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Etruscan Language

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Etruscan was the language spoken by the pre-Roman population of Etruria. It exists in over 9000 inscriptions, which have been discovered in Etruria, roughly corresponding with modern Tuscany, as well as in other Italian regions, such as Umbria, Campania, Emilia, Sicily, and Sardinia, or even beyond Italy, in Styria, at Carthage, and in Egypt where the most import­ant Etruscan document was found.

This remarkable text, containing about 1500 words, is written on the h'nen wrappings of an Egyptian mummy, and belongs to the Graeco-Roman period; it is preserved in the museum of Agram (or Zagreb), Yugoslavia. There are few other long inscriptions extant. The most important are the tile from S. Maria di Capua (now in the Berlin museum), of the 5th century BC which preserves about 300 words, and the Perugia cippus, which contains about 120 words.

The Tablet of Magliano, an inscription engraved on lead, is assigned to the 6th century BC. The last datable Etruscan inscrip­tions belong to the early years of the Christian era.

Notwithstanding the relatively great number of inscriptions (the majority consisting of a few words only), the many attempts to decipher the Etruscan language have been unsuccessful. It is certain, however, that it is neither Indo-European in structure or vocabulary, nor does it resemble any other known language, although it might have had some affinity with the ancient group of Caucasian languages. On the other hand, the simple reading of Etruscan inscrip­tions presents no great difficulties, because the script is fairly well known. Etruscan writing goes, like the Semitic and early Greek and Latin alphabets, nearly always from right to left; there are, however, inscriptions written in boustrophedon style, that is in alternate lines from right to left and left to right.

The original Etruscan alphabet (8th century B.C.) derived from the early Greek and contained 26 letters (21 consonants and 5 vowels). As time went on, there were reductions and various modifications and about 400 BC the classical Etruscan alphabet took its final form, having 20 letters; that is 4 vowels (a, e, ;', u, but no o) and 16 consonants. Etruscan speech knew no distinction between the voiced and breathed sounds b and p, d and t, If and g; therefore, the classical Etruscan alphabet had no b or d. At a later stage, k and q also disappeared, and the letter C (Etruscan gamma) was employed for g and k.

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