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ChristopherB

Question regarding Chinese radicals (Cracking the Chinese Puzzles)

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ChristopherB

I recently purchased a very interesting book called "Cracking the Chinese Puzzles" by TK Ann, in which he states the following:

"Bushous (radicals), of which there are 170 in all..."

"In actual fact, there are 250 or more bushous in traditionally compiled dictionaries, but 80 of them are applicable to less than 5 currently used characters."

My question is: How many should one know? A quick Google search yields a page listing "the 214 Chinese character radicals", yet in this book it claims there 170 in all. The book urges the reader to master the 170 listed (divided in 12 categories) and their respective patterns, locations and meanings and I plan to do just that. But what about the remaining 44 - wouldn't it be a good idea to learn 144 instead of 170?

Edited by ChristopherB
Adding more information

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ChristopherB

Can't seem to edit my thread: I meant "214" instead of "144".

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renzhe

I do feel that learning radicals can be a great help, as can learning phonetic components.

But I'd recommend starting with the common ones and seeing where that takes you. Learn the most important 50 or 100, increase your vocabulary and the number of characters you know, and then pick up the rarer radicals as they come along. That's the way I would do it.

Ultimately, you're learning radicals in order to learn characters. If a radical will only appear in a few rare characters (which you won't learn for the next 2 years), then it's probably a bad idea to try to learn it at the very beginning -- there are better ways to spend your time.

EDIT: Take, for example, the radical 黾. It shows up in characters 黾 (ranked 5222), 鼋 (ranked 5231) and 鼍 (5561). There are so many other characters you should be learning before these three.

Edited by renzhe

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anonymoose
EDIT: Take, for example, the radical 黾. It shows up in characters 黾 (ranked 5222), 鼋 (ranked 5231) and 鼍 (5561). There are so many other characters you should be learning before these three.

I agree with your post, but I'm just wondering where you got your ranking data from? What about 绳? That surely must be within the first 2000 or so characters.

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renzhe

I got the ranking from Xiaoma Cidian, it's good for character-related stuff like that.

With 绳, I'm pretty sure that the radical is 纟. I thought that 黾 was a phonetic component here. But you're right, knowing the radical 黾 will can you remember this character. But then you'd need to include all sorts of phonetic components, which don't come as radicals, and you soon end up with way more than 214.

I think it's good knowing them, but maybe it's not the first priority when starting to learn characters on a larger scale.

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anonymoose
With 绳, I'm pretty sure that the radical is 纟. I thought that 黾 was a phonetic component here.

Oh, yes, I wasn't thinking. But anyway, as you say, knowing 黾 helps to remember characters like this. There's also 蝇 which is not rare.

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Murray

At my current level of Chinese study, I've only been introduced to about 40 radicals. This amount is more than enough for me at my intermediate level.

How big of an impact does being familiar with all 200+ radicals have? Does it help significantly with hanzi study?

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ChristopherB

I think I'll take renzhe's advice and focus on the common ones, which I think are the 170 listed in TK Ann's book. Thanks!

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tooironic

I'm a big advocate for learning radicals, even just for the fun of it. It's really not that hard if you get a good resource either online or in book form, and they came in handy when you encounter new characters you don't know. But renzhe is right in saying that a lot of them won't be of any use to you unless you're an advanced learner or reading older, more classical scripts. (Take radicals like 龠 'flute', 黹 'embroidery', 鬯 'sacrificial wine', etc which aren't very common in modern literature. I did learn them though just for the fun of it and because they give you an insight into different aspects of Chinese culture.)

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claire1987lr

i don't know the exact number which we can call enough,anyway,i don't remember learning all those200 radicals in my primary school,and now i still don't know all the bushou but it doesn't affact much in my reading.....if you think 40's enough,that's enough,and you can always learn new ones through reading in which period radicals are not priority

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Charged_Ion

I believe it is very important to learn the radicals. Although in a slightly different manner then which you are currently speaking. I posted in the topic "Hanzi is a religion" or something like that about how words are composed of a finite number of seperate parts. I suggest you look at it at some point. That is, if they let me post it. It is still under review from the forum monitors at this point and time and it probably going against the grain of general thought.

Anyways, If you learn all these parts you will be able to break any character down pretty quickly. Like for example 龠 from the previous post has the shared radical of 今 and 合 which means union, the three 口 are mouths or 品 which means popular and the shared radical of 扁 and 綸 mean a bound book. In the system I learned 龠 means rational or rationale as a radical because when 3 people (品) unite (top of 今and合) to put something popular into a bound book (bottom of 扁 and 綸). That is, it is agreed rules of moral. Thus 龠 is rationale as a radical, despite the fact that it does indeed translate to flute as a stand alone character.

So naturally learning all the parts of a word can be of great help in memorizing and better understanding the characters.

黹 is a fundemental which cannot be broken down. Or at least shouldn't be. I guess you could if you really wanted too. Thus this is one that I would highly suggest you remember. However, rather then remembering it as embroidery i would suggest you go with 'repair the clothes'. As repairing the clothes is a much broader concept and Chinese is of course a conceptual language. So let us not hinder ourselves with such a narrow view such as embroidery.

鬯 is not a word with which i am familiar. However, what I am familiar with are its parts. The top part, which isn't a stand alone character, and i honestly don't know two other words that use this right off hand for demonstration purposes. Means the facilitation of any chemical process. The bottom part 七 means transformation.

So this is a new one for me. sacrificial wines. At least you can see how these two parts can help you understand the whole word better. Wine is something that must go through a chemical process to be made. sacrificial wine probably has to be specially prepared as well. Thus 鬯 is sacrificial wine

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renzhe
So naturally learning all the parts of a word can be of great help in memorizing and better understanding the characters.

Yes, it's a great help, but people should be careful not to confuse such stories for real etymologies.

They are useful crutches, but most of them are made up.

The bottom part 七 means transformation.

Where did you find this?

七 means seven.

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imron

He most likely meant 匕 although according to my dictionary, that means some sort of eating utensil used in ancient times.

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Charged_Ion

匕 is of course seven as a stand alone character. However, how a character is used as a stand alone word and how a character is used as a radical are not always the same thing, as i said with 龠.

龠 is rationale as a radical but flute when stand alone.

Where did I learn that this means transformation? Well, it was simply taught to me that way. This is one of the fundemental building blocks I was taught. However, my instructor would say that this character actually originates from the character for man 人.

When you take man and turn it upside down you get something that looks almost nothing like 匕. Yet in truth it is. There are a lot of what we call 'mutations' in Chinese that make things like this difficult. A lot of the etymology I learned uses a bit of artistic imagination but once you get used to it you find that there are some trends in the artistic-ness of characters as well. In general, the less complicated the character is the harder it is for me to break it down simply because their is less there to work with.

The word also means seven based on Chinese cosmology. This is actually pretty advanced and complicated. All the numbers are based off this cosmology (well expect maybe 0, I am not sure weather it is or not. I wasn't taught that yet) and have to do with the idea of the 'chi' becoming perfect. Some of us might know that the number 十 (10) indeed can also mean perfect.

However, for me to explain all the numbers I would have to give a pretty serious course in the system I use to break down words. Numbers are in fact one of my more recent additions to Chinese due to the complexity to their creation. Well, not exactly more recent to my vocabulary but more recent in my understanding of that vocabulary.

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Charged_Ion

Due to the fact i am still being monitored since I am new here I can't edit my post yet. So I'll just submit this one to fill in some information I forgot to mention a minute ago.

化 is the word for transform and is the word representation of the radical 七. We should also know that the left part of this word means man 人. This is supported by the Chinese dictionary.

So this helps support the fact that 匕 is in fact a man turned upside down. And an upside down man has obviously been transformed (from upright to not upright).

At least, it is according to the system in which I was taught.

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chaxiu

Well, I can't stress enough how learning radicals helps in learning/remembering/writing characters. Especially Traditional Characters.

I learnt 匕 as a ladle. I didn't know until now that it also means an upside down man.

But I am a little confused. I can't find reference to 匕 being the same character 七 or that it means transformation.

From the magic of Wenlin

匕 bǐ n. an ancient type of spoon ◆b.f. dagger bǐshǒu

The character 匕 occurs in the word 匕首 bǐshǒu 'dagger'; more often it occurs as a component in other characters. It has various meanings; in some cases it derives from a picture of an ancient type of spoon. Elsewhere it is 人 rén 'person' backwards, or upside-down.

Zhongwen.com gives....

七 one 一 crossed by a curved line, suggesting imperfection short of ten 十。

Chaxiu

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imron
匕 is of course seven as a stand alone character.
No, as a standalone character, 匕 is 匕: bǐ - a kind of spoon used in ancient times.

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renzhe

I personally like to stick to established etymologies. I think it's easy to look for logical explanations and come up with stories, but in the absence of evidence, they are not more than stories.

Edited by renzhe

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Lu

Funny how Charged Ion is so sure that after a few months of study, he knows better than the entire rest of the forum.

OP: I'd recommend sitting down with the list of radicals and going through them once or twice, just so you have an idea of which radicals there are. You don't need to learn them at this point, just focus on characters and learn the radicals as you go. Good luck!

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Hofmann

Ugh...

What's wrong with using 匕 as a spoon and 龠 as a flute? What's this "stand alone" and "as a radical" thing? All (traditional) radicals are characters, including ones not used in modern Chinese like 匕.

Methinks it's less of a hindrance to just use the established etymologies instead of making up your own.

Also, when you make stuff up like that, please clearly say so, lest we misinform the n00bs.

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