Is it even possible to determine what the word for “fig(s)” is in Minoan Linear A? You may be surprised!
Among several other tablets in both Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B, Linear A tablet HT 88 contains the supersyllabogram NI on the second line:
The question is, what is the actual word for “fig(s)” in Minoan Linear A? Apparently, no-one knows. The odd thing about this supersyllabogram NI is that it was taken over lock-stock-and-barrel by the Mycenaeans. We will never know why, but it is clear that they thought it convenient simply to hang onto it. It may very well be that that the Mycenaeans continued to use the Minoan word for “fig” alongside their early Greek suza. If that is the case, it is all the more relevant for us to attempt to reconstruct the Minoan word for “fig”. Whatever the circumstances, we are still left with the perplexing question, what is the word for “fig” in Minoan Linear A anyway?
In spite of apparently insurmountable obstacles, it may not be so difficult to reconstruct as we might imagine. If we stop to consider even briefly what the word for “fig” is that I have methodically selected in 13 languages, ancient and modern, belonging to 6 different classes, we discover that all but one of them are either monosyllabic or disyllabic. In one instance only is it trisyllabic, pesnika, in Serbian. This does not come as any surprise to me as a linguist, though it may to the so-called “common person” . Here are the words for “fig” in 16 languages belonging to 6 different languages classes:
KEY to language classes:
AU = Austronesian/ IN = Indo-European/ LI = language isolate/ NC = Niger-Congo/ SE = Semitic/ UR = Uralic. A language isolate is one which does not belong to any international language class whatsoever, but which stands entirely on its own.
AU: Indonesian ara Malay rajah Maori piki
IN: French figue German Feige Greek (Mycenaean) suza (Attic) suchon Italian fico Latin ficus Norwegian fiken Portuguese figo Serbian pesnika Spanish higo
LI: Basque piku
NC: Swahili mtimi (sub-class = Bantu)
SE: Maltese tin (the only Semitic language in Latin script)
UR: Finnish kuva
Under the circumstances, I am given to wonder whether or not the Minoan Linear A word for “fig” is monosyllabic, disyllabic or possibly even trisyllabic. It is clear that it cannot be monosyllabic, because the supersyllabogram for “fig” in both Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B is NI. And supersyllabograms are always the first syllable only of di- tri- or multi-syllabic words in both of these languages. Given this scenario, is it possible or even feasible to reconstruct the Minoan Linear A for “fig”? Surprisingly enough, the answer is yes. Why so? It just so happens that most Minoan Linear A words which are diminutives are feminine with the ultimate being either pa3 or ra2. Under the circumstances, it only takes one small step to restore the two mostly likely candidates for the Minoan Linear A for “fig”. And these are:
It is of course possible to argue that the Minoan word for “fig” is trisyllabic, but this is highly unlikely, since the only trisyllabic word for “fig” in all 13 of the languages cited above is the Serbian, pesnika. Hence, I am reasonably convinced that the Minoan Linear A word for “fig(s)” is either nipa3 (nipai) or nira2 (nirai).
Finally, as it is clear that since the word for “fig(s)” does not even remotely correspond to any of the 13 words in 6 language classes, ancient and modern, above, not even Basque, it may very well turn out that, like Basque, the Minoan language is also a language isolate. I should not be the least but surprised if it were.
This discussion will be part and parcel in my upcoming article in Vol. 12 (2016) of Archaeology and Science (Belgrade) ISSN 1452-7448, “Pylos tablet Py TA 641-1952 (Ventris), the Rosetta Stone to Minoan Linear A tablet HT 31 (Haghia Triada) vessels and pottery” and a Glossary of 110 words”, the third article in a row I shall have published in this prestigious international annual by the beginning of 2018 at the very latest.
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