27 April 2017: James Clackson (Cambridge), “Ancient Etruscan – deciphering an unknown language”


The language of the Ancient Etruscans is recorded in around 10,000 inscriptions, mainly from Italy but also from North Africa and the south of France. It is unrelated to any known language, and there are very few bilingual texts, but even so most of the short Etruscan inscriptions can be read and interpreted with confidence. In this talk I shall show how scholars have worked out Etruscan grammar, and also explore what the Etruscan texts can tell us about language contact and language change in Ancient Italy.



I was lucky enough to learn Latin and Greek as a schoolboy and that was the beginning of my fascination for languages and the links between them. For my PhD I embarked on the study of Indo-European languages, learning Classical Armenian in order to explore its relationship to Greek, which was the subject of my first book. Since then I have written on Indo-European Linguistics and the history of Latin and the Italic languages of Italy. My latest book, Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds, aims to show what investigation into the ancient languages around the Mediterranean can tell us about ancient history and ancient societies. I am currently Professor of Comparative Philology at the University of Cambridge, and  PI of the AHRC funded ‘Greek in Italy’ project’, which looks at the long term linguistic impact of Greek settlements in the south of Italy.