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waynewalter

Breakthrough in learning Characters?

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Daan

Cecilia Lindqvist's China: Empire of Living Symbols might be what you're looking for. She gave a lecture here at Leiden University's Sinological Institute last week, which I thought was very interesting. Check it out on Amazon.com or something :)

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imron
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.
There is no logical system. For any system you come up with, there will always exceptions and parts that are illogical. You say you need things to make sense, but you readily accept 'hand' + 'spear' as 'me'? These are the kind of things that only make sense if you decide it makes sense, because hand+spear=me doesn't make sense to me especially as 'hand' (扌) + 'spear' (戈) also means 'search/find' 找, (which makes equally little sense to me).

Anyway, the book I was talking about before was called something like 汉字入门 but a quick search for that doesn't turn up anything.

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muyongshi

I know which book you are talking about...My friend has that...I can't find it either on any site...check with your school if you are interested.

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renzhe
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.

You are not alone. Everybody who has studied Chinese characters has done this. They are called mnemonics. Like my example with biting your fist = philosophy. It's certainly not etymologically correct, but I never forget that character.

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.

I have never heard anyone say that the 4 dots represent 4 legs, everyone knows that it is the fire radical. Perhaps some children get told the four legs story to visualise more easily, but it is hardly what the four dots "represent".

Furthermore, the fact that horse was originally a pictograph is really well documented and not disputed. You can trace the development of the pictograph through time. At a certain point in time, with the standardisation of writing, the fire radical was added. You can explain that to yourself in a number of ways.

Really, it is common knowledge, and has been for thousands of years, that parts of characters carry meaning. The professor here seems to think that every part of every character carries meaning and that every single character was intentionally designed to carry a meaning derived from these parts. Some of his explanations for this are very far-fetched.

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johnmck

Clearly Chinese characters are not created from random strokes and hence there is a some form of reason behind them. If you can find out the reasoning behind each character this can help you to remember them. It is not possible to decode a character if you do not already know what it means, but it can help for remembering.

Nevertheless purchasing this book sounds like a waste of money. Not because it is not useful, it sounds very useful, but because the contents are already on the web for free at www.zhongwen.com. For example:

http://zhongwen.com/d/167/d218.htm

d218.gif

I use this site all the time. It is based on traditional characters (which is good for understanding the reasoning behind characters). I only use simplified characters so it was not so easy to use at first but one starts to understand the simplificatoins fairly quickly and the site becomes easy to use.

Edit: On reflection, if this book is cheap it may be worth buying and reading before studying characters. Then use zhongwen afterwards for further study.

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waynewalter

renzhe,

I haven't read his book, of course, but on his site, he claims that every character carries a indication of pronunciation also. So he doesn't say that every part of the character adds to the meaning necessarily.

Thanks for clearing up the fire radical question. That fits better because I've seen the earlier symbols for horse which does appear to have legs. Perhaps fire was added more as a pronunciation guide.

In response to imron:

You make a good point about "hand" and "spear" not making "sense" logically now that you mention it. Somehow that is sticking in my head quite well. Why?

Apparently, when you attach a movie in your mind to the word you want to remember in a new language, you are 1,000 time more likely to remember. So I see a person holding a spear to defend themselves.

Again, an excellent point in this character that includes the SAME two roots. The only difference I see is that the two root aren't connected. Actually, that sticks in my head also. To me, it means that the person has thrown the spear and now needs to go find it. Therefore, search!

Whether that was the original intent of the character or not, I just learned ANOTHER character without effort and without writing it 100 times. Zhao3. So thank you very much Imron. I will practice it a couple times. Also, I didn't know that word in my spoken vocabulary yet. But now I do.

Frankly, if I can imagine something that fits in my head as a graphical images then it will stick in my brain forever. There's some great books on "right brain strategies" for instantly memorizing things using images. And Chinese characters seems like the perfect subject to fit graphically in the right brain permanently.

In responses to Daan:

Thanks for recommending that book China: Empire of Living Symbols. It appears to be fascinating. It sounds very much like it makes the characters come ALIVE. I know my wife and daughter will love all the connection to the history.

In reality, it's almost irrelevant to learn the true history of how the character came to be unless you're a sinologist or linguist. But getting ideas to help make visual movies out of them so the come alive in your head and remember them easier. Now that's my goal.

Sincerely,

Wayne

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muyongshi
he claims that every character carries a indication of pronunciation also.

Well that is simply not true. Unless you connect it to maybe other character that happen to have the same radical and by doing a seventh degree type of thing then associate it to that word...All you need to do is look at the other example already given and you will see how this is a preposterous statement!

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waynewalter

Johnmck,

Wow. what a great post to this thread! I love your ideas.

First, I'm my last post, I used Zhongwen.com to lookup the character for to see what it meant and the breakdown of the symbols.

I think we were posting simultaneously. I just got the idea to use Zhongwen.com as you suggest to get started studying characters!!

I'm not concerned about the money, like you say, having the professor's book might help. BUT he's sold out for at least 2 to 3 months which he wants on editing and reprint of his new version.

But Zhongwen also has a book of the contents of the site, I believe. That might be useful. But I love the site because you can copy and paste.

So here's my plan at the moment....

I want to learn characters in order of most frequently used. So I found a site that has the 3000 most commonly used characters in descending order of frequency.

Unfortunately, it just give the meaning of each without the breakdown like Zhongwen.com

So I have the 3000 in a spreadsheet. Now I'm going to take each character, search it on Zhongwen.com and then paste the results into the spreadsheet and learn the meaning at the same time.

That will give me a quick reference in frequency order for studying the characters. Also, I want to make flash cards.

I'm using Pimsleur to learn the spoken language and I also downloaded the transcript of all the Pimsleur lessons that has with the pinyin and characters. So I'm thinking of going back to the first lesson and learn the characters for all the words I already know how to say VIA this Zhongwen.com method. I will make sure those characters are in my frequently used list and label them as Pimsleur words.

My feeling is that if I systematically learn the characters at the SAME time as learning the spoken mandarin words as I go forward, the characters will stick better in my head.

Also, I might order the Zhongwen.com book after checking the reviews. The one imron suggests above sounds great also.

I have friends who want to learn Chinese, this might turn into a useful collection of tools to use if it turns out to be successful.

Thanks for your suggestion, Johnmck!!!

Sincerely,

Wayne

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renzhe

waynewalter,

what you are talking about when inventing stories and explanations about characters is a tool commonly known as mnemonics. It is very useful for learning characters, as you have found out already.

The only discussion is how groundbreaking this particular research is, as there have been books teaching all characters through mnemonics for quite a while (take the Heisig system example).

Another mnemonic I've used is for the character bei 杯. If you take the meaning of the individual components, it means "not wood" or "no wood". For some stupid reason, this stuck in my brain (cups are nowadays usually not made of wood) and I have remembered it ever since. I honestly don't think that you can make a credible explanation for why a cup is written as "not wood". It just ended up that way, languages are organic.

so you're right in trying to understand the way characters are built, and this will certainly help you learn them better -- in fact, it is essential. But don't expect an all-encompassing system that explains everything. There are things about Chinese characters which are simply not logical.

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waynewalter

In my plan above, I'm stuck on the very first, most popular character. What does a ladel in the (rising) sun have to do with genitive as well as simple and composed adjectives? It appears I will need help in connecting characters ideas into the meaning especially in the case of abstract ideas.

d186.gif

Any suggestions?

http://zhongwen.com/d/170/d186.gif

Sincerely,

Wayne

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waynewalter

renzhe,

Thanks for your level headed explanation and introducing me to mnemonics. I will research the heisig method. Maybe that's the ticket I need.

And you're right, this discuss was started as whether this Professor's research was ground breaking.

It seems after discussion that his research (might) just add a little more onto previous research and perhaps not so ground breaking or earth shattering to world as it was to myself.

Then again, if he truly found a consistent story that fits all characters as he seems to claim, that would be huge.

But I would start with asking him how he explains the meaning if 的 from the graphic of a rising sun and a ladel??

So it certainly seems like a challenge.

Wayne

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roddy

There's an ancient Chinese legend called Jamie and his Magic Spoon.

One day Jamie got into a fight with a witch, and although he won his spoon got knocked out of his hand and flew off into the dark woods.

He spent all night searching for it, and was ready to give up when suddenly the sun rose. The light of the rising sun reflected off the handle of the spoon, and luckily Jamie saw it then. 'MY SPOON', he cried out.

Since then, the Chinese people have used the characters for a rising sun and a spoon to signify belonging.*

Roddy

*Parts of this may not be entirely true.

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waynewalter

Roddy,

I'm not sure if you meant this to be humorous or serious. But it was funny and, more importantly, you proved that with imagination a story that fits the meaning of the character can be created however orthogonal it might be.

Thanks! I now have a way to remember the rising sun and the spoon!!!

Wayne

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imron
when you attach a movie in your mind to the word you want to remember in a new language, you are 1,000 time more likely to remember.
This I agree with completely, and I do the same myself. My meaning wasn't to discourage you from making up stories and breaking down the characters and identifying all the separate parts, the only point I was making was don't expect there to be some consistent logical system to how it all works. In the meantime, knock yourself out making all the crazy stories you like.

Personally, I'll never forget 的 thanks to Jamie and his magic spoon.

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ABCinChina

You guys are funny, I will also remember the story of the magical spoon now. However, the 我 story I heard earlier really got to me before you guys proved it wrong since 找 would technically be the same thing.

Oh well, back to my rote memorization methods...

*edit - Now that I think about it, 找 does not have a 手 because the top part is missing a stroke. Whoops!

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Chinese Learner

Hi,

Was the book you are thinking of a series of 5 books or now you can buy a newer single condensed book (Books 1 - 4 condensed together) + a last reference book (Book 5)?:

Cracking the Chinese Puzzles by T.K. Ann

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/002-9692273-0895258?%5Fencoding=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books&field-author=T.%20K.%20Ann

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renzhe
*edit - Now that I think about it, 找 does not have a 手 because the top part is missing a stroke. Whoops!

When "手" is a radical, it is usually written as "扌". Both mean "hand", so both cases would be a hand and a spear.

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imron

And just in case there was any doubt, the Chinese name for the 扌radical is 提手旁.

For those interested, here's a nifty page with the chinese names for the most common radicals, including flash animations for stroke order and pronunciation.

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ABCinChina

Thank you, Ron! That's EXACTLY what I've been looking for for quite some time now.

*EDIT - I found a possible inaccuracy on the site above. I was taught that 亻= 单人旁 and not 单立人. Have I been taught wrong?

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imron

You're welcome CinChina. Actually, most dictionaries usually have a page listing this (well, at least my ones do), although obviously with a dictionary you don't get the animations :D

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