Etruscan was a language spoken on the Italian peninsula (originally in what’s now Tuscany, and bordering regions of neighbouring provinces, and expanding later to Emilia-Romagna around the Po River system). It is attested after 700 BCE, and is believed to have become extinct about 20 CE. Etruscan was a pre-Indo-European language (which is to say, it was not Indo-European, but spoken there before Indo-European languages spread into its territory). The Etruscan language influenced Latin, introducing words that we’ve now borrowed into English as “military” and “person” for example. The Latin alphabet also descends from the Etruscan alphabet. Beyond the language itself, Etruscan culture (particularly its religion) also influenced the Ancient Romans.
Etruscan was related to Rhaetic (attested in the Alps between the 5th and 1st centuries BCE) and Lemnian (attested on the Greek island of Lemnos in one inscription from the 6th century BCE – due to the brevity of its apparent “stay” there as a spoken language, it’s suggested that this may have been the language of an Etruscan trade outpost, rather than the main language of the island at any time). The family of Etruscan, Rhaetic and Lemnian is called Tyrsenian. It is possible that Etruscan was related to Pre-Greek (spoken 1,000 years earlier in Greece), as it seems the languages shared four grammatical suffixes as well as a number of cognates.
The language was an agglutinating one, with inflections being expressed through affixes. It had five noun cases, a two-way number distinction (singular and plural), and distinguished between animate and inanimate genders in its pronoun system.
Phonologically, the language exhibited word-initial stress, had four phonemic vowels, and had an aspirated-unaspirated contrast between consonantal stops (rather than the more common voiced-unvoiced contrast).
Etruscans themselves seem to have been an autochthonous people of Central Europe who did not have to migrate very far to reach the territory history knows them for living in (in Italy). Some ancient historians tried to claim they had migrated to the region from Anatolia but this is doubtful. It seems likely that while their language was not Indo-European, their ancestors were a mixture of Indo-European and pre-Indo-European peoples. The Etruscan culture is known to have descended from the Villanovan culture, which in turn was a offshoot of the Central European Urnfield culture. The Urnfield culture is usually considered Indo-European but there’s nothing to exclude that it included speakers of multiple different languages, including some non-IE ones. One Reddit user (who has actually done an incredible amount of research on this for an amateur) hypothesised that maybe a more northern Balkan population related to the Pre-Greeks became part of the Unetice culture, which is ancestral to the Urnfield culture (with the Tumulus culture in between). Basically this group gradually migrated around the Adriatic Sea as part of different cultures until they finally brought their language(s) to the Italian peninsula.
See Also / References
- Wikipedia: Etruscan language
- /r/linguistics: One of the theories about Etruscan proposes that it may be related to the Pre-Greek substrate: multiple linguistic features are shared by the 2 languages, but nowadays an autochthonous origin of the Etruscans is considered more probable than an Aegean origin. So is this theory still possible?