Home > 9. The Alphabet & Redefining Intelligence > The Greek Alphabets–An Independent Tradition?

The Greek Alphabets–An Independent Tradition?

File:Correspondance Signe 44 Disque Phaistos et Robe de la déesse.png


RT was feeling a little down after publishing his first installment of Gilgamesh on Lulu (all that work, and where are the millions in royalties?), so he followed his own advice for such situations and learned something new.

This is one way to think about the Greek alphabet: the alphabet, which is clearly based on the earlier Phoenician alphabet, dates to the early 8th century BC. Within a few decades, its use had spread across Greece, becoming so strongly established that it influenced the creation of other alphabets and continues in use in Greece today.

End of story, right? Nope! It turns out that the Greeks used another writing system before the current Greek alphabet, and that this system has one if not more precursors. The writing system in question is Linear B,  a syllable script that was in use from about 1450 to 1200 BC. Notably, LB was not written with pen on papyrus or parchment, but with a stylus on clay tablets–a method that originated with cuneiform. The script had about 200 characters, more or less evenly divided between syllable sounds and ideograms. It was used to record commercial transactions, and thus makes reference to the gods of the time. None of the tablets record literature (though phonetic changes between LB and its successor Greek alphabet have helped date the origins of Homer’s poetry). The language recorded in LB is archaic Greek.

Michael Ventris and John Chadwick are the individuals principally responsible for deciphering Linear B (a task completed in 1956).

A final and fateful point: the use of Linear B came to an end during the Dorian invasion of Greece (about 1000 B.C.–and which may or may not have taken place).

Wow! A ton to think about! But there’s still more.

Namely, Linear A, the precursor of Linear B. The first thing to know about LA is that it has only been found on the island of Crete. The second thing to know is that it shares many symbols with Linear B. The third thing to know is that when the deciphered values for LB symbols are used to transcribe Linear A, only a mishmash of sounds emerges. Conclusion? Linear A was not used to write a Greek language.

What language did LA record? So far, the best that can be said is that the language appears to be an isolate (though connections with Greek, Luwian, and Phoenician have been proposed).


and what do you know… the school bell is ringing and RT’s lunch hour is over…the second installment of this post will appear shortly…   RT


PhotoPicture showing the correspondence between sign 44 of the Phaistos disk and the wrap of the goddess; author: Philippe Plagnol. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


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  1. May 7, 2013 at 11:07 pm
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