Categoria : filologia

ON ETRUSCAN LANGUAGE ignored and contradicted obviousnesses and the philological and linguistic failure of Massimo Pittau

In the last 70 years, in Italy, with regard to Etruscan language, several and authentic linguistic “obviousnesses” have been ignored, neglected and contradicted. Namely, some very simple and even obvious procedures and methods, that are usually applied every day in the study of any language, belonging to any language family, by all glottologists and historical linguistics in particular, have been ignored and not applied.

Ignorance and the failed application of such methodological “obviousnesses” and hermeneutical or interpretative procedures in the study of Etruscan language depended on a certain and clear fact:

in the last 70 years the study of Etruscan language has been gained, monopolized and ruled by the “Italian archaeological school”, that is, by the archaeologists of the country and of the geographical area exactly where the great “Etruscan civilization” flourished.

 1) The first “obviousness” which was ignored, neglected and contradicted by Italian archaeologists is the following: no man of culture exists, who does not know and understand that between archeology on one hand and glottology or historical and comparative linguistics on the other hand there is an ocean of differences, both regarding the subject of study and the methods that are employed. Thus any and all intervention that any archaeologist tries to make regarding the Etruscan language is completely illegitimate, over-ambitious and destined to failure.

And exactly from the fact that this first main and prejudicial “obviousness” on the immense difference that exists between archeology from one hand and glottology or comparative and historical linguistics on the other hand, all the other many “obviousnesses”, which have been ignored and contradicted by archeologists in their study of the Etruscan language derived.

 2) Of the Etruscan language more than 11 thousand inscriptions are to be found, with documents of about 8,500 words, which differ one from the other. It should be reminded that the document content and thus the hermeneutical or interpretative value of these 11 thousand inscriptions at first appeared greatly reduced to the scholars from the very beginning, when they realized that those inscriptions are mainly funeral and so obviously short and repetitive. On the other hand, even if this serious initial difficulty exists, the figures that have been quoted are of course enormous and this big advantage, just two very known ancient languages, Greek and Latin, can have.

And then, with the methodological procedure of “internal comparison”, the reciprocal comparison of different 8,500 words – if this was really and completely carried out – could surely lead to the “decoding” of the meaning of several Etruscan words.

I admit that such a method of “internal comparison” took place, but to a very reduced extent and led to the decoding of just some tens of words, which are continuously recurrent in the Etruscan inscriptions; MI «I, me», CLAN «son», CLENAR «children», SEX «daughter», PUIA «wife», LUPU «dead», LUPUCE «died, is dead», AIS, EIS «god», AISER, EISER «gods», SUTHI, SUTI «tomb, grave», the numerals TU, THU «one», ZAL, (E)SAL «two», CI «three», MAC, MAX «five», SEMPH «seven, CEZP «eight», NURPH «nine», SAR, ZAR «ten», ZATHRUM «twenty», CIALXL «thirty», SEALXL «sixty» and some other tens of words.

So, the procedure of the “internal comparison” among the 8,500 Etruscan words we know has been applied in the past 70 years by archologists, who are the monopolizers of the Ertruscan language, only to a very reduced extent. In particular they took care not to insert in the “internal comparison” also the big number of Etruscan anthroponyms that are to be found (pre-names, aristocratic names and nick names or Latin cognomina), because they are completely convinced that these have no value in order to understand the meaning of the single Etruscan words. In fact, in neglecting to examining the many Etruscan anthroponims as well, the archeologists – as I will say further on- completely failed.

 3) But even worst is the non “external comparison” of the 8,500 Etruscan words we have with other words of ancient languages, and in particular still with Greek and Latin.

Unfortunately “numbers”, notwithstanding and despite their precision, are easily forgotten. Both in Greek and in Latin about more than one hundred thousand words are possibly known, that is, all together, they are more than two hundred thousand; and this is a huge number which could offer linguists a very rich field of research and comparison.

Having said that, considering that Greek, Latin and Etruscans lived together in the same geographical area for several centuries, it is absurd to believe that many words of Etruscan language, which are unknown in their semantic value or “meaning”, cannot be paralled by the 2,000 Greek and Latin words, the meaning of which is instead completely known. They will be either Greek and Latin words which entered the Etruscan language otherwise Etruscan words which were introduced in Greek or in Latin language. (It has to end to believe that a number of Greek and Latin words have entered in Etruscan language and no Etruscan word has entered the Greek and Latin; events of communication and exchange between one civilization and another never have a ‘one and only way!).

And then the logical consequence of this special and successful general linguistic situation would be as follows: the “meaning” of the Greek and Latin words which is completely known will be the “meaning” of the corresponding Etruscan words as well. Thus the “meaning” of many Etruscan words would have been at last “deciphered” and discovered.

 4) How was it possible that the Italian archaeologists have ignored and did not apply this important and necessary and so “obvious” process of “external comparison” between the Etruscan one hand and the Greek and Latin on the other? It was possible just because they have accepted totally uncritically the claim that “The Etruscan language is not comparable with any other language”.

This amazing thesis was for the first time supported by the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus (I 30, 2), who had lived a few decades before Christ; but he was not a glottologist or a linguist, also on the ground that it was necessary that from his time 1,800 years passed before the birth and affirmation in Europe of glottology as “the historical and comparative study of languages”.

In fact, the argument that “the Etruscan language is not comparable with any other” would scientifically be justified only on one condition: that the Italian archaeologists have proven their knowledge of all the languages of all the peoples who have lived in the past around the Mediterranean basin, and knowing them all to perfection archaeologists could eventually conclude with their negative thesis. But the Italian archaeologists have never demonstrated that they have an extensive and in-depth expertise in historical linguistics, and for this reason their theory of “incomparability of the Etruscan language with any other” was and is entirely without foundation. On the other hand, I am of the opinion that not even a proper linguist who possessed the vast and in-depth expertise of historical linguistics existed, which is why even any linguist would be able to speak and motivate this thesis.

Actually, when archaeologists have taken as good and they have disclosed their thesis by which ‘”Etruscan language is not comparable to any other,” not only they went against another clear and strong “obviousness”, but they even invited and imposed the linguist who wanted to participate in their meetings and to collaborate in their journals not to make use of what is the first and most important tool of linguistics, precisely the “comparison” .

Of course it has happened that almost all linguists, Italian and foreigner as well, did not accept this judgment and imposition of Italian archaeologists, but they paid their refusal with their total exclusion from the major events that archaeologists have organized from time to time also on the topic of the Etruscan language.

 5) But the sentence pronounced and executed by the archaeologists of the method of “comparison” in the study of the Etruscan language logically dragged another one: the condemnation of the “etymology” or of “etymological method”. These are words which are condemned, prohibited, execrated at conferences and in journals of archaeologists relating the Etruscan language.

And instead I first believe that they are committing a big mistake not making a necessary and important distinction between the language “comparison” on the one hand and the “etymology” on the other. If I compare or connect the Latin/Etruscan gloss Amphiles, Ampiles «May», i.e. «month of the vine leaves», “with the Greek word ámpelos «vine, vineyard», “I simply establish a” comparison “, but if I said that the Etruscan name “derives” from the Greek one or the contrary, then I would do an “etymology,” which means and implies precisely the “derivation”.

In the “comparison” that I put forward among the 8,500 Etruscan words we have and which are unknown with 2,000 Greek and Latin that we have and do know, is already very important to stop at this stage, since it often allows us to “decipher” or just capture the “meaning” of Etruscan vocabulary. But no one can force a linguist not to proceed further, not to use the other important method of his research, “the etymological method”. And in the example above no one can deny a linguist to envisage the thesis that the words Etruscan Amphiles, Ampiles «May», «month of the vine leaves» the Greek word ámpelos «vine vineyard», lat. pampinus «vine leaf» and (proto)Sardinian s’ampilare «the climbing of the vine too», “derive”, independently of one another, by a word of viticulture in the “Mediterranean substratum and pre-Indo-European”.

In fact, demanding a linguist who wants to take an interest in the Etruscan language, not to use the “comparison” or the “etymology” would correspond to expect that a bird flies without using its wings.

And this is another “obviousness” ignored and contradicted by archaeologists: the linguist has the right and the duty to perform both the “comparison” of words she/he studies and their “etymology” or origin.

6) On the other hand it is a fact that the Italian archaeologists unanimously claim that regarding Etruscan language “there is no problem of deciphering”, as it had already been “deciphered completely”. But even with this thesis they do not realize they have a very improper and partly wrong concept of “linguistic deciphering”.

For an ancient language of which only written documentation are available, i.e. without any evidence in today’s tongues, in fact there are two different “deciphering”, or rather, two different levels of deciphering. The first one is to “decipher the alphabetical letters ” or graphemes, that is, in being able to turn them into oral sounds, or phonemes, that is, in being able to pronounce them, and this first step of deciphering of course has already been made for the Etruscan language, which, by virtue of the use that the Etruscans made of Greek alphabet, is now almost perfectly and totally readable or pronounceable. But the real and most important “deciphering” comes later: from the graphemes it is easy to understand what is the actual meaning they carry and conceal, that kind of deciphering according to which from the “notation” you can go to their “factual or conceptual meanings”.

It is clear that the word and the concept of “deciphering” originates from the practice of secret messages that are encrypted and transmitted with “ciphers”. Well, in an office of military deciphering, in which I worked during the Second World War, our first task was to be able to “catch” exactly the “ciphers” of the encrypted messages of the enemy, but the real decoding of these messages was made only later, when from the ciphers we caught we could get the message they carried and concealed, that is, when we could go from the signs which were encrypted to the facts or concepts which were meant and transmitted.

Well, despite the fact that the Italian archaeologists deny it firmly, the problem of the deciphering the Etruscan language exists till now and to a large extent. We read and pronounce in an almost entirely sure manner all the words that appear in Etruscan inscriptions, but, apart anthroponyms, we do not know yet the exact meaning of hundreds of Etruscan words.

7) Another “obviousness” which is ignored and contradicted by Italian archaeologists is related to the initial choice of study material. You do not need great experience in language studies to know and understand that the inscriptions of an ancient language that is unknown are all the more easily to translate the more they are long. As a matter of fact in long inscriptions the chances of both the “internal comparison” and the “external comparison” of words are much more numerous than in the short inscriptions. In addition, in the long inscriptions amendments of errors of the ancient scribe are also possible, while in the short inscriptions such amendments are almost always impossible. And also, in the short inscriptions – just for reasons of brevity – abbreviations are frequently used, and they are often indecipherable because they were made at random by different scribes. What’s more the discovery of the “falsity” of a long inscription is vastly easier than the discovery of the “falsity” of a short inscription.

This new “obviousness” of the study commonly used of a long than of a short text should have forced archaeologists to consider first of all the long Etruscan texts that are available, that is the Liber linteus the Mummy of Zagreb, which, several repetitions excluded, presents more than 500 words the Tabula Capuana which has about 190, the Cippo of Perugia with about 90, the Tabula Cortonensis with about 60; instead archaeologists have thrown themselves into the shorter Etruscan inscriptions. Some of them were certainly easy to interpret and translate, while others have proved immediately of difficult interpretation and translation.

It would be too long and also useless to show the long and intricate disputes that archaeologists have woven around some short and very brief Etruscan inscriptions, for which there was and still there is also the possibility that some mistakes made by the ancient scribe occurred and that some of them is even “false”.

On the other hand, in the field of language, it is easy to find that in general messages the more short, the more they run the risk of being ambiguous or at least poorly understandable.

 8) The lack of significant relevance of the quite rich Etruscan linguistic material which have arrived at us is also derived from the fact that much of the material consists of a large number of anthroponyms (forenames, noble and nicknames) in comparison with a lexical material (titles, first names, numerals, verbs, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions) which is much more scarce.

This serious difficulty represented by the type of Etruscan linguistic material which is in our possession cannot and should not be denied, but there was a major operation should be carried out, but this has not even been attempted by archaeologists: it is true that anthroponyms at an initial analysis look like “opaque” in the sense that they indicate or “mean” to the listener or reader only single men and single families, but true linguists know that, when analysed properly, even anthroponyms can become “transparent” in the sense that they may also reveal their original “meaning” too. Originally, also anthroponyms were “titles” as well, consisting almost always of nouns or adjectives used as nouns, even in their diminutive or augmentative form, which identified either a piece of personal data or a feature, physical or moral, of the individual who was named. For example, Italian surnames Cremona, Ferrara and Verona at first indicated the origin of a family from one of those cities, the surnames Bianchi, Neri and Rossi indicated, with the plural of the family, that their people were either of “white” or “black, dark” or “red” complexion; the surnames Forti, Gagliardi, Onesti indicated a moral quality of their holders, the surnames Medici, Mercante, Ferrari indicated their profession, the Etruscan forename Larth meant “commander, prince” (Cicero, Phil., 9.4; Livio, IV.17.1) and the other Velthur “vulture”, and so on.

So anthroponyms after an initial “opacity” properly investigated by the linguist, eventually also offer a “transparency” of lexical value. And then, even the large number of anthroponyms documented by Etruscan inscriptions, if they were analysed according to the rules and procedures of linguistics, would end by offering many important lexical elements and ideas related to the Etruscan language.

 9) Among the peoples of the Italian peninsula, with whom the Etruscans came into contact, the closest one were the Romans. Between the VIII and VI century, Etruscans and Romans lived almost in a close symbiosis. It must be noted that the river Tiber was not considered at that time in the centre of Latium, but it was considered the boundary between the Romans and the Etruscans. For this reason, Rome itself was not considered at the centre of Latium Vetus, but it was precisely considered a border town between Etruria and Latium. So much so that the very name Rome was probably Etruscan, namely a variant of the title ruma “breast”, indicating the great “breast” or loop that makes up the Tiber at Tiber Isle and that the same name of the river was most likely Etruscan. Not only that, but at the time of the monarchy in force in Rome, the reigning dynasty of the Tarquins was of Etruscan nationality and also had held the city not just for some tens of years as it is commonly thought and said, but for more than a century. Even the most ancient inscriptions that have been found in Rome are in Etruscan language and alphabet and not in Latin.

Well, during the long and close contacts that the Etruscans and the Romans had especially in the age of the monarchy, it is clear and certain that several exchanges of words between their languages and especially of anthroponyms occurred. This has been brilliantly demonstrated by the old but still important and brilliant work of Wilhelm Schulze Zur Geschichte Lateinischer Eigennamen (1904), who showed a wide correspondence of many Latin anthroponyms with Etruscan ones. In my recent work Dizionario della Lingua Etrusca (Sassari 2005) I think I have – by virtue of the successive discoveries of new Etruscan inscriptions – greatly expanded the number of those matches, reaching the number of about 1,600 Etruscan anthroponyms that correspond, more or less certainly, to as many Latin anthroponyms.

But – as I mentioned before – even Latin gentilicia and cognomina, as well as their proper anthroponomastic value, have a lexical value too and I have concluded that the lexical value of Etruscan anthroponyms is the same of the corresponding Latin anthroponyms. Thus the “comparison” and the connection between the Etruscan and Latin anthroponyms has allowed us to reach about 1,600 of Etruscan words of which, more or less, now we know the lexical and semantic value as well, i.e. to expand the number of Etruscan words of which we, more or less, deciphered the semantic value or “meaning” which was first ignored.

 10) It is well known that Etruscans, in their qualification that is widely recognized by the ancients of a “very religious” people (which also meant “very superstitious”; they were already used to do, for good luck, horns with fingers), did influence the religion of the Romans a lot.

Suffice it to recall that in the Roman Capitoline Triad, only Jupiter was properly Roman, while the two other goddesses Juno and Minerva were certainly of Etruscan origin. It was therefore another linguistic obviousness to suppose that following the profound Etruscan influences on Roman religion also a large part of religious terminology of the Etruscans had entered into Latin language. This entry of Etruscan religious terminology in Latin was logical and “obvious” to suppose and to ascertain in the longer texts in Etruscan language we possess, namely the Liber Linteus of the Mummy of Zagreb and the Tabula Capuana, of which it was soon realized that they were precisely “religious texts”.

But the Italian


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