|MM IB to LM IIIA 1800–1450 BC|
|Linear B, Cypro-Minoan syllabary|
| U+10600–U+1077F |
Final Accepted Script Proposal
Linear A is a writing system used by the Minoans (Cretans) from 1800 to 1450 BCE. It belongs to an independent group of scripts that is distinct from Egyptian and Mesopotamian systems. During the second millennium BCE, there were four major branches: Linear A, Linear B, Cypro-Minoan and Cretan hieroglyphic.All but Linear B remain undeciphered. Linear A was the primary script used in palace and religious writings of the Minoan civilization. It was discovered by archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. It was succeeded by Linear B, which was used by the Mycenaean civilization.
Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested form of Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet by several centuries. The oldest Mycenaean writing dates to about 1450 BC. It is descended from the older Linear A, an undeciphered earlier script used for writing the Minoan language, as is the later Cypriot syllabary, which also recorded Greek. Linear B, found mainly in the palace archives at Knossos, Cydonia, Pylos, Thebes and Mycenae, disappeared with the fall of Mycenaean civilization during the Late Bronze Age collapse. The succeeding period, known as the Greek Dark Ages, provides no evidence of the use of writing. It is also the only one of the Bronze Age Aegean scripts to have been deciphered, by English architect and self-taught linguist Michael Ventris.
Cretan hieroglyphs are a hieroglyphic writing system used in early Bronze Age Crete, during the Minoan era. They predate Linear A by about a century, but the two writing systems continued to be used in parallel for most of their history. As of 2019, they are undeciphered.
An undeciphered writing system is a written form of language that is not currently understood.
In the 1950s, Linear B was largely deciphered by Michael Ventris and found to encode an early form of Greek. Although the two systems share many symbols, this did not lead to a subsequent decipherment of Linear A. Using the values associated with Linear B in Linear A mainly produces unintelligible words. If Linear A uses the same or similar syllabic values as Linear B, then its associated language, dubbed "Minoan", appears unrelated to any known language.
A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus with optional initial and final margins. Syllables are often considered the phonological "building blocks" of words. They can influence the rhythm of a language, its prosody, its poetic metre and its stress patterns. Speech can usually be divided up into a whole number of syllables: for example, the word ignite is composed of two syllables: ig and nite.
In speech communication, intelligibility is a measure of how comprehensible speech is in given conditions. Intelligibility is affected by the level and quality of the speech signal, the type and level of background noise, reverberation, and, for speech over communication devices, the properties of the communication system. A common standard measurement for the quality of the intelligibility of speech is the Speech Transmission Index (STI). The concept of speech intelligibility is relevant to several fields, including phonetics, human factors, acoustical engineering, and audiometry.
The Minoan language is the language of the ancient Minoan civilization of Crete written in the Cretan hieroglyphs and later in the Linear A syllabary. As the Cretan hieroglyphs are undeciphered and Linear A only partly deciphered, the Minoan language is unknown and unclassified: indeed, with the existing evidence, it seems impossible to be certain that the two scripts record the same language, or even that a single language is recorded in each. The Eteocretan language, attested in a few alphabetic inscriptions from Crete 1,000 years later, is possibly a descendant of Minoan, but it is itself unclassified.
All assumptions and hypotheses about Linear A and Minoan (their underlying language) are based primarily on comparison with the well-known Linear B, the famous child system developed by Linear A.
Linear A has hundreds of signs, believed to represent syllabic, ideographic, and semantic values in a manner similar to Linear B. While many of those assumed to be syllabic signs are similar to ones in Linear B, approximately 80% of Linear A's logograms are unique;the difference in sound values between Linear A and Linear B signs ranges from 9% to 13%. It primarily appears in the left-to-right direction, but occasionally appears as a right-to-left or boustrophedon script.
In a written language, a logogram or logograph is a written character that represents a word or phrase. 漢字 are logograms; some Egyptian hieroglyphs and some graphemes in cuneiform script are also logograms. The use of logograms in writing is called logography, and a writing system that is based on logograms is called a logographic system. In the alphabets and syllabaries, individual written characters represent sounds only, rather than entire concepts. These characters are called phonograms in linguistics. Unlike logograms, phonograms do not have word or phrase meanings singularly until the phonograms are combined with additional phonograms thus creating words and phrases that have meaning. Writing language in this way, is called phonetic writing as well as orthographical writing.
Boustrophedon is a type of bi-directional text, mostly seen in ancient manuscripts and other inscriptions. Every other line of writing is flipped or reversed, with reversed letters. Rather than going left-to-right as in modern European languages, or right-to-left as in Arabic and Hebrew, alternate lines in boustrophedon must be read in opposite directions. Also, the individual characters are reversed, or mirrored. It was a common way of writing in stone in Ancient Greece.
Linear A may be divided into four categories: numerals and metrical signs, phonetic signs, ligatures and composite signs, and ideograms. Numbers follow a decimal system, units are represented by vertical dashes, tens by horizontal dashes, hundreds by circles, and thousands by circles with rays. Specific signs that coincide with numerals are regarded as fractions.
An interesting feature is the recording of numbers in the script. The highest number that has been recorded is 3000, but there are special symbols to indicate fractions and weights.
Linear A has been unearthed chiefly on Crete, but also at other sites in Greece, as well as Turkey and Israel. The extant corpus, comprising some 1,427 specimens totalling 7,362 to 7,396 signs, if scaled to standard type, would fit easily on two sheets of paper.Linear A has been written on various media, such as stone offering tables, gold and silver hairpins, and ceramics. The earliest inscriptions of Linear A are found in Phaistos, in a layer dated at the end of the Minoan II, which provides us with c. 1700 BC as a term before it. Linear A can be found throughout the island of Crete and also on some Aegean islands (Kythera, Kea, Thera, Melos), in mainland Greece (Ayos Stephanos), on the west coast of Asia Minor (Miletos, Troy), and in the Levant (Tel Haror).
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. It bounds the southern border of the Aegean sea. Crete lies approximately 160 km (99 mi) south of the Greek mainland. It has an area of 8,336 km2 (3,219 sq mi) and a coastline of 1,046 km (650 mi).
The main discoveries of Linear A tablets have been at three sites on Crete:
Discoveries have been made at the following locations on Crete:
Until 1973, only one Linear A tablet had been found outside Crete (on Kea).Since then, other locations have yielded inscriptions.
Most—if not all—inscriptions found outside Crete appear to have been made locally, as indicated by the composition of the substrate and other indications.Also, close analysis of the inscriptions found outside Crete indicates the use of a script that is somewhere between Linear A and Linear B, combining elements from both.
Linear A became eminent during the Middle Minoan Period, specifically from 1625–1450 BC. It was a contemporary and possible child of Cretan hieroglyphs and the ancestor of Linear B. The sequence and the geographical spread of Cretan hieroglyphs, Linear A, and Linear B, the three overlapping but distinct writing systems on Bronze Age Crete and the Greek mainland, can be summarized as follows:
|Writing system||Geographical area||Time span|
|Cretan Hieroglyphic||Crete||c. 2100 – 1700 BC|
|Linear A||Crete, Aegean islands (Kea, Kythera, Melos, Thera), and Greek mainland (Laconia)||c. 1800 – 1450 BC|
|Linear B||Crete (Knossos), and mainland (Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes, Tiryns)||c. 1450 – 1200 BC|
Archaeologist Arthur Evans named the script "Linear" because its characters consisted simply of lines inscribed in clay, in contrast to the more pictographic characters in Cretan hieroglyphs that were used during the same period.
Several tablets inscribed in signs similar to Linear A were found in the Troad in northwestern Anatolia. While their status is disputed, they may be imports, as there is no evidence of Minoan presence in the Troad. Classification of these signs as a unique Trojan script (proposed by contemporary Russian linguist Nikolai Kazansky) is not accepted by other linguists.
Egyptian evidence related to the Keftiu (Cretan/Crete) language consists of a spell against Asian chickenpox and a writing name exercise called Keftiu. The spell, probably originated from the reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC), evolves as follows: sntÈk|pwpyw| yÈymªntÈÈrk|k|r, or, in the vocal transliteration adopted by Wolfgang Helck: sa-n-ta-ka-pu-pi-wa-ya-’a-ya-ma-n-ta-ra-kú-ka-ra
Egyptian writing of Keftiu (Cretan/Crete) names such as mÈd|d|m, or, mi-da gives Egyptian evidence of Keftius' language essentially indicate that the words of the vocabulary are Semitic (see below).
In 1945, E. Pugliese Carratelli first introduced the classification of Linear A and Linear B parallels. However, in 1961 W.C. Brice modified the Carratelli system that was based on a wider range of Linear A sources, but Brice did not suggest Linear B equivalents to the Linear A signs. Louis Godart and Jean-Pierre Olivier introduced in the 1985 Recueil des inscriptions en linéaire A (GORILA), based on E.L Bennett's standard numeration of the signs of Linear B, introduced a joint numeration of the Linear A and B signs.The Egyptian exercise in writing the names keftiu even informs us of another Minoan ethnic identity in the form of mÈd|d|m whose first element cannot be associated with the name Midas, since it was already labeled by a linearly inscribed Hagia Triada (or HT 41.4) dating to c. 1350 BC. This Egyptian evidence of Keftius' language essentially indicate that the words of the vocabulary are Semitic, but in the language predominantly of the Luwians. One might conclude from this that the Semitic in Minoan Crete is used as a lingua franca for a largely Luwian population.
The majority of signs in the Linear A script appear to have graphic equivalents in the Linear B syllabary. Comparing the Hagia Triada tablets HT 95 and HT 86 contain identical lists of words and some kind of phonetic alteration. Scholars that approached Linear A with the phonetic values of Linear B produced a series of identical words. The Linear B- Linear A parallels: ku-ku-da-ra, pa-i-to, ku-mi-na, di-de-ro →di-de-ru, qa-qa-ro→qa-qa-ru, a-ra-na-ro→a-ra-na-re.
It is difficult to evaluate a given analysis of Linear A as there is little point of reference for reading its inscriptions. The simplest approach to decipherment may be to presume that the values of Linear A match more or less the values given to the deciphered Linear B script, used for Mycenaean Greek.
A characteristic of Minoan consonance is the lack of distinction between voice and voiceless in the velar and labial series. The distinction t / d reflected in the Linear A, Linear B and Cypriot is an example of speech stops.
In 1957, Bulgarian scholar Vladimir I. Georgiev published his Le déchiffrement des inscriptions crétoises en linéaire A ("The decipherment of Cretan inscriptions in Linear A") stating that Linear A contains Greek linguistic elements.Georgiev then published another work in 1963, titled Les deux langues des inscriptions crétoises en linéaire A ("The two languages of Cretan inscriptions in Linear A"), suggesting that the language of the Hagia Triada tablets was Greek but that the rest of the Linear A corpus was in Hittite-Luwian. In December 1963, Gregory Nagy of Harvard University developed a list of Linear A and Linear B terms based on the assumption "that signs of identical or similar shape in the two scripts will represent similar or identical phonetic values"; Nagy concluded that the language of Linear A bears "Greek-like" and Indo-European elements. Michael Ventris decipherment in 1952 suggests an old form of Greek: it is derived from the Linear A. Therefore, we can assume that the signs related to the linear A express the same value as the Linear B. In all Linear B values for related words give a large number of identical forms or identical root forms, but alternate with the final vowel, or almost identical forms among linear texts, mainly those of Hagia Triada.
Extracting conclusions or arguments from a simple morphology can hardly be considered methodologically satisfactory. Yves Duhoux in the "Linear A as Greek" discussion at AEGEANET in March 1998:
I would like to remind you of some basic facts related to the Greekness of Linear A's language: (1) The word for "total" is different in Linear A and in Linear B: LB to - so(- de); LA > B ku-ro. (2) The Linear B language is significantly less "prefixing" than Linear A. (3) Votive Linear A texts, where we are pretty sure to have variant forms of the same "word", show morphological (I mean: grammatical) features totally different from Linear B. The conclusion must be that even if one can find some casual resemblances between words in both languages (remember this MUST statistically happen: e.g. English and Persian use the same word "bad" to express the meaning of BAD, although it is proven that both words have no genetic relation at all), they are probably structurally different.
Since the late 1950s, some scholars have suggested that the Linear A language could be an Anatolian language.
Palmer (1958) put forward a theory, based on Linear B phonetic values, suggesting that Linear A language could be related closely to Luwian.The theory, however, failed to gain universal support for the following reasons:
There are recent works focused on the Luwian connection, not in terms of the Minoan language being Anatolian, but rather in terms of possible borrowings from Luwian, including the origin of the writing system itself.
In an article from 2001, Professor of Classics (Emerita) at Tel Aviv University, Margalit Finkelberg, demonstrated a "high degree of correspondence between the phonological and morphological system of Minoan and that of Lycian" and proposed that "the language of Linear A is either the direct ancestor of Lycian or a closely related idiom."
Cyrus H. Gordon first proposed in 1966-69 that the texts contained Semitic vocabulary that was based on the lexical items such as kull -. meaning 'all' (Akkadian kalu, kullatu, Hebrew kol).Gordon uses morphological evidence to suggest that u- serves as a prefix in Linear A like Semitic copula u-. However, Gordon's copula u- is based on an incomplete word, and even if some of Gordon's identifications were true, a complete case for a Semitic language has not yet been built.
In 2001, the journal Ugarit-Forschungen 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.
Another recent interpretation, based on the frequencies of the syllabic signs and on complete palaeographic comparative studies, suggests that the Minoan Linear A language belongs to the Indo-Iranian family of Indo-European languages. Studies by Hubert La Marle include a presentation of the morphology of the language, avoid the complete identification of phonetic values between Linear A and B, and also avoid comparing Linear A with Cretan Hieroglyphs.La Marle uses the frequency counts to identify the type of syllables written in Linear A, and takes into account the problem of loanwords in the vocabulary. However, the La Marle interpretation of Linear A has been rejected by John Younger of Kansas University showing that La Marle has invented erroneous and arbitrary new transcriptions based on resemblances with many different script systems at will (as Phoenician, Hieroglyphic Egyptian, Hieroglyphic Hittite, Ethiopian, Cypro-Minoan, etc.), ignoring established evidence and internal analysis, while for some words he proposes religious meanings inventing names of gods and rites. La Marle rebutted in "An answer to John G. Younger's remarks on Linear A" in 2010.
Italian scholar Giulio M. Facchetti attempted to link Linear A to the Tyrrhenian language family comprising Etruscan, Rhaetic, and Lemnian. This family is reasoned to be a pre-Indo-European Mediterranean substratum of the 2nd millennium BC, sometimes referred to as Pre-Greek. Facchetti proposed some possible similarities between the Etruscan language and ancient Lemnian, and other Aegean languages like Minoan.Michael Ventris who, along with John Chadwick, successfully deciphered Linear B, also believed in a link between Minoan and Etruscan. The same perspective is supported by S. Yatsemirsky in Russia.
According to Gareth Alun Owens, Linear A represents the Minoan language, which Owens classifies as a distinct branch of Indo-European potentially related to Greek, Sanskrit, Hittite, Latin, etc.At "The Cretan Literature Centre", Owens stated:
Beginning our research with inscriptions in Linear A carved on offering tables found in the many peak sanctuaries on the mountains of Crete, we recognise a clear relationship between Linear A and Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. There is also a connection to Hittite and Armenian. This relationship allows us to place the Minoan language among the so-called Indo-European languages, a vast family that includes modern Greek and the Latin of Ancient Rome. The Minoan and Greek languages are considered to be different branches of Indo-European. The Minoans probably moved from Anatolia to the island of Crete about 10,000 years ago. There were similar population movements to Greece. The relative isolation of the population which settled in Crete resulted in the development of its own language, Minoan, which is considered different to Mycenaean. In the Minoan language (Linear A), there are no purely Greek words, as is the case in Mycenaean Linear B; it contains only words also found in Greek, Sanskrit and Latin, i.e. sharing the same Indo-European origin.
Some researchers suggest that a few words or word elements may be recognized, without (yet) enabling any conclusion about relationship with other languages. In general, they use analogy with Linear B in order to propose phonetic values of the syllabic sounds. John Younger, in particular, thinks that place names usually appear in certain positions in the texts, and notes that the proposed phonetic values often correspond to known place names as given in Linear B texts (and sometimes to modern Greek names). For example, he proposes that three syllables, read as KE-NI-SO, might be the indigenous form of Knossos.Likewise, in Linear A, MA+RU is suggested to mean wool, and to correspond both to a Linear B pictogram with this meaning, and to the classical Greek word μαλλός with the same meaning (in that case a loan word from Minoan).
The Linear A alphabet (U+10600–U+1077F) was added to the Unicode Standard in June 2014 with the release of version 7.0.
| Linear A   |
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
Writing is a medium of human communication that represents language with signs and symbols. For languages that utilize a writing system, inscriptions can complement spoken language by creating a durable version of speech that can be stored for future reference or transmitted across distance. Writing, in other words, is not a language, but a tool used to make languages readable. Within a language system, writing relies on many of the same structures as speech, such as vocabulary, grammar, and semantics, with the added dependency of a system of signs or symbols. The result of writing is called text, and the recipient of text is called a reader.
The Phaistos Disc is a disk of fired clay from the Minoan palace of Phaistos on the island of Crete, possibly dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age. The disk is about 15 cm (5.9 in) in diameter and covered on both sides with a spiral of stamped symbols. Its purpose and meaning, and even its original geographical place of manufacture, remain disputed, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology. This unique object is now on display at the archaeological museum of Heraklion.
Luwian, sometimes known as Luvian or Luish, is an ancient language, or group of languages, within the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family.
The Cypriot or Cypriote syllabary is a syllabic script used in Iron Age Cyprus, from about the 11th to the 4th centuries BCE, when it was replaced by the Greek alphabet. A pioneer of that change was king Evagoras of Salamis. It is descended from the Cypro-Minoan syllabary, in turn a variant or derivative of Linear A. Most texts using the script are in the Arcadocypriot dialect of Greek, but also one bilingual inscription was found in Amathus.
Eteocretan is the non-Greek language of a few alphabetic inscriptions of ancient Crete.
Anatolian hieroglyphs are an indigenous logographic script native to central Anatolia, consisting of some 500 signs. They were once commonly known as Hittite hieroglyphs, but the language they encode proved to be Luwian, not Hittite, and the term Luwian hieroglyphs is used in English publications. They are typologically similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, but do not derive graphically from that script, and they are not known to have played the sacred role of hieroglyphs in Egypt. There is no demonstrable connection to Hittite cuneiform.
Eteocypriot was a pre-Indo-European language spoken in Iron Age Cyprus. The name means "true" or "original Cypriot" parallel to Eteocretan, both of which names are used by modern scholarship to mean the pre-Greek languages of those places. Eteocypriot was written in the Cypriot syllabary, a syllabic script derived from Linear A. The language was under pressure from Arcadocypriot Greek from about the 10th century BC and finally became extinct in about the 4th century BC.
The history of writing traces the development of expressing language by letters or other marks and also the studies and descriptions of these developments.
The Byblos syllabary, also known as the Pseudo-hieroglyphic script, Proto-Byblian, Proto-Byblic, or Byblic, is an undeciphered writing system, known from ten inscriptions found in Byblos, a coastal city in Lebanon. The inscriptions are engraved on bronze plates and spatulas, and carved in stone. They were excavated by Maurice Dunand, from 1928 to 1932, and published in 1945 in his monograph Byblia Grammata. The inscriptions are conventionally dated to the second millennium BC, probably between the 18th and 15th centuries BC.
Many people have claimed to have deciphered the Phaistos Disc.
The Cypro-Minoan syllabary (CM) is an undeciphered syllabary used on the island of Cyprus during the late Bronze Age. The term "Cypro-Minoan" was coined by Arthur Evans in 1909 based on its visual similarity to Linear A on Minoan Crete, from which CM is thought to be derived. Approximately 250 objects—such as clay balls, cylinders, and tablets and votive stands—which bear Cypro-Minoan inscriptions, have been found. Discoveries have been made at various sites around Cyprus, as well as in the ancient city of Ugarit on the Syrian coast.
Aegean script or Cretan script refers to a group of scripts that originate from the island of Crete. It may also refer to:
Gareth Alun Owens is a British-Greek academic, currently serving as Associate Director and «Erasmus/Socrates» Manager/Tutor of the International Relations Office TEI of Crete and as Associate Professor of Hellenic Culture -- History, Language and Civilization. He is notable for his contributions to Linear B studies and for his attempts to coordinate the efforts of academics to decipher Linear A.
Maurice Wildon Montague Pope is a South African and British linguist, specialist in Classical studies and antiquity, one of leading researchers of the Cretan script Linear A.
Leonard Robert Palmer was author and Professor of Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford from 1952 to 1971. He was also a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford. Palmer made some significant contributions to the study of Classical languages, and in the area of historical linguistics.
Anna Elbina Morpurgo Davies, was an Italian philologist who specialised in comparative Indo-European linguistics. She spent her career at Oxford University, where she was the Professor of Comparative Philology and Fellow of Somerville College.
Frederik Christiaan Woudhuizen is an independent scholar who studies ancient Indo-European languages, hieroglyphic Luvian/Luwian, and Mediterranean protohistory. He is the former editor of Talanta, Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society.
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