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waynewalter

Breakthrough in learning Characters?

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waynewalter

Tienzen Gong has a website called http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/

I was reading it and was enthralled by the logic of what he says. So I called and spoke with him personally. He was very kind and polite.

But I'm frustrated that 1) he sold out of his book "Chinese Word Roots and Grammar" and 2) that it was mainly in Chinese. He said in 2 months he'll have a new version that is for English speakers.

He's a professor that claims to have identified exactly 220 root components to all Chinese characters. He says all characters are formed in various combinations of the same roots.

Additionally, he identified the correct meanings to all these root components (which often have a different meaning when used separately as a character). And he says some of the ancient texts which explain the meanings had errors which he discovered the corrections for. That makes is far easier to discern meanings from characters.

He claims that by understanding the meanings of all the components, it's a smaller and much simpler step to learn thousands of characters and evening correctly reading the meaning of not yet learned characters just by reading the root components that form the characters.

He claims that in 6 months or less a Chinese learner can learn and RETAIN many times more characters than even native Chinese.

That claim seems preposterous but reading his website makes it all sounds quite logical.

Here's my questions:

A) Does anyone have a copy of his last book? I WANT it badly.

B) Has anyone read it or have any comments on his website and claims?

Please advise. If it's true it will be an amazing breakthrough! Or, will it? Has someone else already identified all the root components of every character? If so, where is that BOOK.

I want to learn the root components and their individual meanings FIRST before learning characters built up from them.

Please advise!!

Sincerely,

Wayne

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renzhe

Could be interesting, but I don't know how much of a breakthrough it really is.

It is well known that most Chinese characters are composed from 200+ radicals and common components.

There are also systems (like Heisig) which teach mnemonics for characters based on parts, which also claim to teach thousands of characters in 6 months - 1 year timeframe (check the thread on "Remembering the Hanzi").

Many people start learning characters by first memorising the common radicals, whether they use Heisig's method or not. Most people pick up on the phonetic parts of the characters and use it to strengthen the memorisation process.

Sounds like he is offering a combination of these. Should be interesting, but not necessarily earth-shattering. Fat disclaimer for not having read the book, of course, take it with a grain of salt.

EDIT: I am, of course, referring to the memorisation of characters. I'm not saying that his work doesn't have linguistic significance.

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stoney

"Most people pick up on the phonetic parts of the characters and use it to strengthen the memorization process."

could someone elaborate on the "phonetic" parts of characters.

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muyongshi

A good amount of characters are made up of two parts: one that carries meaning, and one that carries sound. You cannot always guess the pronunciation due to the part that carries the sound but it may definitely help you remember it later on. Also not all characters are like this and they way each character carries the sound may be different so there is no general rule that we can give that would help make this easier. It's usually either just knowing the radicals and making the connections yourself or having someone tell you 'this part carries the sound'.

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imron

e.g. 妈 码 玛 骂 吗 祃 蚂 犸 杩 all contain the 马 shape, and are all variations on ma (although with different tones). However you can't make a general rule and say all characters with 马 will sound like ma, because then you have characters like 驾 jià and 驶 shǐ with completely different pronunciations. Looking at those two characters, you can see the phonetic part quite easily, 加 and 史 respectively. Once again, you have a whole range of characters that might use 加 as the phonetic compenent e.g. 嘉 架 茄 伽 迦 枷, however, like before there are always exceptions, e.g. 贺 hè.

So, yes there are patterns, but they're all irregular and the only real way to learn them is to accumulate knowledge about many characters. There's no magic shortcut to this. Regardless of whatever technique you use to learn and remember characters, it just takes time.

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renzhe
could someone elaborate on the "phonetic" parts of characters.

Take the character 旦 as an example. It is pronounced "dan4", and means dawn.

It appears in several other characters:

担 dan1, "carry", radical hand

但 dan4, "but", radical man

胆 dan3, "gall", radical meat/organ

In each case, the pronunciation is taken from the "旦" part of the character, and the meaning is related to the radical.

Many Chinese characters have this form (80% or so). Unfortunately, it is not always this easy. But once you learn enough characters, it can really help you remember the pronunciation. While it doesn't really provide complete phonetic information (I believe it did many centuries ago, but not in modern Mandarin), it can often give you very useful hints about pronouncing a character.

Edit: imron beat me to it, with a better explanation.

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muyongshi
Take the character 旦 as an example. It is pronounced "dan4", and means dawn.

And just one example of where this can spread, take on a slightly different pronunciation, but the radical still brings the pronunciation 坦 tan

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roddy

And when you look at the characters 量liáng, 查chá and 昼zhoù, all of which have the 旦 component, you can see how useful this approach is :mrgreen:

Personally I'm skeptical that there's going to be many 'breakthroughs' in something that's been around for 5,000 years. By all means get the book and read it - I'm sure it'll help you learn characters. But there are hundreds of character-learning books around that will do the same.

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renzhe

I agree that phonetic parts don't form a consistent and logical framework, but they can lead to easier memorisation in many cases, at least they have helped me.

But coming back to the topic, it would be interesting to see what this book says about the example of "dan". What meaning is associated with the word-root 旦 which could explain the gall, dawn, carrying and "but".

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waynewalter

Folks, it appears at least some opinions were given without taking time to read the website. So, for your convenience, I include the specific points which Tienzen Gong said that most impressed me. Please tell me if you verify this and share if anywhere else has this kind of apparently highly accurate word root meansing.

For example, this explanation from his website immediately made me able to remember how to recognize and write this character. (A Chinese friend showed me slight adjustment to my writing style.)

is (hand) holding (spear). A holding spear hand is able to protect himself. Only a protected self can be a self.

(looking) is (hand) over the (eyes).

This might be common knowledge. But he claims that some ideographs don't have their own individual characters like 手 and 戈 do. So he defines those like this:

R1( 歌 、 次 、 欣 、 吹 、 歡 ), the shared radical is the word root.

R2( 行 、 征 、 從 )

R3( 草 、 若 、 花 )

R4 ( 老 、 考 、 孝 )

R5( 青 、 毒 、 素 )

He provides the exact meaning for each of these root symbols.

Also, apparently some of the meanings of these word roots were lost in history and later analyzed but were mistakenly identified.

An example of one of these was most convincing. Namely, the claim that (horse) is an evolved pictograph of a horse. This idea was originated by Hsu in 100 A.D. when he documented Chinese radicals. That appears in at least some modern books.

Here's what the professor says:

Now, I want to show the reason of why (bird), , (black bird), (horse), (bear), (fish) and (young sheep) are not pictographs.

* Hsu said that the four points under those words are four legs of those animals. Then, is fish also having four legs?

* (black), (cooking), (hot), (streaming), (stewing) and (well-cooked) are having four points in the bottom too. This four point is a different way to write the word (fire), just flattens the four strokes of the word . Thus, the four point in those animals should also mean fire, to signify that those animals could be cooked as food.

Tienzen Gong says he has complete proof of identifying the accurate meanings all ALL the 220 word roots so that it's much each to interpret the meaning of characters.

This is so enthralling because, imagine trying to decipher the meaning of the character (hot) if you forgot it's meaning by looking at the supposed 4 animal legs underneath it. Ha! But when you see that those 4 points clearly mean FIRE, then you can look at the other roots and remind yourself quickly of the correct meaning.

This seems like a breakthrough from my perspective of looking at a few books, taking a class briefly from a trained former Taiwanese grade school teacher, and the explanation of many Chinese friends. In fact, my Chinese friends were pleased to learn the actual meaning of 我 is 手 (hand) holding 戈 (spear). They said it makes sense.

So please, if you really know of any website or books that already have all this knowledge and do it very accurately like Tienzen Gong then please share that with me.

If you see a flaw in his premise, please point that out also.

Thanks!

Sincerely,

Wayne

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chrismccoll

Hi, I've made a similar study of the basic graphic elements of Chinese characters if anyone's interested in publishing it. I have drawn diagrams to show the relative positions of the graphic components. It certainly helped me to learn characters more rapidly and made looking up the pronunciation faster. So I put all the characters containing a square for example onto one diagram, all the characters containing the element 力 on another etc. If anyone is interested in publishing it they can contact me.

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waynewalter

Chris,

This sounds most intriguing. I would like to see it and probably would be happy to "publish" it. Also, if you created it yourself, you might appreciate that I just started learning characters myself after learning alot of Mandarin based on Pin-Yin.

So I could either offer additions or corrections, if you need that while I'm learning characters.

By the way, did you cross-classify characters? So if it has 3 root symbols do you put it under each of them?

Also, have you worked out the meanings of the individual root symbols like the Professor I mention did? That would also be helpful in learning and remembering characters.

Wayne

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imron

I can't recall the name off the top of my head, but when I was first learning characters, I had a book that went through a whole bunch of these. And it seems more or less the same as what this professor is talking about. I know that 灬 is for heat/fire, 氵is for water, 扌is for hand and 艹 is for plants, in addition to a whole lot more. Although some of the explanations and/or accuracy of the etymology might not be the same, the basic concept of understanding the root components and how they can be put together to form greater shapes/meanings is. It's definitely not a new or breakthrough method, and it's a technique I've personally used to good effect when learning characters, plus it's interesting to see the "logic" behind the way characters are made up. The "logic" that I see might not be all that accurate, but it can still serve as as useful device for helping remember certain characters.

There may be different explanations about history and etymology, but these things can only serve as a rough guide anyway. In the end, there is no silver bullet for learning characters. You've simply got to sit down and spend the time learning them.

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renzhe

waynewalter, you seem to be describing kangxi radicals. The four dots at the bottom of a character , 灬, are the kangxi radical 84, fire, used in every Chinese dictionary in the world. You can have a look at more radicals here: http://hmarty.free.fr/hanzi/bushou.php?ext=1 .

What this professor seems to claim is that he has discovered a more complex system behind Chinese characters, going beyond radicals, where every character part actually carries meaning. Perhaps he proves it in his book, I haven't read it yet, but it looks like a bunch of clever mnemonics.

My favourite mnemonic is for 哲. It consists of a hand (shou), a pound of weight (jin) and a mouth (kou). I always imagine biting my fist out of frustration because philosophy is so boring, and my fist probably weighs about a pound.

I don't know if this is exactly what the ancient Chinese had in mind, but all of us make up explanations to help us along. The professor's may be better, and he may explain it and prove it with extensive research in his book, but there's nothing earth-moving on that site that I've seen so far.

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waynewalter

Renzhe,

Your link above shows the "conventional" radicals but not their form as then become part of another character. Some look the same but many look quite different when included into another character.

So I'm looking for training like the professors so see all the characters that have the similar radical organized together so I can see the similarity and learn the meanings as a memory add. Your list has meaning, though. That's good.

Sincerely,

Wayne

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roddy

Merging two threads . . .

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roddy

Actually deleting, posts were identical.

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muyongshi
He provides the exact meaning for each of these root symbols.

Also, apparently some of the meanings of these word roots were lost in history and later analyzed but were mistakenly identified.

So he is trying to in a sense disprove thousands of years of knowledge and commonly accepted thoughts on a language???? Sounds fishy to me...just like when someone trys to come out with a "NEW DIET"

Sorry, but claiming these things may help him make a bit of money, and maybe will help others learn the language but not all characters have a meaning (especially in modern usage, and by this I mean you can't look at the radicals and say WHY the character means what it does) and another thing claiming that 馬 is not a pictograph is really ridiculous. This is commonly accepted knowledge...

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waynewalter

Well, it appears here are no original "blue prints" or explanations of how the creator(s) of the language intended it to be.

The professor openly acknowledges the work of those who came before him and simply gives evidence for filling in some of the gaps and correcting obvious mistakes.

It seems obvious that the 4 dots can't represent legs on the horse since those same dots appear in the symbol for fire and fish and birds which neither have four legs. Can anyone offer any proof for that meaning of the 4 dots--as legs?

Personally, I remember feeling confused about the 4 dots under the bird when I was first introduced to horse and bird symbols.

But so far, the professors ideas make it much easier to remember characters. In contrast, saying the 4 dots are legs and then seeing them under fish and fire just confuses the dickens out of me.

So please, if someone can recommend a book that makes meaning out of the components that make up characters, that will exponentially make it easier and quicker to learn them.

I am probably not alone. In fact, even if the meanings were purely fictitious but systematically fit the pictures and related to the actual meaning of the character. WOW. That would be genius indeed.

But claiming 4 dots represents 4 legs and then having that under a fish, cooking pot, and the word for hot boggles my mind--even if that were true it makes it 10 times harder characters compared to a logical system.

But, of course, the 4 dots as fire fits many characters, you can just visualize people cooking horse meet, fish, bird, hot, a cooking pot, etc with a fire under it.

Would someone please recommend a book that make since like this since the professor has sold out. I can't wait to get started.

Sincerely,

Wayne

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muyongshi

But that is where it was SIMPLIFIED to (and now I am not referring to simplified characters but pictographs have undergone change) so what was originally pictured as legs way back when was over the course of time simplified and changed into the "modern" strokes rendering the legs as for dots.

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