Thursday, April 22, 2010

On a quest to find Minoan pronouns

I could not steer myself away from the direction my previous post has started, even if I tried to. The Linear A records are becoming more-and-more fascinating with every little step we take towards decipherment. So we shall go straight to the next step towards understanding the Minoan language. It is time to turn our attention towards the Cretan pronouns.

This will be a difficult quest to start with. Now we face a bit different problem to that we did when searching for declensional endings. It seems that Cretan scribes were not only fond of leaving out endings, but they also tended to fuse short grammatical elements - such as pronouns - to words following them. So we are to see an awfully high number of enclitic-like forms, even when there was none in the original language. Now, to stop teasing, let us see all the putative pronouns we can find in Linear A!

Part I: Demonstrative pronouns

The easiest-to-find pronouns in Linear A are the A-TA- and TA-N- particles commonly occurring in the libation formulae, and other "longer" texts. Due to their high frequency and characteristic sentence-initial or phrase-initial position (compare TA-NU-NI-KI-NA [PL Zf1] with U-NA-KA-NA-SI [KO Za1]), one can relatively safely identify them as demonstrative pronouns. More precisely, the declensional variants of a single demonstrative pronoun with stem *(a)ta-. This word is not restricted to the Minoan language. Eteocretan inscriptions yield an evolved variant of this very A-TA- pronoun in the form "et": The phrase "et isalabre" from Dreros is fully comparable with the Minoan A-TA-I-*301-WA-E [PK Za11]. The TA-N- form on the other hand, is prominent in Eteocypriot inscriptions, as the following example shows: WI-TI-LE • RA-NU • TA-NA • MU-NO-TI • A-I-LO (text on a gravestone from Amathous). Looking further along the Mediterranean, one can discover that even in Etruscan, the demonstrative pronoun had the form of ta in nominative and tan in accusative cases. Maybe it is not mere coincidence, that most Indo-European languages also share a common demonstrative pronoun with a t-stem (sometimes reconstructed as *to). In Linear A, we only have two cases of this pronoun preserved:

Base form

Oblique form -n


Part II: Personal, possessive and relative pronouns

Evidence for the next group of pronouns comes from a number of intriguing phrases. For example, on a pithos from Zakros [ZA Zb3], we see the following formation: WINE 32 • DI-DI-KA-SE • A-SA-MU-NE • A-SE (....). The word-divisor dot after the third word is barely visible, so we might think of A-SE as an example of Suffixaufnahme - but only at the first sight. The E-A junction shows that the word A-SE is phonologically fully separate (otherwise it would have been A-SA-MU-NE-JA-SE, according to the junctional rules). Although A-SE is a frequently encountered term on the Haghia Triada tablets [HT81, HT93, HT132, A-SE-JA on HT115], a place-name (in nominative) does not fit the context here. Instead, it seems that this tiny little word A-SE repeats the ending seen on DI-DI-KA-SE. From our previous studies, we may know that this *-(a)se ending is a valid declensional case-ending (most likely a possessive type). Thus the stem of A-SE must have been a single *a-. Since pronouns tend to be very short in almost all languages of the world, the repetition of the suffix alongside with the extremely short stem makes this word suspicious of being a pronoun - most likely a personal or a relative pronoun.

And this is not the only example we have: on a libation table from Syme [SY Za2], we find another intriguing sentence: A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA • JA-SU-MA-TU • OLIVES • U-NA-KA-NA-SI • OIL • A-JA. In this example, the word A-JA exactly repeats the ending of the first, compound phrase. Anyone with just a little language talent would immediately sense a connection. The stem is - again - a bare *a, whereupon came the ending *-ja. So it seems, that we find another case of the same pronoun, in a similar situation.

Now it is time to remember our previous discussion about words that show an attached initial i- mysteriously wanishing in some cases. Other words have a- (or ja-, see later) initials, behaving in a fairly similar way. Good examples for *a- are rare but we can find pairs like TA-NA-TE [heading tablet ZA10], A-TA-NA-TE [ZA10, one line below] and SI-DA-TE [ARKH2, header] versus A-SI-DA-TO-I [ARKH2, one line below]. The addition and loss if initial *i- is much more common (see some of the examples here). We have already observed that the i- element might be interpreted as a short deictic particle. Now comes the surprise: this i- particle may also exist as a fully independent word in other cases. On the gold ring CR Zf1, the following text is written: A-MA-WA-SI • KA-NI-JA-MI • I-JA • ZA-KI-SE-NU-TI • A-TA-DE (After checking the original text, I corrected QA- on the fourth word to ZA-). The first two words should be familiar by now: these seem to be a combination of a personal name: "to *Armawa" (in some dative-like possessive case), and a first-person verb *kanijami : "I give" (KA-NI-JA- is a verbal stem and the -m/-n suffixes are used by a wide range of Eurasian languages to indicate first person singular of verbs). Because of these two words, a relative pronoun (referring to the ring) is pretty much expected to follow: and so we have I-JA. Because the fourth word looks like a second (compound) verb, a phrase like 'that-which' offers itself as a possible translation. (At the same time, the last short word might contain an *at(a)- demonstrative.) And this is not even the only instance to find the word *ija! The HT Zb158 inscription features the sequence (...) SU-KI-RI-TE-I-JA (on a pithos), where the unnatural joining E-I immediately wakes the suspicion that there are actually two words: SU-KI-RI-TE • I-JA (otherwise the joining would have been directly E-JA). The word SU-KI-RI-TA is also featured in a Phaistos inscription [PH Wa32]. Since this phrase is a terminal fragment of a longer text, a pronominal meaning for I-JA is - again - possible. If this is true, then we might have found another class of pronouns in Minoan: this time one with a simple *i- stem, behaving similarly to the *a- stem counterpart. A possible scheme for word-formation is summarised on the table below (remember that 'enclitic form' solely means that the word is never written separately: it might have been simply a writing convention):

Enclitic formsIndependent forms
basic form

(nominative? article?)
oblique form with -n

(possessive? accusative?)
with -ja ending

(relative pronoun?)
oblique forms

a-an-ajaase (possessive?)
i-in-ijaN/A (no example)

Having both an *a and *i stem for personal pronouns is reminiscent of the Etruscan language. Hittite and Luwian languages also display an enclitic third person pronoun with the stem *a-, though not in *i-. But unlike Etruscan, we have no evidence of animate-inanimate distinction between the two stems. The only difference seems to be the frequent usage of *i- in a deictic sense. This makes it similar to the Proto-Indo-European pronoun reconstructed as h1e (Latin hic).

The *a- form of the first pronoun is only conjectural: none of the examples gleaned so far are decisive. If correct, these finds may reflect a 'definite article'-like usage of the base *a- and *i- forms. The *in- and *an- forms were recovered from compound sequences A-NA-TI-*301-WA-JA [IO Za8] and I-NA-TA-I-DO-DI-SI-KA [IO Za6]. The first sequence can most easily be explained as a result of a simplification (-TI- was written instead of -TA-I-), and an additional prefixed particle, *an- (corresponding to *in- in the second case). These *an- and *in- forms have two possible interpretations: First, they can be simple declensional cases (perhaps accusatives, as in the case of *ta-n), followed by the demonstrative *at(a)-. But the -n- consonant was also used as a pertinentive formative (*na), thus a possessive meaning cannot be ruled out. In the latter case, it is possible that the true pronouns we see here are in fact *anath and *inath = "in his" or "in its" (i.e. the so-far unattested pure locative case of a possessive pronoun). In Eteocypriot, the phrases A-NA • TA-SO and A-NO-TI • TA-SO-TI (again, from an Amathousian gravestone ) show that such formation is perfectly possible. The problem is, there are too few inscriptions discovered so far to decide this question at this time.

Part III: Miscellaneous pronoun-like elements

In this last chapter, I would like to discuss a single, yet enigmatic particle. This is the only case where we may probably speak of a true enclitic pronoun, since the particle *ja is not only attached initially (e.g. JA-TI-TU-KU [LA Zb1] vs. TI-TI-KU [HT35]) or terminally to words (this might be the very -JA suffix I mentioned in the previous post), but also inserted into the interior of words. To get what I mean, we shall analyse phrases KI-TA-NA-SI-JA-SE, A-NA-NU-SI-JA-SE and I-JA-TE.

Word KI-TA-NA-SI-JA-SE [PE Zb3] is one of the most baffling phrases written in Linear A. The -SI-JA-SE ending is repated in a different word: A-NA-NU-SI-JA-SE [HT Zb 159, on a pithos]. Since Hieroglyphic seals also feature a word KI-TA-NA, we can be practically certain that this is the stem, upon which all the formatives were built. It is also quite clear that the words end in an *-(a)se ending, that probably expresses an ablative case. The remaining -SI-JA- part is unlikely to be a separate word - but it is also too long to be a single suffix. While a suffix *-si (dative?) is possible to make out, it does not make sense at all, with a terminal -*(a)se. So we have to suppose there is a third part hiding in the chain (which is also probable on phonological grounds): *-ja-. If (and this is a big IF) this -ja- is an enclitic pronoun, then the entire phrase suddenly becomes meaningful: the second -(a)se ending in *kithana-si-ja-(a)se refers to a different subject, expressing something like: "to-Kithana-from-him". (the "him" is just a random pronoun I put in - we cannot be sure if it worked as a personal, demonstrative or relative pronoun).

Interpreting the *-ja endings as attached clitics does sound as a wild idea, or at least so I think. Yet (at least in some cases) it does offer a way to understand phrases written in Linear A. On a Phaistos jar [PH Zb4], in a fragmented inscription, we have the word I-JA-TE written out. The I-JA- initial is an uncommon one, resembling the phrase I-JA on the golden ring CR Zf1. Based on the context, it is certainly not ιατήρ = 'doctor' (this funny identification I found on Wikipedia). Its -A-TE ending rather shows a locative-type suffix. But if I-JA is a pronoun, with *i stem and *-ja suffix, why does it not use a regular locative form *ite or *jate or similar? One possible reason can be that this *ija is a case constructed from a suffix that isn't a true suffix. If the meaning of I-JA is a relativising phrase like 'that-which', could I-JA-TE mean 'that-from-which' ? (Since it is on a vessel, such a complicated interpretation may even be meaningful!) I know that there might be a simpler interpretation of *-ja endings: namely, a denominal suffix (if we disregard the examples with initial ja-/0 alternation and assume the stems *kithanas and *ananus). But who knows which version is correct?

To sum up, we have seen that - with our current level of knowledge - it is already possible to identify at least a few words or stems with pronominal function. Since they are really infrequent ones (we should not expect them to be common...), a good deal of work is left for the upcoming next generation of linguists who are to be delve deep into the secrets of the Minoan language.

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