20 July 2010

Vaccei, Celtiberians and the Iniesta of Iberian epigraphy

I liked the experience last year, so I decided to participate, again, in the Seminario de lenguas y epigrafías antiguas, which took place in Gandia (Valencia) last week. The lectures covered the topic of pre-Roman languages of Iberia from a variety of perspectives. There were two contributions by archaeologists: Alberto Lorrio (Universidad de Alicante) talked about some aspects of the Celtiberian area; Francisco Blanco García (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) offered an interesting account of the Vaccei, one of the Celtic-speaking peoples of Central Spain. One of the interesting things about both lectures was that the authors tried to delimit very carefully the boundaries of those ancient territories, one of the most difficult aspects in their task. All too often, for example, the term Celtiberian is used in a generalized sense of 'Celtic-speaking peoples of Iberia', which is erroneous. The Celtiberians inhabited a specific area in east central Spain which can be identified with the help of archaeology and ancient sources. As for the Vaccei, it is also possible to find a series of defining traits that characterize them as a socio-cultural unit.

On the linguistic side of the lectures, we had the opportunity of listening to some of the leading experts in the field, among them Javier Velaza, Eduardo Orduña, Eugenio Luján and Joan Ferrer i Jané, who offered some interesting insights into the world of Iberian epigraphy and languages.

One of the lectures was given by the Hispano-Italian linguist Eduardo Blasco Ferrer (Università di Cagliari), an expert in the field of Sardinian languages. He expounded his theory about the languages spoken in pre-Roman Sardinia, which he calls Paleosardinian. According to him, Paleosardinian was a non-Indo-European language connected, at different time periods, with both proto-Basque and Iberian. He offered a lot of examples to illustrate his theory, which will be expounded in fuller form in a forthcoming book (Paleosardo. Le radici linguistiche della Sardegna neolitica), to be published by De Gruyter in November 2010. The readers of this blog know that I am not particularly fond of proto-languages, and in some cases, e.g. the supposed 'proto-Basque', I find them quite dubious. I wonder how an ancient proto-language, one designed to explain events occuring in the Neolithic, can be deduced exclusively from modern material (the oldest texts in Basque are only a few centuries old). Similar doubts arise in the case of Iberian. In any case, I think Blasco's theory is worthy of attention and I'll try to read some of his articles, and also the book, when it's published. In fact, the linguistic story of Sardinia, an island that occupies the centre of the western Mediterranean, is quite interesting in itself, and I will certainly write a post about it in the near future.

Now, the real highlight of the seminar was Joan Ferrer i Jané's lecture on the dual script of Iberian. Some years ago, he published an influential article (available here) in which he developed the theory of the dual system for the differentiation of stops in the Iberian script, a theory which had been first proposed in the 1960's but which had not received much attention. Ferrer proved the existence of this dual system for northeastern Iberian, and now he has extended it to the southeastern script. Roughly speaking, the idea behind the dual system is as follows: some Iberian letters show a series of variants, with dots or little marks, which were generally considered irrelevant; however, as Ferrer has proved, these variants are systematic, generally (but not only) expressing a voiced/voiceless contrast. Needless to say, this is a real step forward in the study of Iberian epigraphy, as it will allow a more accurate transliteration of the texts. When he finished his lecture, there was an open debate. The first one to speak was professor Javier Velaza (Universitat de Barcelona), who said something like this (I'm quoting from memory): "Last week, as I was watching the World Cup final between Spain and Holland, I was convinced I was in front of a historical moment. And the person who was making history with his goal was Andrés Iniesta, a football star who looks like a very normal person, away from stardom. And today, here in Gandia, we are in front of one such moment, when something historical is happening in our field of study".

The task of deciphering the Iberian texts is quite hard, and these developments are definitely in the right direction. For the moment, however, there isn't a single word in Iberian whose meaning can safely be established, apart from some numerals. Researchers like Velaza or Ferrer, who know many of the inscriptions by heart, do a very elaborate and meticulous job analysing possible segments and linguistic units and trying to understand the epigraphic material more accurately. Nothing to do with the fantasies of other scholars who have offered translations of Iberian based on dubious connections with Basque.

We were so excited with Ferrer's discoveries that we really thought we had something to celebrate. One week before, the streets of Gandia and other Spanish cities were crowded with people celebrating Spain's World Cup victory. Whenever there's a great achievement, there's someone ready to celebrate!

- Note on the pictures (from top to bottom): 1.Iberian inscription from Yátova; 2. A potsherd with Iberian inscription, from Llíria.

15 comments:

LA FARFALLA said...

¡Por fin! Aunque no me hayas nombrado explícitamente me doy por aludida :) La entrada está muy bien, una gran síntesis de unos días tan intesísimos e interesantes. Espero que estés disfrutando de tu coche. Nos vemos.

Jesús Sanchis said...

Thank you for your comment, Farfalla. There were other things during the seminar that I could have mentioned, e.g. other lectures and the trip to the small archaeological site near Gandia, but I didn't want this post to be too long. In any case, I also have the impression that those days were really special.

LA FARFALLA said...

Y tan small...

Octavià Alexandre said...

One of the lectures was given by the Hispano-Italian linguist Eduardo Blasco Ferrer (Università di Cagliari), an expert in the field of Sardinian languages. He expounded his theory about the languages spoken in pre-Roman Sardinia, which he calls Paleosardinian. According to him, Paleosardinian was a non-Indo-European language connected, at different time periods, with both proto-Basque and Iberian. He offered a lot of examples to illustrate his theory, which will be expounded in fuller form in a forthcoming book (Paleosardo. Le radici linguistiche della Sardegna neolitica), to be published by De Gruyter in November 2010. The readers of this blog know that I am not particularly fond of proto-languages, and in some cases, e.g. the supposed 'proto-Basque', I find them quite dubious. I wonder how an ancient proto-language, one designed to explain events occuring in the Neolithic, can be deduced exclusively from modern material (the oldest texts in Basque are only a few centuries old).

Having done my own research on thta area, I can tell you this insight is gained by comparing several reconstructed proto-languages. In the case of Basque and Iberian, the comparanda is the Proto-North-Caucasian reconstructed by Sergei Starostin and others.

I wonder if Blasco followed this line. In any case, I'm sure his work will be worth reading (although unfortunately quite expensive too!).

Jesús Sanchis said...

Certainly, Blasco's book is quite expensive. First I'll try to read some of his articles.

The world of ancient Sardinia is fascinating, and also its present linguistic situation. For example, I was surprised to discover that Logudorese, one of the Sardinian dialects, is generally considered the most 'conservative' Romance language. I'll be talking about these things in a forthcoming post.

Octavià Alexandre said...

Now, the real highlight of the seminar was Joan Ferrer i Jané's lecture on the dual script of Iberian. Some years ago, he published an influential article (available here) in which he developed the theory of the dual system for the differentiation of stops in the Iberian script, a theory which had been first proposed in the 1960's but which had not received much attention.

Yes, Ferrer has continued the work of Joan Maluquer Motes, the leading Iberian epigraphist of that time, whose book is still a must-read (in his article, Ferrer highlines how many today's scholars have developped their careers without knowing Maluquer's pioneer work).

The task of deciphering the Iberian texts is quite hard, and these developments are definitely in the right direction. For the moment, however, there isn't a single word in Iberian whose meaning can safely be established, apart from some numerals.

The big problem is that the bilingual texts discovered so far are scarce and very short. In despite of this, they can give us some insight into the meaning of Iberian words. For example, in a short inscription Iberian kide is translated as Latin amicus 'friend' (by comparison, Basque kide is 'fellow'). The etymology is from IE *gen-ti < IE *g´enH1- 'to be born'.

Researchers like Velaza or Ferrer, who know many of the inscriptions by heart, do a very elaborate and meticulous job analysing possible segments and linguistic units and trying to understand the epigraphic material more accurately. Nothing to do with the fantasies of other scholars who have offered translations of Iberian based on dubious connections with Basque.

One thing is decoding the Iberian scripts, which is epigraphists' work, and another one is the analysis of the language itself, which corresponds to comparative linguistics. And although Iberian can't be simply translated as it were Basque (as many amateurs have tried to do), the latter is still needed in comparisons.

In the above example, I've given the etymology of a word whose meaning, although similar, is different in Basque and Iberian.

Jesús Sanchis said...

You mention an inscription with the 'Latin translation' of an Iberian word. Could you please provide reliable references? On the other hand, please remember that this blog is no place for amateur etymological games.

In Iberian studies the work of the epigraphists is quite relevant, especially because the contribution of comparative philology are obviously very poor, or in many cases mere fantasies. For the moment, the accurate analysis of the epigraphic material and the detailed study of the possible linguistic segments that can be identified in the texts are the only way forward, and that's the task that the scholars at the University of Barcelona are carrying out at the moment. The discovery of some kind of Rosetta Stone would probably change things, but that stone, as far as Iberian is concerned, has not yet been found.

Octavià Alexandre said...

You mention an inscription with the 'Latin translation' of an Iberian word. Could you please provide reliable references?

The inscription is from the Tossal de Manisses and reads as follows (brackets indicate damaged or broken parts):

]eś : nikiteiskul[
]ES AMICV[
]ireka[


A fellow amateur linguist suggested Latin amicus could correspond to kite (or kide, as the script doesn't differentiate between t/d, a word found elsewhere).

On the other hand, please remember that this blog is no place for amateur etymological games.

Sorry, but what I'm doing is a SERIOUS research, not a "game". If you're interested on the etymology of Basque kide and its relationship with Latin ge:ns, gentis, I'll write something on my blog.

In Iberian studies the work of the epigraphists is quite relevant, especially because the contribution of comparative philology are obviously very poor, or in many cases mere fantasies.

They're two separated tasks, epigraphists' clearly coming first.

Jesús Sanchis said...

Thanks for the reference. The Iberian inscription could correspond to the Latin word, or maybe not, and the supposed correspondence between "amicus" and "kide/kite" is quite speculative.

I have just found an article on the Internet with various possible 'readings' of this segment:

http://www.alicante-ayto.es/documentos/cultura/publicaciones/lqnt_1/06.pdf

As for the etymology of Basque 'kide', I'm not really interested. I don't see why a modern word in Basque should have anything to do with a linguistic segment found in an ancient inscription, apart from the fact that they look similar.

Octavià Alexandre said...

Thank you for the reference. I also see you've got a strong prejudice against a possible relationship between Basque and Iberian.

Although you aren't alone on this, I don't think this attitude could be labelled as "scientific".

Jesús Sanchis said...

It's not prejudice, it's scepticism.

The idea that Basque and Iberian could have something in common is of course logical, and probably true to some extent. The real problem comes when such hypotheses have to be tested scientifically. There are lots of examples like the one you've talked about. This "kide" segment could mean 'friend' or it could be just anything. There's absolutely no way to determine the meaning of this segment. And I say 'segment' because it's not even clear how that text (nikiteiskul) cold possibly be analysed into smaller units. Is it ni-kite or niki-te? Or nik-ite? I'll repeat it once again: there are specialists in the area (SPECIALISTS) who are trying to analyse segments like these in a scientific way. And there are other people, including amateurs like yourself, and also others with some scholarly knowledge, who come up with fabulous interpretations and theories of all kinds, including proto-languages and long-range connections. Obviously, hypotheses are necessary for the development of science, but I'm afraid in the case of Iberian there are more hypotheses than certainties.

By the way, if you're happy with your etymological fantasies, go ahead, but please, not in my blog.

illiricheddu said...

Buen dìa Jesùs,

sobre el libro de Blasco no sabrìa que decir: desde lo que vi en un artìculo en su libro anterior, su tesis parece poco convincente. Hace tres años, por el contrario, Yo argumenté que la mayorìa de los toponimos de Cerdena se puede explicar con l'indoeuropeo, y in particular a través de lo poco que sabemos de ilirio e tracio. En mi sito web.tiscali.it/sardoillirica/sardoillirica el lector puede ver alcunos resultados de mi analisis, y tambien un estudio sobre una palabra castillana ("salvado") que no habìa hasta ahora un'etimologìa bien reconocida.

Hasta la vista
a. areddu

Jesús Sanchis said...

Grazie tante per i tuoi commenti, a. areddu, e benvenuto a questo blog. Io penso anche che nella toponimia sarda ci sono elementi prerromani indoeuropei, ma è logico pensare che ci siano altri elementi. Uno dei problemi che vedo nella teoria di Blasco Ferrer è l'uso di concetti come "protobasco". In ogni caso, a me bisogna aspettare a leggere il suo libro di publicazione imminente per potere emmetere un giudizio completo.

In generale, trovo l'isola di Sardegna davvero interessante, sia dal punto di vista archeologico-storico come dal linguistico. Ci sono molti toponimi che attirano l'attenzione. Vediamo un esempio. Ho visto che nel nordest dell'isola c'è un luogo chiamato 'Siniscola', cosa che mi ha fatto pensare a 'Peníscola', una località costiera mediterranea nella provinzia di Castellón, in Spagna. Abbiamo anche Ischia, vicino a Napoli. Mi domando se ci sia qualche rapporto etimologico tra questi termini, sebbene ho visto che la pronunzia di 'Siniscola' sarebbe con azento nella 'o', ma non sono dal tutto sicuro. Joan Coromines, nel suo "Onomasticon Cataloniae", ha già indicato la possibile connessione tra 'Peníscola' e 'Ischia'. Per me, queste connessioni linguistiche mediterranee, forse già prerromane, sono molto interessanti.

illiricheddu said...

Hola!
La pronunciación de Siniscola es: SINISCòLA, pero en el lugar dicen Thiniscòle. No sabemos la que sea la pronunciación mas antigua. Recuerda también la localidad de: Miliscola en Campania (tal vez de la schola militum 'la escuela de los soldados). En Cerdeña tenemos también el Sinis, que es una península arenosa. Eso es todo.

a.areddu

Jesús Sanchis said...

(I'll go back to english). Thanks, areddu. Yes, that's what I thought. Probably the place name 'Siniscola' has nothing to do with the 'iscla' series, which is well attested in other Mediterranean areas and languages. 'Iscla', or 'Ischia', has traditionally been explained as an evolution from Latin 'insula', but maybe it could be understood as a pre-Roman italid word. In any case, this is just a conjecture.