Dots between words in Northwest Semitic inscriptions

Semitic writing systems, such as those used for writing Hebrew, Aramaic, Ugaritic and Phoenician, are well known for the fact that signs for vowels are routinely left out. Have a look at the first line of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1.1 (text taken from with the vowels and cantillation signs removed), the so-called ‘consonantal’ text:

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ

This is how this verse would have appeared in antiquity. The vowel points and cantillation marks that we find in Hebrew Bibles today came in in the medieval period (

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

As the following transcription of the consonantal text shows, most of the letters correspond to consonants, and the vowels are largely unwritten (the main exception being the /ī/ vowel in rˀšyt = /rēšīt/ “beginning”):

brˀšyt brˀ ˀt ˀlhym hšmym wˀt hˀrṣ

Greek is famous for having taken a Northwest Semitic alphabet and introduced regular vowel writing (see for example Sampson 2015, 104–105). There is some evidence for believing that Greek may not have been the first writing system to introduce regular vowel writing—this honour may belong to Phrygian (see Waal 2020, 114). At any rate, at least from a typological point of view, it is clear that Greek (and Phrygian) writing differs from Northwest Semitic in that if a vowel appears in the spoken language, you have to write it down; in Northwest Semitic, you don’t have to.

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Writing and Society in Ancient Cyprus – Pippa’s new book

A couple of months ago my new book, Writing and Society in Ancient Cyprus, was published with Cambridge University Press. This was a long-term project, beginning with a series of lectures given at All Souls College, Oxford, in 2014 and culminating in a work that underpins the research undertaken at CREWS. In fact, it was in writing this book that the whole idea for the CREWS project began…


Please note that you can now read the first chapter for free with open access HERE.

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Article by Pippa on the Aegean scripts


A quick post to let you know of an article I wrote on the syllabic writing systems of the ancient Aegean and Cyprus (though excluding Linear B). This was for the catalogue of an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum called Codebreakers and Groundbreakers, which examined Michael Ventris’ decipherment of Linear B alongside Alan Turing’s breaking of the Enigma Code.

Other chapters in the volume focused on Linear B, while I was asked to write about the related syllabic writing systems of Crete and Cyprus.

You can read the article online here:

Other pre-alphabetic scripts of Crete and Cyprus

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Non-administrative writing in the ancient Aegean and Cyprus

A new published article based on my CREWS project research has just appeared in print, with a focus on non-administrative documents written in Linear A.

Periploi article

Here is a link to a PDF copy:

• ‘Writing ‘systems’: Literacy and the transmission of writing in non-administrative contexts’ in Jasink, E.M., Weingarten, J. and Carraro, F. (eds.) Non-scribal Communication Media in the Bronze Age Aegean and Surrounding Areas: The semantics of a-literate and proto-literate media, Periploi 9, Firenze 2017, 81-100.

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