Tag Archive: semantics

KEY POST: 2 vastly different decipherments of Minoan Linear A tablet HT 13 (Haghia Triada). Does either measure up?

In this post we compare two vastly different decipherments of Minoan Linear A tablet HT 13 (Haghia Triada). The key question here can be posed in three different ways:

1. Does one of these two decipherments measure up significantly more than the other?
2. Does either measure up? 
3. Does neither measure up?

Here are the two decipherments, first that of Pavel Serafimov and Anton Perdih:

Minoan Linear A tablet HT 13 Slavic

and secondly, my own decipherment:

Minoan Linear A tablet HT 13 by RIchard Vallance Janke

According to option 3 above, it is of course possible that neither of these translations forms a faithful semantic and semiotic map of the original Linear A text (whatever it actually means). On the other hand, it is much more likely that option 1. above is applicable, namely that only one of the two decipherments at least approaches a faithful semantic and semiotic map of the original Linear A text , although we can never really know how faithfully until such time as Minoan Linear B is properly and fully deciphered. And that will not happen anytime soon, due to the extreme paucity of extant Linear B tablets and fragments (< 500), of which the vast majority are fragments, and thus ineffectual in providing any impetus to even a partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A. However, all is not lost. Far from it. There quite a few (almost) full intact Minoan Linear A tablets, all of which are very much more susceptible to contributing positively to at least a partial decipherment of Linear A. To date, the Linear A tablets which I have been able to decipher, more or less accurately, are HT 13, HT 14, (HT 17), HT 21, HT 31, HT 38, HT 91, HT 92, HT 94 and HT 132 (all from Haghia Triada)
ZA 1 ZA 8 ZA 10 (Zakros) 
GO Wc 1 (Gournia) 
and the Troy spindle whorls

I have also managed to decipher one or two words on several other tablets from Haghia Triada, Zakros and elsewhere, without however being able to decipher the remainder of the integral text, which utterly escapes me, and is therefore still to be considered undecipherable, at least for the time being. There is no telling whether or not either I myself or someone else will be able to decipher more words from the rest of these tablets or even some of the tablets entire in the near future. Only time will tell, but I believe the prospects are much better now than they were even a few months ago, i.e. prior to May 2016, when I embarked on the exciting journey to decipher as much of Minoan Linear A as I could. It is no small achievement, I believe, for me to have been able to decipher at least the 12 Linear A tablets listed above, if indeed my decipherments approach cohesive accuracy, both internally and by means of cross-correlative regressive extrapolation from almost identical to similar Mycenaean Linear B tablets.

With respect to my own decipherment of HT 13 (Haghia Triada) above, I wish to make the following highly pertinent observations. I leave it up to you to decide for yourself (yourselves) whether or not the assumptions I have meticulously made with specific reference to what appear to be derivational standard units of measurement in Minoan Linear A are in fact that. Immediately pursuant to my highly accurate decipherment of HT 31 (Haghia Triada) on vessels and pottery, for which Mycenaean Linear B tablet Pylos Py TA 641-1952 (Ventris) is the quasi Rosetta Stone (as I have re-iterated many times since that decipherment), I turned my attention to three words which appeared over and over on several Minoan Linear A tablets, these being reza, adureza & tereza. Philologists such as Andras Zeke of the Minoan Language Blog had previously and consistently “deciphered” these three terms as being toponyms or place names, but I was immediately suspicious of such an interpretation, given that both adureza and tereza have the prefixes adu and te prepended to what strikingly appears to be their own root, reza. Subsequent research revealed two more terms most likely derived from the root, reza = the standard unit of linear measurement in Minoan Linear A (as far as I can tell... more on this to come). These are dureza and kireza. So the total number of terms relative to measurement of large, not minute, quantities in Minoan Linear A appear to be 5. That is quite a tally.

+ units of measurement in Minoan Linear A: exact values unknown

reza = standard unit of measurement (linear)
adureza = dry unit of measurement (something like a “bushel”)
dureza = unit of measurement (unknown) [1]
kireza = dry measurement for figs (a basket) [2]
tereza = liquid unit of measurement (something like “a gallon” or at the bare minimum “a litre” [3]  

[1] While I have been utterly unable to surmise what standard unit of measurement dureza is supposed to represent, even the standard units for reza, adureza & tereza are mere approximations. For more on this see the concluding paragraph of this post.  
[2] While I am virtually certain that kireza is the standard unit for the measurement of a basket of figs, this still begs the question, what size is the basket? At any rate, it is pretty obvious that the basket size cannot be larger than can reasonably be carried on one shoulder, since that is the way baskets are carried in practically every culture, ancient or modern. So in this case, the approximation for the standard unit of measurement figs, kireza, is considerably more accurate than all of the others.      
[3] Obviously, in light of [1] above, my guesstimates for the standard units of dry and wet measurement (adureza and tereza respectively) are just that, and nothing more.   

rawa tiri wanaka

Now if we compare the variables in the prefixes to the root, reza (adu, du, ki & te) with the similar practice of suffixes appended to word roots in Mycenaean Linear B, which is the direct opposite practice we have just propounded for Minoan Linear A, we nevertheless discover that the same level of consistency and coherence applies equally to both languages, as clearly illustrated by the following table, in which the prefixes listed above for Minoan Linear A appear at the end, preceded by no fewer than three roots (which are invariable) and appear in front of highly variable suffixes in Mycenaean Linear B. The roots are, respectively, raw, which references anything to do with people, tri, which references anything related to the number 3 and wana, which references any connotation of kingship or royalty in Mycenaean Greek.

While the practices for affixing are appositive in Minoan Linear A (which prepends affixes to the root) and in Mycenaean Linear B (which appends suffixes to the root or stem), the procedure the two languages follows is one and the same, flipped on its head either way you view it, i.e. from the perspective of Mycenaean Linear B or vice versa, from that of Minoan Linear A. The underlying principle which defines this procedure is the cognitive frame, as propounded by my colleague and friend, Eugenio R. Luján. So let us simply call the procedure (whether from the perspective of Minoan Linear or its opposite in Mycenaean Linear B) just that, the cognitive frame, which is also the template for the procedure, actually proceeding forward in both languages, each in its own way. Either way, the procedure works like a charm. As Eugenio R. Luján so succinctly summarizes it in his article, Semantic Maps and Word Formation: Agents, Instruments, and Related Semantic Roles, in Linguistic Discovery (Dartmouth College), Vol 8, Issue 1, 2010. pp. 162-175, and I quote:

... The methodology of semantic maps has been applied mainly to the analysis of grammatical morphemes (affixes and adpositions) pg. 162

and again,

Previous work on semantic maps has shown how the polysemy of grammatical morphemes is not random, but structured according to underlying principles....

Although the semantic map methodology has not been applied to the analysis of word formation patterns, there is no reason to suppose that derivational morphemes behave differently from grammatical morphemes. In fact, taking into account the findings of the intensive work done in the field of grammaticalization in the last thirty years or so, we know now that lexical and grammatical morphemes constitute a continuum, and their meanings are organized in the same way—inside a cognitive frame,... pg. 163 

and most significantly,

In contrast to the lexicon, the number of derivational morphemes and word
formation patterns in any given language is limited. pg. 163.

I wish to lay particular stress on this last observation by Eugenio R. Luján, because he is right on the money. In terms of the way I have expounded my own explanation of how the procedure of the cognitive frame works, as I see it, what he is actually saying here is this: the derivational morphemes (i.e. the prefixes in Minoan Linear A and the suffixes in Mycenaean Linear B) is limited, and in fact very limited in comparison with the orthographic and grammatical lexicon in either language, or for that matter, in any language, ancient or modern.

All of this brings us full circle back to my own original assumption, namely, that adureza, dureza, kireza and tereza are all derivational morphemes of reza in Minoan Linear A and that the suffixes appended to the roots raw, tri and wana in Mycenaean Linear B are also derivational morphemes. The gravest problem with the decipherment of HT 13 (Haghia Triada) advanced by Pavel Serafimov and Anton Perdih is that it does not take the cognitive frame or map of derivational morphemes into account at all. So instead, the authors advance entirely different meanings for each of these terms (reza, adureza, dureza, kireza & tereza), entirely oblivious to the the fact that they all share the same root, reza. This factor alone throws profound doubt on their decipherment.

On the other hand, my own decipherment of HT 13 (Haghia Triada) takes the procedure of the cognitive frame or map of derivational morphemes fully into account, with the very same procedure applied to derivational morphemes in Mycenaean Linear B, though in the opposite direction). For the sake of consistency, let us refer to the the cognitive frame or map of derivational morphemes in Minoan Linear A as regressive, given that the variables (the prefixes, adureza, dureza, kireza & tereza) precede the root, reza, and the same frame as progressive in Mycenaean Linear B, in light of the fact that the root or stem is followed by the variable suffixes (derivational morphemes). Be it as it may, prefixes and suffixes are both classed under the umbrella term, affixes, and again, I repeat, the procedure is the same either way. An affix is an affix is an affix, whether or not it comes first (prefix) or last (suffix).

For this reason alone I am convinced that my decipherment of HT 13 is on the right track, even if it is not totally accurate... which it cannot be anyway, in light of the fact that the standard units of measurement for large quantities in Minoan Linear A (reza, adureza, dureza, kireza and tereza) will never be known with any measure of accuracy, given that we can have no idea whatsoever that the “standard” units for anything in either Minoan Linear A or Mycenaean Linear B can ever be really determined. The farther we as philologists or historical linguists go back diachronistically in the historical timeline, the less determinable are units of measurement or, for that matter, different kinds of textiles or pottery, few of which we can know with any measure of certainty either in Minoan Linear A or Mycenaean Linear B.


An Introductory Glossary of General Linguistics Terminology: Part C: R-Z: This glossary is ostensibly not comprehensive in any sense of the term, but it serves as a solid baseline introduction to linguistics terminology.

introductory glossary of general linguistics terminology Part C R-Z 


recursive definition: a definition that refers to itself and thus defines an infinite set of things. = circular definition. Recursive definitions are all too frequently found in research, and they are a dangerous trap.

rhotacism: 1. an exaggerated use of the sound of the letter R 2. inability to pronounce the letter R. + 3. a linguistic phenomenon in which a consonant changes into an R, as in Latin flos, where flos becomes florem in the accusative case.

root: a morpheme from a lexical class, typically verbal, nominal or adjectival, from which a lexical word is built (by adding affixes). Examples: -song- in -songster- + -sing- in -singer- + -singing- See also, stem


segment: any discrete unit or phone (sound), produced by the vocal apparatus, or a representation of such a unit. 

semanteme: an indivisible unit of meaning. See also: semantics, semiology 

semantic role: the underlying relationship that a participant has with the main verb in a clause. Also known as: semantic case, thematic role, theta role (generative grammar), and deep case (case grammar). Semantic role is the actual role a participant plays in some real or imagined situation, apart from the linguistic encoding of those situations.

Examples (active & passive):
If, in some real or imagined situation, someone named John purposely hits someone named Bill, then John is the agent and Bill is the patient of the hitting event. Therefore, the semantic role of Bill is the same (patient=object) in both of the following sentences: John hit Bill. Bill was hit by John. In both of the above sentences, John has the semantic role of agent.

semantics: 1. (linguistics) the science of the meaning of words. 2. the study of the relationship between words and their meanings. 3. the individual meanings of words, as opposed to the overall meaning of a passage. 4. the study of meaning in language; in generative grammar: how the meanings of words combine to form complex meanings of phrases and sentences. 

semi-consonant: see semi-vowel (English only)

semiology: the study of meaning.

semiotics: the study of signs and symbols, especially as means of language or communication.

semi-vowel: speech sound produced with a little more constriction of the airflow in the oral cavity than a vowel. Semi-vowels in English = l & r, but not in any other modern Occidental Indo-European language, in which l & r are pure consonants. In English only, semi-vowels or semi-consonants are the result of the great vowel shift in the Middle Ages, which softened the harder consonantal pronunciation of l & r typical of French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Russian and many other Occidental languages into a much softer l & r.

simulfix: a change or replacement of vowels or consonants (usually vowels) which changes the meaning of a word. Examples (English): -eat- becomes -ate - in past tense + -tooth- becomes -teeth- when plural.
speech community: a group of people sharing characteristic patterns of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. 

stative verb: a verb that expresses a state of affairs or being rather than action. Stative verbs differ from verbs of action not just in meaning but in formal structure and usage. Some verbs can be both stative, expressing a state of affairs, and active. Stative English verbs include: be, concern, have. The verb -become- is both stative and active. 

stem: a morphological constituent larger than the root and smaller than the word. Derivational affixes are inside of the stem, and inflectional affixes attach to the stem. Examples: root = run + stem = runner + word = runners & root = sing + stem = singer + word = singers

stress: a syllable having relative force or prominence.

substantive: (broadly) a word or word group functioning syntactically as a noun.

suffix: an affix that is attached to the end of a root or stem. Example (English): the past tense suffix -ed- attaches to the end of the verb stem -walk- to form the past tense -walked- Likewise, -ingest- to -ingested- & -transport- to -transported-.
syllabary: 1. table or list of syllabic letters or syllables 2. writing system where each character represents a complete syllable. Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot are all syllabaries.

syllable: 1.a unit of spoken language that is next bigger than a speech sound and consists of one or more vowel sounds alone or of a syllabic consonant alone or of either with one or more consonant sounds preceding or following; 2. one or more letters (as syl, la, and ble) in a word (as syllable) usually set off from the rest of the word by a centered dot or a hyphen and roughly corresponding to the syllables of spoken language and treated as helps to pronunciation or as guides to placing hyphens at the end of a line.

synchronic: relating to the study of a language at only one point in its history. For instance, when a researcher limits his or her study to Mycenaean Linear B in the context of ancient Greek, the research is synchronic. Thus, synchronic linguistics is a key definition in the study of Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B, Arcado-Cypriot Linear C & Homeric Greek.

syncretism: the fusion of different inflexional forms. 

synecdoche: a figure of speech in which the one of the following (or its reverse) is expressed either as: (a) a part stands for a whole (b) an individual stands for a class OR (c) a material stands for a thing. Examples (English): -fifty head- referring to -50 head of cattle- & -cat- referring to -lion-.

synonomy: the relationship between words (or expressions) of sameness of meaning in some or all contexts. Synonyms: words (or expressions) that have the same meaning in some or all contexts. Examples: car = automobile + house = residence

syntagma: syntactic string of words that forms a part of some larger syntactic unit; a construction. 

syntax: the study of the rules governing the way words and morphemes are combined to form phrases and sentences. 

synthetic: pertaining to the joining of bound morphemes in a word. Compare analytic  

synthetic language: a language with a high morpheme-per-word ratio, as opposed to a low morpheme-per-word ratio in what is described as an isolating language. Agglutinative languages tend to exhibit synthetic properties. Indo-European languages, Greek + languages of the Romance family (Latin, Italian, French, Romanian, Spanish etc.), of the Germanic family (English, German, Swedish etc.), of the Slavic family (Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Slovak,Serbo-Croatian etc.) and of the Indoaryan family (Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian etc.) are all synthetic languages.

time deixis: time diexis refers to time relative to a temporal reference point. Typically, this point is the moment of utterance. Examples (English)= Temporal adverbs: now/then/yesterday/today/tomorrow = adverbial function.

tmesis: (prosody) the insertion of one or more words between the components of a compound word. Example: How bright (+the) chit (+and) chat, inserted into chit-chat 

trope: the figurative use of an expression. Tropes include euphemisms, hyperbole (exaggeration), irony, litotes (understatement), metaphor, metonymy, onomatopoeia and various other devices.  

typology: the systematic classification of the types of something according to their common characteristics.


unbound root: a root which can occur by itself as a separate word. Another morpheme need not be affixed to it to make it a word. Examples: root (instead of – roots- -rooted- - rooting- etc.) & think (instead of -thinks- -thinking- -think-tank- etc.)

univocal: 1. having only one possible meaning. -or-  2. containing only one vowel 

Ursprache: proto-language, such as the proto-language from ancient Greek and Sanskrit presumably arose. Although we can never know the actual structure, vocabulary etc. of a proto-language, we can attempt to re-construct it retrogressively. 


vocable: a word or utterance, especially with reference to its form rather than its meaning

vowel: speech sound produced without a significant constriction of the airflow in the oral cavity. 

vowel modification: an addition or alteration to the basic way that a vowel is articulated. For instance, in most languages, including English, most vowels can be articulated as long or short, as in: -a- in -father- (short) in -ate- (long), -e- in -set- (short) -meet- (long) & -o- in -got- (short) -goat- (long)

Knossos Tablet KN 1171 E k 232, “A foal and sheep at Phaistos” by Rita Roberts: Click to ENLARGE

KN 1171 E k 232
The difficulty in any translation of this famous Linear B tablet lies solely with the rôle the foal plays, i.e. with his relationship to the sheep inventoried here at Phaistos. The key to this relationship might lie in the supersyllabogram PA preceding the ideogram for sheep (8) on the second line of the tablet. The problem with the SSY PA is that, even though it is attested (A) on several Linear B tablets dealing with sheep husbandry, there exists no translation for it in any current Mycenaean Greek-English glossary or lexicon, either online or off. Thus, although the SYY PA itself is attested (A), its meaning is lost to us, i.e. unattested. The only way to recover it, if this is even possible, is to attempt to derive it. I went to great lengths to try and decipher the SSY PA last year, but I came up with mixed results. I tried finding a Homeric Greek word which might fill the bill, but I could not. I tried to ferret out a correlative word in Linear C and in alphabetic Arcado-Cypriot, but again I could not. Finally, I had no choice but to have recourse to Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (1986), in which I found several possible candidates for a complete Mycenaean word beginning with the syllabogram PA, of which the supersyllabogram might the first syllable. You can read the results of my exhaustive research on this elusive supersyllabogram in this post here:

In that post, I deduced that there could only be 6 possible meanings for the supersyllabogram PA, and of these, only 3 really looked like what the linear B scribes must have meant it to stand for. The problem is that we do not know which meaning (if any of these 6 at all) the scribes actually assigned to the SSY PA. In fact, none of the potential meanings I assigned to PA in the original post can possibly account for the relationship between the foal and the sheep on this tablet, which in turn can only mean one of two things: either (a) since the meaning of PA with respect to the foal on this particular tablet cannot be determined, this casts doubt on the 3-6 meanings I assigned last year or (b) there is another meaning which can be assigned that suitably correlates “foal” with “sheep”. But even in the latter case, we are still left high and dry, reverting to the first option (a). Thus, I am forced to conclude that the meaning of the supersyllabogram PA must remain unconfirmed until further notice, or until such time as a Linear B tablet is unearthed with confirms with certainty the semantic value of the SSY PA.

The other difficulty with the SSY PA which haunts me is the fact that it appears on the second line of this tablet, at some remove from the word PORO or “foal”. This may very well imply that the scribes did not intend that there should be any direct relationship between the little foal and the sheep on this tablet. I am more inclined to this hypothesis than to attempt to force the word PORO to relate to the sheep in this context. If this is the case, then one of the the putative meanings I assigned to the SSY PA in 2014 may eventually still very well stand the test for validity. It is vital to understand that all supersyllabograms can mean one thing and one thing only in any particular context on Linear B tablets. We shall just have to wait and see whether or not future finds of Linear B tablets will yield the actual semantic value of PA. But even if we did know what the SSY PA meant in the context of sheep husbandry, this would still leave us high and dry with respect to the rôle played by the foal, because of its physical distance from the SSY PA on this tablet. So the mystery remains sealed.

It is therefore pointless to attempt to try to translate the supersyllabogram PA on this tablet or on any other Linear B tablet on which it is found – and there are several. However, I must emphasize again: the Linear B scribes all knew perfectly well what the SSY PA meant. It is only we who do not. 




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