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Location of Lemnos.

The Lemnian language is a language of the 6th century BC spoken on the island of Lemnos. It is mainly attested by an inscription found on a funerary stele, termed the Lemnos stele, discovered in 1885 near Kaminia. However, fragments of inscriptions on local pottery show that it was spoken there by a community.[1] Lemnian is academically accepted as being closely related to Etruscan. After the Athenians conquered the island in the latter half of that century, Lemnian was replaced by Attic Greek.


Writing system

The inscriptions are in an alphabet similar to that used to write the Etruscan language and the older Phrygian inscriptions, all derived from Euboean scripts (Western Greek alphabet, alphabets of Asia Minor). These scripts are ultimately of West Semitic origin and were adapted by various peoples from before the 8th century BC.


A relationship between Lemnian, Etruscan, and Raetian as a Tyrsenian language family is widely accepted due to demonstrations of close connections in vocabulary and grammar. For example,

  • both Etruscan and Lemnian share two unique dative cases, masculine *-si and feminine-collective *-ale, shown both on the Lemnos Stele (Hulaie-ši "for Hulaie", Φukiasi-ale "for the Phocaean") and in inscriptions written in Etruscan (aule-si "To Aule" on the Cippus Perusinus as well as the inscription mi mulu Laris-ale Velχaina-si "I was blessed for Laris Velchaina").
  • Both share the same word for the metal "steel"
  • They also share the masculine genitive in *-s and a simple past tense in *-a-i (Etruscan <-e> as in ame "was" (< *amai); Lemnian <-ai> as in šivai "lived").


Like Etruscan, the Lemnian language appears to have had a four-vowel system, consisting of "i", "e", "a" and "o". Having a contrast between front and back vowels, it would (unlike Etruscan) appear to lack a high back rounded vowel (written in IPA as /u/) which is curious because this defies the linguistic universal of contrast maximization. Since vowel systems without /u/ are rare (though occurring in languages such as Seneca and Nahuatl), it is likely that what we transliterate as "o" from the symbol omikron was in fact meant to record /u/. This is not unusual considering that different languages may take the same letter to transcribe different sounds. It is rather coincidental that the languages neighbouring this region, namely Hittite and Akkadian, also happen to have the same four-vowel systems lacking "o". This suggests early areal influence.


The stele was found built into a church wall in Kaminia and is now at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. The 6th century date is based on the fact that in 510 BC the Athenian Miltiades invaded Lemnos and Hellenized it. The stele bears a low-relief bust of a helmeted man and is inscribed in an alphabet similar to the western ("Chalcidian") Greek alphabet. The inscription is in Boustrophedon style, and has been transliterated but had not been successfully translated until serious linguistic analysis based on comparisons with Etruscan, combined with breakthroughs in Etruscan's own translation started to yield fruit.

The inscription consists of 198 characters forming 33 to 40 words, word separation sometimes indicated with one to three dots. The text consists of three parts, two written vertically and one horizontally. Comprehensible is the phrase avis sialchvis ("aged sixty", B.3), reminiscent of Etruscan avils maχs śealχisc ("and aged sixty-five").


A.1. hulaieš:naφuθ:šiaši
A.2. maraš:mav
A.3. sialχveiš:aviš
A.4. evisθu:šerunaiθ
A.5. šivai
A.6. aker:tavaršiu
A.7. vanalasial:šerunai:murinail
B.1. hulaieši:φukiasiale:šerunaiθ:evisθu:tuveruna
B.2. rum:haraliu:šivai:eptešiu:arai:tiš:φuke
B.3. šivai:aviš:sialχviš:marašm:aviš:aumai


  1. ^ Bonfante, p. 11.


  • Bonfante, Larissa (1990). Etruscan. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07118-2.  
  • Steinbauer, Dieter H. (1999). Neues Handbuch des Etruskischen. St. Katharinen: Scripta Mercaturae Verlag.  

See also

External links



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