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Method for recognizing a character's radical


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When I find a character which I do not recognize, I check it in the dictionary using the radical index. However, some characters are quite complicated and have so many parts I don't know which part to look up. If a character has 3 unique parts, that means I might have to check 3 different radicals until I find the match. Is there a trick or rule for identifying which part is the radical?

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You just need to become adept at identifying which part is most likely to be the (THE lol) radical that the dictionary indexes the character under*, so you'll therefore need to consult resources that tell you what the most common positions are for each radical - again, see the gifs that I've posted in my 'Guide to Simplified Radicals' thread (here: http://www.chinese-f...ified-radicals/ ).

Once you have identified the "proper" (most likely) radical and found its location in the dictionary's radical index (via the radical chart, which may also involve some stroke counting!), you then simply count the remaining/residual, non-radical strokes and look through the radical's index section for characters with that number of residual strokes (most dictionaries mark or subsection characters with a certain number or range of residual strokes, making them easier to find).

A final way to get to the character quicker is to be aware that the better dictionaries list characters in a 'third sort' (following the first sort by radical and the second by residual stroke count number) according to the shape of the initial stroke of the residue (a rule which is then recursively applied to every subsequent stroke of the residue, making in effect a fourth sort, then a fifth, sixth etc); western dictionaries usually go by the CASS third sort order of 丶 一 丨 丿 乙 , whilst dictionaries published in China seem to prefer to third sort by the strokes/stroke order found in the character 札 (i.e. 一 丨 丿 丶 乙 ), which is known as the 'zha method'. (Note that the only difference between the CASS and zha third sorts is that their first and fourth items respectively have switched places).

I might post an excerpt a bit later from some stuff I wrote on how to look up characters, to see what you and others make of it (i.e. if it's helpful, reasonably well-written, free of errors etc) - watch this space! :wink:

If ultimately you don't get along with radical indexes, or keep drawing blanks when you search them, you can always try looking up characters by their total (radical + residual) stroke count, if the dictionary includes such an index in addition to the usual radical one. Among dictionaries that include both are the ABC ECCE and the Far East (latter only allows look up of traditional, not simplified forms, though simplified equivalents are given in the actual entries). McNaughton's guide to reading and writing Chinese characters is also an option, though it isn't really comprehensive enough to serve as a dictionary proper (it's ultimately more a listing of the more frequent characters, with diagrams of how to write them stroke by stroke), and I'm not familiar enough with it to know quite what its indices include and allow (e.g. does its traditional version allow look-up of simplified characters, and vice versa). The problem with total stroke indexes however is that the number of items in each section is very large, and the subsorting principle (if there is one) may not be immediately obvious (is it by radical, or shape of the character's initial stroke, or...), so this is usually only used as a last resort.

*But note that modern, less traditionally-hidebound dictionaries do attempt to anticipate and provide alternative look-ups (or at least redirects) where the average user might think of and try them, and there are some printed dictionaries, such as the New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary, that provide every conceivable radical look-up, though the Nelson needs a whopping 230-page 'Universal Radical Index' to do so! Then, some online dictionaries ( http://www.csse.mona.../wwwjdic.cgi?1R ) allow look-up by similarly exhaustive means.

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I remember when I first started learning characters it would sometimes take me an age to find the radical, going through each part until I finally got it. I'm glad I went through it like this though (as opposed to just writing the character in Pleco or something) as it definitely helped me get familiar with character components. Stick to it for a while and you'll be picking the radicals out with ease.

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You're welcome, Friday! And for what it's worth, I've written what's probably a clearer explanation (than the one I've given you above), and with worked examples of character look-up, in post #19 of that 'crash course' thread.

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  • 3 months later...

Thanks for the links, these are helpful.

One more thing for the OP to consider - I have found that an electronic dictionary with handwriting input is really valuable. (快译通, or more recently an iPad with Pleco). You can often lookup words by handwriting them, which I've found really helpful. Sometimes its still a PITA because they need you to get the stroke order roughly correct in order to find the word.

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