xv]; cenu [CPer A.x], canu [TLE 775]) show us bluntly that vina- should never be interpreted as a type of property without ripping the delicate semantic web of the Etruscan language to shreds.

All indications are that vina is a ritual offering, no doubt simply a libation of wine.

[1] Pulgram, The tongues of Italy (1958), p.193: "According to some of them, Etruscan is, for example, intermediate (not mixed) between Indo-European and Caucasian (Trombetti 1909, unfavorably criticized by Herbig 1909, 362-364 and Sergi 1922, 7-8; Trombetti 1927; 1918, v-vi and passim, fully discredited by Cortsen 1932, 43 ff.); [...]."
[2] Klimov, Etymological dictionary of the Kartvelian languages (1998), p.51.


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