Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Markus Egetmeyer, Le dialecte grec ancien de Chypre. Tome I: Grammaire; Tome II: Répertoire des inscriptions en syllabaire chypro-grec. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2010. Pp. ix, vii, 1037. ISBN 9783110217513. $349.00.

Reviewed by Andreas Willi, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site


Among the Greek dialects of the first millennium BC, Cypriot enjoys a special status because it is mainly written in an Aegean syllabic script akin to Linear B, though deciphered much earlier—from 1872 onwards—and not restricted to administrative contexts, but attested for all the usual epigraphic genres. This 'Cypro-Greek' syllabary was used to write Greek from the 8th century well into Hellenistic times, although occasional attempts to employ the Greek alphabet already started in the 6th century, both in digraphic (alphabetic/syllabic) and in bilingual (Eteocypriot/Greek) texts. Egetmeyer, who is one of the leading specialists in the field and author already of an important dictionary of ancient Cypriot (Egetmeyer 1992), here presents the first comprehensive grammar of this dialect after Hoffmann (1891), taking into account more or less anything of substance that has been published on it since then, including the most recent finds not yet included in the second edition of Masson's Inscriptions chypriotes syllabiques (Masson 1983 = ICS).1 Since the material has increased substantially over the last decades, with ICS containing 'only' 456 numbers whereas well over 1,000 texts are known today, and since a fully edited up-to-date corpus (Inscriptiones Graecae XV, in preparation by Egetmeyer, Karnava, and Perna) is not yet available, Egetmeyer's present work consists of two volumes, the first and main one containing the grammar proper, the second a repertory of all the inscriptions in syllabic script (with transliteration, transcription, and translation) as well as extensive indices and a large bibliography: needless to say, such a repertory is extremely convenient for anyone consulting the grammar and wanting to check a particular source.

Given the scope and quality of his grammar, Egetmeyer's stated aims are remarkably modest (p. 1): "Le manuel vise à encourager la recherche sur l'établissement de la carte dialectale du grec ancien dans le cadre de la grammaire comparée indo-européenne et dans celui des lettres classiques, mais il veut aussi servir d'aide à la constitution d'un corpus de ces inscriptions syllabiques et à l'élaboration de la paléographie d'une écriture encore mal connue." All of this is amply achieved and the information provided fulfils the highest expectations from any point of view: epigraphic, linguistic, or philological. For example, it is by no means obvious that the grammar of a Greek dialect should contain sections not only on the sources (inscriptions, onomastics, glosses) as well as dialectal phonology and morphology, but also on word formation, syntax, and even style; and it is striking how much valuable data, etymological and other, is amassed especially in the first of these 'additional' sections, whose particular focus on onomastics—both Greek and non-Greek—no doubt owes much to the French 'school' to which Egetmeyer belongs. Occasionally, it is true, things could have been condensed more for the purposes of a grammar (e.g. pp. 313-315, on the word Βουκάσ<ι>α), but a leisurely reader may also benefit from apparent digressions.

Egetmeyer himself stresses the need to strike a good balance between an Indo-Europeanist's and a classicist's approaches to a dialect such as Cypriot (p. 29). Overall he is successful in this respect too, and one rarely feels that he is biased. If I might have been more hesitant to adopt 'Indo-Europeanist' solutions for the problem of, say, gen. u ke ro ne 'supplementary payment' (where Egetmeyer prefers a preverb *ud ~ Skt. ud to a reading with /u(n) / ~ ἀνα : pp. 450-452), for the double representation of IE *(H)y > ζ , /h / in Greek (where Egetmeyer subscribes to *Hy > /h / vs. *y > ζ and does not even mention the possibility of inner-Greek sandhi developments: pp. 119-121), or for the inf. to we na i 'to give' (where Egetmeyer accepts an equivalence of the ending with Skt. váne: pp. 525-526), this is largely a matter of taste, and Egetmeyer cannot be said to suppress alternative views unfairly: a rare exception in this respect is his failure even to mention Forbes (1958) when he apodictically states (p. 455) that the potential particle ke is "une ancienne particule déictique *ke 'là'" (i.e. has nothing to do, etymologically, with Att. ἄν).2

In many other cases, Egetmeyer does not take the easy route of removing problematic issues by having recourse to 'mere' reconstruction. Thus, to cite a straightforward case first, the Cypriot endings with initial hiatus-breaking w among the vocalic stems of the third declension (type dat. /ptoli wi/) are plausibly declared to be analogically extended, within the history of Cypriot, from the paradigm of the diphthong stems in * ēw (pp. 411-412, 415-416; but do we really need, in addition, a substantial group of original stems in / e: / < * eh1 for this to work, as adumbrated on pp. 421-422?). More controversially, while Egetmeyer adopts Cowgill's ingenious explanation of the first elements of e tu wa no i nu and e to ko i nu on the famous Idalion bronze (ICS 217 A 6.16) as /eduwan/ (~ Att. ἔδοσαν) and /edo:k'/ (~ Att. ἔδωκ(ε)), he questions Cowgill's less intuitively correct interpretation of (k/n)o i nu as an equivalent of Att. οὖν < *óen (vel sim.) and promotes, as a "solution bien plus simple", an idea of C. de Lamberterie according to which this sequence should be read as /oi nu/ with the enclitic pronoun (Att.) οἱ + particle νυ (pp. 439, 455). Personally, I am not sure that this is really so much simpler when the indirect object is explicitly and separately referred to in both sentences (with the first indirect object even being in the plural, unlike the supposed pronoun, as highlighted only on p. 558) and when /oi/ is moreover said to represent a "forme plus récente" of (indirect )reflexive /woi/ < *swoi (i.e. not something like anaphoric *soi), but the matter illustrates again that Egetmeyer is perfectly comfortable with fully synchronic analyses. Similarly (pp. 131, 486), he is hesitant to explain the gloss Hsch. γ 770 γοδαν· κλαίειν. Κύπριοι (and with it Hsch. γ 772 γοδόν· γόητα) by positing merely for the sake of this one dialect a Proto-Greek ablauting *h2wod éh2 (with Saussure effect) next to *h2ud éh2 > αὐδή, despite his inclination to interpret the initial γ of the gloss as ϝ .3

One area in which Egetmeyer shows particular interest is the graphic system of Cypriot. Here I was impressed for example by his lucid discussion of the principle that "tous les sons perçus sont notés" (p. 47), with its implications for the lack of notation of pre-consonantal nasals (pp. 97-98 and 152-154: a decision between the nasalization of preceding vowels or consonant gemination is difficult, and different stages of development may be represented by our evidence), or by his remarks on the sign [ga]/[za] (pp. 188-190): the reading [za] is much less certain than is sometimes supposed, as in discussions of the obscure phrase u wa i se ga ne (pp. 442-4444).

That Egetmeyer has digested a vast number of scholarly contributions on all kinds of topics has already been mentioned; this adds immensely to the value of his grammar as a reference tool for Greek dialectology well beyond the area of Cyprus. A slight drawback of this richness is the fact that, on occasion, either the presentation becomes somewhat unwieldy (as when examples for the preservation of /ea/ are separated from those for the development /ea/ > /ia/: pp. 70 and 73 with §§44 and 49 respectively, followed by a real discussion only in §51, which someone consulting §44 might easily overlook because it is not cross-referenced there), or the author sits so much on the fence in evaluating competing opinions that (minor) incompatibilities creep into the text. Thus, with regard to the exceptional consonant-stem ending acc. pl. / aus/, Egetmeyer states on p. 176 that "le plus probable est donc que la désinence héritée / ons/ et étendue à / ans/ a ensuite été introduite aussi dans les thèmes consonantiques", whereas on p. 407 (again without cross-reference) we read that "une analogie avec les thèmes vocaliques est improbable, leur nasale, comme par exemple dans * ons des thèmes en o , était déjà faible et sa perte n'a jamais abouti à une diphtongue".5

More positively—and more essentially—, Egetmeyer's exhaustiveness makes it difficult to come up with anything that is missing. The only real restriction is fully acknowledged at the very end: "Une importante tâche à mener à bien c'est désormais l'intégration du chypriote dans le débat sur l'émergence de la carte dialectale du grec au premier millénaire" (p. 572). In other words, there is no chapter or section devoted to the relationship of Cypriot to other Greek dialects, whether synchronically or diachronically. Some knowledge of generally acknowledged facts relating to this question—in particular, the close relationship between Arcadian and Cypriot—is tacitly presupposed. Readers who do not have it might find it puzzling when comparisons with Arcadian appear prominently time and again throughout the grammar (e.g. p. 513, on the 2sg. middle ending * soi: "La survivance de cette forme héritée est à postuler à cause de la troisième singulier en toi et de la forme arcadienne κεῖοι < *kei soi"; note, incidentally, that this, while likely, is not certain since a 1sg. -μαι could in theory trigger * soi > * sai before a change in 3sg. * toi) or when they read statements like (p. 54, on presumed /ano/ > /ono/ in the Cypriot equivalent of Att. ἀνά) "Le changement à l'initiale devrait donc être postmycénien, mais encore continental"; but there will be few of them. Relatively little is also said on intradialectal diversity, but here Egetmeyer makes it clear that this is because the evidence does not allow any definitive conclusions (p. 572; see at least his pertinent remarks on the demonstrative pronouns on pp. 432 and 543-545). Further material may of course enlighten us in the future, but for the time being—and, I am sure, for a very long time indeed—Egetmeyer's grammar will remain the standard reference work on ancient Cypriot, as well as a model for anyone working on the dialects of Ancient Greece.


1.   Egetmeyer, M. (1992). Wörterbuch zu den Inschriften im kyprischen Syllabar. Berlin and New York. Hoffmann, O. (1891). Die griechischen Dialekte. I: Der südachäische Dialekt. Göttingen.Masson, O. (1983). Les inscriptions chypriotes syllabiques (2nd edn. with Addenda). Paris.
2.   Forbes, K. (1958). 'The relations of the particle ἄν with κεν, κα, καν'. Glotta 37: 179-182.
3.   If one were to abandon the latter assumption, one might perhaps recognise here an (admittedly less common) instance of δ for ϝ , which could find support not only in the difficult gloss Hsch. σ 1140 σκυδά· σκιά mentioned on p. 133, but also in Hsch. α 1015 αδασαν (codex Marcianus, ≠ αβασαν in other sources, for ἄϝασαν)· ἔβλαψαν, and thus end up with a fairly unremarkable pair γοδαν = γο(ϝ)ᾶν and (nomen agentis) γοδόν = γο(ϝ)όν (cf. Att. γοάω, Skt. gavate).
4.   Could one consider ga ne = /ga(n)/ = Att. γε, with spurious ne as in e.g. /me(n)/ for με, especially in the light of Arc. δα = δε and the 'emphatic' value of γε? Or do we have to ascribe γε to Cypriot, thereby excluding γα, given ICS 217 B 29 ta sa ke, which Egetmeyer, p. 555, reads as /ta(n)s ke/ but where /ge/ would make good sense?).
5.   Similarly, we can hardly have πόλις "reposant sur *plh1 s" (p. 149) as well as descending from *pólh1i (as implied on p. 249), or explain the gloss Hsch. α 3251 ἄλουα· κῆποι as both *ἄλω α (p. 89) and *ἄλοϝ α (p. 247: note that, if the latter were correct, the form should also appear on pp. 132-133 in the list of forms with internal digamma; but to me at least it is not at all clear why we should dismiss as "peu probable" the idea that <ου> stands for /w/ in the gloss, with ἄλουα then being the regular plural of Cypr. a la wo = /alwo(n)/).

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