Phoenician alphabet (ca. 1050 BCE) with correlations with some Linear B characters (Click to enlarge):}

phoenician alphabet ca 1050 BC with Linear B correlations

I wish to stress emphatically that any correlations between certain letters in the Phoenician alphabet with apparently corresponding Linear B characters are just that, apparent only, in other words merely co-incidental. However, this does not rule out the possibility, however remote, that some of the letters of the Phoenician alphabet which are twinned with similar Linear B characters (syllabograms) above MAY in fact be related.  I say this because the Phoenician alphabet developed over centuries at about the same time as both Linear A and Linear B, and so it is quite possible that symbols used by the one class (Linear A & B) could have been appropriated by the Phoenicians, or the other way around, or even that some of the characters would have suffered cross-fertilization.  This possibility is not so far-fetched as it might seem at first glance, since after all the Phoenicians, Minoans and Mycenaeans were undoubtedly in constant trade and commercial contact.

In particular, the Phoenician letter S and Linear B TE are identical, while there is a striking resemblance between the Phoenician letter T and Linear B KA. The resemblance between the Phoenician letter M and Linear B DU is also quite apparent.  CH and YA are also quite similar. Notably, the Phoenician Y and Linear B U seem to mirror one another (just reverse one to get an approximation of the other).  This is in all probability accidental, except that, here again, there is a possibility that they are variants of the same letter.  The letter Y (although it is a consonant in Phoenician) and the letter U, one of 5 letters (not characters, but actual vowels) in Linear B may well be related to the early Greek digamma digamma sm pronounced “wau”.  Linguists are aware that variations in these sounds, u y and w, usually result from in subtle shifts in pronunciation from one language to another.

We should also account for the fact that, while Linear B is for the most part a syllabary and not an alphabet, it does contain 5 actual letters, and they are all vowels, which co-incidentally, pop up again when the Greek alphabet appears on the scene in around 900-800 BCE.  Were the Greeks of the early Archaic Iron Age aware that their Mycenaean ancestors had already invented the 5 vowels?   Who knows?  We can only speculate.  Nevertheless, the vowels did re-appear with the Greek alphabet.   Indeed, the inclusion of vowels in both Linear B and in the Greek alphabet was a revolutionary innovation in writing, one that would give rise to the very first great literature of the Western world,  that of the Greeks.  All 5 of the vowels are still used in modern Western languages.  On the other hand, Phoenician is a consonantal alphabet only, lacking all vowels.

Thus, we may conclude that, while the Phoenician alphabet was a distinct advancement over syllabaries such as Linear B, reducing the latter’s 100 + syllabograms to a mere 22 consonants, Linear B had in fact already invented all 5 vowels, which were also alphabetic.   This is a fascinating historical phenomenon, in so far as the Greeks managed to make the best of both worlds, adapting Phoenician consonants to their own special needs, while simultaneously introducing the vowels into their language, to which they assigned both short and long values.  Thus, there were more than 5 vowels in ancient Greek, since some of them were paired.  There was a short o and a long (o versus omega), a short i and a long, and a short e and a long.  The question is, where did they get the idea for vowels from?  It is a question we may never be able to “answer” or, shall we say, resolve.  Still, it does pique one’s curiosity that the possibility existed the Archaic Greeks may have been aware of the existence of vowels in Mycenaean Linear B, if indeed they were aware of the existence of Linear B at all.   That is highly doubtful, but I am entertaining the possibility on a long shot.  Why not?

Richard