Critique of Decipherments by Hubert La Marle and Kjell Aartun

inaugural date: 15 August 2009; last update: 5 July 2010

Comments, corrections, questions: John Younger (

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La Marle

What follows is a brief critique of Hubert La Marle's presumed decipherment of Linear A as Indo-Iranian / Sanskrit, in 4 vols.

La Marle, Hubert. 1996 (reprinted 1999). Linéaire A. La première écriture syllabique de Crète. Essai de lecture. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner.

La Marle, Hubert. 1997. Linéaire A. La première écriture syllabique de Crète. Éléments de grammaire. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner.

La Marle, Hubert. 1998. Linéaire A. L'histoire et la view de la Crète minoenne. Textes commentés. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner.

La Marle, Hubert. 1999. Linéaire A. La première écriture syllabique de Crète. Signes rares, textes brefs, substitutions. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner.

Also: La Marle's website

La Marle, Hubert. 1996 (reprinted 1999). Linéaire A. La première écriture syllabique de Crète. Essai de lecture. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner.
Introduction (7-11): lay-out of the study
Bibliography (13-29)
"Essai de lecture" (33-131): a discussion of each LA sign, comparing its graphic shape with similar signs in other writing systems of the eastern Mediterranean (Cypro-Minoan, Cypro-Syllabic, Hurrian, Hittite, Proto-Sinaitic, Phoenician, Egyptian Hieroglyphic, Proto-Canaanite, South Arabic, Mineo-Sabeen, Ethiopian, Amharic, etc.), which he characterizes as forming a "famille graphique."

Each discussion concludes with a nuanced phonetic value for the sign.

Click here for HLM's chart of phonetic values in a separate window (click on the image to enlarge it).

Sample at random: "Le signe 16a . Nous distinguerons le signe 16a à deux 'oreilles' du signe 16b dont l'une des 'oreilles est remplacée par deux tirets parallèles. Pareille surcharge graphique en bin⊚me rappelle celle du signe 13a. Il ne semble pas que le signe 1a ait eu de correspondant chpro-minoen. Le chypriote n'en possède pas davantage de rejeton. Le Hiéroglyphe égyptien du 'visage' vu de face [picture] offre bien deux oreilles latérales ainsi qu'un cou. Sundwall a rapproché avec raison ce schéma du phénicien [picture], de valeur . Lequel remonte au proto-cananéen tardif [picture]. On peut assi établir une comparaison avec le sud-sémitique [picture], le sud-arabique [picture], le minéo-sabéen [picture] de même valeur, et avec l'une des variantes du sémitique du nord-ouest, [picture], qui rend également lat consonne q."

For most of the LA signs, HLM assigns more or less the same phonetic values as is conventional, except

10 (U) = cur/gur
11 (PO) = n/ne; by shape, compared to signs in proto-Canaanite & other semitic scripts, & Ethiopian: thus n-
13 (ME) = m/mu (HLM sees a 12a & 12b, but gives them the same value)
24 (NE) = x/xa; HLM sees this sign as a simplified version of 16b, and relates its shape to proto-Canaanite samek
37 (TI) = ko/go/kho; 37b = lu
38 (E) = mu (m/me/mi)
41 (SI) = ra/gha
44 (KE) = ai/e; 44b a/e
45 (DE) = ke/ku/khe/khu/ge/ghu; 45b d/de
53 (RI) = y/ye; HLM relates the shape to Phoenician y
59 (TA) = s (th/z); HLM relates the shape to Hieroglyphic Hittite s
65 (JU) = z/so/za(n) (d), related to Phoenician on shape; HLB sees a 65b = ze/zi
73 (MI) = ş/şe/ş HLM relates the shape to Cypro-Minoan sign 44, to which he assigns a value of se
76 (RA2) = ir/ri; HLM relates the shape to Egyptian ir
79 (ZU) = h/he/e (hai); HLM relates the shape to an "eye" sign in several early Semitic scrips
87 (TWE) = no value suggested
100 (VIR) = y/ye
118 (?) = b/bi/ wi/vi; HLM relates the shape to Pi-like signs in Ethiopian, Cypro-Syllabic
120 (GRA) = do/to; HLM equates 120 with 05)
122 (OLIV) = ñ/ñy/ni; HLM relates the shape to signs in Meroitic and Cypro-Minoan 100
123 (?) = r/ri (le/lë/li); HLM relates the shape to Proto-Sinaitic r
131 (VIN) = b/w; HLM relates the shape to Proto-Sinaitic b/p
164 (?) = b (p)
188 (?) = kh
301 (?) = r/re/ri (ro/ra/l/le/li); HLM relates the shape to AB RI
302 (?) = h/he/ge; HLM relates the shape to Phoenician
303 (OLE?) = ts/dz/dze
304 (?) = di(l)/ti(l)
306 (?) = r/re/ri
310 (?) = ko/k /ku
312 (KU/MINA?) = s+vi/si
317 (?) = thw
319 (?) = we
328 (?) = ñ/ñy/ni
361 (?) = nu (ne)
703 (fraction D/MINA) = wy/we (equates with B75)
Summary (108-110)
Discussion of the pronunciation of the various vowels & consonants (111-131)

JGY comments
Contrary to the subtitle, Cretan Hieroglyphic is actually the first syllabic writing system in Crete.

Godart 1984 demonstrated that 7 (possibly 8) complex words (3 or more syllables) appear in both Linear A & B, and that therefore 12 signs have the same values in Linear B and A (DA, I, JA, KI, PA, PI, RO, RI, SE, SU, TA, O): RI & TA are two of those, but HLM assigns them completely different values (y/ye and s (th/z), respectively).

HLM derives phonetic values for Linear A signs based on their similarities with signs in various eastern Mediterranean and northeast African scripts (see above) as if such similarities constituted a demonstration that Linear A derived from those scripts -- similarities in the shape of written signs may not indicate similarities of phonetic value, even when it can be demonstrated that one script derived from another (e.g., Cyrilic from Greek, but Russian H [/n/] is not pronounced like Greek H [/ē/]).

HLM also assigns phonetic values to several ideograms (VIR, GRA, OLIV, OLE, VIN, etc.), of which only VIR & VIN seem to operate also as syllabograms.

Instead, Linear A probably derives many if not most of its signs from Cretan Hieroglyphic, which HLM occasionally mentions but whose relaltionship to Linear A he does not discuss at all. Most signs in Cretan Hieroglyphic are pictographs, whose names or sounds or other qualities may have determined the phonetic values (e.g., LinA 23 from CH *012 , bull head, "mu"; LinA 60 from CH *018 , dog head, "ra").

La Marle, Hubert. 1997. Linéaire A. La première écriture syllabique de Crète. Éléments de grammaire. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner.
Introduction (7-12): HLM lays out the 11 criteria set out by Y. Duhoux for establishing a decipherment (corpus of texts, a syllabary, phonetic values, orthography, morphology, etc.) and asserts he is following all of these.
Concordance (13-20) of signs between GORILA and Raison-Pope, Corpus transnuméré.
Maps (192-195)
Index & Abbreviations (197-199)
Elements of grammar (23-191) analysis will be limited to "literary" texts, not lists (23-24)
HLM's conventional phonetic transcription for signs (24-43)
identifying nouns, verbs, etc. (45-58)

for example, KO Za 1 (I picked this totally at random) which carries the Libation Formula (as in GORILA)

HLM reads (47)

a) a-s-i-rai-ro-ja
b) wo-ru-sa / mu-lu-nwi / i-tar
c) a / mu-na-kh-na ra / i
d) pi-na-pha / ra-ru-te

La Marle, Hubert. 1998. Linéaire A. L'histoire et la view de la Crète minoenne. Textes commentés. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner.

HLM translates KO Za 1 into Indo-Iranian/Sanskrit (280)
a) a-s-i-rai-ro-ja = king of Asura, a god
b) wo-ru-sa / mu-lu-nwi / i-tar = (wo)-ru, water or a liquid; mu-lu-nu = purify; i-tar, a god
c) a / mu-na-kh-na ra = ?mang, demand, pray ?= mangala, benediction
d) i / pi-na-pha / ra-ru-te = i-pi-na-ph, to heaven; ra-ru-te = the face

JGY stops here because

HLM does not analyze Linear A's structure before attempting a translation.

Instead, he 1) assigns phonetic values to Linear signs based on superficial resemblances to signs in other scripts (the choice of scripts being already prejudiced to include only those from the eastern Mediterranean and northeast Africa), as if "C looks like O so it must be O."

and, 2), translates the words into the language he has chosen (Indo-Iranian/Sanskrit).

For words that do not translate comfortably, HLM suggests religious meanings, names of otherwise unknown divinities and rites, and produces a translation that makes difficult sense.
cf. Duhoux, Companion to Linear B (2008), pp. 349-61, where he criticizes the recent translations of the new Theban texts because they introduce a religious interpretation of words simply because they are imperfectly understood.


Aartun, Kjell.
1992. Die minoische Schrift: Sprache und Texte. 1: Der Diskos von Phaistos, die beschriftete Bronze axt, die Inschrift der Tarragona-Tafel. Wiesbaden: Harassowitz.
1997. Die Minoische Schrift Sprache und Texte. 2: Linear A-Inschriften. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

I will not deal with Aartun's treatment of the Phaistos Disc (which he translates as a sexual magic text; for an English translation of some lines, click here), the Arkalokhori ax, and a painted (?) clay (?) plaque now in the Madrid Museum and conventionally dated to the 4th c. BCE -- except to point out that he identifies the pictographs (e.g., the head with the "Mohawk" hair is a "priest" which is kahinu in Semitic and therefore the sign has the phonetic value of ka [at the beginning] and ak [at the end of words]). In other words, Aartun uses the acrophonic principle once he has determined what the sign "is."

For Linear A, he says he accepts most of the standard identification of phonetic values (1: 46-53), following Brice 1961 and GORILA, but in the long discussion of individual texts (1: 53-121), he identifies Linear A words as words in various languages (the vocabulary index, pp. 805-40 lists, among others: Ugaritic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Ethiopian, and Akkadian), forcing many syllabograms to take on new phonetic values (this will be made clear in the following section).

His sign chart (1: 122-23) keeps some of the standard phonetic identifications, but to transcribe his Semitic identifications he assigns phonetic values to rare Linear A signs (both GORILA and Brice) in order to supply phonetic values that do not exist in GORILA's grid -- for example, in the deficient O-series: Brice 15 [usually a variant on GORILA 11] for DO, Brice 75 for JO, 302 for MO, 28 for NO, Brice 12 for QO, and 319 for WO). Aartun also invents three H-series, 2 z-series (z- and z- with a dot under it), a y-series (57=YA [JA] but the rest are new), a second d-series (d- with a line under it), and alternative open vowels (A-U, all preceded by ').

For example of his method, I take (at random) Aartun's discussion of HT 13 (this continues over several pages, 1: 57-58, 80-87; 2: 78-80).

First, here is GORILA's transcription and my normalized version:

HT 13
1-2:77-10-45-59 131a 04
2: 27-175[] J[]
3: 04-6956
3-4: 04-6727 J
.4: 81-79-3018
.5: 01-41-*11819
.5-6: 28-51-24-415
.7: 81-02130 J

Aartun reads only some of the signs on p. 1: 57 (other signs on HT 13 are discussed on 1: 58, and 80-87), forcing some signs to take on new phonetic values to suit his identification of the Semitic word he thinks the Linear A inscription is trying to spell.

I present only the section on p. 1: 57 to give a sample of what he is doing (I give a photo of this section since it includes a lot of diacritical marks unavailable to the web; L-sign numbers are Brice, those in () are GORILA's):

has not any means of subsistence."

Apparently Aartun feels free to take the Linear A word and change it to suit a Semitic word.

Vol 2 discusses the Linear A texts, text by text. HT 13 is again discussed on pp. 2: 78-80. Here is Aartun's complete presentation and translation (I omit the commentary, which basically duplicates 1:57-58 etc.):

I give an English translation of his German (many thanks to Sabine Beckmann!):

.1:he who lives in a wretched state/his life
.1-2: prepared (food)
.2: tot(al)
.2: poor (person) / (person) under protection (of the prince)
.2: 5 J
.3: the fool [low-class?]              56
.3: very much the fool [low-class?]
.4: 27 J
.4: (person) who drinks uninterruptedly without slurping
.4: 17 J
.5: s/he who does not grow
.5-6: food/fare [or provisions] of the destitute [without means]/poor people
.6: 5
.7: total 130 J

Needless to say, this translation makes little sense and does not suit a presumed administrative purpose for this text.

I can't really follow Aartun's method, for it is circular, taking up a text, changing the phonetic values to suit a Semitic reading for the words, and then refining the produced Semitic text. There is no internal analysis of the Linear A texts, no assumption of what the texts should resemble (in his section on the cultural context, 1: 24-25, he talks of a "Feudal- und theokratisches System," but does not mention Minoan administration). Instead, Aartun assumes that Linear A is writing Semitic and that a substitution of Semitic words for the Linear A words (contorted to fit) suffices for a decipherment.

Comments, corrections, questions: John Younger

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