You are on page 1of 9

The Pelasgian Pre-

Pre-Greek Substrate

Arnaud Fournet

The document summarizes the main information available on the Pelasgian Pre-Greek substrates
that are known to have existed in Greece's mainland and islands before the Greek language, a
variety of Central Indo-European, became the vernacular. The conclusion is that the Aegean Sea
has always been a purely Indo-European area. The document proposes some emendations to the
current decipherment of Linear A.

• The retreat of the Unbeknownst

Not infrequently proto-languages have been located in unfavorable environments : deserts, poles,
steppes, mountains, all kinds of areas perfectly unsuitable for the emergence of a huge and developed
population, as if homelands of proto-languages were all the more probable because they are as thinly
people and as undocumented as possible. Hypothesizing whatever sub-branch of X-o-Y-ic in Libya is
indeed the cleverest strategy to make sure the idea will not be refuted by adverse traces of human
presence. On the other end of the spectrum, areas like Ancient Greece and Anatolia were dismissed
by the nascent Indo-European scholarship as possible homeland of the PIE language because they
were perceived as harboring brilliant civilizations but of unknown linguistic ethnoculture.
As the progress of knowledge has shown for two centuries, Greece and Asia Minor, which were
previously thought of unknown linguistic origin, have only revealed languages with clear and full-
fledged Indo-European origin. There is in fact no place left for any Pelasgo-Etruscomaniac fancies
because the area is basically Indo-European. The only residual area of unclear status is Crete with a
resisting Linear A script so far. Our conviction is that this resistance will not last for ever.
The first advance in the knowledge of this area was the decipherment of cuneiform script and then
the gradual realization that Hittite and the other western Anatolian languages, Lydian, Lycian, etc.,
were Indo-European. This understanding was first suggested at the beginning of the XXth century and
was later established by Bedŕich Hrozný in 1914 and confirmed by Jerzy Kuryłowicz.

Map of the Anatolian Indo-European languages


The next advance was achieved with the decipherment of Linear B script in 1952 by Michael
Ventris with the help of John Chadwick. It became then clear that the Greek Islands, especially Crete
and part of the mainland (in blue color below) had been peopled by the speakers of an early Greek
dialect : Mycenean Greek. The mystery of a Minoan unknown civilization could then be discarded. The
area was Greek-speaking as early as -1450 BC.

Map of the Greek dialects

The Greek language, represented by its numerous dialects, is not the first Indo-European language
spoken in Greece. They are plenty of indications, both direct and indirect, that another language was
there before. Greek came from the North-East of Greece and represents an intrusion of Central Indo-
European, which happened sometimes between -2200 and -1500 BC. The previous language, which
was spoken before Greek prevailed, can be called either Pelasgian or Pre-Greek. It will be called Pre-
Greek in the following pages.
It has been well-known since Antiquity that an obscure people called Pelasgians by Herodotus and
Homer had once inhabited Crete, the Peloponnesus and the Attic peninsula. The linguistic study of the
Pre-Greek language owes much to the efforts of Kuiper, who wrote a study on Greek substratum
words in 1956, of Furnée who wrote a dissertation on the subject in 1972, and of Beekes, who is the
foremost specialist of the Pre-Greek issue, since that time.
The document is based on an analysis and assessment of Beekes' current work.
• The linguistic features of Pre-Greek

It has become increasingly clear that the substratic Pre-Greek words of the Greek vocabulary are
not an incoherent hotchpotch of words but add up to a language with typical and describable features.
The vowels, consonants and lexical morphology can be inferred from the huge set of words that have
made their way from Pre-Greek into Greek. Close to one thousand words are potentially Pre-Greek.

The vowel system

Contrary to Greek, the phonological system of Pre-Greek was composed of a rather limited number
of vowels and these phonemes were precisely not the most frequent vowels inherited by Greek from
Central IE. The distributional analysis of the suffixes of Pre-Greek shows that only *a / *i / *u exist. For
example, the following suffixes can be found in Pre-Greek loanwords :
*a amb ant (rare) and anth aŋg
*i ind inth iŋg
*u umb unt (rare) und unth (rare) uŋg
Distribution of the vowels in the Pre-Greek suffixes

The same situation exists with unnasalized suffixed. On the whole, *e and *o are rare in the Pre-
Greek loanwords and nearly never found in the suffixes. This feature leads Beekes to conclude that
the system only included */a/, */i/ and */u/. There is nevertheless a potential counter-argument in the
reasoning. If the suffixes were always unstressed, then what we have is a reduced unaccented system
but the accented system may have been richer. The prosody of Pre-Greek remains to be studied but
from some words, ábramis ~ abramís, ákhuros ~ akhurós, korúdalos ~ korudallós, síkuos ~ sikuós, it
seems that the position of pitch (or accent) in Pre-Greek had no fixed position. This is an argument in
favor of the reduced system of vowels.
But our opinion is that the limited set of vowels can also be inferred from the graphic structure of
Linear B itself and of the cypriot syllabary as well.

The graphic internal structure of Linear B

A conspicuous feature of Linear B is the massive inadequation of the set of syllables to transcribe
Greek. This situation obviously originates in the linguistic differences between Greek and Pre-Greek,
for which the system was most probably designed. If the phonemic inventory of Pre-Greek was only
*a, *i, *u, we should expect the graphic system to have only three series of syllables and not five : only
ta, ti, tu should exist and te, to should not exist. They are nevertheless there.
This suggests the hypothesis that new syllables were added to the Pre-Greek system when it got
adapted to write (Mycenean) Greek. As we will see, the symbols to write *e and *o are indeed variants
of those used for *i and *u, respectively, through schematization, in most cases, or maybe modified
orientations (45° or top-down).
e~i < top-down o~u < schematized
de ~ di > schematized do ~ du > 45°
ye ~ i same yo ~ yu < schematized
ke ~ ki > schematized ko ~ ku > schematized
me ~ mi > schematized mo ~ mu unclear
ne ~ ni > schematized no ~ nu > unclear
pe ~ pi < 45° po ~ pu < schematized
re ~ ri < schematized ro ~ ru < schematized
se ~ si < top-down so ~ su > schematized
te ~ ti > unclear to ~ tu < schematized
we ~ wi < schematized wo ~ wu same
ze ~ zi same zo ~ zu < schematized
Comparative table of the shapes of i/e and o/u signs

As exemplified in the table, the signs are clearly related and they massively indicate that new signs,
with a simplified shape, were created in order to write (Mycenean) Greek, a language with five basic
vowels, out of a system, originally designed to write to Pre-Greek, a language with only three basic
vowels.
The following signs do not seem to have any relationship :
qe ~ qi o~u
But this may be an artefact of an unfinished decipherment :
qe ~ qi pi2 *[qi] o~u pu2 *[qu]

The graphic internal structure of Cypriot Syllabary

Table of the Cypriot Syllabary


The Cypriot Syllabary displays shared tendencies with Linear B : tu and to are obviously related.
But the syllables for *e seem to be derived from *a, not from *i, as shown by ma ~ me. Moreover yi
and ki seem much closer to ya and ka than to ye and ke. The creation of that graphic system seems to
be significantly independent from the Linear B system. But it indicates the same kind of substrate : the
previous language had only three vowels when Greek had five and adjustements were made.

The conclusion that Pre-Greek had only three vowels seems extremely solidly established. Another
conclusion is that Pelasgian Pre-Greek had no relationship with Etruscan, which had four vowels,
instead on three.

The system of consonants

From the Greek point of view, Linear B is a very traumatic system which notes the three series of
phonemes with only one set of signs. Voiced, voiceless and aspirate phonemes are not distinguished
by the graphic system. This raises the issue of knowing what kind of phonological contrast Pre-Greek
might have had. The failure to provide any choice between voiced, voiceless and aspirate suggests
that neither voice nor aspiration were existing in Pre-Greek. Moreover, only a few Pre-Greek
loanwords have -h-. This is another sign that aspiration played only a limited role in Pre-Greek.
Anatolian Indo-European seems to have had a contrast between weak simple ~ strong geminate. But
Pelasgian Pre-Greek words hardly ever display any gemination. The most frequent ones are -ll-, -nn-, -
rr-, -ss-, which can be of Greek origin.
The existence of some kind of contrast is nevertheless made sure by a double set of signs that
distinguish Greek /d/ ~ Greek /t/. If the distinctive feature was not voice, then a reasonable idea was
that it was glottalic. There were two sets of consonants in Pre-Greek : glottalic and voiceless. And it
seems reasonable to think this situation existed for velars, dentals, fricatives and maybe also laterals.
Labials do not seem to be attested. It is intriguing that some inscriptions are written <Λh> instead of
just <Λ>. Another telling point is that the Semitic letter San [sˀ], emphatic fricative, was used in some
areas in Greece. And it is also worth nothing that the so-called western Greek alphabets, from Corinth
<Ϟoρινθος> for example, are those who use both San and Qoppa. It is most probably not a chance
coincidence that Pre-Greek was precisely spoken there at an earlier period.
Voiceless Pre-Greek phonemes were adopted as voiceless. And the double adaptation as /d/ or
/th/, that happens in many words, signals that (Old) Greek speakers perceived a particular feature that
they could not reproduce correctly : glottalization. If this is true, and if Pre-Greek had two sets of
phonemes, then there is no reason why these two sets of phonemes could not be properly written by
the graphic system and we should be able to determine a double set of phonemes, one voiceless and
one glottalic, for each articulation that Pre-Greek had.
Beekes suggests that Pre-Greek had a set of labialized consonants and we agree. He also
suggests a set of palatalized consonants, we disagree and think this is based on erroneous values of
the signs.
An emended decipherment of the graphic system of Pre-Greek Linear A

On the basis on the previous analyses, the Pelasgian Pre-Greek system seems to be :
*ˀ *h ; m w p ; n t tˀ ; y r rˀ ; s sˀ ; k kˀ ; kw kˀw and three vowels *a *i *u
These are the syllables that must have existed in the system before it was adapted to Greek.

Emended phonetic values for Pre-Greek Linear A


Vowel a 8 i 28 u 61
diphthong ai 43 au 85
w wa 54 wi 40 wu 48 48 *nwa is faulty

p pa 3 pi 39 pu 50
m ma 80 mi 13 mu 23
d *[tˀ] da 1 di 45 du 51
t ta 59 ti 4 tu 69
dw *[tˀw] dwa 71 dwi 37 dwu 118
tw twa 66 twi 87 twu 29
n na 6 ni 30 nu 55
z *[sˀ] za 17 zi 74 zu 79
s sa 31 si 41 su 12 sa ? (ra3)
zw *[sˀ] zwi 41 zwu 363 363 364
sw swa 47 swi 62 (*pte) swu 58
y ya 57 yi 46 yu 65
r ra 60 ri 53 ru 26
rˀ rˀa ? (ra3) rˀi 76 rˀu 68 (ro2) 76 (ra2)
rw

rˀw

g [kˀ] ga 44 gi 67 gu 81
k ka 77 ki 44 ku 70
gw [kˀw] gwa 56 gwi 22 (*pi2) gwu 91
kw kwa 16 kwi 78 kwu 29 (pu2)
ha ha (*a2)
The following signs have unknown value : AB 34, , 49, 82, 86, 301, hu 11. It
seems plausible that they may represent two series *rwa and *rˀwa.

The Linear A script seems to be a complete autochthonous invention using the usual acrophonic
value of the first initial of words of the language :
- au 85 < *auros 'bull',

- ma 80 < Hieroglyphic *060 supposed to be a cat face, but in fact, the meaning 'sheep'
seems much better. Cf. Greek mēlo- 'sheep'. This word is attested with /a/ instead of /e/, in some
other Indo-European languages, i.e. Armenian, Slavic or Germanic,
- mu 23 < Hieroglyphic *012 supposed to be a cattle-head, Cf. moskhos 'calf',
- gi 67 < Hieroglyphic *057 supposed to be a key sistrum, Cf. kithara 'lyre',

Conclusion

We do not have the necessary expertise nor time to find which of these rare signs would better
match which phonetic value. We are convinced that our emendations will bring some light on Pre-
Greek inscriptions that will ultimately lead to the full recognition that Pelasgian Pre-Greek is a third
branch of Indo-European, with Anatolian Indo-European and Non-Anatolian (Northern) Indo-European.
It is worth noting that these three branches of Indo-European used to have their own tutelar god :
- Zeus < *dyew-s, for the Greek invaders, who spoke a variety Central northern IE,
- Apollôn < unvocalized APLOWN *ˀ_p_l_ˁ_w_n *ˀapo-liˀōn, an Anatolian Indo-European god,
- Poseidôn < *potis-Idaōn 'master of the Ida', the tutelar god of the Pre-Greeks.

There is little doubt that the PIE homeland is to be found somewhere around the Aegian Sea.

Pelasgian Pre-Greek with its peculiar conservation of a contrast between #C- and #Cˀ will probably
be an new asset in the reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European language.
Annexes : Classification of the Indo-European languages

The Indo-European languages as dealt with in the present document have the following traditional
perimeter. We will not deal with some of our proposals of inclusion of languages, which are currently
hold to be either isolates or not to be Indo-European.
Our own classification is :
A. Anatolian. Now extinct since Late Antiquity. This is the earliest attested branch, mainly represented
by Hittite texts from the 16th century BC in cuneiform writing.

B. Non-Anatolian.
B1. Western Indo-European.
B1.1. Albanian, attested only since the 15th century. Proto-Albanian may have emerged from
Paleo-Balkanic predecessors, possibly related to the extinct and poorly known, Illyrian,
Thracian and Dacian languages. The two present-day dialects of Albanian contain a huge
amount of loanwords and the original vocabulary inherited from PIE is limited.
B1.2. Italic, represented by Latin and the Romance languages, and the now extinct Osco-
Umbrian sub-branch. Italy also has traces of languages like Venetic and Messapian, which
are possibly Indo-European.
B1.3. Celtic. The only present-day language with a significant number of speakers is Welsh.
Gaulish inscriptions are dated from the 6th century BC onward, in Greek and Etruscan
alphabets. The Old Irish manuscript tradition may be as early as the 8th century AD.
B1.4. Nord-West-Block. Extinct since the expansion of Germanic but a detectable substrate.
Other substrates are detectable.
B2. Central Indo-European.
B2.1. Greek. One of the earliest known IE language under the form of an indirect writing system
(Linear B) as Mycenaean Greek. There used to be a large variety of Greek dialects. Greek is
probably closely related to the extinct Phrygian language.
B2.2. Armenian language. The Bible was translated in the language after an adequate alphabet
was invented at the beginning of the 5th century AD.
B2.3. Balto-Slavic. Slavic is attested since the 9th century with texts in Old Church Slavonic
while Baltic is attested only since the 14th century.
B2.4. Indo-Iranian. Numerically a very large part of the family, with four sub-branches : Indo-
Aryan, Iranian, Dardic and Nuristani. Sanskrit is attested since the 3rd century BC, but the
language of the Rig-Veda is older than this date thanks to a conservative oral transmission.
Iranian is attested since about 520 BC in the form of Old Persian Behistun inscription, but the
Avestan language is equally older than this date.
B3. Eastern Indo-European.
B3.1. Germanic. Includes the now hegemonic English language. The earliest documents are
runic inscriptions from around the 2nd century AD and the translation of the Bible in Gothic,
4th century AD.
B3.2. Tocharian. Represented by two extinct dialects, once spoken in Turkestan and attested
from roughly the 6th to the 9th century AD.

C. Pelasgian
C.1. Mainland Pelasgian
C.2. Insular Pelasgian. Cretan.

References

BEEKES Robert, 1995, Comparative Indo-European Linguistics. An Introduction, Amsterdam, John Benjamins.
BEEKES Robert, 2007, www.indo-european.nl/ied/pdf/pre-greek.pdf.
BENVENISTE Emile, 1935, Origines de la formation des noms en indo-europeen, Paris, Maisonneuve.
BOISACQ Emile, 1923, Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue grecque, Paris, Klincksieck.
BRUGMANN Karl, 1905, Abrege de grammaire comparee des langues indo-europeennes, Paris, Klincksieck.
CHANTRAINE Michel, 1983, Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue grecque, Paris, Klincksieck.
COLLINGE Neville E., 1985, The Laws of Indo-European, Amsterdam, John Benjamins.
ERNOULT et MEILLET, 1932, Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue latine, Paris, Klincksieck.
FINKELBERG Margalit, 2005, Greeks and Pre- Greeks, Aegean Prehistory and Greek Heroic Tradition, CUP,
KIMBALL Sara E., 1999, Hittite Historical Phonology, Innsbrucker Beitrage zur Sprachwissenschaft, n° 95,
Innsbruck.
KURYŁOWICZ Jerzy, 1956, L’apophonie en indo-europeen, Wrocław, Ossolineum.
LEHMANN Winfred P., 1955, Proto-Indo-European Phonology, Austin, Univ. of Texas Press.
MALLORY James, 1997a, A la recherche des Indo-Europeens, Paris, Le Seuil.
MALLORY James, 1997b, Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers.
MARTINET Andre, 1986, Des steppes aux oceans, Paris, Payot.
MEIER-BRUEGGER Michael, 2002, Indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin, Walter de Gruyter.
MELCHERT H. Craig, 1994, Anatolian Historical Phonology, Leiden Studies in Indo-European.
MOLLER Hermann, 1906, Semitisch und Indogermanisch, Copenhague, H. Hagerup.
POKORNY Julius, 1959, Indo-Germanisches etymologisches Worterbuch (IEW), Berne, Francke Verlag.
PUHVEL Jaan, 1984, Hittite Etymological Dictionary, Berlin, Mouton Publishers.
SALMONS Joseph C., 1993. The Glottalic Theory. Survey and Synthesis, Journal of Indo-European Studies,
Monograph Series, n° 10, McLean, Institute for the Study of Man.
SCHRIJVER Peter, 1991, The Reflexes of the Proto-Indo-European Laryngeals in Latin, Amsterdam, Rodopi.
SAUSSURE Ferdinand de, 1870, Memoire sur le systeme primitif des voyelles dans les langues
indoeuropeennes, Leipzig, Teubner.
SERGENT Bernard, 1995, Les Indo-Europeens, Paris, Payot.
SZEMERENYI Oswald, 1973, La theorie des laryngales de Saussure a Kuryłowicz et a Benveniste, BSL, n° 68.
YOUNGER John, http://www.people.ku.edu/~jyounger/LinearA/ABgrids.html.