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 Greece before the settlement of Proto-Greek speakers in the area. It is thought[by whom?] 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[edit]

There are different categories of Pre-Greek, or "Aegean", loanwords such as:[1]

  • Animals: e.g. βόλινθος/βόνασσος, 'wild ox'; κάνθαρος, 'beetle'; σμίνθος, 'mouse'.
  • Architecture: e.g. λαβύρινθος, 'labyrinth'; πλίνθος, 'brick'; πύργος, pyrgos, 'tower'.[2]
  • Maritime Vocabulary: e.g. θάλασσα, 'thálassa', 'sea'.
  • Musical Instruments: e.g. σύριγξ, 'flute'; κίθαρις, 'kitharis', 'guitar'; σάλπιγξ, 'trumpet'; φόρμιγξ, 'lyre'.
  • Personal Names: e.g. Ὀδυσσεύς, 'Odysseus'.[3]
  • Plants: e.g. ἐλαία, 'elaia', 'olive tree'; κισσός, 'kissos', 'ivy'; ἄμπελος, 'ampelos', 'vine'.
  • Metals and Metallurgy: κασσίτερος, 'kassiteros', 'tin'; χαλκός, 'chalkos', 'bronze'; μόλυβός, 'molybos', 'lead'; σίδηρος, 'sideros', 'iron'.
  • Social Institutions: e.g. τύραννος, 'tyrannos', 'absolute ruler'.
  • Theonyms: e.g. Άπόλλων, 'Apollon', 'Apollo'.[4]
  • Toponyms (or Placenames): -nth- (e.g. Κόρινθος 'Korinthos', Ζάκυνθος 'Zakynthos'), -ss- (e.g. Παρνασσός 'Parnassos') and -tt- (e.g. Ὑμηττός 'Hymettus').[5]
  • Use of Domestic Species: έλαιον, 'elaion', 'olive oil'; οίνος, 'oinos', 'wine'; λήκυθος, 'likythos', 'oil-flask'; κάνθων, 'kanthon', 'pack-ass'.
  • Weapons: σιβύνη, 'hunting spear'; υσσός, 'javelin'; θώραξ, 'corselet'.
  • Weaving: μύρινθος, 'cord'; αρύβαλλος, 'purse'; χίτων, 'tunic'.

Substratum theories[edit]

Various explanations have been put forward for these substrate features. Among these are:[6]

Minoan substratum[edit]

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.[7]

Anatolian Indo-European substratum[edit]

An Anatolian, perhaps specifically Luwian,[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

  • Anatolian loanwords include:[12]
    • Apóllōn (Doric: Apéllōn, Cypriot: Apeílōn), from *Apeljōn, as in Hittite Appaliunaš;[4]
    • 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 substratum[edit]

On the basis of statements in Thucydides that Tyrrhenian was a former language of Athens and that the Tyrrhenians had been expelled to Lemnos, it has been suggested[by whom?] that the substrate language was related to Lemnian, and thus by modern association to Etruscan.

Other possibilities[edit]

The possibility exists that the source may be more than one of these possibilities, or that vocabulary may have entered the Proto-Greek language before its speakers actually reached Greece and its pre-Indo-European population. Confusingly, the words wánax ("king") and wánassa ("queen"), terms that would be expected to originate from a local prestige language or superstratum, also may appear as natak ("lord") and nasi ("lady") in the Tocharian languages, spoken far to the east by a people not known to have ever visited Greece.

See also[edit]

Substrates of other Indo-European languages[edit]



  1. ^ Renfrew 1998, pp. 244–245 (see Tables 1 and 2 for all loanwords except personal names, toponyms and theonyms).
  2. ^ If the substratum is actually Indo-European, pyrgos as well as Pergamos might be connected to Proto-Indo-European *bhergh-.
  3. ^ Beekes 2009, p. 1048.
  4. ^ a b Beekes 2003, pp. 1–21.
  5. ^ Renfrew 1998, pp. 241, 253–254.
  6. ^ Other theories ranging from the mild (e.g. Egyptian) to the extreme (e.g. Proto-Turkic) have been proposed but have been given little to no consideration from the broader academic community and as such are not mentioned in the main body of this article.
  7. ^ Renfrew 1998, pp. 239–264.
  8. ^ Some scholars, such as Leonard R. Palmer, go so far as to suggest that the language of Linear A might be Luwian, though other Anatolian interpretations have also been offered.
  9. ^ Finkelberg 2006, pp. 42–64; Renfrew 1998, pp. 253–254.
  10. ^ Beekes 2009, p. xv.
  11. ^ Renfrew 1998, pp. 253–254, 256–257.
  12. ^ Hajnal, Ivo. Graeco-Anatolian Contacts in the Mycenaean Period. Innsbruck: University of Innsbruck. pp. 1–21. 


Further reading[edit]

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