Positive Review of Gretchen E. Leonhardt’s “The Phonetic Method in Linear A Decipherment”
My fellow researcher in Linear A, Linear B & Linear C, Gretchen E. Leonhardt, has just posted a truly fascinating approach to possibilities for the eventual decipherment on her blog, here: Click to READ
If you are at all familiar with the problems surrounding the possibilities for the eventual decipherment of Minoan Linear A, which are legion, I urge you to studiously read this post in its entirety. Before I get to my review, allow me to give you a bit of background on the extensive skills and achievements Ms. Leonhardt has brought to the field of decipherment and translation of Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B, and most recently, to Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, interests which she and I share on so many levels. Ms. Leonhardt takes a novel approach to research into these all-important syllabaries. Her methodology is quite unlike anything I have ever encountered from any other decipherer or translator, past or present, of Mycenaean Linear B. I have to say that she is a refreshing breeze in the field of ancient linguistics, precisely because of her daring, yet utterly consistent, methodology, even if it flies in the face of convention.
While she and I do not entertain even remotely close hypotheses on the theoretical underpinnings for the decipherment of any of these syllabaries, and are often very much at odds with one another in our approaches to the innumerable problems besetting research in this field, we do agree to disagree, if only for this reason, that we are both well aware that each of us is taking a unique approach to the problems we encounter. Gretchen’s methodology, just as my own, flies in the face of convention, but for reasons almost diametrically opposed. But this precisely why she fascinates me so much. I am little concerned what anyone else thinks of my own approach to the decipherment of these syllabaries, just as I believe Gretchen is. The only thing that really matters is that we, she and I, and for that matter, any researcher in this recondite field, must perforce follow the dictates or his or her conscience and intuitive hunches, and the rational constructs underpinning the methodology pursued. All else is of little or no consequence. After all, Michael Ventris followed his intuition and his rational procedures, which inexorably led him to the discovery he was bound to make, that the Linear B syllabary was the first ever script used to write a Greek dialect, notably Mycenaean Greek. I say, the first script, because there were in fact three of them, Linear B for Mycenaean Greek, Linear C for Arcado-Cypriot, and the ancient Greek alphabet in its various avatars. Gretchen Leonhardt and I share a profound dedication to research into all three of these ancient Greek scripts.
A Review of Gretchen E. Leonhardt’s “The Phonetic Method in Linear A Decipherment”
Having a cursory acquaintance with the Japanese Kanji system of ideograms, I have enough of a background in this regard to at least appreciate what implications Gretchen Leonhardt’s novel approach might potentially have on the eventual decipherment of Minoan Linear A. While it was manifestly difficult for me to follow Ms. Leonhardt’s analytical breakdown of Japanese Kanji for personal names personal names (anthroponyms), surnames, and place names (toponyms), I did manage to struggle through it. The moment she mentioned the Kanji KA, which as she points out, can yield up to 25 definitions and 52 names, as per above, I knew what she was up to. KA is a very common syllabogram in each of the syllabaries, Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C.
Characteristically, Ms. Leonhardt notes that “I also pay attention to rare kanji as well as to words with archaic and obscure definitions.” If there is one thing Ms. Leonhardt and I have in common, it is this: a strict attention to details, however esoteric. That is the first thing about her phonetic method for the decipherment Linear A which seized my attention... though certainly not the last. She goes on to consider the ramifications of other kanji, RI, RU & MA, which once again parallel other very common syllabograms in all three of the Centum syllabaries mentioned above.
Then came the second lightning bolt. Again, with an eye for the minutest detail for even the rarest and most obsolete kanji, what would she happen upon but the definition of “gem, precious stone; lapis lazuli”. Lapis lazuli. Now that caught my attention! The Minoans were among the very finest crafts workers of lapis lazuli in the entire ancient world, whether in their own time or later. We note also that Ms. Leonhardt cross-correlates the nominal Kanji forms lapis lazuli with its verbal counterparts, “chafe, grind, rub, polish, scrape”, finally taking the last step to the logical combination of the nominal and verbal forms into the sense of “polished lapis lazuli gem”. It is precisely this sort of cross-correlative reasoning which impresses me most with Ms. Leonhardt.
Having drawn the conclusions she did from her Kanji sources, she moves onto the Linear A tablet from Haghia Triada, HT 118, which she believes to be a ship manifest. Given that the import and export of lapis lazuli as a major precious commodity was so important to practically all ancient economies, this comes as no surprise to me. We know for instance that the Minoans exported their fine lapis lazuli jewelry and products to their major contemporary trade partners such as Egypt, where Minoan crafts and ware of all kinds were in great demand for their superior quality. To underscore my point, we need only view a few samples of their magnificent work as we do in this composite of Minoan lapis lazuli products: click to ENLARGE:
You may also click here to visit Prof. John G. Younger’s site, Linear A Texts in phonetic transcription,
where you fill find the transcription into Latin characters of the Linear A text of HT 118, just as it appears here: Click to ENLARGE
It is Ms. Leonhardt’s intuitive grasp of the extreme importance of lapis lazuli to the pre-Mycenaean Minoan economy which most impresses me, all the more so in light of the fact that the export of their superior lapis lazuli products continued on unabated right through the early Mycenaean Era, when Knossos was at its acme (ca. 1450-1400 BCE). That this is the case is clearly attested in specific references to lapis lazuli on Linear B tablets. If it figured largely enough to warrant a place of merit on Liner B tablets, then surely, we might well conjecture, it should, strictly speaking, have also held place on honour on Minoan Linear A tablets.
So in summary, Ms. Leonhardt’s approach to a potentially sound decipherment of at least part of HT 118 holds up on several counts: given that its contents probably refer to lapis lazuli in some manner, it makes sense that the tablet is in fact a ship manifest, for reasons of trade as cited above. Secondly, the happy co-incidence with the interpretations which she was able to coax from the Kanji characters she has researched in this context with the possibility that HT 118 might in fact deal with this very gemstone may not be fortuitous at all, but actually (indirectly) linguistically related.
Ms. Leonhardt is not the first linguistic researcher to correlate Japanese Kanji with Minoan Linear A, but she has taken the potential parallelisms further than anyone else before her. I will never be the one to decipher Minoan Linear A, but I certainly hope Ms. Leonhardt will be.
NOTE: For just one example of other research into the possible connection of Minoan Linear A with Japanese Kanji,please visit:
Richard Vallance Janke