Writing & Language

The Minoans first spoke a language that is, so far, untranslated. It was probably an Indo-European language, though not a known form of Greek. What we know of it comes from a smattering of inscriptions found on and around the island of Crete. Later Minoans spoke an early form of Greek.

Throughout their history the Minoans used three main writing types: Linear A, Linear B, and Cypro-Minoan. Of these, only Linear B has been translated. Writing was used mainly for keeping records, but has also been found on amulets and other small items. It started out being idegraphic but evolved into a syllabic written language.

Linear A is the earliest form of writing used by the Minoans. It consists of approximately 70 characters, and was probably used for accounting and record-keeping purposes. It has been discovered on clay tablets and other portable objects as well as on graphitti on walls and other surfaces. Linear A was in use from approximately 1800 - 1450 BCE.

Cypro-Minoan is closely related to Linear B, containing some signs from it as well as some unique to itself. The majority of inscriptions of Cypro-Minoan come from the island of Cyprus. It was in use from around 1400 - 1100 BCE. Cypro-Minoan has not yet been translated.

Linear B is a written form of Mycenean Greek, and it is closely related to and is based on Linear A. It was in use beginning around the 1200s BCE. It is a mainly syllabic writing system, with each character representing a different syllable instead of an idea or a letter. Linear B was used for record-keeping purposes, and had symbols for numbers (and fractions!) in addition to syllables. It was deciphered by Michael Ventris in 1952.

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