Richard Vallance is the editor of the world’s first ever international multilingual anthology of sonnets, The Phoenix Rising from the ashes

Richard Vallance is the editor of the worlds first ever international multilingual anthology of sonnets, The Phoenix Rising from the ashes:

Phoenix Rising from the Ashes anthology cover

Richard Vallance is the editor of the worlds first ever international multilingual anthology of sonnets, The Phoenix Rising from the ashes, which you can download here:

Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

This anthology contains over 250 sonnets in English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Farsi by almost 200 contemporary sonneteers. Almost all of these sonnets are published for the first time ever here. This anthology makes for a profoundly rewarding reading experience.

dedication to the Phoenix Rising from the Ashes


Hesiode et la Muse de Gustave Moreau 1826-1898


Is it even possible to determine what the word for “fig(s)” is in Minoan Linear A? You may be surprised!

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.

Je suis Charlie – in French, English & Greek + 11 modern languages & 3 ancient Greek dialects!

Je suis Charlie - in French, English & Greek + 11 modern languages & 3 ancient Greek dialects!


I beg you, please be sure to RETWEET this, folks! As a polyglot Canadian, fluent in English and French, conversant with both modern languages and ancient, especially ancient Greek, with some 20 dialects under my belt, including Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, I hope to reach not only everyone alive now, but as many of our ancestors as possible. I do this out of love for all the millions upon millions of people who have been slaughtered by warmongers, manaics, religious fanatics & terrorists, past, present and... God forbid... future!

Je vous prie de tout mon coeur de faire des RETWEETs de ce message des plus urgents! Tout en étant canadien parfaitement bilingue, je suis également polyglotte, connaisseur de plusieurs langues modernes et anciennes, dont une vingtaine de dialèctes grecs tels que le mycénien en linéaire B et le chypro-arcadien en linéaire C. Dans ce but, j’espère communiquer ce message de solidarité bienveillante à tous ceux qui sont encore vivants autant qu’à tous nos ancêtres, dont d’innombrables millions qui ont perdu la vie, tous massacrés par des bellicistes, des maniaques, des fanatiques religieuses et des terroristes d’antan, de nos jours et... à Dieu ne plaise ... incontournablement à l’avenir.

Richard Vallance Janke,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Happy New Year in Greek, Linear B, Linear C, English, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian & German

Happy New Year in Greek, Linear B, Linear C, English, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian & German! Click to ENLARGE:

Happy New Year Linear B Knossos & Mycenae

Richard and Rita

Significant Phonetic Variations in the Pronunciation of the L & R + Vowel Series as Reflected in the Linear B & Linear C Syllabaries

Significant Phonetic Variations in the Pronunciation of the L & R + Vowel Series as Reflected in the Linear B & Linear C Syllabaries 

Comparison of the Mycenaean Linear B & the Arcado-Cypriot Linear C Syllabaries: Click to ENLARGE

Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado Cypriot Syllabaries compared

Where the phonetic values of the syllabogram series R + vowel series (the L series missing in Linear B) do sound somewhat different in the two syllabaries, Linear B & Linear C, there is in fact a very sound phonetic reason for this.

But first, let me tell you a little story. If there were such a thing as time-travel into the past or the future, modern Greeks from Athens travelling back to the city in 500 BCE would indeed be shocked at how Greek was pronounced then. Ancient Greeks thrust into the future would have the same reaction – utter disbelief. I myself put this hypothesis to test while I was in Greece in May 2012. I could read modern Greek fairly well even then. But when I tried to communicate with some folks I met in a restaurant with my own plausible version of the ancient Attic dialect (there are actually 3 or 4 possible versions), no-one could understand scarcely a word I spoke. And when I asked my colleagues to speak modern Greek to me, I was equally at a loss. But I could read the menu with no problem.          

Moving on then.

Although the Mycenaean Greeks were apparently unable to pronounce the letter “L”, nothing in fact could be more deceptive to the unwary Occidental ear. It all comes down to a matter of our own ingrained linguistic bias in our own social-cultural context. To us, the Arcadians & Cypriots indeed appear to have already made the distinction between L & R, given that their syllabary contains syllabograms consisting of both of these consonants (L & R) followed by vowels. But I stress, to us, we cannot be sure how they pronounced L & R, or to what extent they had by then become phonetically separate. Looking at the Linear C Syllabary, you can see the distinction right away. See above.

Now some of you may already be aware of the “fact” that to our ears in the West, the Japanese seem utterly incapable of pronouncing either L or R, but appear to be pronouncing something half-way between the two, which sounds like mumble-jumbo to our ears. Since the Linear B syllabary has no L + vowel series of syllabograms, the Mycenaeans too might have conflated L and R into one consonant in a manner similar to the way the Japanese pronounce it, at least in the early days of the Mycenaean dialect (possibly from 1450-1300 BCE). On the other hand, since the Arcadians and the Cypriots had apparently already made the distinction between L & R from as early as 1100 BCE, their immediate forebears, the Mycenaeans, might have already been well on the road to being able to pronounce L & R distinctly as consonants by 1300-1200 BCE, although they still may have been confusing them from time to time. However, they probably could see no point in adding an L + vowel series such as we see in Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, given that they had already used the Linear B syllabary for at least 2 and half centuries (ca 1450 – 1200 BCE). I am inclined to accept this hypothesis of the gradual emergence of L & R towards the end of Linear B's usage ca. 1200 BCE, in preference to a hypothetical Japanese-like pronunciation based on the assumption that the L+R concatenation is a merging of L & R as semi-consonants. Still, either scenario is perfectly plausible.

Allophone English speakers invariably find the pronunciation of L & R in almost all other Occidental languages (French, Spanish, Italian etc.) much too “hard” to their ears. This is because the letters L & R in English alone are alveolars, mere semi-consonants or semi-vowels, depending on your perspective as an English speaker, which is in turn conditioned by the dialect you speak. There are some English dialects in which the letter R is still pronounced as a trilled consonant, but for the most part, allophone English speakers pronounce both L and R very softly – at least to the ears of allophones from other European nations. Practically all other modern European languages trill the letter R, making it a consonant in their languages. But not English. This is due to the “Great Vowel Shift” which occurred in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in English, whereby the earlier trilled R was abandoned in favour of the much softer semi-consonant or semi-consonant R we now use in English. For this reason and others besides, English alone of the Germanic languages is not guttural at all. At the same time, L, which had previously been pronounced just as in other European languages, became a semi-consonant.

You can put this to the test by pronouncing either letter aloud, paying close attention to where you touch the interior of your mouth with your tongue. Your tongue will instantly feel that the semi-consonant L scarcely makes any contact with any firm area of the mouth, but is pronounced almost the same way the vowels are – almost, but not quite. On the other hand, R, which is a true semi-vowel, at least in Canadian and American English, does not make any contact with any firm part of the mouth, in other words, it is pronounced just as the vowels are – no contact. So it really is a vowel. But English scholars and linguists in the sixteenth century could see no point in changing R to a vowel, any more than the Mycenaeans could be bothered with a new series of syllabograms beginning with L.      

But it matters little, if at all, whether or not we pronounce L & R as semi-consonants or semi-vowels, as in English, or as separate consonants as in the other European languages, since we all pronounce them as distinct letters. This ingrained linguistic bias greatly colours our perceptions of how others pronounce the “same” letters, if indeed they are the same at all. So it all boils down to just one thing: it all depends on your socio-culturally conditioned perspective as a speaker of our own language.

This state of affairs leaves me forced to draw the inescapable conclusion that to the Japanese it is we who have made a mess of things by separating the pronunciation of L & R, which sound identical to their ears, in other words as one consonant (which is neither a semi-consonant nor a semi-vowel). To assist you in putting this into perspective, consider the Scottish pronunciation of the letter R, which is also clearly a consonant, and is in fact the pronunciation of R before the Great Vowel Shift in Middle English. This is not to say that the Scottish pronounce their consonant R anywhere near the way the Japanese pronounce their single consonant, to our ears an apparent conflation of our two semi-consonants L & R.    

Again, the whole thing comes down to a matter of linguistic bias based on the socio-cultural conditions of two very distinct meta-cultures, Occidental and Oriental. In that context, the languages in their meta-classes (Occidental versus Oriental) are symbolic of two entirely different perspectives on the world. Need I say more?

In conclusion, it is extremely unwise to draw conclusions for phonetic distinctions between the socio-culturally “perceived” pronunciation of any consonant or any vowel whatsoever from one language to another, especially in those instances where one of the languages involved is Occidental and the other is Oriental. The key word here is “perceived”. It is all a question of auditory perception, and that is always conditioned by the linguistic norms of the society in which you live.

This still leaves us up in the air, so to speak. How can we be sure that the Mycenaean Greeks apparently could not pronounce their Ls “properly” (to be taken with a grain of salt). We cannot. Since we were not there at the time, our own linguistic, socio-cultural biases figure largely in our perception of what the so-called “proper” pronunciation was. If we mean by proper, proper to themselves, that is an altogether different matter. But what is proper to us was almost certainly not proper to them, of that we can pretty much rest assured. The same situation applies to every last ancient Greek dialect. What was proper pronunciation and orthography to the Dorian dialect most certainly was not for the Arcado-Cypriot dialect any more than it was for Attic Greek. To be perfectly blunt, we cannot ever be quite sure how anyone in ancient Greek pronounced their own dialect of the language, again because we weren't there.


The Homophone HA, used less often than AI, but equally significant… if not more so!

The Homophone HA, used less often than AI, but equally significant: Click to ENLARGE:

HA homophone series Linear B 

This makes for entertaining reading, though possibly somewhat perplexing to some.
Let no-one be under any illusion that the Linear B homophone HA is any less significant than AI, regardless of the fact that it appears less often in Linear B texts on extant tablets. The homophone HA is not a diphthong! This homophone (HA) takes an enormous leap forward, specifically and exclusively in the Linear B syllabary, by explicitly expressing initial or even internal aspirated A’s. This incredible achievement eclipsed even the ancient Greek alphabet, which, need I remind you, was always written in CAPS (uppercase) alone, and hence, was utterly incapable of expressing any aspirated, let alone, unaspîrated vowels.

"What” I hear you indignantly explain, "Of course, they had aspirated and unaspirated vowels.” Yes, they did. But they never expressed them. Search any ancient alphabetical text in any dialect whatsoever for aspirated or unaspirated vowels, and you search in vain. Search Linear B, and voilà, staring us squarely in the face, is the aspirated A. Astonishing? Perhaps... perhaps not. But what this tells us unequivocally is that the ancient Greeks, even after the appearance of the alphabet, must have pronounced aspirated and unaspirated vowels, because in Mycenaean Greek, the aspirated A is squarely in the syllabary.
"But”, I hear you exclaim again, "If those Mycenaeans were so smart, why didn’t they also have a homophone for the aspirated E, which pops up all over the place in Medieval manuscripts in Classical Greek?”  The answer is that Mycenaean Greek almost certainly had no use for the aspirated E, since all classical Greek words beginning with an aspirated E invariably begin with an aspirated A in Mycenaean Greek, as for instance, Mycenaean "hateros” versus classical Greek "heteros” (well, in most dialects, if not all). In other words, Mycenaean Greek grammar has no homophone for aspirated E, simply because they never used it, nor were they even aware of its existence. 

Still, the fact remains that, at least where the aspirated A is concerned, Linear B was one step ahead of ancient alphabetical Greek. Both aspirated and unaspirated initial consonants were a feature introduced into written classical Greek alphabet only in the Middle Ages, when monks & other scribes began making extensive use of lower case letters. And, sure enough, along with the aspiration and non-aspiration of initial vowels (most often A, E & U), they also introduced all those other crazy accents we all must now memorize: the acute, grave, circumflex and susbscripted iota, just to make reading ancient Greek wretchedly more complicated. Don’t you wish they had left well enough alone? I often do. But this was not to be, since from the Middle Ages, and especially from the Renaissance on, almost all Occidental languages (Greek & French being two of the worst offenders) used accents liberally. Apparently only the Romans never bothered with accents ... but even here we cannot be sure, as they too wrote only in CAPS (uppercase).  Even English, which is the Western language most adverse to accents, always uses them in borrowed words from French, Italian, Spanish etc.  So you just can’t win.
Once again, amongst the ancient languages, at least as far as I know, Linear B alone was able to explicitly express the initial aspirated A, just as Linear B had the common sense to separate every word on the tablets from the next with a vertical line (|). After that, "something got lost in translation” (so to speak), and for at least 2 millennia, when all of a sudden everyone in the whole world went bonkers for accents.

Such are the vagaries of linguistics.