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valikor

Studying radicals and strokes

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valikor

Many threads here stress the importance of studying radicals for beginners.

I'm not exactly sure how best to study them, though. A few questions:

1) The most common radicals are used to make the majority of characters, while there are other radicals which are quite rare. I've googled "chinese radical frequency list" but the closest thing that I could find (which wasn't even quite what I was looking for) was in traditional characters. Where can I find one?

2) Should I learn the radicals which are just strokes? For example, 丿 is apparently a "slash" and is called pie3. Are any of these radicals (like 丿 丶 亅 丨 ) used as phonetic components in other characters? Or for the meaning? Is it practical to learn these?

I guess I could simplify this question by saying "which radicals should I worry about learning, and what should I learn for each one" (the meaning, the reading, etc?)

(For reference, I'm a relative beginner... and can know the meaning/reading of less than 1,000 characters, but somewhere around there... I certainly know the most common radicals, but there are many I don't know)

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chrix

So what's your aim in studying radicals?

I've never understood why people want to learn the individual radicals. That's something that comes automatically with a dictionary... Of course you should know the most common ones so you can describe a character to your Chinese friends, but as you say yourself, you know the most common ones already (and usually you add 字旁 to the character, like 金, 土, 魚, with some exceptions such as 三點水, 四點火, see here for a more extensive list)

As far as I understand it, the reason why people stress the importance of knowing radicals for beginners is to understand that the vast majority of characters is made up of a sound and meaning component. I personally don't think it's that important to memorise the individual radicals...

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skylee
I've never understood why people want to learn the individual radicals. That's something that comes automatically with a dictionary...

Back when we didn't have Hanyu Pinyin the only way (almost) to look up a word in a dictionary was to identify the radical and then count the strokes. Some dictionaries did have an index of all the characters listed according to the number of strokes but it was quite difficult to locate a word simply by stroke number.

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chrix

Yes, I understand that, that's how I learnt the radicals myself... But that's something that comes with practice, I mean when you're looking for a character, you would try every conceivable radical until you found your character, how else could you learn it?

But even back then any decent dictionary had a pronunciation index, so even if the stroke count didn't help, you could go to that... (as long as you knew the pronunciation of course).

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skylee
But even back then any decent dictionary had a pronunciation index, so even if the stroke count didn't help, you could go to that... (as long as you knew the pronunciation of course).

Which was not always the case.

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chrix

No, but how would have knowing all the radicals helped you? You would still need to know which characters go with which. So trial and error was the only way, or looking through that stroke index hoping to find the culprit in a sea of characters...

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valikor

I guess I have two reasons:

The first reason is because if I know what the components of a character mean, it helps me remember the character... even if it's something stupid like 解 = money (as in 五角), knife, cow is easy to remember, and I get mental images of killing a cow with a knife and getting paid for it.

Plus, I regularly cannot identify the phonetic components of characters which have them... knowing the radicals would help this, right? Any other suggestions for this would be appreciated, too.

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chrix

for your first reason fair enough, mnemonics don't have to be related to the "true etymology", whatever works best.

for your second reason: I'm not sure how much it would help. If you already have 1,000 characters under your belt, you should know the most frequent radicals anyways. There's a number of characters that are hard to analyse, for a variety of reasons. Maybe you could give us examples of characters you have trouble with?

EDIT: sorry, I just saw you wrote "less than 1000 characters". I still think after you know at least around 500, patterns should start to emerge..

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chrix

Slightly OT: I'm sure some people here have studied Japanese as well and might agree or disagree with me, but I think that Japanese character dictionaries have so much more useful indices: pronunciation, stroke count, radical, but also with small numbers indicating the stroke count of the non-radical portion in the radical index, also placing some often confused or miscounted characters in several places (so if a character with 12 strokes is often miscounted as 13, it's put under both), and some reforms/simplifications of the radical system (though many Chinese dictionaries do this too).

EDIT: and found a way to make it more on-topic again: so it might help you if you study the radicals that come in different shapes. Some dictionaries make them distinct radicals, for instance the various shapes of the heart and fire radicals...

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valikor

Someone posted another "how many characters do you know" test. I took it once and got 850.

Certainly I have started to see plenty of patterns in the characters, and can identify a lot of the radicals. But my knowledge is fairly limited. I knew, for example, that 舌 is a tongue, but not until just now (I'm looking at a list of radicals) did I know the pronunciation is she2. I'd have to look through the characters to figure out whether this is useful for identifying phonetic components in other characters.

Likewise, I've certainly noticed that 饱,包,跑 have similar pronunciations, but didn't know (until looking at a radical chart) that they all share 勹, which is bao1 (and also gives me the meaning of 包). So, I assume 勹 is the phonetic component of all those words.

But then I am not sure, because I always thought 导 shares a component with those words, and therefore it makes sense that they all sound similar. But, 导 doesn't have a 勹., but the other part is the same (I have no idea what the other part actually is, just that it's common).

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chrix

OK, just some comments:

1. 舌 is quite an important character in itself, so in my view this has nothing to do with learning radicals, but with learning characters.

2. 包: I don't think it's that essential to search for the "true" phonetic component, the characters you listed all have 包 as their phonetic component, for me, whether 包 can be broken down further is not that important. So I would look for components in characters that can easily be broken down like 飽 抱 刨 胞 etc.

3. 导: this is where it helps looking at traditional characters: it's 導, and there you can instantly see the phonetic component is 道

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Gharial

Hi again Valikor!

In my humble opinion:

Where can I find a Chinese radical frequency list? The particularly frequent radicals among the 189 CASS are given in a list in the ABC C-E Dictionary (Desk or Pocket edition, not Comprehensive, which I'm not yet familiar with - that apparently has switched to using the Kangxi 214, which makes sense I suppose), but you should be able to get a rough idea from looking in whatever dictionary's radical index and noting which radicals have columns and columns (if not pages and pages) of characters listed under them. Then, books like Hadamitzky & Spahn's Kanji & Kana have charts and/or info that indicates the most frequent radicals and the positions they usually occupy in a character.

Should I learn the radicals which are just strokes? Yes, you should definitely learn the forms of at least the strokes that can serve as radicals (e.g. only a mere five radicals, radicals 1-5, in the CASS 189-radical system), because they are usually the means by which the remaining radicals are arranged (according to each radical's first stroke-type) in the radical chart, and the means also by which the residues of characters are arranged (according to each residue's first stroke-type) in the radical/character index; plus, doing so will help you learn to count strokes generally and correctly (and the stroke-type rule is applied recursively i.e. in terms of sub-arrangements of items that share the same first, and then second, and then also third etc stroke-type). Be aware that native Chinese dictionaries tend to use what is effectively the zha2 札 stroke method (which is basically the CASS 1-5 radical-strokes' ordering, but with CASS 1 having moved from 1st to 4th place) to arrange and sub-arrange their items. There is a bit more about all the above sort of stuff here: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/23782-third-sort-in-langenscheidt-dictionary . As for the remaining, non-radical strokes, search for 'CDL Wenlin Wiki' on Google to dig out some useful pdfs.

Are any stroke(-radical)s used as phonetics? I'm not aware of any strokes counting as phonetics, except perhaps in the case of the prototypical form for CASS 5 i.e. 乙 acting as the simplified phonetic in the characters 亿 (億), 忆 (憶), and 艺 (藝) (not sure about 呓 (囈)!), which are all pronounced yi4, but then, CASS 5 also happens to be the character 乙 yi3 (meaning that we can't then really view it as a phonetic stroke!). This stuff is sort of covered in the gifs I've posted here: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/31003-guide-to-simplified-radicals/ . (Note in the first gif that the "fastwind" symbol indicating that yi3 is an independent character comes before any mention of phonetics).

Which radicals should I worry about learning, and what should I learn for each one? Assign ("learn") at least an English name/label (mnemonic? In a "compositional", potentially "additive" sense) for each and every radical in at least the CASS 189 (it will then be an easy matter to learn the remaining ones in the Kangxi 214), and learn as much about each as you can - its position, and when a full-size independent character (which 127 out of those 189 CASS radicals can be) its pronunciation, meaning, possible alternative pronunciations/meanings, stroke order, traditional/complex forms, the compounds and phrases it enters into etc.

Chrix has answered your other questions pretty well. I guess you could do worse than look for answers on something like http://zhongwen.com/ re. the apparent bits and pieces of characters. (Actually, I've mentioned Harbaugh's work before, here: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/23887-recurring-mistakes-when-writing-hanzi :wink:8):mrgreen:).

Edited by Gharial

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