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The Problem of Ancient Minor Languages and Their Origin

There are languages that are historically evident; they existed, they were used, maybe, by powerful and numerous peoples, but the civilization of their speakers passed away or was destroyed, and the languages disappeared from the Earth leaving just a few signs of their existence - words or inscriptions - to remind about the past.

Such ancient languages are called Minor (compared to Latin, Greek, Sanskrit and other Major ancient tongues) and require rather more attentive study because scientists still doubt about their origins, the structure and the very type of many of them.

And sooner or later the question arises: maybe, they are Indo-European?

        § 1. Identification of the Etruscan language.

First about theories.

We saw two versions of Indo-European roots of Etruscans in literature. The first (popular in Europe and America) regarded them as the representatives of the so-called "first wave" of Indo-European migration from Central Asia to Europe. They went through Anatolia first to Aegean Islands, then to Italy where they occupied the Central and Northern parts of the peninsula. They acquired their alphabet from Phoenicians and Greeks but Etruscan language was not similar to theirs, though it was a distant relative to Greek. But Etruscan was much older than both Greek and Italic and therefore didn't look like them.

The second theory was published in Moscow in a book by G.Grinevich called "Proto-Slavic Script" and that is why did not gained popularity around the world. It explained the "Etruscan mystery" simply as a branch of Slavic civilization in Italy. The Etruscan alphabet was interpreted as Slavic, but proof and facts were too weak to take this theory seriously into consideration.

Now the facts which are accepted by majority of scientists around the world.

Etruscans came to Italy somewhere from Asia Minor in the early 9th century. They are described as dark-haired and brown-skinned people; Greeks called them "Tyrsen" or "Tyrrhen", Italics (Indo-Europeans who lived in Southern and Eastern Italy) knew them as "Tusci" or "Etrusci"; they called themselves "rasena". No archeologists or historians (except Dionysius of Halicarnassus) looked at Etruscan culture and customs as similar to those of Italic peoples. Religion was different as well, though some gods were borrowed by Indo-Europeans from Etruscan cults, but they were given different names - which proves somehow that Etruscan names were hard for them to pronounce and to remember.

Let us go through the principles of language identifying (see) to decide whether Etruscan language can be Indo-European.

Romans used to say: "Etruscan non legatur" ("Etruscan is not read"), and that was true, they could not read Etruscan words though alphabets were similar. Romans acquired their alphabet from both Etruscans and Greeks as well as they acquired some words (mainly cult terms), but to speak with Etruscans they definitely needed an interpreter. And the same thing shows our Etruscan Glossary composed of both words and names.
Etruscan English Italic
ais, pl. aisar god deus
am to be es-
an he, she ille, ul
apa father páter
Aplu Apollo Apollo
ati mother máter
avil year annus
Catha sun god Apollo
cezp eight octó
ci three trés
clan son filius
eca this is, izic
fler offering, sacrifice *sacrodhot-
Fuflans Bacchus Bacchus
garuspic priest sacer
hinthial ghost  effigia
huth six sex
in it eks, hic
lauchum king rex, regs
lautun family familia
lucumon magistrate, governor magistratus
mach, makh five quinque, pompe
Menrva Minerva Minerva
mi, mini I, me mé, mihi
mul- to offer, to dedicate consecrare
neftś grandson nepot
nurph, nutph nine novem
personna face facies
puia wife femina
rasenna, rasna Etruscan etruscan
ruva brother fráter
semph seven septem
Sethlans Vulcan Vulcanus
spur-, śpur- city. urbs
sren, śran figure (in a picture) figura
śa, sa four quattuor, petir
śar ten decem
śuthi tomb sepulchrum
Thesan dawn god  
thu one unus
tin- day. diés
Tinis Jupiter Juve
Tiv moon god  
tular boundaries orae 
tur- to give dáre
Turan Venus Venus
Turms Mercury Mercurius
Uni Juno Juno
zal two duo
zich- to write scribere
zilach a type of magistrate magistratus
There we see that practically no Etruscan and Italic words match with each other. Just personal names (which were just borrowings), personal pronoun mi - me - mihi and the word neftś - nepot ("grandson") are similar, but also can have been borrowed. Once we saw a comparison of the word clan ("son") with Irish clann ("children"), but the Irish word goes from Latin plantare, which has nothing in common with Etruscan.  The lexical comparison does not show any relations.

Phonetical structures also differ. For example, there were no voiced stops in Etruscan: no [b], [d], or [g], so common in Indo-European tongues; when these sounds occured in foreign words they were usually written P, T and K. Etruscan distinguished between aspirated and unaspirated unvoiced stops: [p] from [ph], [c] from [ch], [t] from [th], which was common only in Greek or Iranian languages but not in Italic. The vowel system of Etruscan is believed to have been quite simple, consisting of [a], [e], [i] and [u] with no distinction between long and short; and Italic - Latin, Oscan, Umbrian - languages all had both long and short vowels. The sound [o] did not occur in the Etruscan language at all. Medial vowels tended to be dropped in the later phases of the language: e.g. ATLNTA ("Atalanta"). And though this process is known in early Latin, it was not so deep there as in Etruscan.

The specific phonetic structure of the Etruscan language was the main reason for the failure of many linguists trying to decipher the Etruscan alphabet. It looks quite like Greek but words are unknown. The distinguished Russian linguist V.Ivanov wrote: "The situation with research of Etruscan texts looks like a paradox. The studies of them and their possible phonetic interpretation doesn't arouse difficulties because of the sufficient clearness of Etruscan graphic system... nevertheless the understanding of Etruscan texts is extremely slow except some very small burial inscriptions, standard in their content and consisting usually of personal names and relations between their owners. All complicated texts still cannot be translated".

Very little - if not nothing - is known about Etruscan morphological structure. The only noun plural form we know is ais - aisar ("a god" - "gods") which absolutely does not correspond to Indo-European flexions. The same is with the numbers, of which only semph - septem ("seven") can correspond to each other.

All this proves a sort of version that we are pleased to introduce here.

Etruscans must have been the representatives of the so-called Mediterannean race which lived here before Indo-Europeans came to Europe. Etruscans lived in Asia Minor, somewhere between Syria and the Hellespont, and when the pressure of wary Hittites (who had arrived here from Central Asia) became intolerable, they had to go to the West and soon through Aegean Islands began inhabiting Italy. The fact is that some ancient historians (e.g. Herodotus, Polibius and Tit Livy) noticed that the language of old inhabitants of Lemnos island in the Aegean Sea was similar to Etruscan. We have no insripitions in Lemnos language, that is why we cannot check this fact. But it just fits our version. Etruscans had no connection with Indo-European family of languages, they spoke a language that was, maybe, the last survived form Pre-Indo-European population of Mediterranean region.

There is one more proof. We know quite a little about some Minor languages (e.g. Venetic or Tocharic) but we can be sure they are Indo-European. We know enough about Etruscan and don't find anything Indo-European about it. Sometimes several words is enough to define - but if the language is not related to our Indo-European, there's nothing to do but to admit it was not.