Contact between Ancient languages of the Mediterranean
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10:00 to 11:15
From 20-06-16 to 24-06-16
  1. Proto-Greek and Minoan; Mycenaean and Archaic Greek; Northwestern Semitic
  2. Anatolian languages and epichoric languages of Asia Minor (Hattic; Hurrian; Urartian)
  3. Lydian and its Tyrrhenian neighbor; the Lemnos stele.
  4. Etruscan in its Italic surroundings; Etruscan/Italic and Western Greek; Etruscan/Italic/Western Greek and Punic



The Old Mediterranean Sprachbund included such IE languages as Lydian, Greek and Italic languages and such non-IE languages as the language represented by linear A (Pelasgian or Aegean) or the Tyrrhenian language family represented by Etruscan and Lemnian. The convergence process that brought the IE languages of the area to adopt some of the structural features of the substratic languages of the Eastern Mediterranean is not always easy to grasp. Admittedly, Etruscan and the Italic languages offer a clear example of such a convergence since both parts of the process of mutual influence are preserved. However, it is difficult to determine whether there was a symmetric convergence of the Aegean language represented by linear A toward Greek, the language of the invaders.

Likewise, the language toward which Lydian converged was probably similar or akin to the Tyrrhenian language attested on the Lemnian stele (sixth century BC). However, this language is not sufficiently known, so that it is difficult to evaluate to which extent the Tyrrhenian impact on Lydian was counterbalanced by the Anatolian influence on Tyrrhenian. And yet the hypothesis of an Anatolian impact on Tyrrhenian could explain why many etymologies proposed in order to give an account of foreign lexical good in Ancient Greek hesitate between the Aegean and the Anatolian connection. It is precisely because there might have been a zone of overlapping between the Anatolian branch of IE and the Aegean (Tyrrhenian) that such a confusion is theoretically possible. This could also explain why there is some hesitation in the classification of the Philistine language: some scholars connect it with the Tyrrhenian language while some other yield the hypothesis that Philistine was an Anatolian language. The way to conciliate those contradicting hypotheses lays perhaps in the assumption that Philistine was a Tyrrhenian language that partly converged toward Anatolian in the framework of an Eastern Mediterranean Sprachbund.

Etruscan seems to have functioned as the last inlier of a language family that was partly extinct at the period of the contact with the Italian surroundings. Actually, ancient Italy may be considered a Sprachbund of its own with Raetic as its prolongation in the eastern Alps. However, what interests the reconstruction of the hybridization process in the earliest attested IE languages pertains to dynamics that took place in the second millennium BC in the Eastern Mediterranean rather than to secondary dynamics that occurred in Italy at the beginning of the first millennium BC after one or two Tyrrhenian languages were propagated westwards.

Those contacts of classical languages with the old Mediterranean substrate allow to explain the frequent isoglosses that unite Greek and the Italic languages. And yet, as we just noted, the contact of Greek and Italic with the old Mediterranean substrate does not seem to belong to the same millennium. Whereas in the eastern Mediterranean the contact goes back to the beginning of the second millennium when the first Hellenes arrived from the Balkan and settled in Hellas, the contact of Italic languages with Etruscan, which was probably genetically related with the language represented by linear A, did not start before the arrival of the Etruscans in Italy during the iron age, i.e., at the end of the second millennium BC. This difference in the pace of exposure of IE languages to the old Mediterranean substrate may explain the fundamental divergence that appears between Greek and Italic in spite of the numerous isoglosses that unite those two branches of the IE language family. In contact with the language represented by linear A, the range of aspirated stops that Greek inherited from IE, i.e. *[bh]; *[dh]; *[gh]; *[gwh] may have lost its voicing, but not its aspiration precisely because the Aegean language possessed aspirated stops. This is corroborated by the fact that some of the syllabograms common to linear A and linear B seems to bear the value of aspirated stops: e.g.= 29 pu2 = [phu].

The specimens of Eteocretan that are written by means of the Greek alphabet further confirm the existence of aspirated stops in the language represented by linear A provided there is a continuity between Aegean and Eteocretan. Thus in the inscription of Praisos # 2, for instance, we find the grapheme <φ> that probably represents the aspirated stop [ph]: ναδεσιεμετεπιμιτσφα; εστνμτορσαρδοφσανο; ανομοσελοσφραισονα; σααδοφτενα. This is further confirmed by the the toponym Praisos being written φ̣ραισοι, which allows to exclude the option that this <φ> represents [f].

Lastly, another possible remnant of the Tyrrhenian language family, the Lemnian language, displays the use of the grapheme <φ> in the word naφoθ that is paralleled by the Etruscan word napti/nefts “grandson” where the alternation [p]/[f] is due to a distributional factor. Indeed, in the form nefts, [f] appears as part of a complex consonant cluster at the end of the word whereas in the form naptis, [p] does not form a cluster with [t] since the syllable boundary divides between the two consonants: nap-tis.

So it appears that in Etruscan a process of spirantization of the Tyrrhenian-inherited aspirate consonant [ph] took place. Although this Lemnian word naφoθ and its Etruscan counterpart napti/nefts is probably of IE origin (cf. Sanskrit nápāt “offspring”; Greek ἀνεψιός “cousin”), it was integrated in the basic lexical stock of the Tyrrhenian languages, as shown by its presence in two branches of the language family.

The fact that Lemnian [ph] is paralleled by [p]/[f] in Etruscan shows that Etruscan underwent a process of superevolution with respect to the other representatives of the language family. The fricative nature of the Etruscan counterpart of Lemnian [ph] is further confirmed by the fact that the fricative [f] of Etruscan was never represented by <φ> but by other graphemic devices: first of all, by the digraph <ϝh>, and in a later stage by a special sign <F>, that is probably the transformation of the Phoenician eth.

The reflex of IE *[bh] as [f] in most of Italic languages shows that this subgroup adapted its phonology to the specific system represented by Etruscan after the aforementioned spirantization, which is part of the superevolution that happened somewhere between the end of the second millennium BC and the first millennium BC. And yet the fact that IE *[bh] evolved into [b] in Latin and Venetic shows the limit of Etrusquization in two of the Italic languages.