Mycenaean Greek is the most ancient attested form of the written Greek language, used on the Greek mainland, Crete and Cyprus in the 16th to 12th centuries BC, before the hypothesised Dorian invasion which was often cited as the ''terminus post quem'' for the coming of the Greek language to Greece. The language is preserved in inscriptions in Linear B, a script first attested on Crete before the 14th century BC. Most instances of these inscriptions are on clay tablets found in Knossos in central Crete, and in Pylos in the southwest of the Peloponnese. Other tablets have been found at Mycenae itself, Tiryns and Thebes and at Chania in Western Crete.〔
*〕 The language is named after Mycenae, one of the major centres of Mycenaean Greece.
The tablets remained long undeciphered, and many languages were suggested for them, until Michael Ventris deciphered the script in 1952 and by a preponderance of evidence demonstrated the language to be an early form of Greek.
The texts on the tablets are mostly lists and inventories. No prose narrative survives, much less myth or poetry. Still, much may be glimpsed from these records about the people who produced them and about Mycenaean Greece, the period before the so-called Greek Dark Ages.
The Mycenaean language is preserved in Linear B writing, which consists of about 200 syllabic signs and logograms. Since Linear B was derived from Linear A, the script of an undeciphered Minoan language probably unrelated to Greek, it does not reflect fully the phonetics of Mycenaean. In essence, a limited number of syllabic signs must represent a much greater number of produced syllables, better represented phonetically by the letters of an alphabet. Orthographic simplifications therefore had to be made. The main ones are:〔Ventris and Chadwick (1973) pages 42–48.〕
* There is no disambiguation for the Greek categories of voice and aspiration, excepting dentals ''d'', ''t'': , ''e-ko'' may be either ''egō'' ("I") or ''ekhō'' ("I have").
* Any m and n before a consonant and any incidence of syllable-final ''l'', ''m'', ''n'', ''r'', ''s'' are omitted. , ''pa-ta'' is ''panta'' ("all"); , ''ka-ko'' is ''khalkos'' ("copper").
* Consonant clusters must be dissolved orthographically, creating apparent vowels: , ''po-to-ri-ne'' is ''ptolin'' (classical ''polin'', "city" ACC).
* ''R'' and ''L'' are not disambiguated: , ''qa-si-re-u'' is ''gʷasileus'' (classical ''basileus'', "king").
* Initial aspiration is not indicated: , ''a-ni-ja'' is ''hāniai'' ("reins").
* Length of vowels is not marked.
* The consonant usually transcribed 'z' probably represents
*gy.〔Ventris and Chadwick (1973) page 389.〕
* q- is a labio-velar kʷ or gʷ and in some names ghʷ:〔 , ''qo-u-ko-ro'' is ''gʷoukoloi'' (classical ''boukoloi'', "cowherds").
* Initial s before a consonant is not written: , ''ta-to-mo'' is ''stathmos'' ("station, outpost").
* Double consonants are not represented: , ''ko-no-so'' is ''Knōsos'' (classical Knossos).
In addition to these spelling rules, signs are not polyphonic (more than one sound) but sometimes they are homophonic (a sound can be represented by more than one sign), which are not "true homophones" but are "overlapping values."〔Ventris & Chadwick (1973) page 390.〕 Long words may omit a middle or final sign.
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