30 Dec 2009

A deeper source of Cretan Britomartis

Solinus spoke of Βριτόμαρτις Britómartis as a native Cretan name for Artemis, the Greek goddess of moon and hunt, which he claimed had underlyingly meant virgo dulcis 'sweet maiden'[1] and Hesychius doubly equates his Cretan gloss βριτύ with Greek γλυκύ 'sweet'.

Apparently though, from what I've dug up so far, this is all that's ever written on the subject of the etymology of her name, an important question that's tossed aside for airy interpretations of local mythology to fill up the latest tome weighed by the pound. Out of desperate curiosity, I consulted Wikipedia to see if any of those busy bees had found just a smidge more than the status quo but predictably the groupThink swarm proved once again worthless. There's far more to the origins of this name but the following exploration is curiously absent in any book I'm aware of on the subject despite being, I believe, highly illuminating.

The first element, brito-, may remind us of the Greek example of ἄμβροτος 'immortal' from Proto-Indo-European *n̥-mr̥tós 'non-dying' showing how easy it is for /m/ to strengthen to /b/ before another resonant. In light of Hittite militu- '(honey)sweet'[2], a characteristically Indo-European u-stem adjective derived from milit- 'honey', there should be no doubt where the first element comes from. The second part of the compound, -marti-, is contrastingly sourceable to Assyrian mārtu 'daughter, girl', a purely Semitic feminine form of māru 'son, boy'. These linguistic connections complement the already well-known Anatolian and Near-Eastern influences on Crete.

[1] Solinus, Polyhistor, 11.8.
[2] Puhvel, Hittite Etymological Dictionary, version 6 (2004), p.155: miliddu-, maliddu 'honeyed, (honey)sweet'.

Paleoglot: My sweet honey bee

26 Dec 2009

Battling the Indo-European axe

The Proto-Indo-European root *péleḱu- 'axe' seems to me to be contrived. While the correct centum-satem correspondence between Greek -k- and Sanskrit -ś- is reassuring, it by no means validates the reconstruction. First, we have two fullgrade vowels in two consecutive syllables which immediately gives the alleged root an un-Indo-European appearance. Second, the root rests solely on the strength of a comparison between just two cognates: Greek πέλεκυς pélekus and Sanskrit परशु paraśú-. Third, their respective word accents don't match.

On the other hand, there seems to be a controversy concerning the skeptic's attempt to relate the above lexemes with Assyrian pilaqqu which has been long claimed to mean 'axe' but which, given the new reading of 'spindle', is thereby discredited. Ironically however there remains Assyrian palāqu 'to fell, to slaughter' to contend with, a verb on which nominal derivatives like naplaqtu 'knife' were built. Surely this is fundamentally not an Indo-European word and a Semitic source like this one remains preferable over a PIE root that begs even more questions than it's worth.

Yet, while we're on the subject. Are we sure that Sanskrit परशु paraśú- is really connected to the Greek? Consulting the online Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, an alternative form, पर्शु parśú-, is also provided. Unless I'm overlooking something, this only adds further doubt to the comparison. I wonder in what way any IEist can provide reassurance that these two words should be related. Note also Akkadian parāsu 'cut off, cut into pieces, separate' which should warn us that, considering many competing sources of this word available, these cognates could be red herrings. It would help greatly if we could at least establish the antiquity of this word in Proto-Indo-Iranian by way of further evidence.

17 Dec 2009

Imaginary "/f/-aspiration" in Etruscan

Here's yet another case of a "bibliographical game of telephone" gone wrong and which perfectly explains why I have no respect for those who get pushy with me about their own articles as if I'm supposed to suspend judgment or bite my tongue just because something is published. Even neatly published articles in journals are far too often just a fancier form of verbal hearsay. Rational skepticism doesn't apply differently to different media of communication. Logic must be applied to everyone's claims equally, regardless of whether somebody said them, blogged them or published them in print. Consider also that there are plenty of sensible authors who still get it wrong, not because they themselves erred in their reasoning necessarily, but because the authors they've relied upon have erred.

Julián Victor Méndez Dosuna in Can weakening processes start in initial position? The case of aspiration of /s/ and /f/ relies on Hurch (1988) who, based on yet other scholars, implicates Etruscan into the larger pattern of "/f/-aspiration", just another term for the debuccalization of f to h.[1] At the onset of his examination of the Etruscan evidence, Dosuna offers sound advice:
"Owing to the severe difficulties in interpreting the texts of a language which remains largely unintelligible, one must be extraordinarily cautious in analyzing the Etruscan evidence." (see link)
He then delves into some heavily outdated 'evidence' for the alleged f > h sound change in Etruscan:
"It is true that the inscriptions provide numerous instances showing vacillation between the spellings and in syllable-initial position: Fasti ~ Hasti (woman's name), safin- > sahin-, fastntru ~ hastntru, faltu > haltu. However, as far as I can judge, Pfiffig's (1969: SS17, 18.2) data seem to indicate that syllable-final /f/ is always secondary and results from the weakening of /p/: cf. hupni ~ hufni, hapna ~ hafna, huplha ~ huf(u)lha. This means that, as in Latin, the distribution of primary /f/ was defective in Etruscan." (see link)
First, Dosuna observes the same p-lenition as I've mentioned many timed before on Paleoglot, minus the conditioning by u. Second, unbeknownst to him, several items he depends on from other academics to be facts are sadly outright fabrications:
1. There is no *safin- in Etruscan, a word conjectured from an Italic ethnonym.[2]
2. *huplha ~ *huf(u)lha is surely mistranscribed Θuplθa ~ Θuflθa.
When we clear away the junk linguistics, this alleged Etruscan sound change of f > h rests solely on foreign onomastics. Debuccalization surfaces particularly in the region of Clusium where the variation between f and h is historically most attested. The truth is that Fasti ~ Hasti, Fastntru ~ Hastntru, and Faltu ~ Haltu are all Italic names and have nothing to do with the qualities of the Etruscan language. Absurdly, the gentilicium Ferclite (ET Cl 1.835), attested in Etruscan yet again in Clusium and which is known to stem from Greek Ἡρακλείδης, would seem to show a reverse change of h to f! This can only make sense if the two-way f/h alternation is the result of confusion in the pronunciation of names in a linguistically diverse area, not a genuine sound change in Etruscan itself. Looking beyond Etruscan, in fact, the alternation is likely more illustrative of neighbouring Faliscan[3], an Italic language that has already shown differences with Latin vis-a-vis the distribution of f and h (eg. Latin hodie 'today' versus Faliscan foied)

Dosuna later states: "For whatever reason, aspiration did not affect secondary syllable-final /f/." Naturally because it had never occurred in Etruscan at all. Otherwise, for example, we'd expect the Liber Linteus which was written at the close of the 1st millenium BCE to fail to show the many words it does show such as fira (LL 1.xviii) and flanaχ (LL 10.iii), and favin (LL 11.x) which, to the contrary, show that f prevailed with no trace of this sound change.

[1] Dosuna, Can weakening processes start in initial position? The case of aspiration of /s/ and /f/, Bernhard Hurch y Richard A. Rhodes (eds.), Natural Phonology: The State of the Art. (Papers from the Bern Workshop on Natural Phonology), Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter, 1996, pp. 97-105 (see link).
[2] Bakkum, The Latin dialect of the Ager Faliscus: 150 years of scholarship (2009), p.209 (see link).
[3] Read the section entitled The 'f/h' alternation in Faliscan in Stuart-Smith, Phonetics and philology: Sound change in Italic (2004), p.61 (see link).

13 Dec 2009

Concern trolls and the Etruscan bilabial 'f'

Predictably anonymous "concern trolls" are sending me more stupid comments about their fake disdain for p weakening to a bilabial fricative when next to u, as I mentioned in a long-ago post. The first fact below shows that the only people posting angry nonsense about my personal character because of this non-issue are angry bloggers and likely failed authors. The rest of the facts I've compiled will be informative for serious linguistic students and history buffs too.

1. Etruscan specialist Larissa Bonfante confirms Etruscan f is a bilabial.
2. Etruscan pairs like pulumχva/fulumχva prove allophony.
3. In allophonic variation, a shared articulation feature (ie. bilabiality) is most economic. An alternation between a bilabial and labiodental sound is comparatively less economic.
4. Instances of Etr f not from allophony are demonstrably recent loans
(cf. Etr fanu vs. Lat fānum, Osc físnam & Umb fesnafe).
5. Bilabial fricative sounds are in no way 'rare'.
6. Several varieties of Spanish use a same bilabial fricative phoneme.
7. Like Etruscan, Yimas shows increased sonority of /p/ before /u/ & /w/.
8. It's not absolutely certain that the /f/ of neighbouring Latin was strictly labiodental.

12 Dec 2009

The myth of the secular

"The context and state of the archaeological record have relegated peak sanctuaries to marginal areas in the study of Minoan society. This situation is worsened by our analytical tendency to separate religious and secular spheres and components of Minoan society - a condition no more viable for the Bronze Age than for the Classical Aegean."
Donald C. Haggis in Chaniótis, From Minoan farmers to Roman traders: Sidelights on the economy of ancient Crete (1999) p.74

First an Egyptian example

Since Egyptian language, politics and mythology are now well understood, Egyptologists are no longer as free as they may have been in the ignorance of the 19th or early 20th century to make false descriptions about Egyptian art and its origins. Najovits in Egypt, Trunk of the tree, Vol. 2‎ (2003) (see link) misapplies the word 'secular' on page 144 when discussing the art during the reign of Akhenaten:
"Even if it was not always the case, Amarna art encouraged a new type of art with secular, casual implications. Rather than primarily being an official, idealized art which praised the pharaoh and the gods, illustrated religious dogmas and served as 'equipment' for the afterlife, scenes such as relaxed, warm family life, intimacy and affection, playing, preparing food, farming and hunting came more to the forefront." (boldface mine)
The overemphasis on secularism misleads since the art of this period, as shown below, remained littered with religious motifs (ie. solar disks with extended arms, ankhs, lotuses, divine offerings, etc.). Thanks to Google Images, this can be readily seen by everyone. Anything but 'secular', the art behind Akhenaten's new heliocentric cult was indeed "an idealized art" of its own, naturalistic in defiance of the more polished art before it, which continued to praise both pharaoh and deity as it always had. No one can credibly insist that these scenes are in origin secular, nor secular on the surface. These scenes are simply not secular at all. More naturalistic, yes, but not secular.

Secularist views in Minoan studies

On page 275 of Pendlebury's The archaeology of Crete: An Introduction, first published in 1939, his secularist prejudice imposed itself upon his description of Minoan culture, but where verifiable facts in modern Egyptology amply limit this indulgently sanitized interpretation, the continued poverty of knowledge in Minoan studies concerning the exact politics, religion and language of the Minoans reduces standards (see link):
"Minoan art shows clearly that, while much of the artist's work consisted of depicting scenes of a religious or semi-religious nature, yet he certainly had a quick observant eye for wild life and a sense of the country which is unparalleled in antiquity. His natural vitality was expressed in his representation of such sports as boxing and the bull-leaping which, however much they may have become bound up with religion, must in origin have been purely secular, and the outcome of a love of physical exertion which is only now returning to the Aegean." (boldface mine)
Pendlebury's baseless insistance that bull-leaping scenes on Minoan frescoes must in origin be secular is an irrational assertion, and was even so when he first wrote it. Kyle, Sport and spectacle in the ancient world (2007), p.45 (see link) places Minoan bull-leaping rites in their proper religious context and in the context of the greater Mediterranean cultural complex:
"Bull games, with bulls sacred to or representing the Storm-god, seem to have been part of traditional Hittite religious ceremonies."
No shock there. The classical Greek tale of Theseus and the Minotaur already hints at the underworld symbolism of the Cretan bull and labyrinth motifs. It's lunatic on its face that any decent scholar would suggest that ancient people had randomly decided to leap over bulls for the sake of desperate heroism and stubbornly ignore religious motive behind the clearly non-rational act that would fully explain it all. Religious origins to seemingly 'secular' acts are seen throughout the world. Note for example the 'secular' Mayan ballgame inspired by the myth of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.

Contrastively, the beliefs of Pendlebury and ilk have no basis in cultural reality nor even in rationality in general. It's the product of a stunted, overanalytical mind that demands unfairly that all ancient art, art which is by nature expressive and non-rational, must be reduced to purely non-religious origins and meanings, even when a religious interpretation is wholly unavoidable given a competent understanding of greater context.

Rodney Castleden in Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete (1990) on page 75 (see link) gives us a more realistic perspective on Minoan art:
"The naturalistic treatment of plants and animals is deceptive: it is often quite inaccurate. The rock-rose, for instance, is given six petals instead of five. Some plants defy identification. The mythic animals are an even stronger reminder that the fresco artists were depicting another world than the everyday one; it is a symbolic world where general concepts such as fecundity were more important than accuracy of detail. A favourite plant in the frescoes is the papyrus, treated in various decorative ways: but the papyrus did not, as far as we know, grow in Crete in the Minoan period, so the frescoes do not factually depict the Cretan landspace. The papyrus may have been a borrowing from Egyptian art which to the Minoans held some symbolic value. Certainly we should not see the Minoan frescoes as simple interior decoration."

9 Dec 2009

Clay seals and goddesses

Robert Eisner asserts, "The Greek Artemis surely descends from the Minoan Mistress of beasts."[1] This statement seems hard to deny nowdays which is why I recently explored how a-ra-tu-me on a Minoan clay seal (HT Wc 3024.a) might in some way be related to the name 'Artemis'. That being said, a caveat is in misconstruing the linguistic origins of the goddess and the mythological origins as a single issue. My casual brainstorming on the meaning of the as-yet undeciphered term a-ra-tu-me is fundamentally no lesser nor greater than Miguel Valério's book-published hypothesis that du-pu3-re signifies 'master' based on its idle phonetic similarity to Hittite tabarna- which he must assume a priori to mean 'ruler' to make stick.[2]

So blogger Judith Weingarten's recent attempt under Paleoglot: Etruscan Artemis and the unexpected vowel change to smother open query with ridicule and self-promotion is unconstructive for all of us. Let's not let our behaviour fall into the stereotype of stuffy traditional academia that defeats itself by its cartoonish elitism and slavish clique system. Being published or non-published on paper will never free any of our egos from critique or human fallibility. Blogging isn't an enemy to scholars. It has a purpose in academia. Blogging wastes less trees and properly treats ideas as ever-evolving concepts rather than absolute conclusions set in stone. I use blogging as a healthy way to both hone my evolving understanding on historical languages and to solicit informed alternative views. However, I do not solicit personal attack in place of reasoned opposition.

Concerning a-ra-tu-me meaning 'Artemis', I feel I can safely drop that idea since it suffices to reason that corresponding Mycenaean seals normally show terms for commodities and transactions as explained by Vassilis Aravantinos in The Mycenaean inscribed sealings from Thebes - Problems of content and function [pdf][3]: "We have the reference to things that are 'holy' i-je-ra. We have technical economic vocabulary like o-pa which specifies a kind of contractual obligation and the operational term qe-te-o. qe-te-o generally implies an obligation on the palace center to 'pay' something out to somebody else. In two cases, ewes and male pigs 'are to be paid' te-qa-de 'to Thebes'."

The recorded conversation of experts further down the article is fascinating to read and, alas, it appears that nowhere is a deity's name mentioned in these artifacts. Why then should I expect so in similar Minoan texts? Also as I read further on the functionality of these clay sealings as "modernday padlocks" for ancient trade, I may be overemphasizing the significance of depicted scenes stamped on the clay in relation to the accompanying writing. (My skepticism of Weingarten's claim that some of the accompanying images are somehow non-religious in origin is a separate issue that I may address in a separate blog entry.) Although i-je-ro 'holy' is evidence for religious property in these seals, a lack of precedent found in the Mycenaean world for the explicit writing of a divinity's name is logically sufficient to disqualify my bold departure from status quo. I stand corrected.

Even based on my independent linguistic approach to these texts, other words found with the figure of an archer like ka-ku-pa in HT Wc 3016 seem most sensibly interpreted as nouns describing commodities, not deities. In HT 16.1-2, the phrase ka-ku-pa • di-na-u, especially if approached from the assumption that Minoan is related to Etruscan, seems to show a noun followed by a participial adjective in -(a)u (nb. the Etruscan participle ending -u as in tur-u 'given') in much the same way as adjectives are placed after commodity terms in Mycenaean.

To err is human afterall and I wouldn't be a good student if I didn't dare to both err and correct myself in turn. Nonetheless, this still doesn't answer a most basic question: What was Artemis called in Minoan? My personal search continues...

[1] Eisner, The Road to Daulis: Psychoanalysis, psychology and classical mythology (1987), p.162 (see link).
[2] Chavalas, The ancient Near East: historical sources in translation (2006), p.267 (see link): "Tabarna is a royal title of uncertain translation."
[3] V. Aravantinos, Mycenaean Texts and Contexts at Thebes: The Discovery of New Linear B Archives on the Kadmeia, in S. Deger-Jalkotzy, S. Hiller, and O. Panagl (eds.), Floreant Studia Mycenaea I (Vienna 1999) 45-78 (see pdf).

7 Dec 2009

A tasty bucket of 'chicking'

John Wells recently stood up to a distractive commenter on John Wells's phonetic blog:
"Sometimes the comments on this blog get sidetracked into topics that have nothing to do with the subject of the blog posting to which they are appended. So it was on 28 November, when David Marjanović was surprised 'that anyone would seriously say anything other than [ˈt͡ʃɪkŋ̩]' for chicken."
The insincerity of pronouncing "chicken" as "chicking" is obvious to most simply by the word-final en. In fact, the statement is so transparently false that we might naturally start wondering if this is a sign of a highly intelligent yet obnoxious troll with a specialty in subtle academic confrontation.

Yet this "David Marjanović" insists he's a graduate student in paleobiology and spends his time on Wikipedia earning Barnstar rewards to prove it while informing us of his taste for fine mint chocolate chip ice-cream. Earlier on my blog, he came to the defense of the dubious North Caucasian hypothesis in a comment that takes up several pages. At the time, I found the length of his commentary just a tad odd but I rolled with it, answering his many concerns, fake or not, at least for the benefit of other readers if not for him. In hindsight, one has to wonder about the intentions of someone who starts it all off with:
"First of all, as a biologist, it baffles me to no end that historical linguists talk about 'proof', 'unproven hypotheses' and suchlike."
Meanwhile on Language Hat, after commenter marie-lucie completely fabricated statements I never made just for lulz, David chimed in to dish out some of his own self-defacing sadism:
"No wonder. [Glen Gordon]'s so aggressive he's probably literally incapable of getting a paper published."
This of course has "self-talk" written all over it. In all of these instances, he is accompanied by other trolls (see sockpuppet for more information). It would appear that all it took was a skepticism of both Wikipedia and long-range reconstructions to provide him with a motive for this mean-spirited behaviour. The "aggressive" label he uses here is becoming cliché now after so many trolls have been using it to shut down opposition. Enough.

(13 December 2009) Another Language Hat troll came to the rescue of marie-lucie. He informed me that the "offending" blog entry in question is Some observations concerning Woodard's The Ancient Languages of Europe and pertains to my "shame" in calling the Etruscan f a "bilabial fricative". Oh dear, we'll have to tell Larissa Bonfante, a noted Etruscan specialist, that she's an idiot too then. {chuckle} Or maybe we can just stick the sad troll's meaningless letter in the garbage can along with his overzealous schadenfreude and add relevant footnotes with required reading for those sincerely interested in the Etruscan language.

2 Dec 2009

Etruscan Artemis and the unexpected vowel change

Let's retire Bronze Age Mediterranean phonology for a while and talk about Etruscans and their deities again. On page 57 of The religion of the Etruscans‎ (2006), Erika Simon explains to us that Etruscan Artume ~ Aritimi, the goddess of hunt and lady of the moon reknowned for her superior archery, is directly taken from Greek Artemis (Άρτεμις) and that the cult extends back to the Neolithic. This description of her origin is ridiculously brief and, to add, ridiculously vague as it oversteps many millennia and distinct cultures in a single sentence. It doesn't seem to trouble her that the vowels have changed radically (eg. Greek epsilon to Etruscan u) since she doesn't explain any of it at all. That vowel change is a rather unavoidable detail if she wishes to make her published words stand the test of time. Down the rabbit hole we go, Alice...

I'll get straight to the chase and solve one riddle that obscures the problem above. I've come to realize that the purported Artume ~ Aritimi alternation in Etruscan is one of many modern myths created by idle theorists. Artume is sufficiently attested as the one and only Artemis in ET AH S.4 and ET Vs S.6. Her name appears to have been carelessly confused with that of a separate etymon however, an Etrurian city which the Etruscans called Aritim and which in Latin is called Arretium. Despite this knowledge, we've hardly solved the vowel change riddle yet.

If we only assess the problem from within the specialized bubble of the narrow Etruscan field, internal -u- before bilabial m can easily be explained away as a reduced form of original *-e-. This happens many times in Etruscan and so it would seem the problem is solved, right?

On a Minoan Linear A artifact (HT Wc 3024.a), John Younger transcribes the symbols as A-RA-TU-ME replete with a picture of an archer. To confirm, Raison & Pope on page 150 in Corpus transnuméré du linéaire A explains further: "Sept impressions de sceau sur le pourtour, dont une, semble-t-il, oblitérée délibérément (archer de profil gauche faisant la génuflexion, 112 de Levi)." Translated into English, it reads: "Seven seal impressions on the perimeter, where one, it seems, obliterated deliberately (archer facing left bending at the knees, 112 of Levi)."

If Younger's transcription is sound, I can't help but wonder now about Artemis and the Keftian connection.