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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.