Chinese Ideograms Compared to Linear B Syllabograms, Homophones, Logograms & Ideograms: Click to ENLARGE:

LinearB versus modern Chinesen

Chinese (Oriental):

Each Chinese character represents a monosyllabic Chinese word or morpheme. In 100 CE, the famed Han dynasty scholar Xu Shen classified characters into six categories, namely pictographs, simple ideographs, compound ideographs, phonetic loans, phonetic compounds and derivative characters. Click on the banner below to read this entry in full:

Chinese person Linear B man woman

Chinese Character Classification:

Pictograms:

Roughly 600 Chinese characters are pictograms (xiàng xíng "form imitation") — stylised drawings of the objects they represent. These are generally among the oldest characters. These pictograms became progressively more stylized and lost their pictographic flavor... passim...

Ideograms:

Ideograms (zh? shì, "indication") express an abstract idea through an iconic form, including iconic modification of pictographic characters. Low numerals are represented by the appropriate number of strokes, directions by an iconic indication above and below a line, and the parts of a tree by marking the appropriate part of a pictogram of a tree. Click on the banner below to read this entry in full:

Chinese rain Linear B wine 

The Relationship Between Minoan Linear A (unknown) + Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C (Occidental Greek):

Both Linear A, which was used to write the undeciphered Minoan language & Linear B, its immediate descendent, which was used to write Mycenaean Greek, shared character sets which were uncannily similar and in the case of a fair number of syllabograms, identical. However, given that Mycenaean Greek did not require anywhere near as many characters as had the Minoan language, Linear B, all for the sake of greater simplicity, abandoned a great number of the more complex Linear A syllabograms, homophones, logograms and ideograms as plainly extraneous. When the Linear B scribes devised the new syllabary, they simply tossed out everything from Linear B which was of no further use in representing early ancient Mycenaean Greek.

And we must never forget that these two syllabaries, Linear A and Linear B, its much simplified offshoot, were used to write two entirely unrelated languages. Because the first, Minoan, is undeciphered, we have no way of knowing to which class of languages it belongs, except that so far at least, it has utterly defied decipherment as anything like an Indo-European language. On the other hand, Linear B was used for early ancient Greek, which is an Indo-European language. The point I am trying to make is that these two syllabaries, which are so much alike not only in appearance but to a large extent in phonetic values, represent languages belonging to completely different classes. While the scripts look uncannily alike, the languages underlying them are entirely unalike. Conclusion: even scripts, in this case scripts which make use of a combination of syllabograms, logograms and ideograms by and large (nearly) equivalent, may easily represent languages which have nothing to do with one another.

The direct opposite scenario can, and does often occur. Linear B and Linear C used completely different syllabaries to write two extremely closely related dialects of the same language, ancient Greek, the first, Linear B for Mycenaean and the second, Linear C, for Arcado-Cypriot. No two dialects in ancient Greek are nearly as closely related as are these two, not even Ionic and Attic Greek. In the majority of cases, in fact, although morphemes (words) in Linear B & Linear C of course look completely unalike in their respective syllabaries, their phonetic values, far more often than not, sound & are (almost) exactly the same, because they are phonetically (practically) one and the same Greek word. Moreover, Arcado-Cypriot was written using both Linear C and the Greek alphabet. Same document, different scripts. So in Arcado-Cypriot, regardless of the script, the words (morphemes) and their phonetic values are identical. Moreover, in a great many cases, any given Greek word written in Linear B, Linear C or in alphabetical Greek in either of these two germane dialects is, plainly and simply, the (exact) same word. This phenomenon is of vital, if not critical, significance to the translation of tablets composed in Linear B and in Linear C alike into alphabetical Greek. Phonetically, the results can often be astonishingly alike, if not identical, for all three scripts (Linear B, Linear C & alphabetical Arcado-Cypriot).

A Comparison Between Chinese Pictograms/Ideograms and Linear B Syllabograms, Homophones, Logograms & Ideograms:

Any attempt to make sense of any comparison between the ideograms of an oriental language such as Chinese and those of a script used for an Occidental language, in this case, Linear B for Mycenaean Greek, may seem to be an exercise in utter futility. Yet, in some senses, it turns out not to be so. This is quite clearly demonstrated in the chart of only 10 ideograms for Chinese words, compared with 10 similar looking syllabograms, homophones, logograms and ideograms in Linear B. The point I am trying to make here is simply this: as far as the assignation of ideograms is concerned, even languages as disparate and as geographically distant from one another as Mycenaean Greek and oriental Chinese, often end up using ideograms which either look almost exactly the same or are uncannily similar in appearance, even though the morphemic values underlying them are almost always completely unrelated, which goes without saying. Or does it?

B. Same Ideogram, Same Meaning (a Rare Bird indeed, but...):

In one case and one case only, the ideogram for “month” in Chinese is the exact mirror image of the same ideogram in Linear B! Can this be so surprising, that the Chinese and Linear B scribes alike took the cue for the symbolism for the ideogram, “month”, from the exact same astronomical phenomenon, the moon? Of course not, given that almost all ancient societies had recourse to the lunar, not the solar, month.

I have made no effort here to compare the Linear B & Chinese ideograms in the chart above with the ideogram for “month” in any other ancient language, undeciphered or not, but of course there are scores of languages based either completely (ancient & modern Chinese, Korean & Japanese) or partially on ideograms (such as Linear A & B, but not Linear C). Rummage through as many of them as you like and you are bound to turn up ideograms very similar to those for “month” in both Linear B & Chinese. In a sense, this striking similarity is in part accidental, since anyone can use any symbol even remotely resembling the moon for “month”, yet at the same time, chances are good that people speaking languages as geographically and linguistically remote as ancient Mycenaean Greek and (ancient or modern) Chinese can and will come up with practically the same ideogram. This phenomenon of (striking) similarity in the appearance of ideograms between two entirely unrelated languages will (in the very rarest circumstances) result in the same meaning, but even then, of course, the pronunciation will be utterly different, because it must be. The ideograms for “month” in Linear B & Chinese look like mirror images of one another, but their pronunciation is totally alien, the Linear B for month being some variation on the Greek, “mein”, the Chinese being “yuè”.

Same Ideogram, (Almost Always) an Entirely Different Meaning: 

Of course, the obverse also holds true. Take one look at our chart above, and you can see right away that the very first ideogram in the Linear B column looks almost identical to its Chinese counterpart in column 1.1.  Yes, they look like kissing cousins. But they mean something entirely different. This can come as no surprise to anyone familiar with linguistics.

C. One is an Ideogram, the Other is Not!

C.1 A Chinese Ideogram looks like a Logogram in Linear B:

Of course, in the vast, vast majority of cases, ideograms which look the same from one language to another almost always mean something entirely different. But there is more. The first example we see in the Linear B column is not an ideogram at all, but a logogram composed of two Linear B syllabograms, ME & RI, the one superimposed on the other. In other words, what is an ideogram in one language (Chinese) is not an ideogram at all in another (Mycenaean Greek), even though they look almost identical, as is the case with our first example in the chart above, the logogram for MERI “honey” in Linear B, which looks almost identical to the ideogram in Chinese for “elephant”! 

C.2 A Chinese Ideogram looks like a Combination of Syllabograms & or Homophones & or Logograms in Linear B:

Referring to Linear B entries 4. 6. & 7. in our chart above, we see that we have the syllabograms JA, SA & TE respectively. JA looks quite similar to the Chinese ideogram for “eye” (4.2) and SA + TE again like “sheep, ram” (10.2). Now of course, things get really messy, because Linear B uses two (2) ideograms, one for “ewe”, another for “ram”, and Chinese only one for both, with absolutely no resemblance between the Linear B & Chinese. This of course is the scenario for practically all syllabograms, homophones, logograms and ideograms on the one side (Linear B) and the ideograms on the other (Chinese), say 99.9 %. What is true for Linear B and Chinese is also true of any two languages which either use pictograms and ideograms almost exclusively (Chinese) or ideograms in combination with other signifiers such as syllabograms, homophones & logograms (Linear B).

Conclusion:

Many of you are surely asking, “What on the earth is the point of this, if not an exercise in futility?  Why even bother with it?” The answer is simple enough: why climb a mountain? - because it is there. A great many researchers specializing in comparative linguistics are fascinated by just this sort of thing... which is why I brought it up in the first place. But there is another reason, even more compelling than this, which I shall reveal to you in our next fascinating post, before we have done with this topic once and for all.

Richard