Learning to spell in Linear B

Screenshot of Cambridge University Press website for the Cambridge Classical Journal, showing title "Learning to spell in Linear B: orthography and scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos" and beginning of abstract

My article on how Mycenaean scribes at the palace of Pylos learned to spell in the Linear B writing system has now been published in the Cambridge Classical Journal via ‘First View’ – i.e. it’s published online in advance of the print issue which should be out later this year. “Learning to spell in Linear B: orthography and scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos” is freely available to read and download (thanks to my EU Marie-Skłodowska Curie funding which enabled it to be published gold open access), and you can also read my previous blog posts giving some background on Linear B spelling (and how it’s surprisingly similar in some ways to the syllabary used to write the Native American language Cherokee!) and summarising my article. Questions and comments welcome below!

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 885977.

Spelling B: how did Mycenaean scribes learn to spell in Linear B?

Rectangular tablet oriented horizontally with four lines of Linear B writing, and a small wooden stylus beneath it
Replica of a Linear B tablet from Pylos recording religious offerings of grain, and replica stylus. Tablet made by me, stylus by Philip Boyes

In my last post I wrote about the apparent ‘problems’ in how the prehistoric Linear B script is used to write the Mycenaean Greek language, and how these are actually not ‘problems’ at all, but a compromise between accurate representation of the language and economy in the number of different signs in the writing signs – as demonstrated by the use of very similar orthographic strategies in how the modern Cherokee syllabary represents the Cherokee language. Today I want to look in more detail at how Mycenaean writers actually used the Linear B orthographic system, and what this can tell us about both their attitudes towards ‘correct’ spelling and the way(s) in which they were taught to spell in the first place.

Continue reading “Spelling B: how did Mycenaean scribes learn to spell in Linear B?”

A tale of two scripts: Linear B and Cherokee

The writing system used for the Native American language Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ‎ Tsalagi Gawonihisdi) was invented by a Cherokee man called Sequoyah (ᏍᏏᏉᏯ Ssiquoya), a silversmith by profession, between c.1809-1821. It’s a syllabary of 85 signs, each standing for a syllable consisting of a vowel or a consonant plus a vowel, which was rapidly adopted by the Cherokee after its invention and is still in use today (the Cherokee language is endangered, with only c.2,000 first-language speakers, but the Cherokee Nation is working to promote the learning of both the language and the syllabary). The story of how Sequoyah invented this writing system is a fascinating one in its own right, but also surprisingly relevant to the study of the Bronze Age Greek syllabary Linear B – read on to find out why!

Cherokee Syllabary chart (Mattie.walkerr, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Continue reading “A tale of two scripts: Linear B and Cherokee”

How to make a clay tablet, part 1

As part of my research into writing practices in the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, I’m looking at how the clay tablets on which administrative documents were written in the Linear B script were made in the first place: after all, creating the object you’re going to write on is as crucial a part of the whole package of writing practices as actually doing the writing, even if we don’t know whether this was usually done by the writers themselves or by other tablet-makers. Earlier on I did some preliminary work preparing and trying out different clays, and now that I’ve been able to start examining the actual tablets in the National Archaeological Museum here in Athens, I’ve also started some more systematic experiments trying out different methods of tablet-making. I’ve just presented this work-in-progress at the European Association of Archaeologists‘ annual conference, so it seemed a good time to share it here as well!

Continue reading “How to make a clay tablet, part 1”

Goodbye Cambridge, γεια σου Αθήνα!

Goodbye Cambridge, hello Athens!

I’ve been a postdoctoral Research Fellow at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, for the last four years. As part of this fellowship, I’ve continued the work I began during my PhD, looking at ways to understand more about the remaining ‘undeciphered’ signs of Linear B – the sound-values of fourteen of this writing system’s eighty-seven syllabic signs are still uncertain, nearly 70 years after the script as a whole was deciphered. My monograph based on my thesis, The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B: Interpretation and Scribal Practices, which has just been published with CUP, not only tries to establish as much as is currently possible about the most likely types of sound-value each of these signs may have, but also uses them to explore wider issues about the Linear B writing system’s creation from its parent script Linear A and its use by the Mycenaean scribes to write administrative documents. Other publications arising from my PhD include an article called “The mystery of the Mycenaean labyrinth: the value of Linear B pu2 and related signs”, which looks at one particular sign whose exact sound-value is debated, due largely to its appearance in the word ‘labyrinth’ (da-pu2-ri-to), and the implications its interpretation has for the relationship between Linear B and Linear A, and a book chapter “Processes of script adaptation and creation in Linear B: the evidence of the “extra” signs“, which explores similar issues to do with the initial creation of Linear B but also investigates the script’s ongoing development as the writers who used it created new signs to fit in with the needs of the administrative records they were writing.

Elongated clay tablet with two lines of writing
Linear B tablet recording various kinds of livestock
Continue reading “Goodbye Cambridge, γεια σου Αθήνα!”

“The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B: Interpretation and Scribal Practices”: coming soon!

9781108494724_The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B_CoverI’m thrilled to say that my monograph based on my PhD, entitled The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B: Interpretation and Scribal Practices, is due to be published in August by Cambridge University Press. I started my PhD in October 2012, submitted it in April 2016, graduated in January 2017, and have been working (on and off) in turning it into a book ever since then. So this announcement feels like it’s been a very long time coming, but the proofs have gone to the printers and the book is available to pre-order on the CUP website, so I guess it’s really happening!

Continue reading ““The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B: Interpretation and Scribal Practices”: coming soon!”

New Humanities Commons page for open-access publications

HCommons

I have a new page on Humanities Commons, a free, not-for-profit site for sharing open-access research. Publications available there already include papers on a set of Linear B inscriptions painted on the side of jars used for transporting oil or wine; on the Mycenaean Greek word for “labyrinth”; on the structure and use of the Linear B writing system, and how this can be used to analyse the script’s development over time; on using palaeography (handwriting analysis) to reconstruct aspects of scribal practices and training; and on how Linear B was originally deciphered and shown to represent an early form of the Greek language. Head over to https://hcommons.org/members/annapjudson/ to check them out!

Spelling and script development

wll.22.2.pb_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.

Continue reading “Spelling and script development”

‘The mystery of the Mycenaean “labyrinth”‘ now available online

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Labyrinth on the back of a Linear B tablet from Pylos (National Archaeological Museum [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia)
My paper ‘The mystery of the Mycenaean “labryinth”: the value of Linear B pu2 and related signs” is now freely available online – copies can be downloaded via the Cambridge University open access repository (no institutional account or login required), or via academia.edu. The paper (published in Studi micenei ed egeo-anatolici in 2017) looks at the Mycenaean word identified as meaning ‘labyrinth’, and discusses how investigating the spelling of this particular word also has important implications for how we understand the Linear B writing system to work in its representation of the Mycenaean Greek dialect, as well as on attempts to reconstruct aspects of the ‘Minoan’ language which Linear B’s predecessor, Linear A, was used to write. You can read more about this article here, and about the mythical labyrinth – and the drawing of a labyrinth on the back of a Linear B tablet from Pylos shown in the photograph – here.

Abstract:

This article re-examines the evidence for the value of the Linear B sign pu₂, in particular its appearance in the term da-pu₂-ri-to- ‘labyrinth’, and demonstrates that it stands specifically for the value /pʰu/ (contrary to the usual assumption that it represents both /pʰu/ and /bu/). It then discusses the further implications of this conclusion, in particular for the interpretation of the undeciphered signs *56 and *22, which are often assigned to the same series as pu₂, as well as any other similar signs which may exist. This discussion illustrates the crucial impact that establishing a single sign’s value may have on the wider understanding of the Linear B script, as well as on its relationship with its parent script Linear A and even the possibility of reconstructing aspects of the Minoan language.

Citation: Anna P. Judson, ‘The mystery of the Mycenaean “labyrinth”: the value of Linear B pu₂ and related signs”, Studi micenei ed egeo-anatolici NS 3: 53-72 (2017)

Tripods, tables, and tablets – or, how to prepare for a Mycenaean feast

I recently jumped on the Twitter bandwagon of writing poems in the style of William Carlos Williams, since it was pretty clear to me that the internet could only be improved by having more poems based on Linear B tablets:

This is just to say

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Tripod in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum (photo: author)

I have counted
the tripods
that were in
the storeroom

and which
you were probably
wanting
for the feast

Unfortunately
one has only one foot
and another
is burned off at the legs

 

I thought now I’d talk a bit more about the actual Linear B tablets which inspired the poem, starting with the famous ‘tripod tablet’ from the palace of Pylos. This tablet famously proved that Linear B had been correctly deciphered as representing an early form of Greek, since the symbols representing different kinds of vessels matched their Greek descriptions: the three-legged vessels were preceded by the Greek word tripodes ‘tripods’, and jars depicted with four, three, and no handles were described as kwetrōwes ‘four-eared’, triōwes ‘three-eared’, and anōwes ‘with no ears’. (You can read more about this, and about the process by which Linear B was deciphered, here).

Tripod tablet
The ‘tripod tablet’ (PY Ta 641) in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens (photo: author)

Continue reading “Tripods, tables, and tablets – or, how to prepare for a Mycenaean feast”