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Etrusco: Una Forma Arcaica di Ungherese (Etruscan: An Archaic Form of Hungarian)

Monday, September 7, 2009


In his new book Mario Alinei aims to prove the family relationship between Etruscan and Hungarian, on the basis of a "theory of continuity" developed during his studies on the origins of European languages. His conclusions are rooted in the extraordinary resemblance of Etruscan and ancient Magyar magistrature names and other, numerous similarities - concerning typologies, lexicon and historical grammar - between the two languages. Thanks to these analogies, the author confirms many Etruscology findings, improves the translation of previously translated texts, and translates formerly untranslatable "talking" texts or only partially translated "bilingual" texts. The final part of the volume is devoted to a review of findings of studies of Etruscan prehistory and the presentation of a new hypothesis relating to the hotly debated issue of when ancient Magyars "conquered" Hungary.

Etruscan words such as mi (I), eca/ita (this), maθ (honey), tin (day) and tur (give) have long persuaded many scholars that Etruscan is a Eurasiatic language, perhaps even an Anatolian language (Bomhard) that split from a common Indo-European stem at a very early stage. The precise nature of its affiliations nevertheless remain obscure. In what is probably the most interesting account of recent years, the Italian dialectologist, Mario Alinei, suggests in his new book that Etruscan is nothing more than an archaic form of Hungarian with extensive Türkic borrowings.

This linguistic proposition rests on two historical/archaeological propositions – an uncontroversial one that the Etruscans came from the Carpathian basin, and a highly controversial one that identifies them as a proto-Hungarian/Uralic people.

The first of these had already been demonstrated by the late 1960s by archaeologists such as Hugh Hencken, who highlighted the cultural continuities between the Urnfeld cultures of Central Europe and the proto-Villanovan cultures of Northern and Central Italy, suggesting that the former culture had introduced a series of innovations to the latter, such as hydraulic engineering, the horse, the sword. Hencken also pointed out that the Urnfelders had probably left their signature among the Sea Peoples who attacked Mycenae and the Egypt of Ramesses III towards the end of the second millennium B.C., in the form of ships with prows in the form of horned birds’ heads, as well as a name cited by Egyptian sources, the Tursha which agrees with the Greek name for the Etruscans, the Tyrsenoi, and as Alinei tentatively suggests, with Türk.

Lawrence Barfield noted that Central Europe was the ‘industrial heartland’ of Bronze Age Europe, whose inhabitants developed their metalworking skills and by extension, the military technology that would have allowed them to become a colonial elite, capable of seeking mineral resources elsewhere and subjugating other less technologically advanced peoples. In this sense, their exploitation of Central Italy’s mineral wealth during the Bronze Age is hardly surprising. Alinei nevertheless believes that this process of gradual infiltration and scouring Europe for high quality mines may have begun as early as the middle of the 3rdmillennium, accelerating during the Polada culture. While the rule seems to have been peaceful coexistence between these Central Europeans and the Italic locals of the Palafitte/Terramare cultures, it appears that around 1250 B.C., migration from the Carpathian basin led to conflict and the overthrow of these local cultures, after which the proto-Etruscans moved into Central Italy and eventually carved out their own state that became the locus of the Villanovan culture.
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While the above sequence of events does not necessarily place a Hungarian label on these Bronze Age Urnfeld peoples, it follows from Alinei’s continuity theory (see my review of Origini delle Lingue d’Europa) that Italic speakers are the original occupants of Italy and the Western Mediterranean. Hence, the Etruscans could only be an intrusive presence, despite the claims to the contrary by the classical historian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

What has hidden the Uralic affiliations of Etruscan is its highly variable spelling, although Alinei assures us that its latitude is no worse than in Mediaeval Florentine or Venetian texts. If the Etruscans were a warrior aristocracy that was gradually absorbed by its subjects, then it presumably recruited its scribes from its Italic-speaking subjects, who wrote in a vowel-poor alphabet of Semitic origin, thus obscuring the open syllable, agglutinative nature of a Uralic language with extensive vowel harmony.

These links nevertheless become clear when we consider the Etruscan vocabulary for its offices of state. Writing in the 10th century, the Arab historian, Ibn Rusta, noted that Hungarian tribes split their leadership between a warlord wielding de facto executive power, the gyula, and a largely ceremonial but revered king, the kende. Alinei finds that the main offices of the Etruscan state included the ZILA/ZILAΘ/ZILCI/ZILI/ZILX, identifiedby Greek sources as the military commander, and the CANΘE/CAMΘI/CANΘCE, the princes civitatis or leader of the Etruscan community. Then there is the knight, LUCUMO (Hung. ló (horse) + Komi. kom (man)), the two-headed axe, PURΘ (Hung. balta (axe), Chuvash purte), and the land surveyor, MARUNU (Hung. mérő (measure)), to cite but a few examples.

Once one overcomes this hurdle, the relationships become much clearer, the main phonological differences being Etr. θ > Hung. t, Etr. c > Hung. k/h, Etr. z > Hung. gy/cs.

I have chosen the following examples from among the hundreds that Alinei provides togive a flavour of his proposed correspondences, which demonstrate the phonological conservatism of the Uralic languages. (NB Hung. = Hungarian, M. = Manty):

Etr. atranes > Hung. arany (gold) [Alinei points out that this was probably a general FUg borrowing tharana, from Iranian saraña]; Etr. avil > Hung. év (year); Etr. calu > Hung. hal (die); Etr. caθ/cat/caθinum/caθna > M. kot (sun); Etr. elśsi > Hung. első (first); Etr. fulu (smith) > Hung. fűlő (stoker of fire); Etr. hus > Hung. hős (young); Etr. ilacve > Hung. elégvé/eléggé (sufficient); Etr. iθal > Hung. ital (beverage); Etr. laukh/lux > Hung. ló (horse); Etr. mar- (measure) > Hung. mér-(measure); Etr. nac/nacna > Hung. nagy (big); Etr. parliu (to cook) > Hung. párol (to boil/steam);Etr. rasna (territory, region, country) > Old Hung. resz (region, territory) [from FUg räc3(piece, part)]; Etr. tes/tez > Hung. tesz (do); Etr. uru (Sir, lord) > Hung. úr (landowner, lord); Etr.zilacal (stars) > Hung. csillag (star).

Indeed, with such a key, the Etruscan phrase zilaθ mexl rasnal/s can be read as ‘magistrateof the Etruscan country’. The word rasna which Dionysus of Halicarnassus misread as the Etruscans’ name for themselves is merely the word for country, while Alinei identifies mex as an archaic world for people, similar to magyar.
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The origin of the Hungarian nation is traditionally dated to the conquest of its national territory in the Carpathian basin by Arpad in 895 A.D. This view evidently obliges the Hungarians to mill around on the steppes of Central Asia for millennia before they receive a European ‘visa’, and may at first sight be reinforced by the fact that within the Uralic family, Hungarian’s closest relatives are the Obugric languages, Mansi and Khanty, that occupy lands around the upper Ob and Irtush rivers in Western Siberia.

What is highly suspect about this ban is that it does not apply to other Uralic peoples, such as the Finns, Lapps, and Komi, who are thought to have spent the Ice Age in a watery refuge in the Ukraine and Southern Russia before moving North to exploit the new hunting opportunities provided by the retreating glaciers.

In addition, contemporary Arab sources from the 10thcentury onwards, most notably al-Garnarti, writing around 1080, speak of two groups of Hungarians, one living on the Danube and another 2000 km to the East in what is now the Bashkir republic, whose aristocracy was bilingual in Turkish and Hungarian, and which shared the gyula/kende model of kingship with the Khazars. Indeed, it is highly significant these words are of Turkic origin, with Hung. gyula reflecting Bashk. yulaj and kende Tatar [reverence, profound respect].

Archaeological evidence (e.g. from cemeteries) has confirmed the cultural continuities between the two groups. Furthermore, the Hungarian king, Géza I (1074-77) received a crown from the Byzantine emperor inscribed with the legend ‘to Geza, the faithful king of the Turks’. Indeed, the heavily Turkicized character of the Hungarians, as is apparent from their music and mythology, makes it most likely that less discerning classical sources would have labeled them with the hold-all description of Scythes.

On this point, the linguistic evidence is illuminating, in that Hungarian shares a vocabularywith Mansi and Khanty for horses and wagons that is borrowed from Turkic (e.g. Hung. ló, M. low [horse]; PUg. närk3, M. näwrä, Hung. nyerëg [saddle]); PUg. päkka, Kh. päk, Hung. fék [bridle, rein]; PUg. säk3r3, Kh. iker, Hung. szekér [vehicle], but is unique among the Uralic languages in also borrowing its agricultural vocabulary from Turkic (e.g. Hung. eke [plough], Hung. árpa [barley], Hung. búza [wheat], Hung. sajt [cheese], Hung. tinó [ox]).

This suggests that the proto-Hungarians were still united with the Mansi and Khanty at a stage when they were pre-agricultural nomadic pastoralists involved with horse breeding, but that the proto-Hungarians subsequently split away and were introduced to agriculture by another Turkic people. We may also conclude that the Hungarians were not present in Europe at the time they acquired their knowledge of agriculture, since if they had been, we would expect them to have borrowed an Indo-European agricultural vocabulary.

Assuming that by the Neolithic, they were more or less located in the Obugric region, a move South and West across the Urals would have brought them into contact with the Sredny Stog culture, well known as the precursor to the Kurgan culture, which intruded from the steppes into Europe, firstly into Eastern Hungary and Romania where its bearers encountered the Bodrogkeresztúr culture towards the end of the 4th millennium, and later, in greater numbers into the Carpathian basin itself, at the time of the Baden culture (around 2600 B.C.), which Alinei identifies as originally Slavic in origin, explaining the Slavic toponomy of the area. Hence, far from announcing the proto-Balts of Gimbutas’ theory, the Kurgans are actually a manifestation of a Hungarian invasion.
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Alinei readily admits that there are areas of Etruscan that have not been explained by his theory, such as its words for numbers. His main point about the Turkic origins of Etruscan vocabulary for offices of state is nevertheless a powerful one. His theory also has the distinct virtue of generating testable hypotheses, most notably regarding the separation of the Hungarians from the Obugric group. If one accepts these, one is obliged to accept a causal chain of events that projects the Hungarians back to a Bronze Age presence in the Carpathian Basin, and by extension, to the Kurgan peoples. Alinei’s linguistic conclusions may thus be as important for Uralic studies as Ventris’ decipherment of Linear B was for Greek.

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1 comments:

Anonymous said...

Keep this kind of information flowing really is fascinating to read about Ancient Hungarian origns.

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