24 Jan 2014

The history of the translation of Etruscan cvil

I've been not only logging in my translations of each word into my Etruscan database but also the history of each word's translations by various authors. Sometimes there is little consensus in what a word means, sometimes there is unanimity across the board. I even record translations offered by Albanian-obsessed Zachary Mayani because even though I may feel he is of zero worth in Etruscan translation, I may run into those influenced by such authors and can quickly determine the quality of their sources.

Recently looking into the word cvil, I noticed a unanimous and overconfident translation of "gift" across authors despite the handful of instances of this word. What's interesting is that the earliest translation of the word I can find so far goes back to Robert Ellis in his 1861 work Armenian Origin of the Etruscans. In it, he asserts that the word means "gift" but relates it directly to Armenian khilay 'gift' (see Ellis. Armenian Origin of the Etruscans [1861], p.123). Of course, as of 2014, we should know that Etruscan is not related to Armenian any more than it is related to Albanian or some other Indo-European language. Etruscan is quite different.

Was Ellis's Armenian-influenced translation the unfortunate source behind the translations from more modern Etruscanists like Bonfante, De Grummond or Jannot who continue to translate cvil 'gift'? Shouldn't we be more critical?

Aside from Ellis's suspicion that the name Thanacvil contains the same word, the only other instances of cvil are reflected in the phrase Tins cvil which he then translates as "gift of Tinia". I've chosen to stray away from this translation and prefer to understand Tins cvil not as its function but as its title, as an epithet meaning "The eye of Tinia", similar in meaning to the Egyptian "eye of Ra", referencing the power of the sun. Indeed Tins cvil is found on the Etruscan Chimera, a piece that symbolizes the whole year, sporting three heads each referring to the three seasons of the classical year.


  1. Dear Glen Gordon,

    This website, http://grzegorj.private.pl/lingwen/afil.html ,shows a genealogy scheme for languages, which you proposed. Where can I get more information about it?

    Thank you!

  2. Perhaps Allan Bomhard's Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis (1996) will interest you.

  3. This book is really hard to find. But he made his latest book available for free (2014) a few weeks ago, since his second last was too expensive and because of this was hardly sold (2008).

    But, indeed, I asked him for nodes above Nostratic, and he said he didn't have anything to say for sure what to say since it was much beyond his specialty.

    I also asked someone from Moscow school, and he said they were revising dates and such, so he couldn't answer much. My question, in this case, was regarding the low difference from proto Nostratic and proto Borean (500 years only!)

    So, I rather ask you. I was trying to infer how could so many language have a so strict linguistic bottleneck, even considering the ice age. What kind of invention could make a so much stronger influence, even before the appearance of agriculture?

    I was looking for a reason, and it seems that all Eurasia was covered in a maze of rivers and lakes during the last glacial maximum. But, during the Heinrich event 1, the climate turned out extremely colder. And basically all peoples retracted to warmer refuges. The Salutrean, according to carbon dating, were finished by this event.

    So, my take on this it is that Siberian people instead descended to Europe and crossed the ocean. All this by boat, perhaps during summer. Mind that these people were already sea faring by the begining of this period since there were enormous lakes within Siberia and even perhaps within the actual deserts of China.

    The key invention of these people was the geometric flint, generating, after theis cold period, the warmer Bølling-Allerød, the Geometric Kebaran (whose interaction might had yield the "European" genes) and the Clovis point. Note that this happened 20,000 years ago.

  4. I found the book online just by looking up the title in Google. It's readable from Academia.edu.

  5. It was not anywhere a few years ago, in 2008. Anyway, back then, he said that didn't reflect his most up to date views and that I should take a look at his new book, anyway. He sent me a preprint of it. Now, he has a new book freely available book to download.

    But, that doesn't answer any of what I was posted above.

  6. His new book can be found here:


  7. Replies
    1. My tree isn't much different from what Bomhard has provided in his aforementioned book. I only add more detail by positing that Etruscan, under the family "Tyrrhenian" (which I now call "Aegean"), is still related to Proto-Indo-European because of some of the common words and cases that Bomhard had mentioned (eg. Etr ca = PIE *ko- "this", ta <=> *to- "that", mini "me" <=> PIE *mene "mine", -n [deictic accusative] <=> *-m [animate accusative]). Some of the claims made by Bomhard about Etruscan in Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis is not true (eg. math cannot mean "honey") and there is no archaic genitive in -n as he claims. So far I believe the Aegean family separated from Indo-European sometime during the Neolithic (say 8000 - 5000 BCE).

  8. I am sorry for posting too much, but what I seeking is that I think your tree is very logical, at least it fits very well my migrations ideas. My interest is more to understand Dene-Caucasian than Nostratic.


    The reconstructions make no sense, unless you split what you call T-Group much apart then the Sino-Dene. If you do not do that, it's like you had to teleport people, based on what I've seen on late paleolithic.

    Also, what I mentioned as the invention of the geometric flint, would explain the early division between what you define Dene Caucasian and the rest. I cannot think of other explanation that can override linguistically the already tiny populations elsewhere. Maybe the dog domestication? But I am not sure of that.

  9. I am sorry about the confusion, but I am interested in the nodes above Nostratic. Specifially, Dene-Caucasian and Amerindian (and Borean). Bomhard, as I told, is not a specialist on that, so, he didn't have what to answer me. Nostratic is just basal. This is what I am interested.

    The people from moscow school are entangled with dating the nodes and changing it, but they haven't published.

  10. There's little to say about such a long time back and Bomhard, and I, cannot tell you anything substantial. We can make educated guesses but nothing more.

    I don't have the foggiest idea what you're trying to say by "If you do not do that, it's like you had to teleport people". What is your question exactly? I also don't understand what facts can object to a T-Group. Just to be clear, I'm opposed to Starostin's "North Caucasian" because I feel that Proto-Abkaz-Adhyghe (NWC) and Proto-Nakh-Dagestanian (NEC) are nothing alike at all.

  11. If you see their reconstruction of Sino Caucasian and North Causasian, you will notice that these are nearly identical. Worse, if you include Basque in that. So, there's a small time spam to put such divergent groups in so far away parts, without any technology or innovation to accomplish that, by diffusion or whatever, and not much divergence in vocabulary.

    This is why I talked about teleportation. And I am not objecting a T-Group, on the contrary, I am supporting it, since it puts the language variability with time/distance in a more regular way, like with Amerind nodes.

  12. As I already said, I'm against North Caucasian. Starostin's work looks like whimsical gibberish to me so I can't help you with that. I restate that I think North-West and North-East Caucasian are quite separate families and so does the status quo. Too different to be reconciled into a cheap mash called North Caucasian.

  13. Thanks. That, you've already explained me, and I put your chart as my wallpaper. I will keep looking at it to have more ideas. But, why did you arrenged the tree like that? Why not, say, Amerind under Dene-Caucasian, instead of being a sister to Asiatic. which seem a group pretty much to the south, and which was a likely to have a more welcome weather than the extremely harsh north?

    BTW, why cluster all that with your DeneCaucasian? Do you have evidence, linguistically, or otherwise techno-cultural, which a proto DeneCaucasian could overcome countless other lost languages?

  14. "Why not, say, Amerind under Dene-Caucasian, instead of being a sister to Asiatic."

    Or rather, why *would* I? You tell me.

    1. Paraphrasing my wife's shrink "I think you had to many bad encounters!" :) No! I am not really here to an opinionated mouth match. I come here bare handed :).

      I do not believe pre neolithic nomadic people were lacking in skill. I think they were could be just as skilled to the point cross oceans like the Micronesian. I told you above that Siberians from the Ice age were likely to be sea faring given that during the Ice Age Maximum pretty much all Eurasia as connected by a maze of huge lakes and rivers, from Baikal to Ireland. My idea, that I've told you, it is that the Heinrich event 1 pushed south the peoples from Europe (and finished the Salutreans), and forced many Siberians to go West and cross the Atlantic.

      This Heinrich event 1 was too cold, lasting 1500 years, being the last 1000 the coldest. It potentially add to the Glaciers of Siberia, but not so much of North America.

      I'd post a west migration rather than east since there was material conditions to continuously navigate and fishing, whereas to the East, to Alaska, there was a large patch of drier lands. Alaska itself was warmer and could more easily provide food in terms of big game.

      But I see your point. And independently of the above, something else bothers me. It is just that I'd want to see why this language was able to "conquer" places of the world, save the ones that in the few lasting tropical places of the time, like in Indonesia or Central Africa (possibly ancestors of Khoisan). I can only think of a technological advance that provided the capability of easy survival. Was it the dog? Was it a geometrical flint? Or something else?

  15. "Do you have evidence, linguistically, or otherwise techno-cultural, which a proto DeneCaucasian could overcome countless other lost languages?"

    Before this becomes into an opinionated shouting match, no one has "proof" substantial enough to make a decisive answer. My tree is simply based on my own educated hunches knowing what I know in general of these languages. I place Dene-Caucasian to the environs of Mongolia where crossing over by land to North America was possible during the Ice Age. Even beforehand though, boats could enable travel to the coastal islands. Remember that Australian aborigines managed to get to Australia by 60,000 requiring the invention of a boat. I believe you underestimate how far pre-Neolithic nomadic people can travel.

  16. I was at the library today and spotted a new book (2013) about the Liber Linteus. Wonderful - except the author is the "Great Anatolianizer", Fred Woudhuizen, who unfortunately lets his imagination run away with him at times. For example:

    "mula hursi puruthun" (Book VIII, line 9) = "Please bring thank offerings to, among the great ones, the president."

    "an-c tha-ch shin theus" (/sh/ = "s" with acute accent) (Book VI, lines 5-6) = "And during (it) also set out (the boundary) with (the help of) the god!" (In the description, he says that "/theu-/ 'god'... is nothing but a reflex of Latin /deus/ of the same meaning in Etruscan disguise.")

    "ena] -sh Ethrse Tinshi [Tiuri-m" (Book I, lines 2-3) = "During it the Etruscans (will be devoted) to Dionysos and the sun-god." (During-it(dat./gen.sg) Etruscans Dionysos(dat.sg) Sungod(dat.sg)-and)

    If you were to take a shot for every time he defines a word using an ad hoc comparison, you would probably be out cold before you got to Book III.

  17. That's exactly it. They put the cart before the horse and force connections that aren't there instead of starting from the beginning and noting context. It's through context and comparison of other inscriptions with similar words and phrases that we can successfully translate a language knowing nothing else of the language.

    Fred Woudhuizen, Zacharia Mayani and Cyrus Gordon (with Minoan & Eteocretan) all do the same crap. I consider anyone mad if they are fooled by these bogus and nonsensical translations.

    The phrase tin-si tiur-i=m most likely means "and on the day in the month" or something similar. We need to pay attention to the case markers and grammar first and foremost (ie. "day.DAT month.LOC-and") before leaping to conclusions about relationships with other better known languages.

  18. Glen, I'm going to be completely frank: you're abrasive and kind of a jerk, and it undermines a lot of what you say. But you're still one of the few people looking at Etruscan, amateur or not, who isn't a fucking lunatic.

    I was at my university's library the other day to look at some transcriptions and images of artifacts, and while there I saw *dozens* of books by authors claiming to have cracked Etruscan by comparing it to some other language. Not just the usual candidates, either, like backwards Latin or Luwian---no, that would be too tame. I'm talking about absurdities like Etruscan actually being a dialect of Gothic or---I kid you fucking not---the ancestor of *English*. I opened that book to a random page and was rewarded with a translation of 'fler tarc' as 'filler tar'. Filler tar!

    So, I may disagree with a lot of what you say, but at least you aren't a raving loon and your method is fundamentally sound. And that's more than I can say about most Etruscanists.

  19. Well, I guess I'd rather be a jerk than an idiot. ;o)