1 Jun 2010

Fat porkers get sacrificed

Perhaps I should clarify the title of this post. By "porker", I refer to its traditional meaning of "fattened young pig" and not to its colloquial use for corpulent persons, although it's always fun to be provocative. Lately I've concentrated my efforts at sniffing out the etymology of Etruscan zuśle in the absence of decent answers elsewhere. I believe I've come up with a new and more precise definition of the term and a possible origin, although it's not without some issues to still iron out.

To start with, I want to make clear that I have a precise methodology I follow. First and foremost I assess the grammatical context of the word. Our analyses mean absolutely nothing without an ability to break a text down into its constituent parts. We need an evolvable grammatical model that we test and retest as well. Structure is everything. In the texts in question, zuśle is clearly a countable noun (eg. huθ zusle = 'four zusle') and is often lumped together with other known offerings (zusleve faśei-c farθan = '(they) brought forth zusles and cake'). We can only sensibly explore etymology once we've done this first step otherwise we'll lose ourselves in a duststorm of unpruned possibilities.

The word is found amply in the Liber Linteus and also shows up in a second artifact, the Tabula Capuana. We find both the singular form, zuśle, and its plural, zuśleva. Going by the ś, we can trace zuśle back to an earliest form with full vocalism, *zusile. Most Etruscanists, like Cristofani and Pallottino, seem to have arrived at a vague overall meaning of "sacrificial animal"[1] but what type is not usually said. Fred Woudhuizen together with Jan Best suggests an idle comparison with Indo-European *suHs 'pig' but it's hard to take this at face value when his agenda is to classify Etruscan under the Anatolian branch of Indo-European and which, to be brief, uncovers the authors' gross lack of understanding of both language groups[2].

Still, a borrowing is not impossible and there was something about a connection to an Indo-European derivative of *suHs that, for some reason, seemed most alluring to me to explain this word. Perhaps it's the final -e that seems un-Etruscan to me or the odd first syllable zus-. Whatever the case, what we need is to state things with precision instead of superficial word-look-alike games. So I pursued this idea to its fullest extent until I found something interesting that really fits the context as we find it in the Liber Linteus and Tabula Capuana.

In Greek, there is the phrase σῦς σίαλος 'fattened pig'. This could reasonably be borrowed into Proto-Etruscan as *zusi(a)le (via the vocative case). If the -a- was once present in the loanword, it would be omitted quickly in an unstressed syllable, particularly so because of Etruscan's strong stress accent on the primary syllable. The -i- neighbouring s also would motivate the later palatalization of the sibilant to ś.

The only last thing to explain is how we get z- // out of Greek s-! And that's a stumper so far. Although, it's interesting to note that σίαλος is traced back as far as Mycenaean *síalos (si-a₂-ro) and σῦς may be equally ancient. Note that ὗς is the normal reflex of PIE *suHs making the variant σῦς an etymological puzzle in itself. We often find Greek s- as a sibilantized product of former *t- before a labial segment (eg. PIE *tu > Gk σύ 'you')[3]. Can we perhaps explain this by hypothesizing a Mycenaean antecedent of σῦς σίαλος, pronounced with a word-initial affricate *z-, before being transfered to Proto-Cyprian (ie. a pre-Etruscan stage in the late 2nd millennium BCE)? It's very tempting.

[1] Pallottino, The Etruscans (1975), pp.223-224 (see link); Cristofani, Etruschi: Una nuova immagine (2000), p.211 (see link): "[...] arc. e rec. zusleva da zusle (tipo di offerta sacrificiale); [...]"; Woodard, The ancient languages of Europe (2008), p.144 (see link).
[2] In the preface of Best/Woudhuizen, Lost languages from the Mediterranean (1989) (see link): "In Chapter Four a Lemnian and Etruscan text are placed in their proper Luwian language-family." Egad.
[3] Woodard, The ancient languages of Europe (2008), p.58 (see link): "Beyond the aforementioned early fricative reflexes of stops and the ubiquitious dental sibilant /s/, there is orthographic evidence of additional sibilant consonants occuring dialectally. In the alphabets of several Greek cities of Anatolia, there occurs a character Ͳ used to spell the common reflex of Proto-Greek *k⁽ʷ⁾ʰ⁾y, *t⁽ʰ⁾ + y and *tw."; At least concerning medial positions, Bailey notes in Essays on time-based linguistic analysis (1996), p. 302, fn.4 (see link): "The [tšː] that one might expect in Attic comes from *tw (τϝ) as well as from *ky [cy]; this is found in Attic, Boeotian, Cretan, and some Euboean lects, while other lects (especially Ionic and Doric) had already moved on to σσ [šː]."

1 comment:

  1. That's a very nice idea, works well. Makes you wonder where the [s] in Greek came from though. One mystery solved by finding another mystery. Enigmatic.