25 Feb 2010

Capua, fields, Indo-Europeanists, etc.

The following is a good example of Indo-Europeanists gone mad, methinks. Whenever it comes to European vocabulary, specialists of Indo-European languages are in there like a dirty shirt trying to etymologize it automatically through some concocted Indo-European root. Some roots are valid naturally, but others are suspicious and crave our skepticism.

Specialization can sometimes lead to shortsightedness. We can see why not all words we find in European languages are necessarily inherited from a language spoken 6000 years ago. There are many sources of vocabulary in any language and to assume a priori that words are automatically inherited is the same fallacious tactic used by zealous Nostraticists to claim an overabundant number of terms have some great heritage that never existed. It's much more likely that any given word, when going back six millenia, is a borrowing rather than an untouched, ancient word. Yet IEists, because of their passionate obsession, risk being ignorant of the contribution that must have also been made by Semitic, Egyptian, Basque, Aegean and other language groups. They may often stick to what they know, namely Proto-Indo-European, and attribute everything to it alone.

Enter the etymology of Capua, a city in Italy which was originally controlled by Etruscans. The Latin name was identical and called in Greek Καπύη (Kapuē). Charlton Lewis, to which this reference in Perseus owes origin, went straight to the punch and pointed the reader to Latin campus meaning 'field'. When we next look up campus, we're led to a further connection with Greek κῆπος (Doric κᾶπος).

This is interesting because further investigation reveals contradictions about the etymology of these words among IEists. Mallory and Adams have attributed κῆπος to an Indo-European root *ḱāpos 'garden'[1] while Pokorny had claimed a different root *kam-p- 'to bend' for the Latin reflex while dragging in another Greek word καμπή 'a winding (of a river)' as alleged cognate. I believe both reconstructions are likely incorrect. Pokorny's is easiest to dismiss since the relationship between campus and κῆπος is direct, phonetically and semantically, yet his etymology would absurdly contradict this in favour of 'bending' the meaning of these words to suit a nuance that isn't attested. M&A's reconstruction at least acknowledges the core meaning in these words, 'cultivated land', but then, despite this, the connection with Capua and Campania put forth in Lewis' work is left unaddressed but worthy of a solution. We're also offered a highly unlikely PIE root with a long low vowel which is odd considering that even short *a is rarely attested in PIE. Should we additionally assume a laryngeal before *p? Or perhaps should we accept the problems of these attempts to source these words to PIE and try a fresh approach?

Let's look outside the PIE bubble for argument's sake and try this from an Aegean perspective. I want to suggest an Etruscan word *capa and assign it the meaning of 'field'. This word then can serve as a direct source for Latin campus with homorganic nasal resonant -m- added. As an inanimate noun, the Etruscan plural is predictably *capava 'fields'. Coincidently, this is precisely the name of Capua in Etruscan, attested in the locative case as Capue (TLE 890) (from Old Etruscan *Capava-i). The citation form, *Capava, would have effectively meant 'The Fields', referring to the scenic topology of the area. After solving the meaning and source of Capua, we can push on to reconstruct the Etruscan name for Capua's surrounding region, *Capavana 'Campania', economically solving for the source of the Latin name too. Finally, this opens doors in regards to the exact source of the Greek words for 'garden', ie. 'Pelasgian' substrate, an idea already suspected by Robert Beekes.

[1] Mallory/Adams, The Oxford introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European world (2006), p.163 (see link).

23 Feb 2010

The origin of Perugia

I don't know about anyone else but I keep on tripping over new questions with apparently no answers and it can be very frustrating when no one else is asking the same questions (or at least not being vocal enough to ask them). Here's an interesting question with no clear answers: What is the etymology of Perugia.

Perugia was originally an Etruscan city founded in Umbrian territory. We know that the Latin name was Perusia and the Etruscan name can be reconstructed as *Φerusina based on Φersnaχs in TLE 363. Now what the dabnammit does it mean? What's its etymology? Where does this name come from? Blank. Unlike many other subjects that yield something of interest, searching online for Perugia's origin gives me either websites with random answers or published texts from the 19th-century with equally random answers. And don't get me started on how useless internet groups can be, full of the usual crackpots and trolls.

All I could find that was even remotely helpful was Antonio Sciarretta's website which displays a fearsomely long list of etymologies for a variety of European toponyms including those in the region of ancient Etruria. Let's examine. According to him the "second part of the name is usually [recognized] as a toponymic formant and compared with the one of Venusia (Lucania), Genusia (Apulia)." (ie. Perusia is to be divided up as *Per-usia). This immediately smells like false parsing to me since one could equally come up with other ad hoc 'toponymic formants' like *-asia and find examples like Ocrasia and Planasia to serve as 'evidence' with far too much ease to suit my skeptical nature. Sciarretta follows this with mention of wild attempts to link the name with birds (Latin parra)[1] and rocks. The only statement here worth considering seems to be the last one when he offers that it's possibly from an Umbrian root *Perus-.

Indeed, I can agree to an Umbrian origin because I myself get the impression of a specifically Italic root here. When we look at the Etruscan name, *Φerusina, and strip away the suffix of appurtenance -na, we're left with the root *Φerusi-. Yet the root has an odd shape for Etruscan. It's not possible to analyse it further since Etruscan roots invariably head the word and this would yield *Φer- with a nonsense suffix *-us(i)-. To add, the letter phi normally starts off foreign names, as seen in many clear Greek loans such as Φamn 'Phaon' (ET AS S.1) and Φersipnai (CIE 5091) or Umbrian ones like Φisie (Φisis [TLE 470] (gen.); cf. Fisius). This also lends to the theory that this is an Umbrian term.

As I find no sensible meaning and source given to this name as yet, I've thought of one possibility that doesn't involve sparrows or stones. In Latin if I'm not mistaken, we have the phrase per rūra 'through the fields' (nb. -s- > -r- in rūra). So could it not be simply that Perusia means just that? When I look at an aerial map of the terrain, I see that Perugia is situated in a patch of relatively flat land situated at the foot of surrounding mountains. Such a meaning then would be perfectly plausible.

[1] Bonfante, I Nomi di Assisi e di Capua, published in Italica, vol. 20 (1943), p.195 (see link).

20 Feb 2010

Aegean phonotactics against word-initial /j/

On the Minoan Language blog, Andras Zeke counters my entry against a prefix *i- in Minoan with a new idea that the morpheme in question was a separate deictic instead. Clever, however only I-QA-*118 (HT44) ~ QA-*118 (KH 10) and I-DA-MA-TE (AR Zf1) ~ DA-MA-TE (KY Za 2) are available as evidence for this vocalic utterance, only significant if we assume that the two items of each pair have identical meaning. The pair YA-SA-SA-RA-ME (TL Za 1) ~ A-SA-SA-RA-ME (PR Za 1) only suggests a consonantal onset but this then is poor evidence for a purported morpheme that's independent of the word it precedes. Instead, if we assume that the pairs with I-/∅- are proper, the disappearing initial *i- is likely an unaccented vowel prone to syncope. This leaves just YA-SA-SA-RA-ME ~ A-SA-SA-RA-ME to explain, which isn't likely to be due to some disappearing morpheme, there one minute and gone the next.

In Prefixes in Minoan, I alluded to the Proto-Aegean phonotactic constraint against word-initial *y- which is evident not only in Minoan but in Etruscan as well. Of the 1504 words and names logged in my Etruscan database, not a single one shows an underlying word-initial /j-/. There's no question to me then that Etruscan phonotactics simply barred the glide from word-initial positions altogether. The apparently random alternation of YA-SA-SA-RA-ME ~ A-SA-SA-RA-ME in Minoan can be most parsimoniously explained by the same constraint. Given this feature in the language, symbols for YA and A would naturally be interchangeable in word-initial positions, as well as the pairs YE/E, YU/U, etc.

Aegean languages aren't the only ones to do this and I'm starting to see an interesting pattern around the Eastern Mediterranean. Egyptian too wrote (for consonant /j/) in places where /j/ no longer existed. So while the name of the god Amon was spelled out as ỉ-m-n in the vowelless script, the name was pronounced *ʔAmúna in the second millenium BCE (hence Coptic amoun). In other words, like I suggest for Linear A, Egyptian script wrote phantom glides in word-initial position while having developed a phonotactic constraint against word-initial /j/. More on this in Egyptian writing systems and grammar [pdf] by Shawn Knight.

Only recently did I have a brainwave about Greek and its development from Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Many IEists historically have noted that PIE *y- becomes either h- (PIE *yēkʷr̥ 'liver' > ἧπαρ hepar) or z- (PIE *yes- 'to seethe' > ζέω zéō). I never thought of this innovation in the context of this Minoan constraint rule before but I should have thought of this earlier in hindsight. Perhaps this is food for thought?

Then there are the hints in Anatolian languages of a possible similar constraint that I have to look into, at least where *ye- is concerned.[1][2][3] All in all, there appears to be a geographical pattern of linguistic areal influence here with Minoan at the center.

[1] Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft, Issue 62 (2006) (see link): "However, the lack of any sure reflexes of */ie-/ in either Palaic or Lydian precludes the possibility of certain CAnat. status for this conditioned yōd-loss. (MELCHERT AHP 1994a: 75, KIMBALL HHP 1999: 361-2)."
[2] Melchert, Anatolian historical phonology (1994), p.75 (see link): "Hittite, Luvian, and Lycian give evidence for loss of initial */y/ before */e/. There are no certain examples for */ye-/ in Palaic and Lydian, so attribution of this change to PA must remain tentative."
[3] Woodard, The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor‎ (2008), p.42 (see link) concerning Palaic: "The absence of examples of initial /y/ is surely accidental, but the lack of initial /r/ is systematic, as elsewhere in the ancient Anatolian languages." (identical to Melchert's statement in 1994:206).

17 Feb 2010

Apollo's Etruscan father

Lately I haven't been thinking about anything too deeply. I'm in my 'light' mode, I guess. I've updated my Etruscan dictionary to handle asterisks (ie. wildcard searches) but Actionscript is a bastardly programming language so it's not perfect yet until I get around some technical issues.

Yesterday I bumped up the number of entries to a golden 3,749 after poring over some more inscriptions and adding in more forms that I didn't knew I was lacking until I made this dictionary that searches by individual variations of words rather than merely header entries. So my applet ROCKS! In the process of adding in words, I noticed some other inscriptions and controversies. One popped up that really piqued my interest:

CII 2502: aplu tikuśne[ś] clan

We're told that this was inscribed on a statue and some think the second item might be rather tikumne[ś] since shan and mu look similar in the Etruscan alphabet. Very easy to confuse. What's interesting is what it may say: "Apollo, son to Tikumna". A comparison with Umbrian *Tikamnos Iuvios (Iguvine Tables, IIa: Tikamne Iuvie, in the dative case) floats around as well.[1]

From a mythological standpoint and given that this inscription can only read "Apollo, son of X" regardless of how we scramble the letters, it's a source of interest because it *seems* to suggest that Greek Zeus himself (and thus by association, Roman Jupiter), the father of Apollo in Greek myth, was equivalent to the Etruscan god Tecum which was written as Tecvm on the Piacenza Liver. I say *seems* because I never take what I'm served at face value; I delve deeper. I see two problems that get in the way, that is, aside from the obvious third problem that an accompanying photograph of this artifact is separated from the associated transcription, making it next to impossible to expose reading errors.

One problem here, as I've said before, is that many otherwise learned people go too far by taking mythological comparisons made by ancient authors (like that of Zeus and Jupiter) as black-and-white, all-or-nothing equations when they should be understanding these equations always as partial. In these comparisons, some specific functions or aspects of one god or another were shared between them, but surely not all. Zeus is compared to Jupiter largely because they're both heads of the pantheon and they're both symbols of the daytime sky.

Yet if I were to ask, which of these two main features was the trigger of comparison, one might weigh his leadership in the pantheon as most relevant, not his representation of sky. In all instances of the Etruscan word tin and its forms, a basic meaning of 'sun' with the derivative 'day' fits perfectly, but never 'sky'. A phrase 'during the fourth sun of Acale' suffices to convey 'during the fourth day of Acale' but not *'during the fourth sky of Acale'. Therefore, Tinia's comparison to Zeus and Jupiter as leader of the pantheon does *not* mean that Tinia must also be the sky itself as it would be in the related religions of Indo-European speaking peoples. Note that, as sun, any of his seeming allusions to 'daytime sky' remain natural but derivative.

Now the second problem: a stunted Indo-European bias in interpretations of Etruscan mythos. Failed Indo-European comparisons of yesteryear are drudged up in De Grummond's book Etruscan myth, sacred history, and legend (2006) between Tin and Odin of all things[2]. The author's mastery of this subject is provably pitiful. Etruscans were not an Indo-European speaking people or culture and their religion and rituals are squarely derived from the Near East. Another import from the Near East, I wager, was a heliocentric belief as we find in Babylon when the god Shamash, the sun, is the head of the pantheon and divination while in Ancient Egypt, we witness the prominence of their sun god, Re.[3] Even in Iliad's Troy, Apollo is the god of the Trojans. The character Chryses is a Trojan priest of the sun.

After these ideas are kept in mind, we see why those limited to Indo-European notions can't look beyond Tecum being equivalent to Jupiter-Zeus, simply because he is the only father to Apollo, and why Etruscology has been held hostage for a century by stagnant ideas. When reading Aplu, one should be far less tempted to read into his name the All-Father Odin, a simplistic and pseudo-erudite comparison since the Norse aren't even contemporaneous to the Etruscans, and more tempted to look within the native mythology by seeing in him the youthful aspect of Tinia himself, the solar head of the pantheon. And if the father of Apollo-Tinia is Tecum, this would perfectly make sense since the sky is, metaphorically speaking, the father of the sun. Even without recourse to this inscription, I believe this is all implicitly suggested by other facts anyway.

[1] Rasmussen, Public portents in republican Rome (2003), p.130 (see link).
[2] De Grummond, Etruscan myth, sacred history, and legend (2006), p.53 (see link).
[3] The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (2000) p.515: "In Akkadian literature the sun god Shamash is the god of justice and therefore frequently cast in the role of divine judge. In Egypt, Amon-Re, also the sun god, was seen as responsible for justice." (see link).

9 Feb 2010

An online Etruscan Dictionary has arrived

The programming muse has got me inspired and I whipped up a Flash program the other day to make my Etruscan database more searchable and user-friendly for people. I hate to brag but I think it might be the very first one ever online! (That's actually sort of sad considering that the web browser's been around for sixteen years now.) My dictionary is placed on the Extras page along with my Sinat and Game of Ur games. I've designed it to search one or multiple words at once.

I've briefly tested it out and seems to work fine for me so far. However, Actionscript, the computer language behind Flash, is an unpredictable bastard and likes to play games with my head all the time... so I can never be sure. There might also be a Unicode issue that could be a problem for some browsers. Anyways, hopefully it works for you all and there's always room for improvements. Tell me your experiences. Live long and prosper, friends.

7 Feb 2010

Children of Men

Today, there was a real cinematic treat on the Space Channel called Children of Men. The film stars the brooding Clive Owen together with a small but strong role by Michael Caine, acted brilliantly as always. Although Julianne Moore (as Julian) is listed on covers as a selling point, I think anyone having watched this can agree that her contribution in the film pales in comparison to the solid work of Clare-Hope Ashitey (Kee). The 2006 movie is a dystopia set in 2027. No child has been born for 18 years for reasons that scientists can't explain although out-of-control pollution is hinted as a cause. As such, humankind has less than a hundred years of existence left unless a miracle happens. It turns out that an African refugee named Kee is humanity's hope since she, just as inexplicably, is bearing child. Thus begins the dangerous journey of this expectant mother, protected by the kindness of a small band of philanthropic strangers who would sacrifice themselves for the welfare of this child.

This is one of my favourite sci-fi films of all time because, unlike most directors of the genre that resort to an over-reliance on 'futuristic' special effects to carry a plotless movie, this dystopia relies squarely on solid acting and storyline in the midst of a bleak setting of all-out civil war and opportunistic violence. The premise is all too realistic and if you're not disturbed by any of it, quite frankly, you're probably not human.

The camera tilts and turns through streets and corridors as if we the viewer are invisible participants in the horror. At one point, the camera is splattered with a victim's blood but it continues on navigating through the scene, suggesting by this subtle detail that we ourselves are stained with this future blood by our own witness. A very stark warning. Competing philosophical views (ie. fate versus randomness; atheism versus faith) are referenced but are tactfully presented without beating it over our heads as in Hollywood films. It's really a collector's movie; it's that good!

Now, to come back to the topic of linguistics, the point of my blog afterall, Kee softly sings a lullaby in an African language. I wanted to test out my online research skills and see if I could call up the name of this song, its lyrics and the exact meaning behind it. Well, I have to pat myself on my back. YAY! While I assumed at first that it was in Swahili, the sweet song is spoken in a more obscure language called . The endearing lyrics of the song[1] go perfectly with the film's bittersweet seesaw between the senseless self-ruin of the masses in the short term and the striving towards a higher purpose by a few in the long:

Kaːfo, kaːfo,
kaːfo ni moko kwɛ oɖaŋ
Don't cry, don't cry,
don't cry for someone to look in your mouth
Sika kɛ kpɔ yɛ oɖanA gold nugget is in your mouth
Kaːfo ni moko kwɛ oɖaŋDon't cry for someone to look in your mouth[2]

[1] Agawu, Representing African music: Postcolonial notes, queries, positions (2003), p.99 (see link).
[2] Agawu explains the nature of the lyrics in the aforementioned reference: "Mother speaks to child, trying to dissuade him from crying. There is a gold nugget in your mouth; if you cry, people will see it and want to possess it because it is precious. So hide it by closing your mouth, by not crying."

2 Feb 2010

Etruscan citynames

I've been meaning to get to work on this for some time but I've finally slapped together a map labelled with the names of Etruscan cities as the Etruscan themselves would have called them based on what I have in my database. All the names have been standardized to Old Etruscan phonotactics, so I write, for example, Pupuluna instead of the later variant Fufluna. It's not my final draft but it'll do for now. Perhaps others have suggestions on what else I might include? Bon apétit.