I've noticed that the Etruscan letter 𐌙 is sometimes transliterated as "ch", as you can see in the following image of an information panel in the Hypogeum of the Volumnus family:


I can show you a specific example of this practice. In the following image, coming from Wikimedia Commons, you can read the Etruscan word 𐌙𐌀𐌓𐌖, which is the name of the character that is represented next to it:


Now, this character is a psychopomp of Etruscan mythology whose name is usually spelled Charu or Charun, as you can see in this Wikipedia article. By the way, the same Wikipedia article states

[...], words ending in -n after u were disappearing from the language which is why we see his name spelled Xarun and later Xaru.

That is, another transliteration convention based on the use of Greek letter χ, mentioned in this post, is used.

I wonder what is the reason to transliterate 𐌙 as "ch". Does this have to do with the custom to represent as "ch" the unvoiced aspirated back dorsal velar stop sound [ kʰ ] in classical Latin, as explained in this answer? Or is there another reason?

1 Answer 1


Most of our understanding of Etruscan pronunciation comes from our knowledge of Greek. Back before the Greek alphabet was standardized, there were different varieties used in different areas. And while "Eastern" alphabets generally used the letter Ψ (well, an ancestor of it) for /ps/, the "Western" ones used it for an aspirated /kʰ/. (Meanwhile, the Eastern alphabets used Χ for /kʰ/, while the Western ones used that for /ks/.) We have quite a lot of evidence for how Greek was pronounced across time, so we can be pretty sure on this front.

The Etruscan alphabet (and eventually the Latin alphabet) was adapted from a Western Greek alphabet, which is why Latin's usage of H and X is so totally different from Greek's (where an Eastern alphabet took over). Since Etruscan adopted the letters Φ Θ Ψ for aspirated stops, but didn't consistently distinguish between voiceless Π Τ Κ and voiced Β Δ Γ, it's been generally assumed that Etruscan had a two-way aspirated/unaspirated distinction in the stops.

How people transcribe this varies a lot. Some people use ph th ch, others use φ θ χ, or some compromise like ϕ þ x. Wikipedia isn't consistent even within a page. You just need to get used to the inconsistency.

For the sake of completeness, I'll note that Fournet also argues that the aspirated consonants weren't phonemically distinct from the unaspirated ones, but I disagree. I think the fact that these letters are consistently maintained in abecedaries is significant, and it's just the lack of evidence that keeps us from finding minimal pairs.

Tl;dr it's transcribed ch for the same reason the Romans transcribed Greek chi and Punic kaph with ch: because the Latin alphabet doesn't have convenient letters for aspirated stops, and it sounds approximately like c plus h.

P.S. Why ch as opposed to kh? Because it's customary to write /k/ as c in Etruscan transcriptions. Why c as opposed to k? Because they used a letter that's the ancestor of Latin C (derived from Greek Γ) instead of something related to Greek Κ/Latin K. It's somewhat of an arbitrary convention but it's the one that caught on.

  • OK, thanks for all this information, but is there any specific reason to transcribe 𐌙 as "ch"?
    – Charo
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 20:18
  • 2
    @Charo Because it (probably) represented an aspirated velar stop, and the unaspirated velar stop in Etruscan is transcribed as c.
    – Draconis
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 20:30
  • Ah, OK, I now see.
    – Charo
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 20:41
  • @Charo Or in other words—it probably represented something close to the sound of c plus the sound of h. That's the same reason the Romans transcribed Greek chi and Punic kaph as ch, since the Latin alphabet didn't have a convenient letter for an aspirated stop. (I can edit this info into the answer if it's useful.)
    – Draconis
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 21:11
  • 2
    Yes, please, @Draconis, I think it would be useful to add this info to your answer.
    – Charo
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 22:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.