26 Oct 2010

The Etruscan month-name Celi in the Liber Linteus

Eslem zaθrumiś Acale is a direct calendar reference at LL 6.xvii of the Liber Linteus, the infamous "mummy text". We can easily translate it as "on the 18th of Acalva". Likewise at LL 12.x, θunem cialχuś Masn is translated as "on the 29th of Masan". Both month-names are attested in other documents (note the Latin gloss Aclus, equated with June, and the reference to the month of Masan in the Pyrgi Tablets). Both these examples show the same word order mirroring that of Modern French with the date preceding the month-name. The date number is declined in the directive case suffix, -is, referencing an instantaneous point in time.

Now let's look at LL 8.xix, celi huθis zathrumis, which is commonly translated as "on the 26th of (the month of) Celi", as has been done by both Jean Turfa and Larissa Bonfante[1]. Putting aside the fact that huθ means 'four', not 'six', many Etruscanists depend too much on the Latin gloss Celius, said to be equivalent to September (TLE 824). They've become blindly convinced that if celi should be found next to a number, it must be a month reference even though this month-name is attested nowhere else. Even if this were a month-name, why does it precede the date, in contradiction to the other confirmed calendrical phrases in the same text?

Regardless of whether there was a month-name *Celi in Etruscan, there is a reason to reject the view that celi in the Liber Linteus meant anything other than 'before/upon the earth' with locative case marker -i. That major reason is Occam's Razor and the avoidance of unnecessary assumption. We don't need to evaluate celi as a month-name in any of these instances but we do need to evaluate it as a form of 'earth' in at least the majority of instances in this and in all other artifacts.

In the Liber Linteus itself, this alleged month-name is strangely found a lot beside the word suθ 'tomb' (cf. LL 9.xviii). If we can agree that celi is referring to 'earth' here then celi suθ sensibly means 'before/upon the tomb earth'. The form cel-θi-m 'and in the earth' is already found at LL 6.xviii matching cel-ti in TCort B.iii. This is all in perfect alignment with the noun stem present in cels in TLE 368 and 625. It's certain that none of these last examples can sensibly refer to a month *Celi. They strictly point to 'earth' and so there is simply no methodical reason to continue insisting on the opposite value.

So celi suθ is surely 'before/upon the tomb earth', celi pen equals 'on the earth below' in LL 11.ii (pen = 'below' and ce-pen 'here below') and celi huθis zathrumis must instead mean 'upon the earth on the 24th'. The opening phrase is followed by the offering of gifts to Neptune that are to be dedicated on this day. This sounds a lot like the Roman festival of Neptunalia but this event is thought to have been celebrated on July 23rd. The date number is curiously one day off.

[1] Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction (2002), p.183 & Harvey/Schultz, Religion in republican Italy (2006), p.76 (see link).

23 Oct 2010

To conceal a dead tongue

As already suggested in the works of those like Larissa & Giuliano Bonfante, the meaning of celu or cel as 'earth, ground' is well-founded. In more detail, we find calu in Old Etruscan and due to the regular raising of low a to mid e before resonants, the root eventually evolved to Late Etruscan cel(u)- which is why Liber Linteus shows locative forms like cel-i 'upon earth' (< *calv-i) and cel-θi 'in earth' (< *calv-i=θi). This word is usually however confused with the gloss Celius which was claimed centuries ago as a month in the Etruscan calendar.

Simultaneously, Indo-Europeanists have reconstructed a root *ḱel-/*kel- meaning 'to conceal, to hide' and since Indo-Europeanists seldom if ever dabble in the Etruscan language, as I hope to explain, there is a subtle logic conflict here. Ultimately I believe that this IE root may be yet another misidentification of a non-IE verb.

It's striking that Etruscan calu can so readily mean '(that which is) covered' by supposing an Etruscan verb root *cal- 'to cover' plus the transitive participle ending -u. This idle assumption isn't substantial in itself, of course, but it is when all direct evidence of the competing Indo-European root just so happens to be restricted to Europe.

The comparanda for PIE *ḱel-/*kel- has been from Germanic (*haljō- 'underworld' and *haljanan 'to hide') and Latin (cēlāre 'to conceal, hide, cover'). Some scholars will add Greek καλύπτω 'to cover, to hide' yet as Robert Beekes notes, the word is unanalysable in IE terms and shows a non-IE suffix *-u[p/b]- (cf. καλύβη 'hut, cabin'). It should also be asked why the Greek term should contain *a in its root. Some push a little too far, implicating "Indian šaras- 'skin over milk'"[1] (which I'm having trouble verifying) in an apparent try to capitalize at once on r/l-alternation, satemization and shifting semantics to build an even flimsier house of cards. This strategy is far too easy and unconvincing. Adams and Mallory simply label it "WC" (West Central)[2] which is a quiet way of admitting that the evidence is restricted to Europe and that they can't validate it as a genuine Indo-European root. All in all, while the root has become part of accepted Indo-European vocabulary, it nonetheless appears to be weakly justified.

This is where it may be wiser to look to Proto-Aegean to explain why the root is restricted to the west and why Etruscan looks in all appearance to be built on the so-called "Indo-European" root even though Etruscan isn't an Indo-European language. If we propose Proto-Aegean *kal- 'to cover over', then Greek καλύπτω and καλύβη is sourceable to a derivative *kalúpa. It's certainly better already compared to racking our brains wondering why the odd a-vocalism and suffix conflicts with IE grammar and with other identified cognate forms to the west. Likewise, the resultant Etrusco-Rhaetic transitive verb *kal can then explain the source of the Etruscan 'earth' word (perhaps also reflected in Rhaetic as χelθi 'in the earth'(?) in Schum SZ 12) while supplying a source for both Latin cēlāre and a Pre-Proto-Germanic *kal- whose initial plosive shifted to *h by Grimm's Law sometime after 1000 BCE. As with so many of these other curious Etrusco-Germanic correspondences, a language intermediary (Venetic *kal- ?) is plausible.

[1] Szemerényi, Scripta minora: Selected essays in Indo-European, Greek, and Latin, vol 63, part 4 (1991), p.2042 (see link).
[2] Mallory and Adams, The Oxford introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European world (2006), p.492 (see link).

21 Oct 2010

An old children's tale for the modern era

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20 Oct 2010

Indo-Aegean kinship terms

Coincidental to the previously mentioned *pR-reduction in Etruscan, I've long noticed that if the Etruscan word for 'brother' which is generally accepted to be ruva (nb. inscription TLE 232) were instead *pruva, it could relate nicely to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) equivalent *bʰráhter-. Of course it's ample speculation but I'd like to explore a possible set of Indo-Aegean kinship terms because, for anyone really knows, there may be some gold in that river of speculation.

Remember that I reason that the Indo-European language family is quite distinct from the Aegean language family but that nonetheless an ultimate pre-Neolithic relationship exists between them. I estimate that these two families would have diverged at most 9000 years ago. To reconstruct Proto-Indo-Aegean accurately, we need to first to reconstruct pre-stages of both Indo-European and Aegean first. This is an unending series of refinements, to be sure.

Reconstructing Pre-Indo-European kinship terms

Internal reconstruction shows that PIE's kinship terms are mostly unanalysable save for their oft-employed kinship suffix *-hter-. I sense that these kinship terms are largely preserved from prehistoric times but that their shared characteristic suffix has been added quite recently in PIE's development by false segmentation and subsequent analogy from the only truly analyzable term in this set, *ph₂tér- 'father; provider' (< *peh₂- 'to feed, provide' plus actor suffix *-tér-). If *ph₂tér- were a like replacement for a reduplicated nursery term, *pápa-, pre-existing in the language then *máh₂ter- could easily have been coined by analogy to replace earlier *máma-. In turn, our analysis of PIE *bʰráhter- and *dʰugh₂ter- suggest that the inherited stems from the earliest recoverable period are *bʰrah- and *dʰug-. We should consider that they once existed in isolation without the suffix.

Thus, I choose to reconstruct earlier Mid Indo-European nominative case forms *baráhʷa-sa and *déug̰a-sa since Syncope operates in the earliest part of the Late IE period, resulting in *brāu-z and *deug̰-z . Note that at this stage, the feminine is indistinguishable from the masculine since both are just subsets of a common animate gender. Then we can see how original *brau- plus kinship suffix *-xter- could be mashed together as *brá-xter-, shaped in both vocalism and accent position by analogy with 'mother', while *deug̰- adopts the zerograde and accent placement seen in 'father' to result in *dug̰-xtér- (and then due to regressive spread of uvularity from *x: *duɢ-xtér-).

Brother to mother as daughter to father. They say blood is thicker than water afterall, so why not also their associated labels?

Reconstructing Aegean kinship terms

On to the Aegean family, Etruscan ruva 'brother' and seχ 'daughter' might temptingly be derived from Proto-Cyprian *pruwa and *sikʰ with little hyperbole, in turn from Aegean *parówa 'brother' and *síka 'daughter'. The aforementioned Etrusco-Rhaetic *pR-reduction would take care of the missing *p in the first term and Cyprian Syncope follows my currently prescribed rules. The avoidance of word-final vowel loss in *parówa is understandable when compared with the expected Cyprian result, **pruw, which proves to be an awkward shape even by the phonotactic rules of later Etruscan (ie. word-final *-uv is entirely unevidenced in Etruscan as far as I know). I have yet to confirm these two kinship terms in Minoan but I would expect they'd be identical to these Aegean protowords unless I've erred in my extrapolation.

The Proto-Aegean words for 'father' and 'mother' are based on stronger evidence. Minoan
a-ta-i is attested consistently on multiple libation tables and I do believe it's referring to their great Mother Goddess. The father term, *ápa, was likely in Minoan vocabulary as well, at least if we are to analyse Hittite god Appaliunas in Aegean terms: *ápa 'father' (Etruscan apa) and *launa 'leonine; of lion(s)' (Etruscan lev 'lion, lioness'). So I feel pretty secure in suggesting Aegean *ápa 'father' and *átai 'mother'. This results in Proto-Cyprian *apa 'father' (resisting syncope as a nursery term) and *ati which spawns identical Etruscan terms.

Are there Indo-Aegean kinship terms here? What can we conclude?

If we indulge further and compare our internally reconstructed terms in both language groups, the Mid IE kinship package (*pápa- 'father', *baráhʷa- 'brother' and *déug̰a- 'daughter') start to bear strong similarities to the Aegean set (*ápa 'father', *parówa 'brother' and *síka 'daughter'). We might assume that 'mother' has been replaced in Aegean and that Pre-Aegean *d, having first become *t by systematic devoicing of all inherited stops, lenites to *s before a front vowel.

For now, there's little to conclude with certainty other than that a relationship between Indo-European and Aegean kinship terms is within a realm of plausibility. However, this mental exercise opens our minds to new possibilities to investigate. Can we find other examples of Aegean palatalization in other shared words? Why would the word for 'mother' be replaced in Aegean and where does *atai come from? If correct, are there social or cultural implications to this kinship replacement? Or is there a simpler explanation for these similarities?

As always, more information is needed and these further questions will help confirm or reject what are for now admittedly shallow hunches. Open brainstorming like this however is still a constructive process, even when all we have is hunches... especially when all we have is hunches.

(04 Nov 2010)
I decided to add something to "[...] while *deug̰- adopts the zerograde and accent placement seen in 'father' to result in *dug̰-xtér-." In light of commenter input, I felt the need to elaborate that *dug̰-xtér- becomes *duɢ-xtér- by assimilation of the velar stop by uvular laryngeal *x. (See comments below.) In traditional notation, by this assimilation, an unevidenced palatal is therefore avoided.

17 Oct 2010

The time-limit meme

Memiyawanzi recently quotes Jerzy Kuryłowicz from page 58 of The inflectional categories of Indo-European (1964): "One cannot reconstruct ad infinitum". No further commentary was added and so this hanging quote lured me to comment. Perhaps I read more into this than most but I notice a universe of issues in this deceptively simple quote. I'm just itching to elaborate.

Putting the quote in context

This quote showcases a certain irrational belief that has developed in modern comparative linguistics. From this belief arose a hypocritical attitude by many IEists towards more long-range theorists like Nostraticists. The reconstructions of long-range theorists deserve close criticism but it must be for the right reasons, otherwise we should dismount from our high-horse failing good methodology.

To avoid misinterpretation, we have to first understand that Kuryłowicz's above quote is followed by "We must be satisfied with stages bordering historical reality."[1] and we can see that he really is making a strong assertion about the existence of a definable time limit (ie. "historical reality") beyond which comparative reconstruction magically becomes useless. Neither the word "bordering" nor "historical reality" is of any informative value to the reader and nonetheless can't be rationally proven even if accurately defined. Heeding this advice, arbitrary limits would shift depending on the different possible meanings each individual might give to this vague notion.

Why this principle is irrational

Potential knowledge is infinite and it can be safely said that Kuryłowicz's mind, brilliant as it was, was not. So it should be clear here why it's invalid to make bold claims about what we may or may not know in the infinite span of future time. One might call it the Oracle Fallacy. We may say that living to 400 years old will always be impossible, for example, but such predictions are drawn out of thin air. Kuryłowicz's statement simply has no noteworthy informative value, no matter how we choose to interpret it.

If we can't interpret it in a logical way, it's doomed to be misinterpreted and this is precisely what has happened.

Everybody plays the meme game

Alexis Manaster Ramer sees past these fallacies in his article "Some uses and abuses of Mathematics in Linguistics" (1999) where he made a tragic list of otherwise educated linguists making arbitrary assertions about a temporal bound to valid reconstruction. Kleiner, Lewin and Nichols - all guilty of the same statements devoid of logical proof. He notes how Kleiner insists 10 000 years before present is the upper limit of valid reconstruction while Nichols waffles between 7000, 8000 and 10 000 BP. As we can see, not only are these empty opinions but they might even be said to stray from Kuryłowicz' "border of historical reality". Many would not agree that 10 000 BP is anywhere near the border of "historical reality" since the first attested writing goes back merely to approximately 3200 BCE (ie. circa 5200 BP).

The fear that holds us all back

A common fear seems to be that by dismissing this arbitrary time limit for comparative reconstruction, it now gives carte blanche to any loon with multiple pocket dictionaries and a dream to reconstruct what they like. However, Occam's Razor is already limiting such far-flung reconstructions, so this bogus time limit rule of Kuryłowicz is not just baseless but completely unnecessary.

A much-maligned theory like Proto-World fails not because it's a theory on an exceedingly old stage of human language well beyond "historical reality" (however that may be defined) but because the theory is a ridiculous lump of unverified and currently unverifiable assumptions that pales in comparison to less extravagant theories available. Occam's Razor alone beats the pulp out of these extravagant claims so such concerns are unwarranted.

The hypocrisy

I've read many a famed Indo-Europeanist talk a good game about methodology and will often attack more long-range theories like Proto-Nostratic because they are less secure in their argumentation. This is of course inevitably true because the further back in time one investigates, the more difficult it tends to be to verify etymological claims.

However, as my previous blog entries like Sowing wild oats and plowing the fields reveal, many dubious roots have been reconstructed in the name of Proto-Indo-European. So it's conversely not necessarily true that the validity of a reconstruction increases the closer it lies to the present. Adams and Mallory fill their books with a large amount of shaky roots based on unacceptably sparse or geographically biased cognate sets. If these authors need to especially label a root "Western IE" in distinction to PIE proper, one must wonder what methodological standards, if any, guide their decisions. How are these standards nobler than those of the more self-indulgent Nostraticists who have published?

A final plea to reason

The healthier way to reason is simply to evaluate each claim based directly on the application of Logic itself, not secondhand through unverified mantras. It takes more effort to painstakingly reason things through for oneself instead of somnulently following thoughtless bureaucratic policies set up by others.

[1] Schmalstieg, Indo-European linguistics: A new synthesis (1980), p.127 (see link).

14 Oct 2010

Missing Etruscan onsets

This time, a much shorter post about the implications of Cyprian Syncope on Etruscan and about gaps in the expected available onset possibilities. If I've defined this Pre-Etruscan syncope properly, then it's curious that Etruscan lacks some expected clusters that could not have been reason to trigger stress shift to the first syllable. As I said before, wholesale onset deletion is unlikely to have happened to deal with impending invalid clusters since this would surely overload the vocabulary with a deluge of monosyllabic homophones which would in turn undoubtedly trigger tonogenesis like in Chinese in order to compensate with this imagined "lexical condensation". (But there's no evidence for tones in Etruscan so we aren't going there.)

I now have 1800 entries with over 4300 word forms in my database so I expect to find ample stuff when I search for words in Etruscan starting with pr-. Yet what does my simple search yield? I have only 11 headings starting with this onset! Six of them are names of either Italic or Greek origin (Prastina, Prisina, Priiamne, Prumaθe, Prumaθina and Prusilna). Of the remaining words (besides the one mystery term prezu I have trouble assigning a value and origin to), pruχu 'pitcher', pruχuna 'of the pitcher', prumaθś 'great-grandson' and prunta ~ frunta 'augur of lightning') are all Greek or Latin loanwords (cf. πρόχους, pronepos and βροντή). This same pattern happens when I search for pl- , seeing likewise only 11 terms consisting of many names and few words, all non-native terms. Why should this be so? What's so exotic about this onset cluster in a language with ample terms starting with #tr or #sr?!

We might invent a rule that *pR- (R = resonant) was somehow avoided in Proto-Cyprian by its aforementioned stress shift rule while *tR- and *sR- were allowed but I wince at the irregularity in that. Yet if the cluster survived into the post-Cyprian era, it suggests one possible thing: word-initial clusters of the form *pR were regularly simplified in Pre-Etruscan by deleting *p. I must remind myself to investigate this pattern further.

15 Oct 2010: I changed "Yet if the cluster survived into the post-Cyprian era, it suggests one thing" to something less absolute: "Yet if the cluster survived into the post-Cyprian era, it suggests one possible thing". Afterall we must rationally acknowledge other logical possibilities that may not be considered such as, perhaps, a general softening of *pR to *fR (although I have only five headings thus far in #fR making that particular idea impractical).

11 Oct 2010

Aegean phonotactics and more about Cyprian Syncope

After I posted Adapting the rule of Cyprian Syncope, Tropylium strove hard to paint it as linguistically unnatural or unoptimal while pushing some alternatives that I don't believe he researched. Being stubborn and fierce about my linguistics, I challenge his reasons for objection. Disbelief is no less in need of firm basis than belief. Let's quickly go over my theory some more to see why it's indeed natural, or at least more natural than anything I've seen anyone come up with.

Since stress accent must fall on one of the first two syllables in Aegean (and in later Minoan) we might say that accent placement is left-handed. By dividing the Aegean protoword into feet of two syllables consisting of trochees (or strong followed by weak syllables), then we see how Cyprian consistently erodes weak syllables towards the left and how this explains Etruscan's later shape. Let's simply make up some example forms to illustrate my theory at work, without being obstructed for now by the separate issue of the validity of any of my reconstructions:

Aegean Cyprian
[ˈai . na . ˌtʰo]
( ¯ ˘ | ¯ )

[ˈai. na . tʰu]
( ¯ ˘ | ¯)

[ˈta . kˤa . ˌli . mi]
( ¯ ˘ | ¯ ˘ )

[ˈtak . lim]
( ¯ ˘ )

[ˈka . pa . ˌri]
( ¯ ˘ | ¯ )

[ˈkap . ri]
( ¯ ˘ )

[sa . ˈro . pa]
( ˘ | ¯ ˘ )

( ¯ )

In the above examples, the weak syllables all nicely squish into a previous syllable except for the first example whose diphthong blocks syncope (as per my previous post on this). The next example shows why stress shift is not just a plausible phonotactic-correcting strategy, but possibly the most optimal one to avoid unacceptable onsets, given the specific qualities of this protolanguage.

[ta . 'ki . ru]
( ˘ | ¯ ˘ )

['tak . ru]
( ¯ ˘ )

Without shift, **takíru becomes Cyprian **tkir yet this disobeys constraints on onset clusters and unacceptably overloads the inherited and highly strict rules of syllabic structure. Or succinctly: "(Too much) change is scary." Certainly it takes more than a few generations before a Japanese-like language turns into a Kartvelian-like one, そうですか?

Since stop+stop sequences are simply not found in Etruscan or related languages, some rule or rules must have repaired or avoided these logically inevitable conflicts. Simple onset deletion is a common cluster-fighting strategy in world languages and this would produce **kir, although this would also surely create a tsunami of homophones! (That is, we'd see that a long list of terms like **takíru, **kʰakíra, **pakíri, etc. had all merged to **kir. Surely not.) Seeing it from this angle, onset deletion doesn't pass muster.

Lenition of the offending onset is barely a better strategy to avoid conflict in this respect because similar issues resurface. While **takíru could always plausibly yield **skír if lenition were so, what about a word like **pakíri which couldn't possibly produce **fkír in Etruscan! We might appeal to a mixture of lenition and onset deletion, I suppose, but now we're already multiplying hypotheses and assuming much too much.

By contrast, accent shift is in this case far more natural than wholesale onset deletion or piecemeal lenition. It also offers some added benefits besides its simplicity, obviously one of them being avoidance of homophony if nothing else. Also since the stress was already largely on the first syllable, this leftward stress shift would only help to pin an occasionally wandering accent permanently onto the first syllable (as in Proto-Germanic).

So accent regularization, solving cluster conflicts, preserving inherited consonantism, and avoiding troublesome homophony are a lot of things this strategy of simple stress accent shift has to offer that make it a win-win over other ideas pushed by Tropylium in my commentbox. Thus **takíru becomes Cyprian **tákru (not **tkir, **kir, or **zkir).

8 Oct 2010

I want my Pre-Greek back!

I do fear that Beekes' Greek etymological dictionary is no longer accessible online. Every link cached by Google offers an ugly server response now: "Sorry, the server may be busy: please try your request later!" Yet regrettably for me, "later" never comes and "sorry" is inadequate to describe the unnatural loss I feel for yet one more valuable linguistic resource gone asunder.

Alas, to think, I was beginning to believe in academic altruism again. Perhaps this is just a horrible dream and I'll wake up soon.

4 Oct 2010

Vetch and pea sail to Italy

There are many things to discuss lately. For example, on Phoenix's blog, Proto-Indo-European reduplication is revisited and I might have a few more thoughts on this. However, for now I'll complete the short thread concerning my previous suggestion of Aegean roots for 'pulse' and 'vetch', this time slightly modified to *árapu (> Minoan *árapu > Gk ὄροβος 'bitter vetch') and derivative *árapinta (> Minoan *arápinta > Gk ἐρέβινθος 'chick-pea').

What I wanted to share is that there are further interesting comparanda apparently isolated in Western Europe that many other scholars also believe are indicative of some sort of substrate, although no one is very specific about its transmission. Of course, as always, it's this vagueness that drives me nuts, so let's explore this more:
  • Latin ervum 'pulse, bitter vetch'
  • Germanic *arwītō 'pea' (hence OHG arawiz)
As anyone can see, it's relationship to Gk ἐρέβινθος is clear. Yet trying to explain this away with Indo-European roots isn't the solution here. Some Indoeuropeanists have nonetheless attempted to reconstruct some ridiculous roots like (*)*orgʷindʰ- or (*)*h₃ergʷindʰ, for example, which fails to address the incoherence of Germanic *-w- beside Greek -b-, not to mention the erratic vocalism (ie. Germanic *ar- vs. Greek er-)! Surely a substrate word must be at work here, not an inherited Indo-European root with a whack-load of irregular sound changes.

Then there's also Latin arbōs ~ arbor 'tree'. According to the OED, Latin arbōs is of "unknown origin". As usual, some obsessive Indoeuropeanists have attempted to explain this word away as yet another IE root (eg. Julius Pokorny and *erəd- 'to grow'). These numerous "Western IE" roots fail to convince and it's interesting that arbōs is localized purely within the Italic branch. For that matter, what other Italic cognates exist alongside this Latin term, if any?

I'm also interested in the history of Latin herba 'grass'. If we include this and arbōs as part of the substrate evidence, could the meaning of this underlying root be more general such as 'sprout', I wonder. I'll have to look further and see what other ideas have been published on these interesting words.

If we trek onward and theorize an Etrusco-Rhaetic cognate in Italy, and given my latest rules of sound correspondence, we should then expect *arpu 'sprout', which would explain both ervum and arbōs in Latin, and *arpintʰ 'pea', which would explain Germanic *arwītō (perhaps via a Venetic intermediary, *arwi(n)ton).