Related Scripts

Quick Facts
LocationEurope > Cyprus
Time1500 BCE to 300 BCE
DirectionLeft to Right

The island of Cyprus has been a focus of cross-cultural interaction for many millenia. Its name stems from the root as the English (as well as Latin and Greek) word 'copper'. However, Cyprus's ancient non-Greek, non-alphabetic inscriptions are of tremendous importance. While the earliest examples dating from as early as 1500 BCE cannot be read, comparisons clearly show that the Cypriot syllabary seemed to have derived from Linear A, and therefore is like a sibling to Linear B. For this reason, sometimes the script at this very early stage is called Cypro-Minoan, to distinguish it from the Cypriot script used for writing Greek after the 12th century BCE.

According to tradition, Greek settlers colonized Cyprus around the 12th century BCE, and they likely adopted the Cypro-Minoan script for their own use. Not surprisingly, the first readable text in the Cypriot script appeared in the 11th century BCE to write the name of the owner of a funerary object. Analysis of this name reveals both a known Greek name and archaic Greek declension patterns. The Cypriot script continued to serve mostly for short dedicatory and funerary texts, but there are instances of longer, historical texts during the 5th century BCE.

The Cypriot script persisted into Classical times, and coexisted with the Greek alphabet. During this time, inscriptions with texts in both the Cypriot script and the Greek alphabet were created, and these have led modern scholars to decipher the Cypriot script. The Cypriot script was finally abandoned only after extensive Hellenization by Alexander the Great.

The following chart is the entire inventory of Cypriot signs. All signs are syllabograms, meaning that they represent syllables instead of individual sounds. Note that j phonetically stands for [y].

In addition to syllabic signs, a small vertical sign is used to separate groups of signs in Cypriot. However this separator does not always fall on word boundaries. Often particles and other "small" parts of speech can be lumped in with nouns, and a few times verbs and nouns are lumped into single sign groups too.

Spelling Conventions

Like Linear B, Cypriot also does not have signs for all the sounds in the Greek language. For instance, the k- series of signs not only represent syllables starting with [k], but also [g] and [kh]. Similarly, p- signs stand for initial [p], [b], and [ph], and t- signs for initial [t], [d], and [th].

Once again, as in Linear B, all signs (except the vowel-only signs) in Cypriot represent syllables of the form CV, that is, consonant followed by a vowel. In order to represent syllables with initial consonant clusters (like CCV), ending consonant (CVC), or dipthongs (CVV), spelling conventions were used to override a syllabogram into either a consonant or part of a dipthong. However, whereas Linear B often omitted sounds in initial consonant clusters, ending consonants, and dipthongs, Cypriot more often than not writes out all sounds in a word.

In the case of syllable-initial consonant clusters, all consonants except the one nearest to the vowel are represented with CV signs whose vowels agree with the vowel of syllable. Similarly, syllable-ending consonants are also written with CV signs that agree with the vowel of the syllable. There are two exceptions to this rule, however. The first exception is that a nasal consonant such as [-n] and [-m] preceding another consonant is usually omitted. The second exception applies to word-ending consonants. In Greek, only the sounds [n], [r], and [s] can occur at the end of a word. So for these cases, the signs ne, re, and se are used to denote the word-final consonant. Dipthongs are always written out, with the vowel-only series of signs serving to represent the second part of the dipthong.

In the process of working on this page, I created a Cypriot font. You can download it by clicking on this link.

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