Douglas G Kilday acnasvers at
Sat Mar 31 11:27:39 UTC 2001

X99Lynx at (22 Mar 2001) wrote:

>There were obviously a great many influences in Etruscan culture that came
>from far to the east.  How they got to Etruria and whether language was one of
>them still seems a valid question.  There is a strong case for local origin.
>But when you have so much importing, it seems hard to rule out the possibility
>that Etruscan may have been a novelty that took hold sometime before 800BC
>among people who were being introduced to novelties at breakneck speed.

Even Dr. White requires two generations for his jackrabbit model of
linguistic shift, and that's an extreme case. Acquiring a new language takes
vastly more effort and incentive than mastering a hula-hoop.

>I [Lynx] wrote:
><<If it came from foreign parts, it could have come with very few carriers,
>but it would have had to provide indigenous people a very good economic or
>social reason to adopt it.>>

>I was thinking more of a "trade language" model.  One only has to belong to a
>few e-mail lists to recognize the universality of English.  Attributing that
>to any kind of elite dominance is of course ludicrous.  There is a time when
>adopting a foreign language becomes just plain practical and perhaps sometimes
>a point when it becomes the only language that persists among a diversity of
>very local languages - just for the sake of unified communication.

Fine, a trade language doesn't require elite dominators to bully the natives
with superior military technology. But as you point out yourself, it
requires a considerable socioeconomic incentive for the natives to give up
their own languages. The trademasters must be able to construct an
infrastructure which will clearly increase the wealth of the natives (not
just their leading class, or the commoners would have no reason to change
their speech). The trademasters must already have their own profitable
infrastructure in place. Since reactionary demagogues will likely appear
among the natives, the trademasters must have access to military might, and
along with the commercial infrastructure will come garrisons and military
roads. This model doesn't differ greatly from standard elite dominance.
Generally speaking, trade goes hand-in-hand with "gunboat diplomacy", and it
is introduced by what we usually call "colonial powers".

In the scenario you suggest, Etruria was commercialized by Etruscan-speakers
from outside who were wealthy and powerful enough to establish trade
throughout the land. But where is the evidence for this great non-Italian
Etruscan commercial empire? What plague or genocide wiped out all
Etruscan-speakers in the presumed homeland?

>Or perhaps the fact that the Etruscans had already converted to a mining and
>export economy before the Greeks arrived might bespeak that earlier presence.
>I seem to recall that "rich guy" graves start appearing among the Villanovians
>before the first sign of the Greek inundation.

This is a good point. What happened in Etruria is in stark contrast to the
colonization of Magna Graecia. With its wealth of metals and agricultural
fecundity, Etruria would have been a tempting target for Greek colonization.
Something blocked this from taking place. Somehow the Villanovans acquired
the centralized social organization necessary for them to stand up to the
Greeks and demand that whatever the Greeks took out of the land be paid for.
A by-product of social organization is social stratification; hence the
"rich guy" graves.

The question now is whether the Villanovans had native leaders who just
happened to be more astute than their counterparts in southern Italy, or
they had outside help in preparing themselves for the Greek inundation. It
would make perfect sense for the Phoenicians to practice this sort of
intervention, as they stood to lose a great deal if Etruria fell into Greek
hands. Either way, I don't see the Etruscan language coming into Etruria at
that time; it was already established. If Phoenician or other foreign
"advisors" came in to organize the "resistance", they would have had little
impact on the native speech.

>Perhaps it's the speed of this model [for acquiring writing] that is
>troubling.  European IE languages didn't convert to writing so quickly, even
>though they were converting between related languages.  Some think Phoenician
>to Greek took centuries.  It might make one suspect that an entire previously
>illiterate population was not involved.  Or perhaps even that Etruscan itself
>might have been spreading with the writing.

It didn't take long for you to slam the brakes on the breakneck speed you
claimed for the introduction of novelties: your model has culture and
language barreling into Etruria like a Montana Freeman heading for a gun
show, while literacy must plod along like an ice truck making deliveries in
Chicago during so-called "rush" hour.

And what's so "quick" about a lifetime? Greek literacy is attested at
Pithecusae and Gabii circa 770. The oldest Etruscan incriptions are circa
700 at Tarquinii. It took another 70 years or so for Etruscan literacy to
reach Vetulonia and Volaterrae. The spread of literacy could easily have
obeyed a speed limit of 5 miles per year. I don't happen to know the speed
limits for European IE literacy, but Etruscan writing teachers weren't
exactly burning up the pavement.

And if Etruscan itself was spreading with literacy, why was there no
standard way of using the Archaic alphabet? We don't see anything like the
7th-cent. Etruscan diversity of writing conventions in 17th-cent. North
American English, where language actually did spread with literacy.
Caeritans were still writing left-to-right when other urban Etruscans were
going right-to-left. Even in Recent Etruscan, the discrepancy between
Northern and (reformed) Southern representation of sibilants was never
resolved. To explain this, migrationists will need to postulate that
different writing conventions were imported by literate Aegean
Paleo-Etruscans from different city-states in their mysterious homeland, and
for this there is not one iota (sorry!) of evidence.


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