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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Charting the Unknown: Alice Kober, Her Phonetic Chart, and the Decipherment of Linear B

  • Author(s): Wheeler, Brenna
  • et al.

This paper analyzes a phonetic chart of Linear B symbols found in the notebook of Dr. Alice E. Kober to understand how accurately she identified phonetic relationships between the signs and how this chart might have influenced Michael Ventris’s later decipherment. Of the 87 signs in Linear B, only twenty signs were plotted on Kober’s chart, and only ten of which were published in her 1948 article, “The Minoan Scripts: Fact and Theory”. The remaining ten signs had been written tentatively in pencil and remained unpublished. The only notes about how Kober created these charts were three assumptions she placed alongside her published chart, but no explanation was given about the remaining ten signs on her chart. By looking at the current, accepted phonetic values of each sign, one can identify possible reasons behind the placement of certain signs relative to others and the accuracy of Kober’s analysis. Then, I will examine some of Ventris’s phonetic charts and various writings to understand how Kober’s work impacted the decipherment of Linear B. Ultimately, I will argue that although Kober’s published chart was fairly accurate in the few signs she plotted, Ventris decided to identify the phonetic values himself. In doing so he would still adopt Kober’s grid layout, her use of alternate spellings, and her theory of how language inflection showed itself in syllabary scripts to create his own phonetic charts until his final decipherment of Linear B in 1952.

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