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 during the Middle and Late Bronze Age period 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.[1]

Pre-Greek loanwords[edit]

There are different categories of Pre-Greek, or "Aegean", loanwords such as:[2][3]

  • Anatomy:
    • λαιμός, laimós, 'neck, throat'.
  • Animals
    • βόλινθος/βόνασσος, bólinthos/bónassos, 'wild ox';
    • κάνθαρος, kántharos, 'beetle';
    • σμίνθος, smínthos, 'mouse'.
  • Architecture:
    • λαβύρινθος, labýrinthos, 'labyrinth';
    • πλίνθος, plínthos, 'brick';
    • πύργος, pýrgos, 'tower'.[4]
  • Maritime vocabulary:
    • ακάτιο, akátio, 'small dinghy, skiff'.
    • θάλασσα, thálassa, 'sea'.
  • Musical instruments:
    • σύριγξ, sýrinx, 'flute';
    • κίθαρις, kítharis, 'zither';
    • σάλπιγξ, sálpinx, 'trumpet';
    • φόρμιγξ, phórminx, 'lyre'.
  • Plants:
    • ἀψίνθιον, apsinthion, 'wormwood' or 'absinthe';
    • ἐλαία, elaía, 'olive tree';
    • κισσός, kissós, 'ivy';
    • ἄμπελος, ámpelos, 'vine';
    • σταφύλια,staphylia, grape.
  • Metals and metallurgy:
    • κασσίτερος, kassíteros, 'tin';
    • χαλκός, chalkós, 'bronze';
    • μόλυβδος, mólybdos, 'lead';
    • σίδηρος, sídēros, 'iron'.
  • Social institutions:
    • τύραννος, týrannos, 'absolute ruler'.
  • Theonyms:
  • 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'.

Substratum theories[edit]

Various explanations have been put forward for these substrate features. Among these are:[8]

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.[9]

Raymond A. Brown, after listing a number of words of pre-Greek origin from Crete, suggests a relation between Minoan, Eteocretan, Lemnian (Pelasgian), and Tyrrhenian, coining the name "Aegeo-Asianic" for the proposed language family.[10]

Robert S. P. Beekes also suggests that the pre-Greek substratum, mostly non-Indo-European (or pre-Indo-European) in origin,[11] is largely derived from either one language or a group of closely related languages which could still include Minoan or languages with affinities to it, such as Eteocretan.[12] However, many Minoan loanwords found in Mycenaean Greek (e.g., words for architecture, metals and metallurgy, music, use of domestic species, social institutions, weapons, weaving) have been asserted to be the result of socio-cultural and economic interactions between the Minoans and Mycenaeans during the Bronze Age, and may therefore be part of a linguistic adstrate in Greek rather than a substrate.[13]

Anatolian Indo-European contact[edit]

An Anatolian, perhaps specifically Luwian,[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] Furthermore, the correlations between Anatolian and Greek placenames may in fact represent a common early phase of Indo-European spoken before the Anatolian languages emerged in Asia Minor and Greek in mainland Greece.[17] Some of the relevant vocabulary can alternatively be explained as language contact effects between Greek and Anatolic languages in Anatolia without necessarily arising from a language shift scenario.

  • Anatolian loanwords include:[18]
    • Apóllōn (Doric: Apéllōn, Cypriot: Apeílōn), from *Apeljōn, as in Hittite Appaliunaš;[6]
    • 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’/‘clod’ (or Cuneiform Luwian taluppa/i).

Tyrrhenian substratum[edit]

A Tyrrhenian/Etruscan substratum was proposed on the basis of (firstly) statements by Thucydides, to the effect that Tyrrhenian languages were spoken in an area including Athens, before the Tyrrhenians were expelled to the island of Lemnos,[19] and (secondly) the Lemnos funerary stele:[20] four pottery sherds inscribed in Etruscan that were found in 1885 at Ephestia in Lemnos.[20]

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.[21]

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".[21]

Kartvelian theory[edit]

In 1979, Edzard J. Furnée proposed a theory under which pre-Greek substrate is connected with Kartvelian languages.[22]

See also[edit]

Substrates of other Indo-European languages[edit]


  1. ^ Duhoux 2007, pp. 220–222.
  2. ^ Renfrew 1998, pp. 244–245 (see Tables 1 and 2 for all loanwords except personal names, toponyms and theonyms).
  3. ^ Beekes, Robert S. P.; Norbruis, Stefan (January 1, 2014). "The Pre-Greek Lexicon". Brill – via
  4. ^ If the substratum is actually Indo-European, pyrgos as well as Pergamos might be connected to Proto-Indo-European *bhergh- Archived 2008-10-15 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Beekes 2009, p. 1048.
  6. ^ a b Beekes 2003, pp. 1–21.
  7. ^ Renfrew 1998, pp. 241, 253–254.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Gere 2006, p. 112: "Arthur Evans would live to repent of his suggestion to the British School that they reopen the excavations at Mycenae. He had expected that his theory of Minoan dominance over the mainland would be borne out, but instead he encountered stout resistance... Evans could never bring himself to believe any story except that of Minoan colonisation of the mainland from the beginning to the end of Mycenaean history."
  10. ^ Brown 1985, p. 289.
  11. ^ Beekes 2014, p. 46.
  12. ^ Beekes 2014, p. 45.
  13. ^ Renfrew 1998, pp. 239–264.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Finkelberg 2006, pp. 42–64; Renfrew 1998, pp. 253–254.
  16. ^ Beekes 2009, p. xv.
  17. ^ Renfrew 1998, pp. 253–254, 256–257.
  18. ^ Hajnal, Ivo. Graeco-Anatolian Contacts in the Mycenaean Period. Innsbruck: University of Innsbruck. pp. 1–21.
  19. ^ Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War, 4.109.4.
  20. ^ a b De Simone 2007, p. 786.
  21. ^ a b De Simone 2007, p. 787.
  22. ^ Furnée 1979.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]