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Text #9361

"Linear A", in Wikipedia.

Linear A is one of two currently undeciphered writing systems used in ancient Greece (Cretan hieroglyphic is the other). 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 is the origin of the Linear B script, which was later used by the Mycenaean civilization.

In the 1950s, Linear B was largely deciphered 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 it uses the same or similar syllabic values as Linear B, then its underlying language appears unrelated to any known language. This has been dubbed the Minoan language.

Linear A has hundreds of signs. They are 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.

An interesting feature is that of how numbers are recorded 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 1427 specimens totalling 7362–7396 signs, if scaled to standard type, would fit on a single sheet of paper.

According to Finkelberg, most—if not all—inscriptions found outside of Crete were made locally. This is indicated by such factors as the composition of the material on which the inscriptions were made. Also, close analysis of the inscriptions found outside of Crete indicates the use of a script that is somewhere in between Linear A and Linear B, combining the elements of both.

Archaeologist Arthur Evans named the script “Linear” because its characters consisted simply of lines inscribed in clay, in contrast to the more pictographic and three-dimensional 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. 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.

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.

According to Dr. 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”, Dr. 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.”

Since the late 1950s, a theory based on Linear B phonetic values suggests that Linear A language could be an Anatolian language, close to Luwian. The theory for the Luwian origin of Minoan, however, failed to gain universal support for the following reasons:

  • 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 anthropological differences between Hitto-Luwians and the Minoans may be considered as another indirect testimony against this hypothesis.

There are most recent works focused on the Luwian connection, but not in terms of the Minoan language being Anatolian, but rather of possible borrowings from Luwian, including the origin of the writing.

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.

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 BCE, 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.

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