Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Towards a Peri-Indo-European Interpretation of the Etruscan Language

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Towards a Peri-Indo-European Interpretation of the Etruscan Language

Article excerpt

The linguistic affiliation of the Etruscan language, spoken in Central Italy up to the Roman times, is considered as highly uncertain by scholars. While most see in it a Pre-Indo-European isolate, others favor an Anatolian affiliation, with no decisive proof being brought from either side. However, the core of the language - both basic vocabulary and morphemes - shows striking similarities with ProtoIndo-European, while its closeness to Anatolian, or any other family is more dubious. These similarities, along with the regular sound change laws which can be drawn from them, allow us to think that the Etruscan tongue could have some old, but strong, links with ProtoIndo-European, even if major divergences between Etruscan and mainstream Indo-European would suggest that these links are quite remote.

1 Introduction

The Etruscan language was spoken up to the first centuries of the Christian Era in Central Italy by one of the most civilized peoples of the time. Albeit known through thousands of inscriptions - some of them quite long - it remained totally obscure to scholars until very recently. Bearing no similarities with the neighboring Italic tongues, it had to be deciphered through study of short and repetitive funeral inscriptions, a work which led to a very basic knowledge of the structure and vocabulary of the language but is quite far from allowing us to read longer texts (Pallotino, 1975).

This shadowy knowledge did not help to solve the question of the affiliation of the language. By the way, the discussion on that matter did not make much progress since the controversy between Denys of Halicarnasse and Herodotus, and generally followed the same pattern. Albeit numerous scholars have taken a position upon that problem, aside from the usual bunch of amateurish 'decipherments' seeing in Etruscan anything from modern Ukrainian to Albanese, no real consensus has been reached upon that point. The most cautious ones, alleging the apparent dissimilarity between Etruscan and Indo-European glossaries, consider the Tuscan tongue as isolated (Bonfante, 1990; Mallory, 1989), a remnant of the Pre-Indo-European populations which had somehow managed to survive (Diamond, 1992). Some, going farther in that way, have even proposed, with dubious success, to link Etruscan with the only other well known Pre-Indo-European tongue in Western Europe: Basque (Butavand, 1918).

On the other hand, a line of scholars, giving a linguistic interpretation to Herodotus' testimony, have considered Etruscan as an Anatolian language of sort. The first one to do so, Hrozny, saw in it a direct sibling of Hittite (Hrozny, 1929), while later interpretations would rather link it to Lycian (Adrados, 1989) or to Luwian (Woudhuizen, 1992). These views did not, however, meet general acceptance because of the ad hoc character of some translations or reinterpretations of otherwise established facts. More cautious authors did nevertheless recognize that there was 'something' Indo-European in Etruscan (Sergent, 1995; Ruhlen, 1998), mainly on the basis of grammatical similarities, without taking a position upon the nature and the origin of these similarities.

It is this 'something' that this paper is to investigate. I will review and examine possible Indo-European connections of the Etruscan vocabulary and grammar, and then study the possible implications of these connections. To do so, I will only use vocabulary and morphological elements recognized by all scholars (mainly Bonfante, 1990) without any new interpretation of the texts. Such an interpretation will probably have to be attempted for a full understanding of the nature of the Etruscan tongue, but for the time being it would probably only lead to involuntary ad hoc translations.

2. Possible Lexical Similarities Between Etruscan and Indo-European.

2.1 Prepositions

Our knowledge of the Etruscan prepositional system is rather limited, as we can list only four of them (Bonfante, 1990):

Matan (Matam) : on, before

Hanthin : in front of

Hintha (Hinthu, Hinththin): under

Pul (Epl, Pi1) : into, toward, till. …

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