An article of mine has recently appeared in the journal Written Language and Literacy, in a special issue arising from the Association of Written Language and Literacy‘s 2017 conference in Nagoya, Japan. The conference theme was ‘Writing Systems: Past, Present (…and Future?)’, which I took as an opportunity to explore how we can use spelling variation in the Linear B texts to think about the development of the writing system over time – the paper is in some ways an extension of my previous work on the Linear B ‘extra’ signs and what they tell us about the writing system’s creation and use, but also incorporates my more recent research into the writing practices of the scribes at the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, focusing in particular on orthographic variation (full details below).
The issue, which also features papers on Punic (by my colleague Robert Crellin), Korean, Japanese, and the Bornean language Berawan, is available online here for those with a subscription to WLL, or the pre-print version is freely available here.
This paper investigates the issue of orthographic variation in the Linear B writing system in order to explore ways in which studying a writing system’s orthographic conventions may shed light on the history of its development. Linear B was used in the palatial/administrative centres of Late Bronze Age Greece and Crete (c.1400-1200 B.C.E.) and records an early Greek dialect known as ‘Mycenaean’. The writing system’s structure and orthographic conventions permit flexibility in the spelling of particular phonological sequences: this paper discusses the varying orthographic representation of such sequences and shows that synchronic variation is common or even the norm in many cases. Investigating the factors which underlie this variation demonstrates the potential for a study of synchronic variation to illuminate a writing system’s diachronic development; it also underlines the importance of analysing the ways in which writers actually choose to use writing systems in order to fully understand their development.