The term Pre-Greek substrate
refers to an unknown language that is conjectured to have been spoken in prehistoric Greece before the settlement of Greek
-speakers in the area. It is believed by some linguists that Greek took over a large number of words and proper names from such a language (its substrate
), because a large proportion of the vocabulary of Greek does not have demonstrable Indo-European
Including the following:
- Terms of insult and pejorative vocabulary
- Maritime terms, words for the sea, shipping (e.g. θάλασσα (thálassa), "sea")
- Words relating to Mediterranean agriculture, (e.g. elaia, "olive" etc.)
- Words regarding rulers, given by the populace (e.g. Tyrannos)
- Building technology (e.g. pyrgos "tower"
- Words relating to Non-Indo-European divinities (e.g. Athena)
- Placenames (e.g. Athens; those placenames that include -inth-: Corinth (Korinthos), Zacinthos (Zakynthos); those placenames that include -ss-: Knossos (Knossos), Halicarnassus (Halikarnassos), and Parnassus (Parnassos); and those placenames that include -tt-: Attica
Various explanations have been put forward to explain these substrate features. All have weaknesses. Some of these explanations include:
substratum was proposed by Leonard Palmer and others, on the basis of -ss- placenames being widespread in Western Anatolia, and of the widespread Anatolian presence of "Grey Minyan Ware
" formerly associated with the coming of the Greeks.
- Counterargument 1. - there is nothing to prevent the Grey Minyan incursions into Anatolia being of pre-Greek speaking Indo-Europeans. The Greek language shows close affinities to Armenian, and these Anatolian people may have been speakers of a proto-Armenian tongue.
- Counterargument 2. - It may be that the -ss- and -inth- presence in Luwian language placenames may be due to the substrate languages of this area, with both the Aegean and West Anatolian people speaking related languages (this is the view of James Mellaart).
On the basis of statements in Thucydides
was a former language of Athens
and that the Tyrrhenians had been expelled to Lemnos
, it has been suggested that the substrate language was related to Lemnian, and thus by association to Etruscan
- Counterargument 1: There is nothing historically to suggest that Tyrrhenian was more widespread in the Aegean than the northeast and adjacent areas of Asia Minor.
- Counterargument 2: Nothing in Greek substrate terminology seems similar to the reconstructed vocabularies for Etruscan.
The existence of a Minoan
) substratum is the view of Arthur Evans
who assumed widespread Minoan colonisation of the Aegean, policed by a Minoan thalassocracy
- Counterargument 1: Theories of a Minoan "thalassocracy" have in modern times been dismissed as the product of a late Victorian fantasy of an earlier civilisation which like Britain "ruled the waves".
- Counterargument 2: Archaeologically, the Cretan civilisation seems to have been a development of the island of Crete, having only indirect cultural impacts upon either the Cyclades or early Helladic cultures, which seem to have developed independently of Minoan Crete.
Suggests that there was an indigenous non-Indo-European "Pelasgian
" language in the Aegean area before the emergence of the Indo-European Proto-Greeks.
- Counterargument: The word Pelasgian has been used in a variety of ways by both ancient and modern writers to mean different things.
suggests, based on the arguments
of his book "Black Athena
" that the substratum languages for the pre-Greek language of the Aegean was a mixture of Egyptian
- Counter argument 1: Whilst modern scholars are taking greater account of the Egyptian and Semitic influence upon Greek civilisation, they reject Bernal's use of "mass comparisons" based upon random phonetic similarities.
- Counter argument 2: Concrete evidence of a mass transfer of population from Egypt or the Levant before 2,000 BCE is absent, which puts a great burden of proof upon Bernal's thesis.
- Alfred Heubeck, Praegraeca: sprachliche Untersuchungen zum vorgriechisch-indogermanischen Substrat, Erlangen (1961); review: A. J. Beattie, The Classical Review (1963).