Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Intrusive" suffixes of the Minoan language

Looking at the Linear A tablets, we can encounter zounds of words. Most of them are names: a good percentage of them personal names - unique ones that never recur on other tablets. Still, there are some rare words that do occur more than once. And with some luck (and this indeed takes some luck, given the lost, fragmented, illegible or otherwise damaged tablets) we can see how they change their endings.

In this chapter I will attempt to use these rare examples of declension to get a bit more systematic insight into the grammatical system of Minoan language. This is a mammoth task, given the scant evidence, and will likely not be completed until all Minoan texts (including the (in)famous Phaistos Disc) are fully deciphered. So I warn all readers in advance: all the theories to be discussed here have an extremely high uncertainty factor.

To begin with, let us consider a few examples drawn from the Linear A tablets. The following groups contain words with (supposedly) related stems. I am also going to give a (highly tentative) reading of the words, to help imagine how these suffixes looked like in the real language.

Our first example will be the stem *PI-TA-K-? (perhaps *pinthake?). We can see two different derivatives of the same stem on the Haghia Triada tablets:

HT21:   PI-TA-KA-SE  (*pinthak-ase?)
HT87:   PI-TA-KE-SI   (*pinthake-si?)

What is really interesting, are not the endings themselves, but rather, the way they fit onto the stem. Throughout all the tablets, we can find many words ending with either -SI or -SE. Their stem-vowels follow a very similar distribution, with -A- being the most common, followed by -I-, but -E- is really that rare. But how do we explain the discordance of stem-vowels found in our example? It cannot be just some 'scribal preference' or 'dialectal variation' (both examples come from the same place). One cannot shake the feeling that this is a regular grammatical change.

There are a handful of good examples on the tablets to reinforce the feeling that the ending seen on PI-TA-KA-SE is not just -SE. It is -A-SE. Throughout the corpus of inscriptions, there are many other similarly-suffixed words (mostly names), i.e. A-SE, DI-DI-KA-SE, DU-RE-ZA-SE, etc. And one should not forget about the fairly similar Eteo-Cypriot declensional ending -O-SE (i.e. A-RI-SI-TO-NO-SE = *Ariston-ose = "from/of/to Ariston" on the Amathus stele).

In some of these words (our example was such one), the -A- vowel (-O- in Eteo-Cypriot) seems to 'intrude' into the stem, replacing its original ending, in case if it ended with a different vowel. In this sense, we may call many Minoan suffixes as 'intrusive', as they do not simply add on to the stem-words (our example was very likely that of a noun), but instead replace its base ending with their own vowel. What we see on the above example-pair is an intrusive suffix beside a non-intrusive one. -A-SE is probably intrusive because this declensional ending starts with a vowel. On the other hand, -SI does not seem to change the stems (at least in our case), so it does not necessaritly use an initial vowel, such as -A-.

What do these suffixes mean? Since we have no useful etymological counterpart of PI-TA-KE, it is hard to tell what it meant. Chances are good that it was a name. The Eteo-Cypriot endings related to -A-SE occur on names, and probably mean either ablative (less probable), dative or genitive cases. If -A-SE, let us say, is a genitive case, then -SI could be a related ablative case ending. But at this point this is a mere game with thoughts. We will need more solid evidence before we can identify the cases with more-or-less certainty.

But let us continue our search for other examples of declension. This time we will tackle the very common -A-RE ending, to see if we can see at least one example of a word loosing this ending. It may not be the best linguistic example ever, but the stem A-R?-N-? (*arne?) will do for this time. We have the following three examples:

HT1:     A-RA-NA-RE  (*arn-ale?)
KNZf13: A-RE-NE-SI-  (*arne-si?)
HT25:    A-RI-NI-TA   (*arn-intha?)

If the division of signs on the golden ring of KNZf13 is correct, we have a word with the previously-seen -SI ending. On the counter-example it stands with the (supposedly intrusive) -A-RE ending. This ending is incredibly common. A good percentage of all words use this very case-ending. Since it dominates on tablets listing personal names, it is credible that this is either a typical genitive or ablative case ending of Minoan words (dative makes less sense, given the context: taxation).

The last parallel to this stem shows another typical case-ending: *-intha. From the context, it is probably an adjective-forming suffix. We can reconstruct it with more-or less certainty since it is the same ending so characteristic of "Pre-Greek" place-names found around the Aegean sea. Korinthos is just one of the many cities that bear such a Minoan-era name. We can see from our example that this ending is - again - intrusive: The -i- vowel almost always precedes the -nth- cluster in these Pre-Greek toponyms as well, still corresponding to ancient Minoan grammatical rules after the Cretan civilization disappeared into oblivion some 3000 years ago.


  1. I think you're right that some suffixes may be 'intrusive' as you describe it and I've thought of this too.

    I'm skeptical of *-intha being a case ending though. This needs to be demonstrated.

    As for HT 1, I doubt A-RA-NA-RE contains this case ending unless you can explain why only *this* item has the suffix while the rest of the list doesn't have it.

  2. Thank you for your comments.

    As for *-intha, I do not think that this is a regular declensional ending, but rather an adjective-forming suffix. The example of the stem I cited (if it is a stem, and not just a conflation of several different ones) may not be the best one. One should rather search of this (theoretical) adjectival formative from the opposite end: namely 'Pre-Greek' words. It is in my intention to walk this path (to analyse '-issos' and '-inthos' endings), but in a later post.

    As for -A-RE endings, the reconstruction as *-ale is just one possibility, and not even the best one. The alternative reconstruction *-are might turn out to be better (we can even suppose it to contain a putative plural marker *-ar, but it does not fit that well with personal names). Unfortunately, I feel that the amount of currently available Linear A material is not sufficient to find (statistically) enough case endings to reconstruct the whole declensional system. Of course, if you have some ideas about how the system looked like (a tentative reconstruction) I would really welcome it.

  3. Do you think that the form SSOS like in Parnassós, Knossós, Halikarnassos etc. could have been an adaptation of an original SHA ending in Minoan? so my guess is that these place-names could originally have sounded Parnashá, Knoshá; Halikarnashá, because in ASia Minor we find Wilusha, Hatushash, etc. maybe the greeks wrote SSOS to represent this SH sound inexistent in Greek?? what's your opinion?

  4. my email is, write to me to discuss more about these interesting theories to reconstriuct the prehelenic language, ok?