Tag Archive: Japanese



summer haiku d’été – the moon shimmers = au clair de lune

the moon shimmers
over our village canal –
ghostly gondolier

moon over the canal 620

au clair de lune
le canal du village –
gondolier fantôme 

Richard Vallance


Japanese summer haiku d’été – hitodama = willo-o’-the-wisp = feu follet

hitodama
willo-o’-the-wisp –
the human soul

Will-o'-the-wisp_of_Russia 620

hitodama
le feu follet –
l’âme humaine

Richard Vallance


The Myth of the So-called 5-7-5 Syllable Count in English, Hence in Haiku in All Occidental Languages:

This post consists of text conveying the major thrust of the article,

No 5-7-5

and we cite:

National Haiku Writing Month (NaHaiWriMo) is not really anti-5-7-5, but counting syllables is hardly the only target for haiku (if at all). Find out why you don’t need to aim at such a syllable pattern in English.The term syllable is an inaccurate way of describing the actual metrical units of Japanese poetry.”Haruo Shirane, in his introduction to Koji Kawamoto’s The Poetics of Japanese Verse (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 2000)I don’t think counting 5,7,5 syllables is necessary or desirable. To reflect the natural world, and the season, is to reflect what is.” 
—Gary Snyder

You may have thought that haiku was supposed to be 5-7-5, so what’s up with the logo for National Haiku Writing Month—NaHaiWriMo? Is haiku 5-7-5 or not? Well, yes and no. In Japanese, yes, haiku is indeed traditionally 5-7-5. But 5-7-5 what? In English and other languages, haiku has mistakenly been taught as having 5-7-5 syllables, but that’s not really accurate. You probably aren’t in the mood for a linguistics lecture that explains all the reasons why, but Japanese haiku counts sounds, not strictly syllables. For example, the word “haiku” itself counts as two syllables in English (hi-ku), but three sounds in Japanese (ha-i-ku). This isn’t how “haiku” is said in Japanese, but it is how its sounds are counted. Similarly, consider “Tokyo.” How many syllables? Most Westerners, thinking that Japan’s capital city is pronounced as “toe-key-oh,” will say three syllables, but that’s incorrect. It’s actually pronounced as “toe-kyo.” So two syllables, right? Actually, no. Rather, it counts as “toe-oh-kyo-oh”—four syllables. Or rather, sounds.

There are other differences, too. For example, if a word ends with the letter “n,” that letter is counted as a separate sound (all words in Japanese end with vowels, or sometimes the “n” sound). So how many sounds are counted in the word “Nippon,” Japan’s name for itself? It actually counts as four sounds (nip-p-on-n). 

Furthermore, Japanese has another difference that makes 5-7-5 syllables sort of an “urban myth” for haiku in English. In addition to counting sounds and syllables differently, most Japanese words tend to have more sounds or syllables than their English counterparts. For example, when we say “cuckoo” (two syllables), the Japanese say “hototogisu” (five syllables). Some Japanese words have the same number of syllables as their English equivalents (and occasionally fewer), but a great majority of Japanese words have more syllables than the same concepts in English. In Japanese, every consonant is pronounced with a vowel (with the exception of the “n” sound, which is counted as a separate sound at the ends of words and in certain other cases, as already mentioned). Quite simply, because Japanese words have more syllables, you can say a lot more in 17 syllables in English than you can in Japanese. That’s why, if you write a 17-syllable haiku in English, more often than not one entire line of its three lines will have to be amputated to make the poem fit 17 sounds in Japanese (if you translate it). Thus, despite the way haiku has been widely mistaught in English for decades as 5-7-5 syllables, it actually should not surprise you that the vast majority of haiku published in leading haiku journals and anthologies are not 5-7-5.

Another factor to be aware of is that the misguided focus on 5-7-5 syllables in English puts excess emphasis on form, to the great detriment of content and other strategies necessary to writing haiku. Two of these strategies, often completely ignored and not taught in Western schools, are the use of a kigo, or season word, and a kireji, or cutting word, and they are just two of the vital aspects of haiku that make this art much more challenging than most people realize. In his book Empire of Signs, Roland Barthes said that “Haiku has this rather fantasmagorical property: that we always suppose we ourselves can write such things easily.”

Specifically, a haiku tries to invoke the time of year with a word that is typical of that season, such as snow for winter, or frog for spring. In Japanese, lists of season words have become highly sophisticated, and have been collected into numerous references works called saijiki, which include the season words, explanations, and sample poems. Some saijiki (the word, like haiku, is both singular and plural) are as big as encyclopedias. Saijiki are also available as dedicated electronic devices, or as applications for mobile phones and computers. Japanese haiku poets routinely consult a saijiki to see that they’ve used their kigo correctly. Season words serve not only to ground the poem in a particular season, but to allude to other poems that have employed the same season word.

And then consider the kireji, which literally means “cutting word.” In Japanese, traditional haiku include words that function like a spoken sort of punctuation. More importantly, they cut the poem into two parts, creating a sort of juxtaposition, not only grammatically but also imagistically. The point is to carefully pair two images together in such a way that a shift or disjunction occurs between them. The art of haiku lies in creating the right amount of distance between the two parts, so the leap is neither too far (and thus obscure) or too close (and thus too obvious). By focusing on concrete images rather than judgment or analysis, the two juxtaposed parts of a haiku allow the reader to feel what the poet felt, without the poet telling the reader what to feel. In fact, that’s a really good piece of advice to remember as you write your own haiku: Don’t write about your feelings. Instead, write about what caused your feelings.

The point of haiku is indeed to convey feeling, not ideas, concepts, or judgments. Consider this haiku of mine, which won first place in the 2000 Henderson haiku contest, sponsored by the Haiku Society of America:

     meteor shower . . .
     a gentle wave
     wets our sandals

How do you feel when you read this poem? Do you feel the surprise of the tide turning, thus wetting your sandaled feet? Do you feel the moment’s summerness? Do you notice the effect of the word “our,” which makes this a shared rather than solitary experience? Even if you’ve never been to the ocean, I hope you can feel the enthrallment with the meteor shower, and then the surprise wetness from a wave, showing how nature, in this case through the changing tide, caused by the gravitational pull of celestial objects, can touch us in unexpected ways. A good haiku will make you realize something that you always knew but might have forgotten. A haiku takes you back to yourself, back to who you are, and what it’s like to be human—to your “falling leaf nature,” as translator R. H. Blyth put it. And you make this realization emotionally, not intellectually. You also bring a lot of yourself to each haiku, which is sometimes called an “unfinished” poem because of what it leaves out. And what you bring to each poem is how you have personally experienced your world through your senses. Thus haiku poems are about the five senses, and how you take in the world around you through those senses. In other words, the haiku is about what takes place outside you. It is generally not about what you think about the experience or how you interpret it, at least not for beginners.

So why not give haiku a try with a goal other than 5-7-5 in mind? Indeed, the point of the “no 5-7-5” NaHaiWriMo logo is to emphasize that it’s a widespread misunderstanding to think of haiku merely as anything written in 5-7-5 syllables. Remember, 5-7-5 does not a haiku make.

PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS: 

So, in a nutshell, here is my own take on the thrust of this article:

THE CONCEPT OF THE SO-CALLED “RULE” OF 5-7-5 SYLLABLES IN HAIKU IN OCCIDENTAL LANGUAGES CONSTITUTES A COMPLETE MISUNDERSTANDING OF THE 5-7-5 SOUND COUNT OF CLASSICAL JAPANESE HAIKU. This does not necessarily mean that some of your haiku may indeed end up with a 5-7-5 syllable count, i.e. 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the third, but if any such haiku do end up with this syllable count, it is merely by happenstance. The vast majority of haiku in Occidental languages do not strictly run to 5-7-5 syllables. And even if a particular haiku is 5-7-5 = 17 syllables long in English, if it is bilingual, as are my Canadian haiku, it is almost a dead certainty that the same (or similar) haiku in French will not run to the same number of syllables, given that the syntactical and grammatical structures of these 2 languages are so unalike. And what goes for bilingual English and French haiku must necessarily also apply to bilingual English and Spanish, English and Italian, English and German, Spanish and French, Spanish and Italian, Spanish and German and so on and so on, ad nauseam. You simply cannot stuff into a predetermined 5-7-5 syllable count box the same or similar haiku in two or more Occidental languages. Besides, so-called “syllables” in Japanese haiku are not syllables at all, but rather discrete sounds. Caveat poeta! 


Gretchen Leonhardt’s translation of Minoan Linear A tablet HT 117 (Haghia Triada): a lot to be learned here

HT 117 (a Trade Inventory):

Minoan Linear A tablet HT 117 trade itinerary Leonhardt


I dare say I find Gretchen Leonhardt’s correlation of Minoan Linear A with proto-Japanese intriguing. However, I am somewhat mystified over why she has chosen to link Minoan Linear A with Okinawan, which she herself typifies as linguistically different from Yamato Japanese, while at the same time contending that the two, though distinct, share a common proto-language. I look forward to Ms. Leonhardt clarifying these distinctions for us.

I have made several comments on Ms. Leonhardt’s decipherment of Minoan Linear A tablet HT 117 (Haghia Triada) in the illustration above. However, a few clarifications are in order.  

RE NOTE:
[3] I am astounded that kuro in Minoan Linear A is almost the exact equivalent of its (proto-)Japanese counterpart. This is just one of the amazingly convincing translations which Ms. Leonhardt lights upon in her cross-correlation of Minoan Linear A with (proto-)Japanese, adding substantial weight to her theory.
[5] & [6] Minoan Linear A makarite can conceivably be the equivalent of (proto-)Japanese makarideru (infinitive) = “to leave” or makara = “serpentine sea creature”, but certainly not both. As far as I am concerned,  the only translation which can make any real sense in Minoan Linear A is the first,  makarideru (infinitive) = “to leave”, at least if we are to believe that there is any substantive cross-correlation between Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B, which as you all know I do believe.
[7] Certainly her renditions of Linear A kiro and kairo as  either “crossroad” , “sea” or “sea route” both make sense in the context of Minoan Linear A, especially in light of cross-correlation with Mycenaean Linear B tarasa = “sea”: 

Linear B tablet 201 X a 26 tarasa thalassa the sea

[9] I am attracted by her decipherment of uminasi as “harbour” or  “port”, apparently equivalent to the Japanese minato. In addition, she appears to forward the idea that Uminasi may be the Minoan Linear A word for Amnisos, something I have never considered myself.   I knew it was a toponym, but never suspected it could be Amnisos, which is so close to Uminasi that it really makes one think twice.

[11] Likewise, her decipherment of Linear A mitu, equivalent to the Japanese mitsu = “mead” makes eminent sense in the context of HT 117.

[12] On the other hand, her rendition of Linear kuramu, which she correlates with Japanese kuramu = “to become lost”  or “to become dark” makes little or no sense in the context. Moreover, she identifies Kuramu with Kalamos in Greece, while at the same time admitting that “The reason for the destination is unclear”. Indeed. I thought she had previously said, in her introduction to Linear A, that the Minoans had migrated from Crete to Japan, and not the other way around. So the “reason” for the destination appears downright absurd. If the Minoans travelled one way only, i.e. to Japan, why would they turn around and find their way back to Kalamos? Beats me.

However, what with the overlaps between some of Ms. Leonhardt’s decipherments and some of my own, I am of the opinion that she and I may have more than something in common to share. I would even go so far as to propose to her that I add several of her decipherments as alternatives to our Minoan Linear A Glossary, which is soon to be published on may academia.edu account as part of my new paper there, Partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A & Glossary: a rational approach.

One thing is certain. I fully intend to credit Ms. Leonhardt as being the only other researcher into the partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A who appears to be on the “right” track, even though her track is on a different line than my own.   

I congratulate Ms. Leonhardt on her impressive achievements in the partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A.


Gretchen Leonhardt’s novel and apparently effective approach to the partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A: Introduction

Linear A introduction Leonhardt


While I am quite convinced that Ms. Gretchen Leonhardt would completely agree with me that our respective approaches to the decipherment of Mycenaean Linear B tablets are polar opposites, I am sure that the same cannot be said to be true for her intriguing approach to the partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A. Here I find myself frequently in agreement with her on several counts, even though our approaches are, once again, very different. While I rely exclusively on the 5 principles of retrogressive extrapolation from Mycenaean Linear B:

5 principles of cross-correlation between Linear A and Linear B

Ms. Leonhardt seems convinced that there is a direct link between Minoan Linear A and proto-Japanese, the latter of which is in the Altaic class of languages. And I believe she may have a pretty strong point here. It particularly strikes me that, although our methodologies are so unalike, the translations we come up with occasionally mesh, sometimes (almost) perfectly. So it would appear that, while neither of us has a clear monopoly on rational approaches to the partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A, both of us appear to be on a “right track”, even though our tracks are definitively not linguistically parallel.  

So kudos to Ms. Leonhardt for her telling insights into the linguistic family to which Minoan Linear A may possibly belong, namely, the Altaic. She is one step ahead of me on that count! I have no clue whatsoever what class of language Minoan Linear A belongs to.


NEW link added: ANCIENTSCRIPTS.COM at the bottom of the page:

You can click on it here:

Ancient Scripts


but once this post is passed, you will have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to:

Friends & Links (Bottom left)

and then click on the site’s name:

ancient scripts link LBK&M


This is an extremely comprehensive site on ancient languages, Occidental and Oriental.




Positive Review of Gretchen E. Leonhardt’s “The Phonetic Method in Linear A Decipherment”

My fellow researcher in Linear A, Linear B & Linear C, Gretchen E. Leonhardt, has just posted a truly fascinating approach to possibilities for the eventual decipherment on her blog, here: Click to READ

Phnetic Method in Linear A Decipherment
If you are at all familiar with the problems surrounding the possibilities for the eventual decipherment of Minoan Linear A, which are legion, I urge you to studiously read this post in its entirety. Before I get to my review, allow me to give you a bit of background on the extensive skills and achievements Ms. Leonhardt has brought to the field of decipherment and translation of Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B, and most recently, to Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, interests which she and I share on so many levels. Ms. Leonhardt takes a novel approach to research into these all-important syllabaries. Her methodology is quite unlike anything I have ever encountered from any other decipherer or translator, past or present, of Mycenaean Linear B. I have to say that she is a refreshing breeze in the field of ancient linguistics, precisely because of her daring, yet utterly consistent, methodology, even if it flies in the face of convention.

While she and I do not entertain even remotely close hypotheses on the theoretical underpinnings for the decipherment of any of these syllabaries, and are often very much at odds with one another in our approaches to the innumerable problems besetting research in this field, we do agree to disagree, if only for this reason, that we are both well aware that each of us is taking a unique approach to the problems we encounter. Gretchen’s methodology, just as my own, flies in the face of convention, but for reasons almost diametrically opposed. But this precisely why she fascinates me so much. I am little concerned what anyone else thinks of my own approach to the decipherment of these syllabaries, just as I believe Gretchen is. The only thing that really matters is that we, she and I, and for that matter, any researcher in this recondite field, must perforce follow the dictates or his or her conscience and intuitive hunches, and the rational constructs underpinning the methodology pursued. All else is of little or no consequence. After all, Michael Ventris followed his intuition and his rational procedures, which inexorably led him to the discovery he was bound to make, that the Linear B syllabary was the first ever script used to write a Greek dialect, notably Mycenaean Greek. I say, the first script, because there were in fact three of them, Linear B for Mycenaean Greek, Linear C for Arcado-Cypriot, and the ancient Greek alphabet in its various avatars. Gretchen Leonhardt and I share a profound dedication to research into all three of these ancient Greek scripts.

A Review of Gretchen E. Leonhardt’s “The Phonetic Method in Linear A Decipherment”

Having a cursory acquaintance with the Japanese Kanji system of ideograms, I have enough of a background in this regard to at least appreciate what implications Gretchen Leonhardt’s novel approach might potentially have on the eventual decipherment of Minoan Linear A. While it was manifestly difficult for me to follow Ms. Leonhardt’s analytical breakdown of Japanese Kanji for personal names personal names (anthroponyms), surnames, and place names (toponyms), I did manage to struggle through it. The moment she mentioned the Kanji KA, which as she points out, can yield up to 25 definitions and 52 names, as per above, I knew what she was up to. KA is a very common syllabogram in each of the syllabaries, Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C.

Characteristically, Ms. Leonhardt notes that “I also pay attention to rare kanji as well as to words with archaic and obscure definitions.” If there is one thing Ms. Leonhardt and I have in common, it is this: a strict attention to details, however esoteric. That is the first thing about her phonetic method for the decipherment Linear A which seized my attention... though certainly not the last. She goes on to consider the ramifications of other kanji, RI, RU & MA, which once again parallel other very common syllabograms in all three of the Centum syllabaries mentioned above.

Then came the second lightning bolt. Again, with an eye for the minutest detail for even the rarest and most obsolete kanji, what would she happen upon but the definition of “gem, precious stone; lapis lazuli”. Lapis lazuli. Now that caught my attention!  The Minoans were among the very finest crafts workers of lapis lazuli in the entire ancient world, whether in their own time or later. We note also that Ms. Leonhardt cross-correlates the nominal Kanji forms lapis lazuli with its verbal counterparts, “chafe, grind, rub, polish, scrape”, finally taking the last step to the logical combination of the nominal and verbal forms into the sense of  “polished lapis lazuli gem”. It is precisely this sort of cross-correlative reasoning which impresses me most with Ms. Leonhardt.

Having drawn the conclusions she did from her Kanji sources, she moves onto the Linear A tablet from Haghia Triada, HT 118, which she believes to be a ship manifest. Given that the import and export of lapis lazuli as a major precious commodity was so important to practically all ancient economies, this comes as no surprise to me. We know for instance that the Minoans exported their fine lapis lazuli jewelry and products to their major contemporary trade partners such as Egypt, where Minoan crafts and ware of all kinds were in great demand for their superior quality. To underscore my point, we need only view a few samples of their magnificent work as we do in this composite of Minoan lapis lazuli products: click to ENLARGE:

4 examples of minoan-lapis-lazuli
You may also click here to visit Prof. John G. Younger’s site, Linear A Texts in phonetic transcription,

Linear A Texts in transcription Haghia Triada
 
where you fill find the transcription into Latin characters of the Linear A text of HT 118, just as it appears here: Click to ENLARGE

Transcription of Linear A tablet HT 118 Haghia Triada
It is Ms. Leonhardt’s intuitive grasp of the extreme importance of lapis lazuli to the pre-Mycenaean Minoan economy which most impresses me, all the more so in light of the fact that the export of their superior lapis lazuli products continued on unabated right through the early Mycenaean Era, when Knossos was at its acme (ca. 1450-1400 BCE). That this is the case is clearly attested in specific references to lapis lazuli on Linear B tablets. If it figured largely enough to warrant a place of merit on Liner B tablets, then surely, we might well conjecture, it should, strictly speaking, have also held place on honour on Minoan Linear A tablets.

So in summary, Ms. Leonhardt’s approach to a potentially sound decipherment of at least part of HT 118 holds up on several counts: given that its contents probably refer to lapis lazuli in some manner, it makes sense that the tablet is in fact a ship manifest, for reasons of trade as cited above. Secondly, the happy co-incidence with the interpretations which she was able to coax from the Kanji characters she has researched in this context with the possibility that HT 118 might in fact deal with this very gemstone may not be fortuitous at all, but actually (indirectly) linguistically related.

Ms. Leonhardt is not the first linguistic researcher to correlate Japanese Kanji with Minoan Linear A, but she has taken the potential parallelisms further than anyone else before her. I will never be the one to decipher Minoan Linear A, but I certainly hope Ms. Leonhardt will be.
 
NOTE: For just one example of other research into the possible connection of Minoan Linear A with Japanese Kanji,please visit:

Minoan Language Blog Kanji
Richard Vallance Janke


An Easy Guide to Learning Arcado-Cypriot Linear C & I mean easy!: Click to ENLARGE

Arcado-Cypriot Linear c Syllaqbograms Levels 1-4
If any of you out there have already mastered either Minoan Linear A or Mycenaean Linear B or both, Arcado-Cypriot Linear C is likely to come as a bit of a shock. Although the phonetic values of the syllabograms in Linear C are identical to their Linear B counterparts, with very few exceptions, the appearance of Linear C syllabograms is almost always completely at odds with their Linear B counterparts, again with very few exceptions. If this sounds confusing, allow me to elucidate.

A: Appearance of Linear B & Linear C Syllabograms. Linear C syllabograms look like this. If you already know Linear B, you are probably saying to yourself, What a mess!, possibly even aloud. I can scarcely blame you. But courage, courage, all is not lost. Far from it. Click to ENLARGE:

Linear C syllabograms 2014 
Only the following syllabograms look (almost) alike in both Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C [see (a) below]:

NA PA TA * SE * LO * PO *

* There is a slight difference between those syllabograms marked with an asterisk *

DA in Linear B is identical to TA in Linear C because Linear C has no D + vowel series, but uses the T + vowel series instead.
SE in Linear B has 3 vertical strokes, whereas in Linear C it has only 2.
RO in Linear B is identical to LO in Linear C. While Linear C has both and R + vowel series, it uses the L + vowel series as the equivalent of the Linear B R series.
PO stands vertically in Linear B, but is slanted about 30 degrees to the right in Linear C.

All other syllabograms in these two syllabaries are completely dissimilar; so you might think you are on your own to learn the rest of them in Linear C. But in fact, you are not. I can help a lot. See below, after the section on the Phonetic Values of Linear B & Linear C Syllabograms.

B: Phonetic Values of Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C Syllabograms:

Here the reverse scenario applies. Once you have mastered all of the Linear C syllabograms by their appearance, you can rest pretty much assured that the phonetic values of almost all syllabograms in both syllabaries are identical, with very few exceptions. Even in those instances where their phonetic values appear not to be identical, they are in fact identical, for all intents and purposes. This is because the ancient Greek dialects were notorious for wide variations in pronunciation, ergo in orthography. Anyone at all familiar with ancient Greek dialects can tell you that the pronunciation and spelling of an identical document, were there ever any such beast, would vary markedly from, say, Arcado-Cypriot to Dorian to Attic alphabetic. I can hear some of you protest, “What do you mean, the Arcado-Cypriot alphabet? I thought the script for Arcado-Cypriot was the syllabary Linear C.” You would be only half right. In fact, the Arcadians and Cypriots wrote their documents either in Linear or in their version of the ancient Greek alphabet, or in both at the same time. This is the case with the famous Idalion decree, composed in the 5th. Century BCE: Click to ENLARGE

Idalion Tablet Facsimile Cyprus
The series of syllabograms beginning with the consonant R + any of the vowels A E I O & U is present in Mycenaean Linear B.  However, the series of syllabograms beginning with the consonant L + any of the vowels A E I O & U is entirely absent from Mycenaean Linear B, while Arcado-Cypriot Linear C has a series of syllabograms for both of the semi-consonants L & R. It rather looks like the Arcadians & Cypriots had already made the clear distinction between the semi-vowels L & R, firmly established and in place with the advent of the earliest form of the ancient Greek alphabet, which sported separate semi-vowels for L & R.

Likewise, the series of syllabograms beginning with the consonant Q + any of the vowels A E I & O is present in Mycenaean Linear B, but entirely absent from Arcado-Cypriot Linear C. Conversely, the series of syllabograms beginning with the consonant X + the vowels A or E (XA & XE) is entirely absent from in Mycenaean Linear B, but present in Arcado-Cypriot Linear C.

For the extremely significant socio-cultural linguistic explanation for this apparent paradox (I say, apparent, because it is in fact unreal), we shall have to defer to the next post.

WARNING! Always be on your guard never to confuse Linear B & Linear C syllabograms which look (almost exactly) alike – the sole exceptions being NA PA TA SE LO & PO, since you can be sure that their phonetic values are completely at odds.

Various strategies you can resort to in order to master Linear C fast!   

(a) The Linear B & Linear C syllabograms NA PA TE SE LO & PO are virtually the same, both in appearance and in pronunciation.
(b) Taking advantage of the real or fortuitous resemblance of several syllabograms to one another &
(c) Geometric Clustering: Click to ENLARGE
Similarities in & Geometric Clustering of Linear C Syllabograms
What is really astonishing is that the similarities between the syllabograms on the second line & their geometric clustering on the third are identical! So no matter which approach you adopt (b) or (c) or both for at least these syllabograms, you are a winner.
     
Failing these approaches, try
(d) Mnemonics: For instance, we could imagine that RO is a ROpe, PE = Don’t PEster me!, SA = SAve $, TO is TOFu etc. or we could even resort to
(e) Imagery! For instance, we could imagine that A E & I are a series of stars, RI NI & KE all look like variations on the letter E, that LE is the symbol for infinity, WE is an iron bar etc. For Mnemonics & Imagery, I am not suggesting that you follow my own arbitrary interpretations, except perhaps for LE, which is transparent. Take your imagination where it leads you.
Finally (f) the really great news is that the Linear C syllabary abandoned homophones, logograms and ideograms, doing away with them lock-stock-and-barrel. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Minoan Linear A & Mycenaean Linear B syllabaries. The first had so many syllabograms, homophones, logograms and ideograms that it can be a real pain in the butt to learn Linear A. Mycenaean Linear B greatly simplified the entire mess, reducing the number and complexity of syllabograms & homophones, but unfortunately retaining well over a hundred logograms and ideograms, which are equally a pain in the you know what. In other words, the process of greater and greater simplication was evolutionary. This phenomenon is extremely common across the spectrum of world languages. 

What the Linear C scribes agreed upon, the complete elimination of anything but syllabograms, was the last & greatest evolutionary phase in the development of the Minoan-Greek syllabaries before the Greeks finally reduced even Linear C to its own variable alphabet of some 24-27 letters, depending on the dialect. But even the 3 syllabaries, Linear A, B & C, all had the 5 vowels, A E I O & U, which already gave them an enormous advantage over almost all other ancient scripts, none of which had vowels, with the sole exception of Sanskrit, as far as I know. That alone was quite an achievement. If you have not yet mastered the Linear B syllabary, it goes without saying that all of these techniques can be applied to it. The same goes for the Minoan Linear A syllabary, though perhaps to a lesser extent.

The Real Potential for Extrapolation of these Principles to Learning any Script:
Moreover, at the most general level for learning linguistic scripts, ancient or modern, whether they be based on pictographs, ideograms alone (as with some Oriental languages, such as Chinese, Japanese & Korean, at least when they resorted to the Kanji script), or any combination of ideograms, logograms & syllabograms (all three not necessarily being present) or even alphabetic, they will almost certainly stand the test of the practical validity of any or all of these approaches for learning any such script. I have to wonder whether or not most linguists have ever considered the practical implications of the combined application of all of these principles, at least theoretically.

Allow me to conclude with this telling observation. Children especially, even from the age of 2 & a half to 3 years old, would be especially receptive to all of these techniques, which would ensure a rapid assimilation of any script, even something as simple as an alphabet of anywhere from 24 letters (Italian) to Russian Cyrillic (33 letters), as I shall clearly demonstrate with both the modern Greek & Latin alphabet a little later this month.

PS. If any of you are wondering, as I am sure many of you who are familiar with our blog must be, I have an extremely associative, cross-correlative mind, a rather commonplace phenomenon among polyglot linguists, such as myself. In fact, my thinking can run in several directions, by which I mean I frequently process one set of cross-correlative associations, only to consider another and another, each in quite different directions from the previous.  If that sounds like something Michael Ventris did, it is because that is precisely what he did to decipher almost all of Mycenaean Linear B - almost all, but not quite. As for the remaining 10 % or so which has so far defied decipherment, I promise you you are in for a great surprise very soon, perhaps as early as the spring of 2015, when my research colleague, Rita Roberts, and I shall be publishing an in-depth research paper in PDF on the Internet - a study which is to announce a major breakthrough in the further decipherment of Linear B. Those of you who frequent this blog on a regular basis already know what we are up to. As for those of you who are not regular visitors, if you read all the posts under the rubric, Supersyllabograms (at the top of this page), you are going to find out anyway.       

Richard


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


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