UD: The Real Problems with Gretchen E. Leonhardt’s Commentary on the Rôle of the Syllabogram WE in Linear B as Representative of the final “s” or sigma stem in Mycenaean Greek.

With reference to our previous post, I now fully acknowledge her unique contributions to the use of the syllabogram WE in Mycenaean Greek as follows:

Many Mycenaean Linear B [words] ending with “WE” indicate that “WE” as the last syllable of such Mycenaean words is actually the consonant “S”. Unfortunately, at the time of that post, I entirely neglected to credit Ms. Leonhardt for her professed “discovery” that the syllabogram WE in the ultimate position in Mycenaean Linear B words can and often does exactly correspond with a final sigma or “s” stem. I hereby correct my oversight.

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Lexicon post 1

However, on her own Linear A, Linear B & Linear C blog, Ms. Leonhardt makes this telling observation on the rôle of the syllabogram WE in Linear B as being the exact equivalent of final “s” or sigma stem in Mycenaean Greek when it is in the ultimate position in a Mycenaean Greek word stem (relevant parts underlined):

POST  Konosos.net re WE ultimate
Now this I believe to be a significant contribution to our ongoing understanding of the phonetic values of syllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B, in this particular instance of the possible of the final sigma stem to the syllabogram WE in the ultimate.

But I am obliged to set the record straight, reserving full copyright to Ms. Leonhardt on this account, with the strict provisos I underline below.

I am in fact, not at all in accord with with Ms. Leonhardt’s theory in this regard. Quite to the contrary. I understand that if Ms. Leonhardt wishes to take this stance, she is perfectly entitled to do so. But I respectfully disagree. In her observations on the syllabogram WE in the ultimate as acting as the sigma stem, I find myself greatly at odds with her conclusion on several key counts. Moreover, she flatly contradicts herself when she asserts that,These suggest that the inclusion of the final consonant * without a vowel nucleus was either a later development or was a contemporaneous dialectical development.” (where “final consonant * ” refers specifically to the sigma stem).  Apart from that fact that she unnecessarily repeats the word “development” the statement is clearly misleading on several counts:

(a) Why has Ms. Leonhardt omitted a specific reference to the consonant “sigma” in this summary statement? It is always preferable to repeat the actual consonant under consideration than not to, just to be certain readers clearly understand what that consonant is. I fully realize that Ms. Leonhardt will flatly disagree with me on this count, but I would much rather repeat the direct reference to sigma as the consonant stem in question than needlessly repeat the word “development”. In other words, I would have phrased the statement as follows:

These Linear B pairs suggest that the inclusion of the final consonant sigma without a vowel nucleus was either a later or a contemporaneous dialectical development.

... except that even with these changes, the statement is still unclear and quite misleading.  
(b) If Ms. Leonhardt means to say that this phenomenon was a later development (in Mycenaean Greek), this presupposes that in early Mycenaean Greek the inclusion of the final consonant sigma without a vowel nucleus did not in fact exist, and that the only phonetic attribution that could have been assigned to the syllabogram WE in early Mycenaean was, quite simply, WE.

(c) I am quite at a loss with reference to her claim that, on the other hand, it (meaning the assignment of ultimate sigma as consonant stem) was – as she calls it - “a contemporaneous dialectical development”. Contemporaneous with what? - with the early Mycenaean Greek value of WE, in which case WE would have simultaneously meant WE (i.e. itself ) and ultimate sigma as consonant stem in early Mycenaean Greek – OR -

that the evolution of the early Mycenaean phonetic value of WE as itself and nothing more than that into WE + ultimate sigma as consonant stem was in fact contemporaneous with the appearance of the latter in later Mycenaean Greek. But this constitutes a flat-out contradiction in terms. Either WE always stood for WE + ultimate sigma as consonant stem from the very beginning of Mycenaean Greek in Linear B, or it never did. You cannot have it both ways. Languages do not fundamentally and arbitrarily change the principle(s) upon which word stems are formed in mid-stream.

Languages simply do not arbitrarily change any of their grammatical underpinnings in mid-stream, without becoming another, entirely new language. This is the case with ancient Greek versus modern Greek. Modern Greek is a different and entirely new linguistic phenomenon, in other words, a new language, simply because it has fundamentally re-written wholesale so many of the grammatical principles underlying it, abandoning lock-stock-and-barrel huge chunks of the linguistic structural foundation(s) of ancient Greek. For instance, there are no infinitives as such in modern Greek. That is one huge departure from ancient Greek.

I am certain that Ms. Leonhardt certainly surely did not mean to imply anything like this, but her statement is so unclear that it begs the issue. This is precisely why I always spell out any observation whatsoever I make on Linear B down to the very last detail – even it entails repetition – because I must be certain that I have clearly and unequivocally made myself clear to my readers, most of whom are not familiar with Linear B at all, let alone with the notion of a syllabary.

(d)... and that is precisely where Ms. Leonhardt’s all too brief and all too terse statement falls flat on its face. She unfailingly assumes that her readers are familiar – even intimately so – with the concept of a syllabary. But if the majority of her readers do not know what a syllabary is (and we can be quite sure they do not), then how on earth she expects them to be familiar with the very arcane Minoan Linear A, the complex syllabary, Mycenaean Linear B, or with the slightly less arcane Arcade-Cypriot Linear C simply stumps me. Such an assumption leaves her wide open to misunderstanding, misinterpretation, if not complete bafflement, on the part of her readers, the majority whom are not even necessarily versed in linguistics. In fact, even among linguistics who are profoundly versed in Minoan Linear & Mycenaean Linear B, there are are almost none who have any understanding of Cypro-Minoan Linear C, by far the easiest of the three syllabaries to master. Apart from the Egyptologist, Samuel Birch, who, with the assistant of other researchers, deciphered Arcado-Cypriot Linear C in the first place in the 1870s, very few linguists these days can even read Linear C, apart from Ms. Leonhardt and myself. Summa in veritate, who says they should? Certainly not I. Yes, even we linguists have plenty to learn from one another. I for one am still struggling to unravel the the subtle niceties of both Mycenaean Linear B and Arcado-Cypriot Linear C. I have a long long road ahead of me just trying to cope with these two syllabaries, let alone any other!

e) She then rounds up her observations on the syllabogram WE by noting (correctly) that “As for /we/ in the initial and medial positions, the tentative conclusion is that /we/ shifts to /e/” (My apologies for being unable to reproduce epsilon in the body of my post). The problem here is that /we/ does not shift at all, because it never did in the first place. WE is WE is WE. A rose is a rose is a rose.     

(f) All of my observations above are absolutely critical to a clear-cut understanding the actual rôle the syllabogram WE plays in the ultimate in Mycenaean Linear B as merely an indicator of the unseen presence of a final “s” or sigma stem. I say, “unseen” or invisible, because – and I repeat - WE in Mycenaean Greek is just that WE, i.e. digamma followed by the vowel epsilon or eita ... and nothing else. Since Linear B, being an open-ended vowel-based syllabary, forbids the presence of a consonant in the ultimate of any syllabogram, and more to the point, since no-one in any language ever pronounces the ultima word stem alone without the addition of a proper inflection (verb conjugation or nominal/adjectival declension), the whole argument implodes on itself.

So while Ms. Leonhardt most assuredly holds the copyright on her own professed theory that the syllabogram WE in the ultimate is the exact equivalent of final “s” or sigma indicating the stem of the word in question, for all of the reasons I have cited above, I simply cannot agree with her hypothesis.

My counter-hypothesis, which I shall presently post in great detail, is firmly and roundly based on my regressive-progressive extrapolation of the declension of all nouns in adjectives in the Athematic Third Declension of Mycenaean Linear B I have just posted on our blog. My extrapolated declension of such adjectives and nouns makes it perfectly clear that, even if the syllabograms WE, as well as – I must also add - WA in the ultimate, might both be indicators of the presence of a final “s” or sigma stem pronounced in spoken Mycenaean Greek, this does not mean that WA & WE actually contain within themselves this putatively pronounced final “s” or sigma, simply because they cannot. In fact, the syllabogram WE in the ultimate position in the dative/locative/instrumental singular presupposes the total absence of any final “s” or sigma stem, clearly marking instead the actual presence of an ultimate “i”, the tell-tale indicator of that (those) case(s). The ultimate “i” in the dative/locative/instrumental was always present in archaic Greek dialects, and subscripted into the iota subscript much later in ancient Greek, as in the Attic dialect.

In other words, my own hypothesis of the actual rôle of ultimate WA & WE in Mycenaean Linear B is at marked variance with that of Ms. Leonhardt on the same issue.

Keep posted.