Decipherment of Linear A

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Methodologically, the following communication from Elizabeth J. W. Barber is too important to be left buried in a comment to this post:  "ChatGPT does cuneiform studies" (5/21/23)

As I showed in my 1974 book, Archaeological Decipherment, there is a mathematical algorithm showing how much text one needs to PROVABLY accomplish a decipherment for what sort of script. Since 1974, we haven't added enough new text to our pile of LINEAR A to make it over the hump, if the language it hides is unrelated to anything we already know (or if the hidden language, like Semitic, "cross-classifies" its morphemes between consonants and vowels, since each phonological sign in Linear A represents one C and one V). And if it IS hiding some language we already have a linguistic handle on, we are still scarcely up to the top of the hump. So what language, or language family might one try? We already know that Linear A shows virtually nothing in the way of suffixing or other inflection, so it looks very UN-Indo-European.

And note that I said "provably" deciphered. Below that threshold, one can neither prove NOR DISPROVE any purported decipherment!

(A prime case of unprovability is the Phaistos disc, "deciphered" many times– my favorite being as a "double hymn to Zeus and the Minotaur"!! )

Half a century later, it appears that nothing much has changed with regard to Linear A.  Not even ChatGPT can change that.


Selected readings



  1. Peter Grubtal said,

    May 30, 2023 @ 10:52 am

    Chadwick in "The Decipherment of Linear B" quotes a putative translation of the Phaistos disc, which includes the lines "supreme – the donator of prophecies, supreme – of the eggs the white..".

    He remarks dryly that it doesn't need the author's apology for inexpertness in Semitic philology to make us suspect that something has gone wrong here.

  2. Rodger C said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 2:07 pm

    Peter Grubtal: As recall it, the translator (or maybe this is a different story) claimed to be translating from "primitive Greek," which they imagined as a monosyllabic, grammar-less language.

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