Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Pre Greek substrate

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The Pre-Greek substrate (or Pre-Greek substratum) consists of the unknown language or languages spoken in prehistoric ancient Greece before the settlement of Proto-Greek speakers in the area. It is possible that Greek took over some thousand words and proper names from such a language (or languages), because some of its vocabulary cannot be satisfactorily explained as deriving from the Proto-Greek language.


Pre-Greek loanwords

There are different categories of Pre-Greek, or "Aegean", loanwords such as:

  • Animals: e.g. βόλινθος/βόνασσος, bólinthos/bónassos, 'wild ox'; κάνθαρος, kántharos, 'beetle'; σμίνθος, smínthos, 'mouse'.
  • Architecture: e.g. λαβύρινθος, labýrinthos, 'labyrinth'; πλίνθος, plínthos, 'brick'; πύργος, pýrgos, 'tower'.
  • Maritime vocabulary: e.g. θάλασσα, thálassa, 'sea'.
  • Musical instruments: e.g. σύριγξ, sýrinx, 'flute'; κίθαρις, kítharis, 'guitar'; σάλπιγξ, sálpinx, 'trumpet'; φόρμιγξ, phórminx, 'lyre'.
  • Personal names: e.g. Ὀδυσσεύς, 'Odysseus'.
  • Plants: e.g. ἐλαία, elaía, 'olive tree'; κισσός, kissós, 'ivy'; ἄμπελος, ámpelos, 'vine'; σταφυλια,'staphylia, grape
  • Metals and metallurgy: κασσίτερος, kassíteros, 'tin'; χαλκός, chalkós, 'bronze'; μόλυβος, mólybos, 'lead'; σίδηρος, sídēros, 'iron'.
  • Social institutions: e.g. τύραννος, týrannos, 'absolute ruler'.
  • Theonyms: e.g. Ἀπόλλων, Apóllōn 'Apollo'.
  • Toponyms (or placenames): -nth- (e.g. Κόρινθος 'Korinthos', Ζάκυνθος 'Zakynthos'), -ss- (e.g. Παρνασσός 'Parnassos') and -tt- (e.g. Ὑμηττός 'Hymettus').
  • Use of domestic species: ἔλαιον, élaion, 'olive oil'; λήκυθος, 'lḗkythos, 'oil-flask'; κάνθων, kánthōn, 'pack-ass'.
  • Weapons: σιβύνη, síbynē, 'hunting spear'; ὑσσός, hyssós, 'javelin'; θώραξ, thṓrax, 'corselet'.
  • Weaving: μύρινθος, mýrinthos, 'cord'; ἀρύβαλλος, arýballos, 'purse'; χίτων, chítōn, 'tunic'.
  • Substratum theories

    Various explanations have been put forward for these substrate features. Among these are:

    Minoan substratum

    The existence of a Minoan (Eteocretan) substratum is the view of English archaeologist Arthur Evans who assumed widespread Minoan colonisation of the Aegean, policed by a Minoan thalassocracy. However, the Minoan loanwords found in Mycenaean Greek (i.e. words for architecture, metals and metallurgy, music, use of domestic species, social institutions, weapons, weaving) are the result of the socio-cultural and economic interactions between the Minoans and Mycenaeans during the Bronze Age and are therefore part of a linguistic adstrate in Greek rather than a substrate.

    Anatolian Indo-European substratum

    An Anatolian, perhaps specifically Luwian, substratum has been proposed, on the basis of -ssa- and -nda- (corresponding to -ssos- and -nthos- in mainland Greece) placenames being widespread in Western Anatolia. However, of the few words of secure Anatolian origin, most are cultural items or commodities likely the result of commercial exchange, not of a substratum. Furthermore, the correlations between Anatolian and Greek placenames may in fact represent a common early phase of Indo-European spoken prior to the emergence of Anatolian languages in Asia Minor and Greek in mainland Greece.

  • Anatolian loanwords include:
  • Apóllōn (Doric: Apéllōn, Cypriot: Apeílōn), from *Apeljōn, as in Hittite Appaliunaš;
  • dépas ‘cup; pot, vessel’, Mycenaean di-pa, from Hieroglyphic Luwian ti-pa-s ‘sky; bowl, cup’ (cf. Hittite nēpis ‘sky; cup’);
  • eléphās ‘ivory’, from Hittite laḫpa (itself from Mesopotamia; cf. Phoenician ʾlp, Egyptian Ȝbw);
  • kýanos ‘dark blue glaze; enamel’, from Hittite kuwannan- ‘copper ore; azurite’ (ultimately from Sumerian kù-an);
  • kýmbachos ‘helmet’, from Hittite kupaḫi ‘headgear’;
  • kýmbalon ‘cymbal’, from Hittite ḫuḫupal ‘wooden percussion instrument’;
  • mólybdos ‘lead’, Mycenaean mo-ri-wo-do, from *morkʷ-io- ‘dark’, as in Lydian mariwda(ś)-k ‘the dark ones’;
  • óbryza ‘vessel for refining gold’, from Hittite ḫuprušḫi ‘vessel’;
  • tolýpē ‘ball of wool’, from Hittite taluppa ‘lump’ (or Cuneiform Luwian taluppa/i).
  • Tyrrhenian/Etruscan substratum

    A Tyrrhenian/Etruscan substratum was proposed on the basis of (firstly) statements by Thucydides, to the effect that Tyrrhenian was a former language of an area including Athens, before the Tyrrhenians were expelled to the island of Lemnos, and (secondly) the Lemnos funerary stele: four pottery sherds inscribed in Etruscan that were found in 1885 at Ephestia in Lemnos.

    However, the Lemnos funerary stele was written in a form of ancient Etruscan, which suggested that the author had emigrated from Etruria in Italy, rather than the Greek sphere, and the Homeric tradition makes no mention of a Tyrrhenian presence on Lemnos.

    If Etruscan was spoken in Greece, it must have been effectively a language isolate, with no significant relationship to or interaction with speakers of pre-Greek or ancient Greek, since, in the words of C. De Simone, there are no Etruscan words that can be "etymologically traced back to a single, common ancestral form with a Greek equivalent".


    Pre-Greek substrate Wikipedia