Volume 9, March 2005, Section P051

Traces of Inflections in Minoan Linear A

Dr. Dieter Rumpel, Professor Emeritus
Former Head of the Electric Power Systems Institute
Gerhard Mercator (Duisburg) University, Duisburg, Germany

A copy of this paper with images may be requested at

1. Introduction.
Offhand bookkeeping entries on clay tablets make up the main part of the text-corpus of the Minoan Lin A script. Beside them, there are groups of inscribed objects, as jewelry, goblets, amphorae, clay nodules and – in the following of main interest – religious offering tables and jugs.

The bookkeeping tablets – except for some short headings – cannot be expected to contain coherent texts of grammatical form. Also most of the other inscriptions are short, mutilated and incomplete. Some texts of a few words' length are in scriptura continua, which does not give itself to an easy analysis. We have to expect non-standardized and defective writing. Thus, the basis for a comprehensive grammatical analysis is practically nil.

What is attempted in the following, therefore, is rather more comparable to the progress of a monkey jumping from branch to branch, than to a solid march on the ground. The Linear A publications where the procedure is based upon are GORILA1 and the more complete internet editions of J. Younger2, especially for the phonetic transcription.

2. Verbal Forms
The first branch to get hold of, is the well known "Libation Formula" that is repeated again and again on about 30 offering tables and jugs dispersed all over the sanctuaries of Crete plus the Knossos palace. The wording of the Libation Formula seems to be more or less standardized. There are major variations, but in almost all cases a name of a divine person, who is according to the general Minoan cult findings considered to be femal,


is mentioned and brought – as far as readable – in relation to the words 


 The first word of the Formula in most cases is 

A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA 4.

Let us start with the specimen SY(Syme) Za 2 (GORILA V, S.64). The text is inscribed on a "table à libation" and has the advantage of not being mutilated and so to be completely readable. J. Younger, following GORILA, gives its transcription as

A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA    JA-SU-MA-TU  OLIV       U-NA-KA-NA-SI      OLE      A-JA

Both authors seem to be of the opinion, that "ATaI*301WaJa" has to keep the first position, as it does in all other known incidences. The photo of the specimen in GORILA also allows a more natural text sequence, namely:

A-JA     A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA    JA-SU-MA-TU   OLIV    U-NA-KA-NA-SI     OLE

SY Za 2 is also erratic in that it does not mention JaSaSaRaMe and that it contains two Ideograms, namely: OLIV = Olives and OLE = Oil.

The next branch stems from Egypt. The British Museum possesses the papyrus-role No. 10059, that contains medical prescriptions. Among them are two magical incantations (No. 32 and 33) declared to be "in Keftiu-language", which should be applied against the "Asiatic disease" (No. 32) and against a disease named "Samuna" (No.33). We can surmise, that in these incantations the Egyptian writer tried to mimic in hieratic script Minoan phonetics. These incantations in the phonetic transcription of Helk5 resp. Haider6 run:

(No.32)                sa-n-ta   ka-pu-pi   wa-ja    a-ja   ma-n-ta-ra    ku-ka-ra 

(No.33)                ubuqiILLNESS  satBREAD(?)  sabujajadschaTO_GO  humekatuMAN
                             RazajaGREAT_GOD AmejaGOD 

Haider, fortunately, in No.33 adds the determinatives to the phonetics (Above they are written to the words in capital letters). Determinatives in Egyptian writing are mute ideographic characters that more or less regularly stand at the end of a word. They classify the preceding word, and at the same time work as word-terminators. They were not transcribed in No.32 due to their muteness or because they were not existing in the original writing. (By the way, fitting the "Keftiu"-phonetics with proper Egyptian determinatives implies, that the Egyptian writer understood "Keftian" to some degree).

There are also slightly different phonetic transcriptions of No.33 by other scholars, which I do not discuss here, but I want to mention that the third word is also given as "sa-ba-i-ya-da"7.

In No.32 we find wa-ja and a-ja (perhaps even ka-pu-pi-wa-ja forming one word) in parallel to the libation table SY Za 2 above. In No.33 -buja- or -ba-i-ja- in the third word looks suspiciously like WA-JA, especially, because Minoan did not use, or at least not write, the consonant B. The word "sabujajadscha" assigned with the determinative TO_GO, with high probability is a verb of movement, and humekatu assigned with MAN is a male noun. These facts were already mentioned by Bjarte Kaldhol in an Aegeanet (Internet) note of 9. 5. 2004. He extended the noun-finding to other LinA words ending in -a-Tu, among them also JaSuMaTu, present in SY Za 2 and discussed in the following.

Up to now we have found many times ATaI*301WaJa in the Libation Formulas, two times (SY Za 2 and No.32) the pair AJa and WaJa, the word JaSuMaTu considered nominal, and a word considered verbal with -buja- or -ba-i-ja- inside. The latter a/u oscillation might have its source not only in our imperfect knowledge of Egyptian vocalisation, but already in the Keftian language, because in LinA there exists a variant writing "JaTaI*301UJa" in a place where definitely "ATaI*301WaJa" is expected.8

The pair AJa/WaJa reminds one of a Hebrew (or general Semitic?) pronoun existing in two (separate and affixed) forms. The origin of the Semitic verb is easiest explained as a combination of a noun and a personal pronoun, which in perfect tense follows, in imperfect tense precedes the noun9. E.g. "reader-you" or "you-reader" = you have read, you will read. (This shall not prejudice Minoan to be Semitic, but provide a model of interpretation) . In that case, the verb itself already bears the person, but this relation can e.g. be emphasized by further adding the separate pronoun.

If we cling to this branch, we would interpret AJa as the separate form and WaJa as the form attached to the verb, as pronouns of the same person. Pronoun of which person? As we are handling libation and conjuring or praying formulas, the pronouns "I" or "we" (am/are doing, offering, imploring etc.) are most probable.

Transferring these results heuristically back to SY Za 2,  we get

I/we  verb(ATaI*301)(I/we)    male noun(JaSuMaTu)  OLIV    ?(UNaKaNaSi)     OLE.

This Model also has the power to explain, why in other incidences of the Libation Formula the separate pronoun is missing. It is unnecessary, because the person is already expressed by the suffixed pronoun at the verb.

Other probable verbal affixed pronouns10
If we consider "AJa/WaJa" above as a pair of a separate/suffixed pronoun, we can search in the LinA corpus for other personal pronouns; i.e. syllables in the same position. For ATaI*301- we find:

PK(Palaikastro) Za 11 (GORILA IV: 32-34), Libation Table, stating A-TA-I-*301-WA-E and
AP(Apodulu) Za 1  (GORILA IV: 2-3), Libation Table , stating   JA-TA-I-*301-U-JA,
but these seem to be only a writing variants for ATaI*301WaJa, also
IO(Juktas) Za 8 (GORILA V: 30-31), Libation Table, stating A-NA-TI-*301-WA-JA.11

In ZA(Zakros) Zb 3 (GORILA IV: 112-113), pithos, we find 
A-TA-I-*301-DE-KA   with the extension    -DE-KA.
Perhaps hither also Eteocretan  PRA(Praisos) 3; 9  mamde-dika-rk.   

The Libation Formula contains a smaller group of incidences, where the first word differs from ATaI*301WaJa, namely:

IO Za 6  (GORILA V: 24-27), stone cup
TA-NA-I-*301-U-TI-NU with the extension  -U-TI-NU, I-NU or -NU.  Here belongs also
IO Za 2 (GORILA V: 18-19), libation table : TA-NA-RA-TE-U-TI-NU and possibly
ARKH(Archanes) Zf 9, ??:    JA-KI-SI-KI-NU.

PS(Psychro) Za 2  (GORILA IV: 52-55), Libation Table, 
TA-NA-I-*301-TI with the extension -TI , also
KN(Knossos) Za 10 (GORILA IV: 8-9),  libation table,
]-TA-NU-MU-TI, possibly
KN Zc 7 (GORILA IV: 122-125), inked inscription in cup,
PO(Poros) Zg 1, inscribed female figure,

PR(Prassa) Za 1 (GORILA IV: 46-49), Libation Table,
TA-NA-SU-TE[ ]-KE with an extension  ?-KE.

In one case a prefixed pronoun  WiJa  = WaJa (?) seems to be present
HT(Hagia Triada) Zd 157 (GORILA IV: 134-135), graffito
perhaps with the imperfect meaning "I shall do/give something".

Further, on the same wall the graffito
HT Zd 155 (HM 52) (GORILA IV: 130-131)
A-JU  (A-JA?)   NA-MA-MA-TI-TI-*319 

is found. Here apparently the separate pronoun was used in practically the same construction as in HT Zd 157. Not to end here, this wall additionally shows a graffito probably stating a Minoan compound interest scale (50% per year!). *319 in all three graffiti seems not to be more than a word-divider rsp. end-mark.

Of course, caution is required, because, if the model "verb is noun plus affixed pronoun" is valid, then the found extensions could as well be particles of a declension. Or – as the Minoans seem to be very fund of composite nouns – other nouns. So e.g. for U-TI-NU the part U-TI is also found separately and in other combinations.

3. Nominal Forms
Nominal forms should show some form of a more or less clear declension, also expressed by attachments to the noun. Let us start again with another, albeit mutilated, instance of the Libation Formula:

SY Za 1  (GORILA V: 62-63)

A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA o  I-DA-MI o  JA-[ ,

where JA-, followed by a lesion, with high probability is the first syllable of the probable divine name JaSaSaRaMe. If we consider ATaI*301WaJa verbal, the next word IDaMi, also with high probability, should be nominal. Now, the sequence DA-M_ is found with a reasonable number of incidences in the LinA corpus:

DA-ME                     2x HT 95,  HT 106?,  HT 120,  (Personal? name on bookkeeping tablets)
DU-DA-MA              HT 6,   			              (Place name on bookkeeping tablet)
DA-MI-NU               HT 117                                      (Personal name on bookkeeping tablet)
I-DA-MA-TE       AR(Arkalochori) Zf 1, AR Zf 2,   (dedication word on 2 double-axes)
I-DA-MI                    SY Za 1, 			  (on libation bowl, see above)
DA-MA-TE               KY(Kythera) Za 2,                    (stone ladle)
MI-DA-MA-RA2      ARKH(Archanes) Zf 9, 	   (??)

The root seems to be DaMa or DaMe. The single dedication word IDaMaTe on two (one silver and one gold) double axes indicates, that DaMa/DaMe is not just an ordinary name, but an important one or a title. Also on the bookkeeping tablets this name, at least in two cases, keeps a special position. The root is decorated above (among others) by prefix I- and suffix

-TE, or both. The use in a dedication "to somebody" declares something like a dative case. Assigned to which particle?

If we start again from SY Za 1 above and keep to the premise that Ja-[ indicates the following name of a single goddess, then IDaMi together with the preceding probable verb would immediately make sense as "…to the goddess…." (singular) and the Prefix "I" would mark a dative case12. The suffix "Te", on the other hand, could easily form a (feminine?) plural in the double axe dedications as IDaMaTe = "To the goddesses". Vice versa this dative property of IDaMi above increases the probability that ATaI*301WaJa is an "offering" verb.

A great jump would be done, if the grammatical properties of more particles could be established. Presently, only a dative meaning for the prefix I- and a probable (feminin?) plural meaning for the suffix -Te can be taken from above for nouns, and the "suffixed pronouns" -WaJa, -DeKa, -UTiNu or -Nu, -Ti and -?Ke found above for verbal forms.

So let us start again from SY Za 2, for which we have found the form :

I/we verb(ATaI*301)(I/we)    male noun(JaSuMaTu)  OLIV    ?(UNaKaNaSi)     OLE

Assuming that the ideograms OLIV and OLE (olives and oil) together with the phonetic text form a "double writing" as common in LinB, then JaSuMaTu should mean something like "olives" and UNaKaNaSi something like "oil". The form JaSuMaTu is occuring once in the LinA-corpus, but the sequence SuMa occurs repeatedly:

]RI-SU-MA           			HT 81        		(Bookkeeping Tablet)
RI-SU-MA-NU-WI 			HT 115      		(Bookkeeping Tablet)
[[RI-SU-MA[      ]]			dto. 			(deleted, but still readable)
WI-JA-SU-MA-TI-TI-*319		HT Zd 157   		(Graffito, see above)
A-SA-SU-MA-I-SE			GO (Gournia)Wc 1	(Roundel,  (BOSm  5))
JA-SU-MA-TU   OLIV 		SY Za 2		(Libation table, see above)

Further, a problematic case PK(Palaikastro) 1. Here Gordon, according to Packard13, reads SuMaTiZaITe with a possibly missing preceding syllable. GORILA and accordingly Younger, interpret a scratch, which is barely visible in GORILA's photo and not at all (under different light-incidence) in Brice14, as the numeral 1 and state the questionable sequence as TuSu 1 MaTiZaITe.

Isolating SuMa in Syme Za2 would deliver Ja--SuMa--Tu and a genitival form would fit best to the position in the sentence: " of-Olive-(s) Oil". When trying to assign grammatical sense to the, thus, gained prefix, Ja has undoubtedly the preference to be the genitival particle. This is also due to its high statistical presence in the Lin A corpus (if its frequencies of word-initial and final presence are added, Ja has the second rank after A and before the possibly datival I ), further, if we assume that Ja keeps its meaning in initial and final position, the already high presence of final Ja in assumed place- and personal names of the bookkeeping tablets would easiest be explained by a suffix meaning "the people of " or "son of" like "–ish" or "–ic" or "–'s" (the saxon genitive) in English or –ja, –jo in LinB.

Now, if we accept Gordon's reading SuMaTiZaITe with the probable pronounciation SuMa(n)TiZaITe15, we find an almost full parallel, phonetically as well as probably semantically, in the Hebrew bible: "Shaemaen Zait" = "Olive-Oil"16.
Unfortunately, this is a status constructus, meaning that Zait and not Shaemaen takes the genitival position (->"oil of olives"). But that has low impact, because both words in Hebrew are almost synonymous:

"Sh-M-N" is translated as (1)"fat, fertile (ground), strong (person)", (2)"fresh (olive-)oil, wild olives, ointment/unguent (also for the inauguration of priests and kings!!)".
"Z-I-T" is translated as "olive-tree, olive-oil, olives in general, oil in general".17

Forms of both words are widespread in semitic languages, even in hamitic Egypt a town- name "Keb-suman" = "Fatty Hill" is reported. Thus, there is no small probability that indeed one or both words are also found in Minoan, be it as foreign or borrowed word, or even stemming from an original substrate.

The word UNaKaNaSi within the libation formula is written on pouring-ladles, offering tables and bowls, and a "libation" of oil - e.g. perfumed or for lighting – does make sense. On the other hand, RiSuMaNuWi on the bookkeeping tablets keeps the position of a personal or local name (fat hill or man?) and the roundel inscribed ASaSuMaISe bears on the inverse side the note: 5 bulls (fat bulls?). So the semantic adscriptions remain somewhat diffuse after all.

4. Conclusion
How can we find further prefixes and suffixes of declensional meaning?. One method is to look for further syllable-sequences with common sub-sequences inside and nonconforming syllables mainly at both ends. This method was applied by D.W. Packard18 and resulted in a number of prefixes:

A-,  I-, KA-, KE-, KU-, QE-, RA-, SI-, TA-, WA-TU-, PO-TO-,

from which only A- and KA- are represented in more than one instance in his listings, as well as the suffixes:

-DA-RA,  -JA,  -KI-TE-PI,  -MA-RI-TA2,   -NA,  -NA-QE,  -NI,  -NI-TA,  -PA,  -QE,
-RA,  -RA-DU,  -RA-TI,  -RA-TU,  -RE ,  -RO,  -RU-JA,  -SU,  -TA-DI,  -TI,  -NI,
-TI-KU-NI,  -TU,  -WE-SI-TI,  -ZA  and  -*301-WA-JA  (??!!)

From these suffixes only JA-, QE- and TI- provide more than one example in his listings. Particles comprising two and more syllables are to be handled with care, however, because two syllables in many cases already seem to represent a full "Minoan" word. A suffix *301WaJa cannot be reproduced from my documents in that way.

Perhaps a more solid statistical base can be got under the assumption, that the names in the bookkeeping tablets are "speaking names"; that means that they are combined from words which were taken from Minoan language and were understood by the Minoans. Under this assumption more Minoan words could be isolated and their evtl. prefixe and suffix-decorations could be followed-up. We shall try.

1 GORILA, L.Godart, J.-P.Olivier, Recueil des Inscriptions en Linéaire A, Volumes 1-5. Geuthner, Paris 1985, available at De Boccard.

2 J. Younger, "Linear A Texts in phonetic transcription,"

3 There is an oscillating use of Ja and A as the first syllable.

4 Asterisk plus number defines a character, the phonetic value of which has still to be found.

5 Helck 1971, as cited in Y. Duhoux, L'Eteocretois, J.C.Gieben, Amsterdam 1982

6 After P.W.Haider, "Minoan Deities in an Egyptian Medical Text", Aegaeum 22

7 J. Vercoutter, L' Egypte et le monde égéen préhellénique, Le Caire 1956

8 Apodoulu 1

9 H. Strack, Hebräische Grammatik, Berlin 1896, § 48

10 If we further stress the Semitic analogy, AJa and Ti could be related to the 1. person singular, Nu to and Ka to the 2.p. sing. or pl.

11 This writing-variant could indicate an actual pronounciation "A(n)Ta-I*301WaJa"

12 If indeed a prefix "I" marks a dative case, this could have some consequences: Once for the attempts to find a meaning "Ida-Mater" in the Libation Formula, and secondly for the assignment of the phoneme "I" to character *28, because this assignment of a vowel rests on the argument of initial frequency, which then could – at least in part - be a grammatical phenomenon. I shall use the assignment "I" throughout this paper.
13 David W. Packard, Minoan Linear A, University of California Press, Berkely 1984

14 W.C.Brice, Inscriptions in the Minoan Linear Script of Class A, Burlington House, London 1971.

15 This inserted "n" is not an ad-hoc introduction, but the assumption of a defective writing regular in Linear B.

16 Ex. 27.20, 30.24, Lv. 24.2 . "ae" stands for the Hebrew Segol pronounced like the German A-Umlaut or like English "hair".

17 W.Gesenius. Hebräisches und aramäisches Handwörterbuch. Springer, Berlin 1962.

18 See above.

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