Definitions

linear-a

Linear A

Linear A is one of two linear scripts used in ancient Crete before Greek Mycenaean Linear B. In Minoan times, before the Greek Mycenaean dominion, Linear A was the official script for the palaces and the cult and Cretan Hieroglyphs were mainly used on seals. These three scripts were discovered and named by Arthur Evans. Linear B was deciphered in 1952 by Michael Ventris and was used to write Mycenaean Greek. Linear A is far from being totally deciphered but it is partially understood and it may be read through Linear B values, although graphic similarities between two scripts do not necessarily imply a linguistic unit.

Though the two scripts – Linear A and B – share some of the same symbols, using the syllables associated with Linear B in Linear A writings produces words that are unrelated to any known language. This language has been dubbed Minoan or Eteocretan, and corresponds to a period in Cretan history prior to a series of invasions by Mycenaean Greeks around 1450 BC.

It seems to have been used as a complete syllabary around 1900-1800 BC, although several signs already separately appear as mason marks earlier. It is possible that the Trojan Linear A scripts discovered by Heinrich Schliemann and one inscription on central Crete, as well as a few similar potters' marks from Lahun, Egypt, (12th dynasty) come from an earlier period (ca. 2100-1900 BC) which is the period of the construction of the first palaces.

Theories of decipherment

As the Minoan language is lost to the modern day, it is hard to be certain whether or not a given decipherment is correct. The simplest approach to decipherment may be to presume that the values of Linear A match more or less the values given to the fully transliterated Linear B script, used for Mycenean Greek.

This point of view is strongly discussed by archaeologists and not accepted in a linguistic approach. In fact, in the 213 Linear A signs, the majority have no link with any Linear B sign. The similar signs have nearly always a small difference, which is regular, and strongly suggests a phonetic difference.

Since the 1960s, a theory based on Linear B phonetic values, says that Linear A language could be an Anatolian language, close to Luwian.

In 1997, Gareth Alun Owens published a collection of essays entitled Kritika Daidalika, in which he suggested that Linear A might represent an archaic relative of Luwian. Owens based this assertion on the perceived Indo-European but non-Greek roots of a small number of words he was able to read by using the known Linear B or Cypriot sound values of certain Linear A signs. He does not claim a systematic decipherment of Linear A, and remarks in the book that he intended his Luwian hypothesis to provoke discussion, not to settle the issue.

In 2001, the journal Ugarit-Forschungen, Band 32 published the article "The First Inscription in Punic — Vowel Differences in Linear A and B" by Jan Best, claiming to demonstrate how and why Linear A notates an archaic form of Phoenician. This was a continuation of attempts by Cyrus Gordon in finding connections between Minoan and West Semitic languages. His methodology drew widespread criticism. While one or two terms may apparently be of Semitic origin (such as KU-RO, see below), there is yet not enough evidence to secure a connection between the language of Linear A and Semitic idioms. It is necessary to mention that contrary to Semitic scripts, Linear A presents many written vowels.

The theory for the Luwian origin of Minoan, however, has lost many supporters over the second half of the twentieth century with the growth of archaeological and linguistic data about Anatolian languages and peoples, for the following reasons:

  • no remarkable resemblance between Minoan and Hitto-Luwian morphology;
  • none of existing theories of the origin of Hitto-Luwian peoples and their migration to Anatolia (either from Balkans or from Caucasus) is related to Crete;
  • lack of direct contacts between Hitto-Luwians and Minoan Crete; the latter was never mentioned in Hetto-Luwian inscriptions. Small states located along the western coast of the ancient Asia Minor were the natural barrier between Hitto-Luwians and the Minoan Crete;
  • obvious anthropological difference between Hitto-Luwian and the Minoans may be considered as another indirect testimony against this hypothesis.

One of the very few understood words so far, the summarizing term KU-RO (aforementioned), though most likely meaning 'total' (vel. sim.), could be of both Indo-European *kwol- (o-grade form of *kwel-), or Semitic (*kl 'whole') origin. This is representative of the current state of understanding of the language of Linear A: the known elements are too scarce to build up a safe hypothesis on the genetic affiliation of the Minoan language.

Another interpretation, based on the frequencies of the syllabic signs, and on complete palaeographic comparative studies, recently suggests that Minoan Linear A language belongs to the Indo-Iranian family of Indo-European languages. This study includes a coherent presentation of the morphology of the language, and avoids the complete identification of phonetic values between Linear A and B. This study shows how to use the reckons of frequencies in order to identify the type of syllables written in Linear A, and takes into account the problem of loanwords in the vocabulary. The French scholar Hubert La Marle has presented his works in the frame of several meetings in the University of Crete, at Rethymnon, since 1997, and in France. His books are re-published.

Nature of the texts

A stone ladle from Troullos (TL Za 1) is a likely exemplar of a votive text read according to the principle Linear A values = Linear B values (which is strongly discussed):

a-ta-i-*301-wa-ja o-su-qa-re ja-sa-sa-ra-me u-na-ka-na-si i-pi-na-ma si-ru-te

While the Haghia Triada tablet 13 (HT 13) is an example of an accounting text:

ka-u-de-ta [wine ideogram]. te. re-za 5½ te-ro2 56 te-ki 27½ ku-dzu-ni 18 da-si-*118 19 ?-su-?-si 5 ku-ro 130½

  • ka-u-de-ta like above is probably a name. This is followed by an ideogram almost identical to one in Linear B meaning 'wine'. These are followed by a list of seven names each followed by a numeral.

This hypothesis can't be followed if you reconsider the Linear A values in a wide comparison not only with Linear B, but also with Proto-Canaanite, Egyptian hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic scripts, Cypro-Minoan, Hittite hieroglyphic scripts. Even the supposed ideograms sometimes can be phonograms in Linear A.

Glossary

This glossary contains terms that are deciphered according to the rule that Linear A values are the same symbolically and phonetically to Linear B values.

  • (J)A-DI-KI-TE-TE-/JA-DI-KI-TU = words related to Mount Dikte?
  • DA-MA-TE: Already Proto-Greek *Dāmāter (cf. Linear B da-ma-te at Pylos = Cl. Dēmēter (Demeter)? This inscription is from Kythera.
  • KU-RO: whole, total (vel. sim.) (< PIE *kwol- or Semitic *kul? or Etruscan churu).
  • KI-RO: missing, debt(?).
  • MA+RU (ligature of the two signs): wool, same as later Greek mallos. Possibly a Minoan loanword in Greek. Possibly related to Sumerian bar-lu best quality wool blend.
  • PA-DE: a theonym (name for a god), appearing on Linear B tablets as well (as pa-de / pa-ze). Cf. Sanskrit pati, lord.
  • PA-I-TO: place name, Phaistos. The same name is common on Linear B documents.
  • PO-TO-KU-RO: grand(?) total (vel. sim.).
  • RU+JA (the two signs joined together into a ligature): pomegranate, same as Classic Greek rhoia(?).
  • SE-TO-I-JA: place name, which occurs in Linear B as well.
  • SU-KI-RI-TA: *Sukrita, a place name which occurs in Linear B as well; the town survives today as Sybrita.
  • SU-KI-RI-TE-I-JA: probably "Sukritaian" (with an adjectival suffixed derived from PIE *-iyo-?)

Apart from these, there are a considerable number of onomastic elements occurring both in Linear A and Linear B namely in the Mycenaean texts from Knossos. On the basis of the Indo-Iranian hypothesis, a Minoan-English glossary will be published soon; it already exists in French.

Sites yielding Linear A inscriptions

Notes

References

  • Best, Jan G. P. Some preliminary remarks on the decipherment of Linear A. ISBN 90-256-0625-3
  • Woodard, Roger D. Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-510520-6 (Review)
  • Younger, John G. Linear A Texts
  • G. J. K. Campbell-Dunn. Who were the Minoans, an African Answer. United States: Authorhouse Press, 2006.
  • Hubert La Marle. Linéaire A, la première écriture syllabique de Crète. Geuthner, Paris, 4 volumes, 1997-1999; 2006.
  • Hubert La Marle. Introduction au linéaire A. Geuthner, Paris, 2002.
  • Hubert La Marle. L'aventure de l'alphabet : les écritures cursives et linéaires du Proche-Orient et de l'Europe du sud-est à l'Âge du Bronze. Geuthner, Paris, 2002.
  • Hubert La Marle. Les racines du crétois ancien et leur morphologie : communication à l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 2007.

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