Saturday, September 12, 2009

Junction effects in Linear A script

The Linear B script is pretty heavily imperfect. This is caused by its simplicity (remember, Linear A or B had a comparable number of characters to the modern japanese syllabaries Hiragana and Katakana). All these systems represent only open syllabes. So consonantal clusters can only be written if one inserts auxiliary vowels between the consonants. Yet the mycaenean (and very likely the minoan) scribes did not bother themselves with doing this: they simply ommitted consonants (and often, vowels too) in case of encountering a cluster.

Thus for the consonants, the minoan Linear B is an imperfect system. This is not to say that there were no rules to tell whether to resolve or simplify a cluster (more on this in another post later). But if some clusters were consistently simplified, we may never tell from an extict word if it had a cluster or not. We know, for example that the place-name PA-I-TO (LinA and LinB) has to be spelled as Phaistos (at least in linB), but we would never be able to tell whether it had any 'S' in the middle if this name would be extinct. But just let us leave for the consonant problem for later. What is more interesting for us, to look at the representation of vowels in Linear A. Signs representing simple vowels in linear B are well-represented for all 5 vowels for linear A as well:

Signs with A, I, or U are most common, while those with E or O are much rarer. What really interesting is regarding the vowels, is the relative scarcity of diphtongs. Unlike linear B, where special signs (thought to represent diphtongs) are well-represented, these signs (most of them exist in linear A as well) occur very rarely in linear A. An even more interesting thing is the presence of 'junctional effects' when certain vowel-vowel signs meet each other. For example, if we have a meeting of U and A vowels, the minoan scribes have consistently rendered it to U-WA, perhaps corresponding to a lingustic tendency to avoid unwanted diphtongs. Such tendency cannot be observed in Linear B, where a meeting of vowels such as e.g. U-A was allowed without modification. If we represent all the possible junctions of vowels in Linear A, our table would look like as follows:



O A-O (?) (E-JO?) (I-JO?) (U-WO?)

E A-E O-E (?) I-JE (U-WE?)

I A-I O-I E-I* I-I* U-WI

U A-U (O-U?) E-JU I-JU U-U*

The junctions or signs shown with ? are not well attested. Apart from those, the tendency can be clearly seen: all junctions are allowed, though those that contain a semovowel as their first part (U=W, I=J) will have their following signs rendered to the corresponding CV-type signs. Signs ending in E behave as if they ended in I. An interesing case (*), and the only exception from the above rule is the case of homogenous joinings (I-I and U-U). In this case, the syllabes JI and WU will get rendered to simple I and U. The same happens for E-I (JI->I).

These vowel junctional effects can be used to effectively predict a (vowel) value of unknown or dubious signs. If an unknown sign is consistently followed by syllabes beginning with W+?, then it is highly probable that the sign had 'U' as a vowel. But this is never 100%, given that W+? signs can also stand alone (e.g. A-MA-WA-SI, the presence of WA does not imply the preceding sign to end with 'U'). Nevertheless, the same rule can be used to exclude given sign-values with certainty. If we observe an unknown sign to form a junction with A without the A-sign turning into WA or JA, then the unknown sign simply cannot end in U or I.

This exclusion rule can be applied to the Linear A sign *79 ('eye') to show why it cannot represent the value 'ZU' (that was assigned to it by John Younger et al.). The case-ruling example we find on the tablet ZA4,row a.5 where the term QE-SI-*79-E can be read. The same name recurs on tablet ZA15. Now, if the reading of *79 were 'ZU', we would rather expect an ending ZU-WE (with a not well characterised linear A WE sign) and NOT ZU-E. On the other hand, the value suggested and used by many (e.g Glen Gordon) for this linear A sign: 'DO', fits perfectly, as DO-E is absolutely possible.

But the case of LinA *79 has to approached with care. Apparently, there are two distinct LinearB signs (*79 and *14) corresponding to single cluster (*79) Linear A. I label it as a cluster, as it contains signs of very variable design: it is easily possible that there are two signs lumped into a single cluster: at least one of these is (with resonably high probability) is the Linear A counterpart of Linear B 'DO' sign (LinB *14).

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