Linear A

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Linear A
Linear A cup.png
Undeciphered (presumed syllabic and ideographic)
Languages'Minoan' (unknown)
Time period
MM IB to LM IIIA 1800–1450 BC [1]
Child systems
Linear B, Cypro-Minoan syllabary [2]
Sister systems
Cretan hieroglyphs
ISO 15924 Lina, 400
Unicode alias
Linear A
"U+10600–U+1077F" (PDF).
"Final Accepted Script Proposal" (PDF).

Linear A is a writing system used by the Minoans (Cretans) from 1800 to 1450 BC to write the hypothesized Minoan language. 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 Mycenaeans to write an early form of Greek. No texts in Linear A have been deciphered.


Linear A belongs to a group of scripts that evolved independently of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian systems. During the second millennium BC, there were four major branches: Linear A, Linear B, Cypro-Minoan, and Cretan hieroglyphic. [3] In the 1950s, Linear B was deciphered as Mycenaean Greek. Linear B shares many symbols with Linear A, and they may notate similar syllabic values. But neither those nor any other proposed readings lead to a language that scholars can read.


Most hypotheses about the Linear A script and Minoan language start with Linear B.

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; [4] [3] the difference in sound values between Linear A and Linear B signs ranges from 9% to 13%. [5] It primarily appears in the left-to-right direction, but occasionally appears as a right-to-left or boustrophedon script.

Linear A may be divided into four categories:

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. [6]

An interesting feature is the recording of numbers in the script: The highest number recorded in known Linear A texts is 3000, but there are special symbols to indicate fractions and weights.


Linear A: signary and numbering according to E. Bennett. Reading of signs is based on Linear B analogs.
Linear A Sign A001.svg DA


Linear A Sign A021.svg QI


Linear A Sign A031.svg SA


Linear A Sign A054.svg WA


Linear A Sign A076.svg


Linear A Sign A123.svg


Linear A Sign A002.svg RO


Linear A Sign A021f.svg


Linear A Sign A034.svg


Linear A Sign A055.svg


Linear A Sign A077.svg KA


Linear A Sign A131a.svg


Linear A Sign A003.svg PA


Linear A Sign A021m.svg


Linear A Sign A037.svg TI


Linear A Sign A056.svg PA3


Linear A Sign A078.svg QE


Linear A Sign A131b.svg


Linear A Sign A004.svg TE


Linear A Sign A022.svg MI?


Linear A Sign A038.svg E


Linear A Sign A057.svg JA


Linear A Sign A079.svg WO2?


Linear A Sign A131c.svg


Linear A Sign A005.svg


Linear A Sign A022f.svg


Linear A Sign A039.svg PI


Linear A Sign A058.svg SU


Linear A Sign A080.svg MA


Linear A Sign A164.svg


Linear A Sign A006.svg NA


Linear A Sign A022m.svg


Linear A Sign A040.svg WI


Linear A Sign A059.svg TA


Linear A Sign A081.svg KU


Linear A Sign A171.svg


Linear A Sign A007.svg DI


Linear A Sign A023.svg MU


Linear A Sign A041.svg SI


Linear A Sign A060.svg RA


Linear A Sign A082.svg


Linear A Sign A180.svg


Linear A Sign A008.svg A


Linear A Sign A023m.svg


Linear A Sign A044.svg KE


Linear A Sign A061.svg O


Linear A Sign A085.svg


Linear A Sign A188.svg


Linear A Sign A009.svg S


Linear A Sign A024.svg NE


Linear A Sign A045.svg


Linear A Sign A065.svg JU


Linear A Sign A086.svg


Linear A Sign A191.svg


Linear A Sign A010.svg


Linear A Sign A026.svg RU


Linear A Sign A046.svg


Linear A Sign A066.svg TA2


Linear A Sign A087.svg TWE


Linear A Sign A301.svg


Linear A Sign A011.svg


Linear A Sign A027.svg RE


Linear A Sign A047.svg


Linear A Sign A067.svg KI


Linear A Sign A100.svg


Linear A Sign A302.svg


Linear A Sign A013.svg ME


Linear A Sign A028.svg I


Linear A Sign A049.svg


Linear A Sign A069.svg TU


Linear A Sign A118.svg


Linear A Sign A303.svg


Linear A Sign A016.svg QA2


Linear A Sign A028b.svg


Linear A Sign A050.svg PU


Linear A Sign A070.svg


Linear A Sign A120.svg


Linear A Sign A304.svg


Linear A Sign A017.svg ZA


Linear A Sign A029.svg


Linear A Sign A051.svg DU


Linear A Sign A073.svg MI


Linear A Sign A120b.svg


Linear A Sign A305.svg


Linear A Sign A020.svg ZO


Linear A Sign A030.svg NI


Linear A Sign A053.svg


Linear A Sign A074.svg ZE


Linear A Sign A122.svg


Linear A Sign A306.svg



Linear A incised on tablets found in Akrotiri, Santorini. Linear A tablets filt.jpg
Linear A incised on tablets found in Akrotiri, Santorini.
Linear A tablet, Chania Archaeological Museum. 0726 La Canee musee lineaire A.JPG
Linear A tablet, Chania Archaeological Museum.
Linear A tablet from the palace of Zakros, Archeological Museum of Sitia. Sitia Museum Linear A 02.jpg
Linear A tablet from the palace of Zakros, Archeological Museum of Sitia.

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. [7] Linear A has been written on various media, such as stone offering tables, gold and silver hairpins, and ceramics. [8] The earliest inscriptions of Linear A come from Phaistos, in a layer dated at the end of the Middle Minoan II period: that is, no later than c. 1700 BC. Linear A texts have been 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). [9]


The main discoveries of Linear A tablets have been at three sites on Crete: [10]

Discoveries have been made at the following locations on Crete: [11]

Outside Crete

Until 1973, only one Linear A tablet had been found outside Crete (on Kea). [12] 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. [12] 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.

Other Greek islands

Mainland Greece


Linear A became prominent during the Middle Minoan Period, specifically from 1625–1450 BC. It was contemporary with and possibly derived from Cretan hieroglyphs, and is an 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: [14]

Writing systemGeographical areaTime span [lower-alpha 1]
Cretan Hieroglyphic Crete c. 2100 – 1700 BC
Linear ACrete, 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. [15]

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

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: santaka pupiwa ya’ayamantarakú ka ra. [9]

Egyptian writing of Keftiu (Cretan/Crete) names such as mÈd|d|m, or mi-da is evidence for the language of the Keftiu, essentially indicating that it contains Semitic vocabulary. (see below).

Linear A and Linear B comparison

Minoan Inscriptions, Linear A script Minoan inscriptions, Linear A script, Phaistos, 1850-1450 BC, AMH, 144886.jpg
Minoan Inscriptions, Linear A script

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. [16] The Egyptian exercise in writing the names of 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 the Keftiu language essentially indicates that words in its vocabulary are Semitic, but in the language predominantly of the Luwians. One might conclude from this that a Semitic language was used in Minoan Crete as a lingua franca for a largely Luwian population.[ citation needed ]


The majority of signs in the Linear A script appear to have graphical equivalents in the Linear B syllabary. Comparison of the Hagia Triada tablets HT 95 and HT 86 shows that they 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. [16]

Theories regarding language

Linear A incised on a jug, also found in Akrotiri. Linear A vase filt.jpg
Linear A incised on a jug, also found in Akrotiri.

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. [17]


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. [18] 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. [18] [19] 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. [20] Michael Ventris' decipherment of Linear B in 1952 suggests an old form of Greek: it is derived from 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: [16]

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.

Anatolian languages

Since the late 1950s, some scholars have suggested that the Linear A language could be an Anatolian language. [21]


Luwian Hieroglyphs Luwian Hieroglyphs from Karatepe.svg
Luwian Hieroglyphs

Palmer (1958) put forward a theory, based on Linear B phonetic values, suggesting that Linear A language could be related closely to Luwian. [21] The theory, however, failed to gain universal support for the following reasons:[ according to whom? ]

  • There is no remarkable resemblance between Minoan and Hitto-Luwian morphology.
  • None of the existing theories of the origin of Hitto-Luwian peoples and their migration to Anatolia (either from the Balkans or from the Caucasus) are related to Crete.
  • There was a lack of direct contact between Hitto-Luwians and Minoan Crete; the latter was never mentioned in Hitto-Luwian inscriptions. Small states located along the western coast of ancient Asia Minor were natural barriers between Hitto-Luwians and Minoan Crete.
  • Obvious[ clarification needed ] anthropological differences between Hitto-Luwians and the Minoans may be considered as another indirect testimony against this hypothesis.[ citation needed ]

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. [22]


In an article from 2001, Margalit Finkelberg, Professor of Classics emerita at Tel Aviv University, 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." [23]

Semitic languages

Cyrus H. Gordon first proposed in 1966–1969 that the texts contained Semitic vocabulary that was based on the lexical items such as kull -. meaning 'all' (Akkadian kalu, kullatu, Hebrew kol). [24] [3] 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. [3]


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. [25] 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. [26] 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. [26]

However, La Marle's interpretation of Linear A has been subject to some criticism; it was rejected by John Younger of the University of Kansas who showed that La Marle had invented at will erroneous and arbitrary new transcriptions, based on resemblances with many different script systems (as Phoenician, Hieroglyphic Egyptian, Hieroglyphic Hittite, Ethiopian, Cypro-Minoan, etc.), ignoring established evidence and internal analysis, while for some words La Marle proposes religious meanings inventing names of gods and rites. [27] La Marle made a rebuttal in "An answer to John G. Younger's remarks on Linear A" in 2010. [28]


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. [29]

Michael Ventris who (with John Chadwick) successfully deciphered Linear B also believed in a link between Minoan and Etruscan. [30] The same perspective is supported by S. Yatsemirsky in Russia. [31]

A distinct, otherwise unknown branch of Indo-European

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. [32] [33] 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. [34]

Attempts at decipherment of single words

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. [35] 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). [4]


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 [1] [2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
1. ^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2. ^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also

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  1. Beginning date refers to first attestations, the assumed origins of all scripts lie further back in the past.


  1. Daniels & Bright 1996, pp. 132.
  2. Palaima 1997, pp. 121–188.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Packard 1974 , Chapter 1: Introduction.
  4. 1 2 Younger, John (2000). "7b. The Script". Linear A texts in phonetic transcription. University of Kansas.
  5. Owens 1999, pp. 23–24 (David Packard, in 1974, calculated a sound-value difference of 10.80% ± 1.80%; Yves Duhoux, in 1989, calculated a sound-value difference of 14.34% ± 1.80% and Gareth Owens, in 1996, calculated a sound-value difference of 9–13%).
  6. Packard 1974 , pp. 23–24
  7. Younger, John (2000). "5. Basic statistics". Linear A texts in phonetic transcription. University of Kansas. If there are 4,002 characters (font Times, pitch 12, no spaces) on an 8½ × 11 inch sheet of paper with 1 inch margins, all extant Linear A would take up 1.84 pages. ... (14.34 pages for Linear B).
  8. Winterstein, Gregoire; Cacciafoco, Francesco Perono; Petrolito, Ruggero; Petrolito, Tommaso. "Minoan linguistic resources: The Linear A digital corpus". Proceedings of the 9th SIGHUM Workshop on Language Technology for Cultural Heritage, Social Sciences, and Humanities (LaTeCH).
  9. 1 2 Woudhuizen, Fred C. (2016). Documents in Minoan Luwian, Semitic, and Pelasgian. Amsterdam: Nederlands Archeologisch Historisch Genootschap. ISBN   9789072067197. OCLC   1027956786.
  10. Schoep 1999, pp. 201–221.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Cacciafoco, Francesco Perono (January 2014). Linear A and Minoan. The riddle of unknown origins (slides). pp. 3–4. Retrieved 13 July 2020 via Academia.
  12. 1 2 Finkelberg 1998 , pp. 265–272.
  13. Pullen, Daniel J. (2009). "[Review of] W.D. Taylour & R. Janko, Ayios Stephanos: Excavations at a Bronze Age and Medieval Settlement in Southern Laconia. British School at Athens, 2008". Bryn Mawr Classical Review. Its location on the Laconian coast, easily accessible from Kythera, undoubtedly encouraged early contacts with Crete whether directly or indirectly (see the Linear A sign catalogued in chapter 11).
  14. Olivier 1986 , pp. 377f.
  15. Robinson 2009, p. 54.
  16. 1 2 3 Finkelberg, Margalit (March 2000). "Greater Anatolia and the Indo-Hittite Language Family". Indo-European Series Monograph Studies. 38: 83 via
  17. Younger, John (2000). "1. List of Linked Files". Linear A texts in phonetic transcription. University of Kansas. A comprehensive list of known texts written in Linear A.
  18. 1 2 Nagy 1963 , p. 210 (Footnote #24).
  19. Georgiev 1963, pp. 1–104.
  20. Nagy 1963, pp. 181–211.
  21. 1 2 Palmer 1958, pp. 75–100.
  22. Marangozis, John (2006). An introduction to Minoan Linear A. LINCOM Europa.
  23. Finkelberg, Margalit, "The Language of Linear A: Greek, Semitic, or Anatolian?", in: Drews, Robert (ed.), Greater Anatolia and the Indo-Hittite Language Family, Journal of Indo-European Studies, Monograph 38, Washington, DC, 2001.
  24. Rendsburg, Gary A. (2001). "Cyrus H. Gordon (1908-2001): A Giant among Scholars". The Jewish Quarterly Review. 92 (1/2): 137–143. ISSN   0021-6682. JSTOR   1455617.
  25. Dietrich & Loretz 2001.
  26. 1 2 La Marle, Hubert. Linéaire A, la première écriture syllabique de Crète. Paris: Geuthner, 4 Volumes, 1997–1999, 2006; Introduction au linéaire A. Geuthner, Paris, 2002; 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. Paris: Geuthner, 2002; Les racines du crétois ancien et leur morphologie: communication à l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 2007.
  27. Younger, John (2009). "Linear A: Critique of Decipherments by Hubert La Marle and Kjell Aartun". University of Kansas. According to Younger, La Marle "assigns phonetic values to Linear signs based on superficial resemblances to signs in other scripts (the choice of scripts being already prejudiced to include only those from the eastern Mediterranean and northeast Africa), as if C looks like O so it must be O."
  28. La Marle, Hubert (September 2010). An answer to John G. Younger's remarks on Linear A (Report) via
  29. Facchetti & Negri 2003.
  30. Yatsemirsky 2011.
  31. Owens 2007, pp. 3–4: "Η έρευνα απέδειξε ότι η μινωική γλώσσα σχετίζεται με την ελληνική περισσότερο από κάθε άλλη ινδοευρωπαϊκή γλώσσα, χωρίς να αποτελεί μια άλλη ελληνική διάλεκτο αλλά ένα χωριστό παρακλάδι της ινδοευρωπαϊκής οικογένειας ... υπάρχουν λέξεις που εντοπίζονται και στην ελληνική γλώσσα αλλά και σε άλλες, όπως τη σανσκριτική και τη χεττιτική, τη λατινική, της ίδιας οικογένειας.".
  32. Owens 1999, pp. 15–56.
  33. "The Language of the Minoans". Crete Gazette. 2006.
  34. Younger, John (2000). "10c. Place names". Linear A texts in phonetic transcription. University of Kansas.


Further reading