A ‘fairly accurate’ rendering of Minoan Linear A tablet HT 86a, according to Gretchen Leonhardt: This Linear B tablet clearly deals with various crops, with the lead in crop being grains or wheat, just as one would expect on either a Mycenaean Linear B tablet. By the same token, there is no reason to suppose that a Minoan Linear A tablet dealing with crops would not deal first and foremost with grains and wheat. The units of measurements identified on this tablet accord with those tentatively tabulated by Andras Zeke on the Ms. Gretchen Leonhardt of has duly advised me that (and I quote) “your "recto" tablet is a fairly accurate rendering of HT 86a, but your "verso" tablet is an inaccurate rendering of HT 87.... ” She is of course entirely correct in informing me that the so-called verso side is not the same tablet at all, but is in fact, HT 87 (Haghia Triada). I am nevertheless astonished that she would accord me a fair degree of accuracy in my decipherment of HT 86 a, in view of the fact that (a) I do not even know what the Minoan language is; (b) Ms. Leonhardt claims to have conclusively deciphered the Minoan language as being proto-Japanese, categorically stating as she does that “overwhelming evidence keeps me steadfast in this view...”, a claim which I intend shortly to refute in no uncertain terms, by bringing to bear on it reasonable circumstantial, though not conclusive, evidence to the contrary and; (c) she concedes that my decipherment of HT 86 A is fairly accurate, in spite of the fact that I am apparently flailing in the dark, since I know nothing of the Minoan language. Yet if I am, how on earth did I manage to achieve even a fairly accurate decipherment, I have to ask her. Although Ms. Leonhardt claims that my knowledge of Linear A is “in its infancy” (as everyone’s, including her own, must of necessity be), as a historical philologist specializing in the decipherment of ancient syllabaries such as Linear A, Linear B and Linear C, and unlike Ms. Leonhardt along with numerous other researchers who purport to have definitely deciphered the Minoan language, I neither have ever made nor would ever make the rash and untenable claim that I have deciphered it, given the exiguous size of the lexical database with which we have to work. I have said as much over and over, as for instance in this citation from one of my own works to be published in the next year or so, and I quote: Conclusions concerning the many failed attempts at deciphering Minoan Linear A: The worst of all the pretensions of the authors of the aforementioned monographs and tractata are their untenable claims that they have in fact deciphered Minoan Linear A. How is it even remotely possible that these soi- disant decipherers of Minoan Linear A can claim to have discovered the so-called magic bullet in the guise of the proto-language upon which their decipherment has been based, when the proto-languages they invoke are soà wildly disparate? These decipherers have turned to a number of proto-languages, some of them Indo-European (such as proto-Greek and Proto-Slavic), others non proto-Indo-European, running the gamut from Uralic (proto-Finnish), proto-Niger Congo to proto-Semitic and Sumerian all the way through to proto-Altaic and proto-Japanese. While it is patently impossible that all of these proto-languages could be at the base of the Minoan language, it is nevertheless remotely conceivable that one of them just might be. But which one? Given the tangled mass of contradictions these so-called decipherments land us in, I am left with no alternative but to pronounce that none of these so-called proto-languages is liable to stand the test of linguistic verisimilitude. All of this leaves me with an uneasy feeling of déjà vu. Instead, I have adopted the unique approach of declaring that it does not matter what proto- language Minoan derives from, or for that matter, whether or not it, like modern Basque, is a language isolate, meaning a natural (spoken) language, ancient (dead) or modern (alive) with no demonstrable genealogical or genetic relationship with any other language whatsoever or alternatively, a language that has not been demonstrated to descend from an ancestor common with any other language in the world. (italics mine). and again: In an article of this nature, which is the first of its kind in the world ever to deal with the partial, but by no means definitive, decipherment of Minoan Linear A, I must of necessity focus on those Minoan Linear A terms which offer the greatest insight into the vocabulary of the language, but not the language itself. Anyone who dares claim he or she has “deciphered” the Minoan language is skating on very thin ice. Any attempt to decipher the Minoan language is severely trammelled by the incontestable fact that no one knows what the language is or even what language class it belongs to, if any.
Tag Archive: Kanji
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
An Easy Guide to Learning Arcado-Cypriot Linear C & I mean easy!: Click to ENLARGE If any of you out there have already mastered either Minoan Linear A or Mycenaean Linear B or both, Arcado-Cypriot Linear C is likely to come as a bit of a shock. Although the phonetic values of the syllabograms in Linear C are identical to their Linear B counterparts, with very few exceptions, the appearance of Linear C syllabograms is almost always completely at odds with their Linear B counterparts, again with very few exceptions. If this sounds confusing, allow me to elucidate. A: Appearance of Linear B & Linear C Syllabograms. Linear C syllabograms look like this. If you already know Linear B, you are probably saying to yourself, What a mess!, possibly even aloud. I can scarcely blame you. But courage, courage, all is not lost. Far from it. Click to ENLARGE: Only the following syllabograms look (almost) alike in both Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C [see (a) below]: NA PA TA * SE * LO * PO * * There is a slight difference between those syllabograms marked with an asterisk * DA in Linear B is identical to TA in Linear C because Linear C has no D + vowel series, but uses the T + vowel series instead. SE in Linear B has 3 vertical strokes, whereas in Linear C it has only 2. RO in Linear B is identical to LO in Linear C. While Linear C has both and R + vowel series, it uses the L + vowel series as the equivalent of the Linear B R series. PO stands vertically in Linear B, but is slanted about 30 degrees to the right in Linear C. All other syllabograms in these two syllabaries are completely dissimilar; so you might think you are on your own to learn the rest of them in Linear C. But in fact, you are not. I can help a lot. See below, after the section on the Phonetic Values of Linear B & Linear C Syllabograms. B: Phonetic Values of Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C Syllabograms: Here the reverse scenario applies. Once you have mastered all of the Linear C syllabograms by their appearance, you can rest pretty much assured that the phonetic values of almost all syllabograms in both syllabaries are identical, with very few exceptions. Even in those instances where their phonetic values appear not to be identical, they are in fact identical, for all intents and purposes. This is because the ancient Greek dialects were notorious for wide variations in pronunciation, ergo in orthography. Anyone at all familiar with ancient Greek dialects can tell you that the pronunciation and spelling of an identical document, were there ever any such beast, would vary markedly from, say, Arcado-Cypriot to Dorian to Attic alphabetic. I can hear some of you protest, “What do you mean, the Arcado-Cypriot alphabet? I thought the script for Arcado-Cypriot was the syllabary Linear C.” You would be only half right. In fact, the Arcadians and Cypriots wrote their documents either in Linear or in their version of the ancient Greek alphabet, or in both at the same time. This is the case with the famous Idalion decree, composed in the 5th. Century BCE: Click to ENLARGE The series of syllabograms beginning with the consonant R + any of the vowels A E I O & U is present in Mycenaean Linear B. However, the series of syllabograms beginning with the consonant L + any of the vowels A E I O & U is entirely absent from Mycenaean Linear B, while Arcado-Cypriot Linear C has a series of syllabograms for both of the semi-consonants L & R. It rather looks like the Arcadians & Cypriots had already made the clear distinction between the semi-vowels L & R, firmly established and in place with the advent of the earliest form of the ancient Greek alphabet, which sported separate semi-vowels for L & R. Likewise, the series of syllabograms beginning with the consonant Q + any of the vowels A E I & O is present in Mycenaean Linear B, but entirely absent from Arcado-Cypriot Linear C. Conversely, the series of syllabograms beginning with the consonant X + the vowels A or E (XA & XE) is entirely absent from in Mycenaean Linear B, but present in Arcado-Cypriot Linear C. For the extremely significant socio-cultural linguistic explanation for this apparent paradox (I say, apparent, because it is in fact unreal), we shall have to defer to the next post. WARNING! Always be on your guard never to confuse Linear B & Linear C syllabograms which look (almost exactly) alike – the sole exceptions being NA PA TA SE LO & PO, since you can be sure that their phonetic values are completely at odds. Various strategies you can resort to in order to master Linear C fast! (a) The Linear B & Linear C syllabograms NA PA TE SE LO & PO are virtually the same, both in appearance and in pronunciation.
(b) Taking advantage of the real or fortuitous resemblance of several syllabograms to one another & (c) Geometric Clustering: Click to ENLARGE What is really astonishing is that the similarities between the syllabograms on the second line & their geometric clustering on the third are identical! So no matter which approach you adopt (b) or (c) or both for at least these syllabograms, you are a winner. Failing these approaches, try (d) Mnemonics: For instance, we could imagine that RO is a ROpe, PE = Don’t PEster me!, SA = SAve $, TO is TOFu etc. or we could even resort to (e) Imagery! For instance, we could imagine that A E & I are a series of stars, RI NI & KE all look like variations on the letter E, that LE is the symbol for infinity, WE is an iron bar etc. For Mnemonics & Imagery, I am not suggesting that you follow my own arbitrary interpretations, except perhaps for LE, which is transparent. Take your imagination where it leads you. Finally (f) the really great news is that the Linear C syllabary abandoned homophones, logograms and ideograms, doing away with them lock-stock-and-barrel. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Minoan Linear A & Mycenaean Linear B syllabaries. The first had so many syllabograms, homophones, logograms and ideograms that it can be a real pain in the butt to learn Linear A. Mycenaean Linear B greatly simplified the entire mess, reducing the number and complexity of syllabograms & homophones, but unfortunately retaining well over a hundred logograms and ideograms, which are equally a pain in the you know what. In other words, the process of greater and greater simplication was evolutionary. This phenomenon is extremely common across the spectrum of world languages. What the Linear C scribes agreed upon, the complete elimination of anything but syllabograms, was the last & greatest evolutionary phase in the development of the Minoan-Greek syllabaries before the Greeks finally reduced even Linear C to its own variable alphabet of some 24-27 letters, depending on the dialect. But even the 3 syllabaries, Linear A, B & C, all had the 5 vowels, A E I O & U, which already gave them an enormous advantage over almost all other ancient scripts, none of which had vowels, with the sole exception of Sanskrit, as far as I know. That alone was quite an achievement. If you have not yet mastered the Linear B syllabary, it goes without saying that all of these techniques can be applied to it. The same goes for the Minoan Linear A syllabary, though perhaps to a lesser extent. The Real Potential for Extrapolation of these Principles to Learning any Script: Moreover, at the most general level for learning linguistic scripts, ancient or modern, whether they be based on pictographs, ideograms alone (as with some Oriental languages, such as Chinese, Japanese & Korean, at least when they resorted to the Kanji script), or any combination of ideograms, logograms & syllabograms (all three not necessarily being present) or even alphabetic, they will almost certainly stand the test of the practical validity of any or all of these approaches for learning any such script. I have to wonder whether or not most linguists have ever considered the practical implications of the combined application of all of these principles, at least theoretically. Allow me to conclude with this telling observation. Children especially, even from the age of 2 & a half to 3 years old, would be especially receptive to all of these techniques, which would ensure a rapid assimilation of any script, even something as simple as an alphabet of anywhere from 24 letters (Italian) to Russian Cyrillic (33 letters), as I shall clearly demonstrate with both the modern Greek & Latin alphabet a little later this month. PS. If any of you are wondering, as I am sure many of you who are familiar with our blog must be, I have an extremely associative, cross-correlative mind, a rather commonplace phenomenon among polyglot linguists, such as myself. In fact, my thinking can run in several directions, by which I mean I frequently process one set of cross-correlative associations, only to consider another and another, each in quite different directions from the previous. If that sounds like something Michael Ventris did, it is because that is precisely what he did to decipher almost all of Mycenaean Linear B - almost all, but not quite. As for the remaining 10 % or so which has so far defied decipherment, I promise you you are in for a great surprise very soon, perhaps as early as the spring of 2015, when my research colleague, Rita Roberts, and I shall be publishing an in-depth research paper in PDF on the Internet - a study which is to announce a major breakthrough in the further decipherment of Linear B. Those of you who frequent this blog on a regular basis already know what we are up to. As for those of you who are not regular visitors, if you read all the posts under the rubric, Supersyllabograms (at the top of this page), you are going to find out anyway. Richard