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Dos Factotum » Archive » Episode 311: Linear A
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June 11th, 2008

Episode 311: Linear A

Linear A is one of two linear scripts used in ancient Crete before Greek Mycenaean Linear B (a third script is Cretan Hieroglyphs), or rather, it is better to say that in Minoan times, before the Greek Mycenaean dominion, Linear A was the official script for the palaces and the cult, although Cretan Hieroglyphic script was mainly used on seals. 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 this method did not convince the majority of scholars because it does not give any coherent linguistic morphology. It is as if you use the Greek letter P (ro) in order to read the Latin P (p). Graphic similarities between two scripts do not 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.

As the Minoan language is lost to the modern day, it is hard to be certain whether or not a given decipherment is the correct decipherment. However, 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 has 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 (see Sir Leonard Palmer).

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 ku-ro 130½

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).
  • 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. [source]

2 Responses to “Episode 311: Linear A”

  1. Socrates Says:

    You know nothing of antiquity!

  2. Cameron Says:

    For a second there I was convinced you were really smart, then I saw the Wiki.

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