Tag Archive: space-saving



Translation of the Gezer Agricultural Almanac into Mycenaean Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Gezer Almanac left and translation into Mycenaean Linear B  right

This is the first ever attempt to translate the Gezer Agricultural Almanac in Paleo-Hebrew (ca 925 BCE) into Mycenaean Linear B. My reasons for doing so are manifold:
1. While the text in Paleo-Hebrew is written in the proto-Hebrew alphabet, which for all intents and purposes is practically identical to the Phoenician alphabet, the translation is of course in the Linear B syllabary.
2. The Gezer Agricultural Almanac has no vowels, since Paleo-Hebrew, like the Phoenician alphabet, had none. On the other hand, the translation into Linear B, which is a syllabary, automatically guarantees that every single syllable contains a vowel.
3. The alphabetical text of The Gezer Agricultural Almanac takes up considerably more space than the translation into Mycenaean Linear B, since alphabetic scripts use up more space than syllabaries, even though syllabaries contain considerably more syllabograms than alphabets do letters. In the case of the Phoenician and Proto-Hebrew alphabets alike, there are 22 letters, all consonants. The reason why syllabaries take up less space than most alphabets is simple: each single syllabogram consists of a consonant + a vowel, whereas most alphabets must express consonants and vowels as separate entities. However, in the case of the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets, this distinction does not apply, since the number of consonants in the latter approximate the number of syllabograms in Linear B.
4. But the question remains, if this is the case, then why is the Linear B translation still noticeably shorter than the proto-Hebrew original? This is no idle question. There are three primary reasons for Linear B’s uncanny capacity to telescope long text into shorter. These are:
4.1 While alphabetic scripts, regardless of whether or not they contain vowels, and irrespective of their antiquity or modernity, are generally incapable of telescoping text into smaller entities, Linear B does this with ease, first by using ideograms, which appear on every single line of the Linear B translation you see here of the Gezer Almanac. I could have written out the text in full, but had I done so, I would not have reflected the spirit and the commonplace practice of Linear B scribes to replace long text with ideograms, because they were forced to save precious space of what were, without exception, very small tablets (most running to no more than 15 cm. wide, and only a few as wide as 10 cm.)
4.2.1 For the precise same reason, Linear B scribes also frequently resorted to replacing entire Linear B words, such as “rino” = Greek “linon” = English “linen”, the Mycenaean Greek word for both the raw product “flax” and the finished, “rino” with logograms. You can see the single syllabogram = logogramNI” = “flax” on line 3, immediately preceding the ideogram for “meno” = “month”.
4.2.2 If this practice is a clever ploy, what are we make of the same procedure carried even further, when in line 7, the scribe (me) replaces the word for “fruit” = “kapo” in Mycenaean Linear B, with the very same word with the exact same number of syllabograms = 2, but by placing one (po) on top of the other (ka)! That way, the scribe uses the space for only 1 syllabogram while in reality writing 2. If this isn’t a brilliant ploy, I don’t know what is. But it goes even further. Although we do not see an example of this practice carried to its extreme in this translation, scribes even resorted to piling 3 syllabograms on top of one another! A prefect example of this is the Mycenaean word  “arepa” = Greek “aleifa” = English “ointment”, consisting of 3 syllables. In this instance, scribes almost always wrote “arepa” as a logogram, by piling the syllabogram “pa” on top of “re” on top of “a”. Now that takes some gymnastics! In this case, the scribes used the space for 1 syllabogram to replace an entire word of 3 syllabograms. Talk about saving space! All of these clever little tricks are illustrated here: Click to ENLARGE

space saving Linear B ideograms and logograms

5. The scribes also replaced entire Mycenaean Greek words with supersyllabograms on about 27 % of all Linear B tablets. SSYLS save even more space than logograms and ideograms, in some cases, far more, since they can replace entire phrases in Mycenaean Greek. Yet, even without resorting to SSYLS in this translation, l managed to telescope the discursive alphabetic Proto-Hebrew text into a much shorter Linear B translation.

Now the most amazing thing about Linear B’s amazing capacity to shortcut text by telescoping it into the much smaller discrete elements, logograms, ideograms and supersyllabograms, is that the Linear B syllabary preceded both the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets by at least 4 centuries!

So who is to say that alphabets are superior to syllabaries? I for one would not even dare.

Richard


Associative Versus Attributive Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B: Appendix H

Appendix H neatly summarizes the rôle of supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B. Click to ENLARGE:

H Appendix
I wish to stress one thing in particular. There is a marked difference in associative supersyllabograms, which account for the greatest number of SSYLS in Mycenaean Linear B, and attributive supersyllabograms, which appear primarily in the textiles and vessels (pottery, amphorae, cups etc.) sectors of the Late Minoan III & Mycenaean economies.

Associative supersyllabograms inform of us of some element, usually a land tenure factor, which relates to the ideogram itself, or which circumscribes its environment, especially in the livestock raising sub-sector of the agricultural sector. For instance, the supersyllabogram O, which you see in this Appendix, plus the ideogram for sheep + the number of sheep accounted for in the inventory of any particular tablet, informs us that the sheep are being raised on a lease(d) field, more specifically a usufruct lease field (i.e. a lease field which a farmer tenant cultivates for the use of his own family and village neighbours, with a taxation imposed by the overseer). In other words, the supersyllabogram is associated with the raising of x no. of sheep. The scribe could have simply informed us that x no. of sheep were raised, and left it at that. But he did not. By adding just one syllabogram, in this case a simple vowel = O, he has given us a great deal more information on the raising of the sheep (rams & ewes) on this particular tablet. And he has done all of this without having to resort to writing it all out as text. Since it was critical for the scribes to use as little space as possible on what were (and are) extremely small tablets, the use of supersyllabograms as a substitute for wasteful text is illustrative of just how far the scribes were willing to go to save such invaluable space. They did not do this only occasionally. They did it a great deal of the time, and they always followed the exact same formula in so doing. Not only are syllabograms such as O (on a lease field), KI (on a plot of land) & NE (in their sheep pens) in the field of sheep husbandry associative, they are all what I designate as dependent supersyllabograms, since they are meaningless unless they are immediately adjacent to the ideograms they qualify. No ideogram, no supersyllabogram. Period.

To illustrate the radical difference between a Linear B tablet on which a supersyllabogram + an ideogram is used, and another on which the text is spelled out, take a good hard look at this comparison: Click to ENLARGE

Knossos Tablet KN 933 G d 01 supersyllabograms and text

This comparison between the real tablet from Knossos using only supersyllabograms and ideograms (left) and a putative one using text in full (right) is precisely the reason why so many scribes much preferred the former formulaic approach to inscribing tablets to the latter discursive and space wasting technique. A textual version of this tablet would have been twice as long as the actual tablet. Even if no one nowadays has ever managed to decipher dependent supersyllabograms until now, that cannot conceivably mean that the Linear B scribes did not know what they were, since otherwise, they would never have used them so liberally in the first place. In other words, using SSYLS for no reason at all is tantamount to a reductio ad absurdum. There are thousands of supersyllabograms found on 700 tablets from Knossos. They are there because all of the scribes, as a team or, if you like, as a guild, all understood each and every supersyllabogram to mean one thing and one thing only in its proper context. In other words, supersyllabograms are standardized and always formulaic. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Homer, who also heavily relied on formulaic expressions, though for entirely different reasons. My point is that formulaic language is a key characteristic of ancient Greek texts, right on down from Mycenaean times through to Attic and beyond. We should never overlook this extremely important characteristic of ancient Greek, regardless of period (1450 – 400 BCE).   

Attributive dependent supersyllabograms always appear inside the ideogram which they qualify, never adjacent to it. They always describe an actual attribute (usually known as an adjectival function) of the ideogram. For instance, the syllabogram PO inside the ideogram for “cloth” is the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of the Mycenaean word ponikiya = “purple”, hence the phrase = “purple cloth”.  Likewise the syllabogram TE, when it appears inside the ideogram for “cloth” is the supersyllabogram for the Mycenaean word tetukuwoa, which means “well prepared” or if you like, “well spun”. Hence, the syllabogram TE inside the ideogram for cloth must mean one thing and one thing only, “well-prepared cloth”. I have discovered, identified & classified well over a dozen examples of associative supersyllabograms. 

Neither type of dependent supersyllabogram, associative or attributive, was ever isolated and tabulated in Mycenaean Linear B until I systematically studied, deciphered and classified scores of them on some 700 tablets from Knossos.

Richard

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