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Learning hanzi -- the eternal dilemma of simple or traditional


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  • 9 months later...
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This is the most relevant thread on the topic, so I'll post it here. Please split if it would make more sense in a separate thread.

I guess many people here have learned one set, and then learned the other set simply through exposure. I was thinking about learning the differences between the two once I hit, say, 3000 or 3500 characters. I'm learning simplified, but I'd like to be able to read traditional as well. So far, I can only do this with simple texts, or with lots of guessing. The characters with a simplified radicals or phonetic component are generally no problem.

Wiki says that the Jianhuazi zong biao lists 350 individually simplified characters, 132 generalisable simplified characters and 14 simplified radicals. All other simplifications are simply variation of the latter two simplifications (thousands of them, but applied in a standard and predictable way), or standardising on a more simple variant in place of a more complex variant of the same character.

This means that there are 500 characters that are significantly different between the two sets, and the rest appear to me to be easy (e.g. 説 = 说, 錢 = 钱, etc.)

So the extra effort one needs to invest into learning traditional characters after knowing the simplified set (or the other way around) amounts to learning about 500 characters. Since one should aspire to knowing about 3000 as some sort of arbitrary standard of literacy, this doesn't strike me as a huge deal.

Now, since I'm obviously planning to do this at some point in time :mrgreen:, my question is whether one can find the list of these characters online. Essentially, whether there is a summary of the Jianhuazi zong biao available online in a machine-readable format.

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my question is whether one can find the list of these characters online. Essentially, whether there is a summary of the Jianhuazi zong biao available online in a machine-readable format.

Take a look at the links in this post -> http://www.chinese-forums.com/showpost.php?p=68812&postcount=44

The google search function is pretty helpful, you know.

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Neither of those links work for me (I mean, they don't open).

It's an interesting question renzhe, I was wondering about it myself though I'm at least a year away from knowing 3000 simplified characters.

Maybe, if there's no huge rush to learn those 3000, it might make sense to learn some of the 500 trad ones along with the simplified? I thought about this when memorising 或 huò & recognised it as part of the trad 國 (S国) guó country -- ie given that I was learning 或 at the time it was an good time to learn 國. This would work for me because I like learning groups of similarly-constructed characters at the same time.

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Hmm...Well, I agree that it depends on what you want to do. IMO, if you're going for mastery of Chinese, you'd best start Traditional, then learn how each country (PRC, Japan) simplifies the characters. If you're just doing some business in the PRC, it would be logical to start with Simplified, as you probably would not encounter any important stuff written in Traditional. Whichever one you learn first, it is a mistake to not be able to read the other.

I started with Traditional, and prefer it for all purposes. I can read Simplified, but I'm generally slower, and it's bit irritating (as I tend to marvel at the ridiculousness of some simplifications).

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  • 1 month later...

I think your perspective is very rational and reasonable. I remember reading once that it is best to learn how to write in either simplified or traditional and to learn to read both for full mastery, as you alluded to. learning to write using simplified characters certainly may be advantageous for many a learner, plus again they are standard in the PRC.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Worth pointing out to anyone who might download that spreadsheet that there are some exceptions and so on that aren't made clear there.

For instance:

The spreadsheet says the trad form of 向 is 曏.

However Wenlin tells me that this is only true for when 向 means "formerly".

When it is used for its more common meaning of towards/direction, the trad form is the same as the simplified (ie 向).

Similarly 只 which has three options (ie one trad form as a measure word, one trad form as a component, and the same form in trad and simple when it means [zhǐ] only.

At least, this is what the Wenlin dictionary is telling me.

Anyway, it is a cool spreadsheet and I'm actually having fun learning from it, I like these traditional characters. Just little "aha! so that's why this is like that" moments throughout....

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Thanks for pointing that out. Actually, what I did is get a list of which characters were simplified and how, and generated the other list by inverting that.

Of course, there are some cases where characters were simplified into an already existing character that is still used, like the ones you pointed out. This isn't listed in the source I used, and I didn't make an extra effort to add that information in, because I probably don't know all the cases where this happened. If you can make a list of the characters you run into that are like this (后 will be another one, and 千 too, etc.), that would be useful, you can send it to me and I'll update the list.

In some cases, it doesn't make sense, though. Like, when you list a list of traditional characters which are all merged into one character, it's pointless to have the answer right there among them :) It doesn't make a good flashcard.

I also had some confusion when I found out that 朦 simplifies to 蒙, yet 朦 is still a common character in simplified materials. I guess no list is perfect, and lists like this are best seen as a guideline.

That said, I'm more than half-way through it, and I found that this is going a lot faster than I expected. I'll probably finish it in less than a month (this is on top of all other studying I'm doing, minimal effort). In order to really get comfortable with traditional characters, though, I'll have to read a book or two, but that will have to wait, as it's not such a priority.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Bump for something new.

I've gone through all the characters from the first two parts of the 简化字总表 (about 500 characters) by hands and picked out the characters which already existed before the simplification process.

I did this by checking with wiktionary, which has references to several comprehensive paper dictionaries. I've included a character if it was present in the KangXi dictionary (this was the majority), OR if it is present in all of the three languages: Chinese, Japanese and Korean. If it is used in all three languages, this means that the character spread long ago.

This excludes a bunch of vulgar simplifications that were known and words like 来, which happened to be simplified the same way in China and Japan. It does, however, include common simplifications like 将, which weren't present in the KangXi dictionary, but were widely used across the Hanzi-using world.

Keep in mind that many of these characters acquired additional meanings during the simplification process, but all of them were actual characters and weren't "made up" during the simplification.

Basically, this is a list of "simplified" characters which predate the Republic, the Communists, the Nationalists, the British, and all that stuff. Don't know if this is interesting to anybody, I just had itchy fingers because I was interested. For those who want to know, out of around 500 characters and components listed, around 200 were already existing characters.


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  • 5 months later...

The list of simplified characters is from http://humanities.uchicago.edu/classes/chinese/simplifiedchar.html, but there are many other places on the net with the same information.

The list in post 36, I did by hand. I went through the simplified characters one by one and looked them up on wiktionary, which has references to Kangxi and other standard works.

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Now, afaik 厂 and 广 were not used as characters on their own, but were known as radicals, which is why they are listed in the Kangxi Zidian. But there are only a couple of characters like this in the list.

With many characters, like 只, several existing characters were mapped onto one character. So 只 got the additional meanings (and pronunciation) of 祇 and 隻, and 几 got the additional meaning (and pronunciation) of 幾.

Only a part of the characters (云, 泪 etc.) existed in exactly the same form with exactly the same meaning before the simplification.

But this is a contrast to characters like 风, which were either newly invented forms or standardised versions of vulgar variants which weren't used in such a form before the simplification process.

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