By GJK Campbell-Dunn M.A. (NZ), M.A. (Camb.) Ph.D.

Recent genetic research at Universidad Complutense, Madrid shows an African–Egyptian presence in prehistoric Italy. We identify Etruscan as Niger-Congo.

Etruscan has now been deciphered as Niger-Congo. Our work is based mainly on that of M. Pallottino (1975), L. Bonfante (2002) for Etruscan and D. Westermann (1927), H. Mukarovsky (1977) for Niger-Congo. Evidence from comparative morphology and sound correspondences follows. PWS Proto-Western Sudanic “Sudan” (Westermann) PWN Proto-Western Nigritic (Mukarovsky).



Etruscan is agglutinative, not an inflected language like Latin. Its morphology is made by the free addition of affixes, ie. by lateral extension, not by vertical paradigms: zal, e-sal; u-nu ; uni, uni-al, uni-al-ti ; aule, aule-s, aule-s-la etc. The last ex has the Niger-Congo postposed article -la. Niger-Congo is likewise agglutinative in structure, with prefixes before the root, suffixes after it.

ETRUSCAN examples to the left NIGER-CONGO examples to the right.
The Personal Pronoun. PWS
1. mi, mini “I, me” mi, min, mine, mina, “I” ni “I” (also in Bantu) Temne minan “it is I”, Ga, Efik, Foro mi “I”.
2. u-n, u-ne, u-nu “you” Ga nu, Gbe u-nu, Adele e-ne “man, person” .
3. an (personal), in (inanimate) “he” etc. Tschi ni, Nupe a-ni, Malinke nin “this”.

Bantu has forms nyu, nu, nyi, ni, inu in the second person plural (Johnston 1911 : 362). Westermann quotes 24 cognate forms of mi “I” from six language groups.

The presence of Niger-Congo prefixes on pronominal forms is unusual and highly significant. The Niger-Congo prefixes are the hallmark of Niger-Congo languages.

The Demonstrative PWS
ca, ta, i-ca, e-ca, i-ta : cei, tei ga , e-ga “here, this”, ta, e-ta, tai “thing”
can, cen, cn, ecn Ewe ganom, Guang ganen, Mende gama “this”
tn, e-tan, to Ewe ta, to, Mekibo e-ta, Bowili li-tsa “thing”
cla, tla, cal: clal (Etruscan c [k] < Niger-Congo g)

The -al, -lal are suffixes. The word thui (Pallottino 1975 : 217) means “here” < Niger-Congo tu “to approach, be near”.

Here too we have remains of vocalic prefixes, e- and i-. The coexistence of forms with and without the prefixes is typical of Western Niger-Congo.


The Noun

-r Plural PWS
clan “son”, clena-r “sons” Djula mo?o-lu “men” [l=r]
Westermann (1927: 164, 12, 6)
methlume-r-s “of nations” Mfut do-ru “knees”, Bamana du-ru “knees”
(with possessive -s after plural) Malinke musu-lu “women”, ke-lu “men”
But compare mani “Manes” Dagomba du-ni “knees” (with -ni plural).

Bonfante identifies plural suffixes in -ir, -ar, -ur. These were once -ri, -ru plural endings as in Mandingo, but have been reduced by apocope. A similar plural occurs in Ewe (Kwa group). Pallottino (1975 : 214) gives murs-l “sarcophagi” with plural in -l. Compare -lu in mo?o-lu above. Note PWN GHWYAN = “child” [GHWY > cl].

-s Possessive PWS
clan-s “of the son” -ta “possession”
methlume-s “of the nation” Djula ta “possession”, Bamana ta “possession”
methlumer-s “of the nations” Malinke ta “possession”, Mende n-da “portion”

The Etruscan possessive is from -ta > -sa > -s. See Pisani (1964 : 308). The ending -ta no longer exists as such in Etruscan, as the vowel is usually lost (retained in -sa) and the t has changed to s.

A “Possessive” in -la, -al is really the article, “the …of ”. Compare the Greek postposed article with genitive of proper names. (Pisani 1964 : 308).

-si Dative PWS

The meaning “to, for” with nouns is expressed by the addition of -si (-́si) to singular or plural. (Pisani 1964 : 308).This is from N-C -ti, tu “to take, to carry”.

clen-́si “to the son” -ti, tu “to carry”, PWN TU “to carry”
clenara-́si “to the sons” Atjulo ti “to take”, Kulango ti “to take”
Tin-si “to Juppiter” Malinke ti “to carry”, Lefana ti “to take”
Spuriei-si “by Spurie” Likpe tši “to take”, Guang t́su “to take”

-ti, -thi Locative PWS

The element -ti “place” seen in Etruscan unial-ti “in the temple of Uni” is from Niger-Congo -thi, PWS -ti, PWN TI “middle, amid”. Other examples:

-thi “in” , suthi “in the tomb” Igbo -ti “middle, in” , Ada ti “middle”
spure-thi “in the city” Logbo -ti “between” , Likpe n-ti “middle”
ecl-thi “in this grave” Wolof tji “among”

The word originally referred to the middle of the human body. Bantu kati.

-ma Placenames PWS

Placenames may have a suffix -ma (Westermann 1927: 165).

Ro-ma Bamana bogo “earth”, bogo-ma “earthly”.
Cu-ma Likpe m-ma “there”, Senufo me “there”
Par-ma Akpafu ma “that”, Ahlo ma-mi “this”

-i Definites PWS

The Etruscan definite forms of the noun are based on Mandingo type definites with suffix -i as in Kpe and Mende. Mende hindo “man”, hindo-i (definite). In Mandingo a nasal prefix sometimes precedes the definite noun.

spuren-i “the city” wulu “tree”, n-gulu-i “the tree”
methlumer-i “the nations” gala “mat”, gala-i “the mat” zo “priest”, zo-i “the priest” nu “person”, nu-i “the person”

There is also a Niger-Congo postposed article in -la, which survives in Bantu and elsewhere.

-la Definite Article PWS
The postposed Niger-Congo article -la can be seen in :
Larthalis-la “the one of Larth” -la “article”
Laris-al Ewe la “definite article”, Ga le “definite article”
Arnth-al Dagarti la “definite article”, Bulom le “definite article”

This may be preceded by a prefix a-, o-, making -ala > -al. (17 entries for this item in Westermann 1927 : 247).

Prefixes are very characteristic of Niger-Congo noun formation. These are best preserved in proper names, names of gods :

E-trusci, Tusci ; Alagiang e-va “caiman”, Nupe tu “to build”
A-pulu Ewe a-ba “mat”, Tschi pu-e “to rise” (sun)
A-chile Banyun a-ba “father”
Ai-ta Ewe a-ta “father”
Ne-thuns Lefana n-tu “water”, Santrokofi n-tu “water”

but also survive on some nouns:

a-rac “falcon” Ewe a-da “bush knife”
a-teŕs “ancestors” Avatime a-ko “parrot”, Animere a-ko “parrot”
a-trium “part of house” (from -ti- “roof”)
a-vil “year” Efik a-ku “oil, fat”, Nde a-ku “oil, fat”
i-tu “Ides” Yoruba i-ka “finger”, Igbo i-ka “arm”
u-sil “sun” Kpossi u-wo “arm”, Temne u-kas “ancestor” Ahlo u-ga “chief”, Edo u-ki “moon”

These are the common Western Niger-Congo vocalic prefixes. The Latin loan lu-cumo “king” (Etruscan luc “to rule”) retains a syllabic prefix ( Adele du-kwo “house”, Vai ku “house”). The form ku “house” survives in Kono-Vai and San (Dwyer 1989 : 57), and a following nasal appears in Sussu, Sembla, Bobo, and Guro. Compare pharoah “great house” in Egyptian. Traces of consonantal prefixes also occur, in e.g. s-pur “populus”. Compare Etruscan pupluna “populus”. The prefixes are no longer productive in Etruscan.


The Adjective

-na Suffix PWS

A suffix -na is used to form adjectives in Etruscan and Niger-Congo, where it generally has local meaning: ko “to wash”, ko-na “a washing place”, sa “to lie”, sa-na “a place to lie”, etc. Also used for ordinal numbers (Westermann 1927: 164).

Arnth “Arnth”, Arnth-na “family of Arnth” Bamana be-na “birthplace of the Mother”
spura “city”, spura-na “of the city” Vai fa “die”, fa-na “place of death”
thuńs, “one”, thuńs-na “first” Djula tere “sun”, tere-na “hour”
́suthi “grave”, ́suthi-na “of the grave”

-cva Suffix (-cve) PWS

This indicates “full of” (Bonfante 2002 : 99), and is from Niger-Congo gua “much”.

math “alcohol”, Temne gba “very much”, Adjukru gba “big”
math-cva “full of alcohol” Ga gbe “very much”
avil “year”, avil-cva “perennial” Bulom gbe “much”
sren “ornament”, sren-cve “full of ornament” Sussu gbe “much”

-u, -iu Suffix PWS

Used to make adjectives from nouns, this comes from Niger-Congo giu “to be full”, with reduction of the labiovelar to a semivowel which is then lost.

ais “god”, aisiu “godly” giu “to be full”, Tschi wu-w “over-filled”,
hinth “below”, hinthiu “underground” Igbo džu “to fill, be full”, Ani yi “to fill”, etc.
etera “foreigner”, eterau “of a foreigner” Ewe yo (< yua) “to fill, to be full”

-c Suffix PWS

This is from -ku “thing” and forms adjectives from nouns. Alternatively from kui “much, very”. The final vowel is lost.

Zamathi “gold”, zamthic “golden” Ahlo ku “thing”, Santrokofi ku “thing”
*athumi “nobility”, athumic “noble” Ewe kpi “much, very”, Ga kpi “thick, thickly”

-ia Suffix PWS

This means “connected with”. It is from Niger-Congo gia “to be in a place”, with loss of the (Westermann's) palatovelar.

Rásna “Etruria”, Rásna-ia “connected with Etruria” Guang ya “to be”, Yoruba ya “to be”
Etera “stranger”, etera-ia “connected with strangers” Tschala ya “to be”, Delo gya “to be” (somewhere)

This suffix is also used to make feminine names from masculines:

Aule, Aul-ia

Vel, Vel-ia

Compare the expression “in” + proper name used e.g. in Italian to indicate the family a woman has married into.

Similar feminine suffixes in -a, -i also occur

Aule, Aul-a Arnth, Arnth-i
Vel, Vel-a Larth, Larth-i

Note: One is reminded of Semitic feminines in -a, -i.

Numerals PWS

Mandingo-tan has tan for “ten”. Etruscan for “ten” is ́sar with a change of t > ts > s, n > r ; Etruscan “four” is ́sa from Niger-Congo ta “hand”, “four fingers”, again with t > ts, The word for “one” is Niger-Congo do [from earlier dua, with ua > o]. Since Etruscan changes d to t (or th) we arrive at Etruscan thu = “one”.

thu Grebo do, Bassa do, Bamana do etc. “one”
zal, esal “two” Nde i-bal, Kukuruku e-va “two”, Mbofon e-ba “two”
ci “three” ti, kiti, “middle” , Igbo e-kiti “middle”, Ada kpe-ti “middle”, Akassele ki-ketši “between”, Sussu tegi “between” (middle of the hand).
́sa “four” ta “four”, Agni sa “hand”, Tschi n-sa “hand”
mach “five” ma (C) “end” (end of hand, counting 1 - end)
́sar “ten” Mandingo tan “ten” , Delo tan “end”, Tschala tam “to end”, Tschi sa “end”

The reference here is to the end of both hands, which becomes the standard word for “ten” in Northern Mandingo languages. Syllable final consonants are unstable in Niger-Congo.

Counting was done with the hand, which was normally regarded as having four fingers. The thumb was often treated as a separate limb. Hence the use of ta “hand” for “four”. Etruscan numerals are prefixed as we see from e-sal “two”, ci “three” (root loss); and suffixed as can be seen from thu, thun-s, thun-i “one”, which follows the suffixes of nouns.

The higher numerals vary greatly. As we know 1 to 5, “six” must be huth (Toscanella Dice). But semph “seven” ? recalls sambω “seven” (Johnston 1919 : 32) . “Twenty” is zathrum (from zal “two”), numbers over “ten” being formed by addition up to “six”, by subtraction from “seven” to “nine” : huth-zar = 16, ci-em-zathrum = 17, etc. The (n)em is for (n)a (m) “give” (or nia “know” ?). Vigesimal systems are well known in West Africa. Tens are formed by adding -alch, eg ci-alch “thirty”. This ending is made from the article + -c < -ku “much, big” (root KU “grow”).


The Verb

All verbs in Mandingo are both transitive and intransitive (Westermann 1927 : 181 : par. 20) and invariable in form: da “to lie, to lay”. Compare Bonfante (2000 : 100) on Etruscan : “The third person of the past (perhaps also the first), both active and passive, seems to have been the same in the singular and plural”. Neither in Etruscan nor in Mandingo languages can the verb be conjugated in paradigms for number, person, voice, mood.

Present (no ending) PWS
tur “give” (no ending) Vai ko “to give” , PWN THUM “to send”
rach “prepare” Vai ki “to sleep”
ama “be” Vai ka “to sell”

Verb forms in Etruscan include a

Present ending in -a
ar-a “does”, tv-a “shows” Kongo n-tond-a “I love”

This is the Niger-Congo present in -a, as seen in Kongo n-tonda “I love”. Kongo has this simple present form in all four conjugations (kana, kela, mona). Other Congolese dialects such as Bangi, Lolo, Ngala, Poto, Ngombe also have present tense forms in -a (Stapleton 1903: 151, para. 434): linga, langa, jinga, kala, pala meaning “love”, for example. Bangi and Swahili have a plain present, also in -a: Bangi ko-linga , Swahili a-penda . The continuous present likewise ends in -a , but generally incorporates an added prefix or suffix: Kongo tonda-nga, Bangi ko-linga-ka, Ngala ka-jinga, Poto e-ko-kala, Ngombe pala-ka , Soko ngo-kunda , Swahili na-panda. The functions of these tenses “are not generally kept very distinct” (Stapleton 1903: 153).


Past in -ce/ke PWS

This form ke is attested for Mandekan, and appears in Mano and Dan (Dwyer 1989 : 57).

turu-ce, tur-ce “gave” Bamana ke “to make” [forms pasts]
urthani-ke “made” Djula ke “to make”
cerchun-ce “built” Malinke ke “to make”

There is evidence that the Niger-Congo augment, found in past forms of the verb, sometimes occurred in Etruscan preterites:

car “make”, a-casr-ce “made” Kele a-lembe-ke “loved”


“Aorist” in - sa/-́sa PWS

Pallottino (1975: 216) mentions a “finite past or aorist” in -sa or -́sa. This is from Niger-Congo ta which is used to form perfects in many languages including Nyangbo, Santrokofi and Malinke.

tésam-sa “curavit” Malinke ta “bildet Perfekt” (Westermann)


Passive PWS
zichu-che “was written” -χi often forms passives of the past of the verb (Westermann 1927: 178, 12, 19)
mena-che “was offered” Sussu a-fa-χi “he has come” (a fa “he comes”)

[i > e]. This suffix has other functions besides forming “passives”.


Future in -ne PWS

The Etruscan future is based on a periphrasis with -na, a Niger-Congo verb meaning “come”, which changes in form to -ne in some Mandingo languages.

turu-ne “will give” na “to come”
Bamana na “to come”
Ahlo na “bildet Futur” (Westermann)
Djula ne “to come”


Imperative in -thi PWS

The imperative consists of the simple root, or the simple root + -thi, ti, th (with loss of the vowel) . This th is derived from Niger-Congo tu/ti “to approach, nearly, within a little of”.

rach-ti “prepare” Grebo ti “approach, as time”
rach-th “prepare” Likpe tu “to draw near”
hathr-thi “be benevolent” Ewe tu “to approach”
repin-thi “bow”

Niger-Congo also has the simple root used as an imperative.

tur “give” Kongo tonda “love thou”
nunthen “make”, but also nunthen-th “make” Bangi linga “love thou”


Infinitive in -(e) ri PWS

Bonfante (2002) gives “a participle denoting obligation” ending in -(e)ri ;

thez-eri “to be made” Bamana bobo-li “weeding”
Bamana baro-li “admiration”, baro “to admire”


Past Participle in -thas PWS
sval-thas “having lived” Malinke ta(n, m) “end” ta “bildet Perfekt” (Westermann)


Noun and Verb

It has been pointed out that nouns and verbs in Etruscan tend to share the same suffixes. “Many forms derived from verbal roots and with verbal meaning … possess both structure and inflections identical with those of nouns” (Pallottino 1955: 266). Pauli considered that the Etruscan verb had a nominal origin. In Mandingo, to which Etruscan is closely related, there is no difference between verb and noun. The exclusive verbal ending -ce is in fact an auxilliary meaning “make”. The “verb” to which it is added is really a noun. Hence the problems associated with verbal voice (Pallottino 1955: 266) in Etruscan (Olzscha “passive”, Pisani “intransitive”). The words are really nouns and therefore do not have a proper category of voice.

Verb Suffixes : -a, -ce, -sa, -che, -ne, -thi, -eri.

Noun Suffixes : -a, -i, -ia, -c, -u, -iu, -cve, -ma, -la, -thi, -si, -s, -r

Prefixes on the pronoun, numeral and noun are vestigial and non-productive :

a-, e-, i-, u-, ai-, lu- = lau-, ne-, s-

Hence the opinion of Agostiniani (Bonfante 2002 : 84) that Etruscan was evolving into an inflectional language. Better to say it was losing productivity in the prefixes.

The catastrophic loss of Etruscan unaccented vowels has always to be taken into account. It affects both morphology and lexicon.

Our work proves that Etruscan, like Linear A, is not a “language isolate”. It belongs to the Niger-Congo family of languages, and is remotely related to Bantu. It proves too that the substrate theorists were right. African substrate existed in the Aegean and Mediterranean from a very early date. This substrate population was known to the Greeks as the Pelasgians. We are now faced with interpreting the Etruscan texts in the light of this important discovery.

The work also has implications for the reconstruction of Niger-Congo. Two new early languages have now been added to this group.



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