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Gharial

Dictionary look-up skills: a crash course!

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MaLaTang

dayum..that looks super complicated.. my dictionary look up skills just evolved by playing around with different online dictionaries.

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Gharial

Sure, MaLaTang, it's possible to learn a lot simply by playing around with online dictionaries. I'm assuming however that you came to them knowing something (anything!) about how the look-up process is supposed to work, unlike a lot of people (and this isn't at all meant as any criticism of them!) who have apparently come to Chinese characters not knowing enough if much at all, as shown by the posts they make here on the forums saying they've been completely unable to look up even one character, and pleading for help!

Plus, let's not forget that even people who are no longer beginners may not be as familiar with radical systems as they might like to be. (Not that I'm claiming to be the world's leading expert...I'd bow down to e.g. Tom Bishop of Wenlin fame for sure!).

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LanguageBarrier

Gharial Wrote:

(and this isn't at all meant as any criticism of them!) who have apparently come to Chinese characters not knowing enough if much at all, as shown by the posts they make here on the forums saying they've been completely unable to look up even one character, and pleading for help!

Speaking for myself as a total novice - Unable to look up even one character - did not take your criticism negatively but rather as an accurate observation.

Also it has been established in the forum that the "Crash Course" is far from organised or complete but at this point in time, more a collation of what information you consider useful to get folk started.

I think if anyone chooses to download the information at this time it might be an idea to read the two forum topics in full, then they will have a better understanding of where the course is and read it in full before making a start.

All observations, suggestions and constructive criticisms would be appreciated.

For me I would like to see Gharial keep his promise and at some point (whenever he finds the time) organise the information and minimise the Crash course to what he considers the essential to get a total beginner reasonably confident in as short a time as practically possible.

Thanks again for the information Gharial.

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Gharial
Also it has been established in the forum that the "Crash Course" is far from organised or complete but at this point in time, more a collation of what information you consider useful to get folk started.

I'd say it is more a collation to get people (who may not be complete beginners) fully proficient, LanguageBarrier!

But the absolute best thing that anyone learning Chinese and/or wanting to look up characters can ultimately do is invest in a good printed dictionary that doesn't skimp (online/free dictionaries tend to skimp!) on explaining this stuff, and the ABC dictionaries have been uniformly generous and excellent, yet quite affordable (with the ABC ECCE being very affordable!).

Below are excerpts from the original ABC C-E Dictionary (Pocket Edition), which has used the 189 CASS simplified radicals as its indexing system, and the more recent ABC ECCE, which uses the 214 Kangxi radicals, but provides a chart that organizes them more logically than their traditional arrangement, as well as a total stroke count index. The ABC ECCE has pretty much superseded the ABC C-E (though not quite the ABC C-E Comprehensive!), which may be going out of print anyway.

post-35117-0-60913500-1319350042_thumb.gif

post-35117-0-29813300-1319350107_thumb.gif

But how many people actually invest in such resources, or even when they do, really take much note of what's in them? And I guarantee you that if I had just simply introduced short and sweet examples of radical + residue look-ups, along with only a very brief mention of the thing called a 'third sort', the former would've been greeted with quite a few cries of "But we know all that already!", and the latter either gone in one ear and out the other, over people's heads, or met with calls once again for plenty of worked examples and thus detail of it. Then, even the ABC C-E dictionary doesn't explicitly mention that the residues have the third sort rule applied recursively*, or that the radicals themselves are organized by the initial and then recursive application of the five basic strokes (note however that the later ABC ECCE does mention both these things - see the attached gifs). The main thing though is that the learner always has to just take one's word for it that such and such a radical is a certain number of strokes, and the residue another number, without yet knowing exactly what strokes are for the purposes of counting them (and what about examples of hard-to-find characters, that may ultimately only be listed under a stroke-radical), and I rather suspect that regardless of the exact order of presentation, any amount of information that is any more than is usually given will always be "far too much" for the more unwilling reader.

*I can't remember now quite where I got the idea of recursion from, other than from closely studying the ABC C-E's and other dictionaries' indexes (though not at that time the ABC ECCE, as it hadn't yet been released), and then raiding the lexicon of Generative linguistics so to speak (not that I am a Generative linguist!).

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roddy

What value are you adding, compared to say, this?

Seriously, you're more likely to be slowing people down by presenting this as a 'crash course' when in fact it's way more in-depth and complicated than it needs to be for anyone who actually wants to be able to look something up in a dictionary.

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Gharial

Hmm, a few things about that Yale resource, Roddy:

1) I think I can say without contradiction that it's pretty badly written (not to be a grammar pedant, but...). Much moreso than my writing! For example, more or less the whole of its Introduction seems to have been written in a stream of completely unrevised, unedited (un)consciousness (I'd even hazard that it's written by a non-native speaker with English not quite up to the task delegated to them): "1. For a character you know the pronunciation but not its character and meaning, you simply look for it by its sound as you would do an English dictionary, according to its alphabetical definition. 2. For a character you cannot recognize in a text and you need to find its meaning, you need to go get the dictionary definition by its radical, then find the word, and finally go to the dictionary definition itself with sound,meaning, and illustrations.The tutorial you will do here is the second way." Then, learners usually need to make use of procedure 2 a lot more than they do procedure 1, and there is more to it than such a simple tutorial would suggest (hence, my training course).

2) It generalizes and omits (e.g. "Every Chinese dictionary has a radical chart, which contains all the 100 or so radicals") when there is no real reason why it couldn't simply be explicit (about the fact that the example chart contains 188 radicals, the same as in the POCD), unless of course it is somehow always "better" to underplay and fudge the exact number of things (radicals) that one will have to eventually learn one way or the other. And the reader has to just take the writer's word for it that the radical in each example look-up is as stated, with no explicit mention of the fact that these (left and top positions) are actually the most common positions for radicals in general. (The curious student might therefore begin to wonder why 角 isn't the radical in 确. The answer of course is that 角 is actually the phonetic of 确, but again, this interesting and useful related little fact isn't mentioned, even though it would only take a line or two more to do so). And there's no explanation of simplified versus traditional forms (again, a few lines pointing this stuff out would be nice).

3) It has reproduced the top of the radical chart, and thus the red-circled 3-stroke radical 宀 (in relation to the look-up of the character 实) twice, even though the example of looking up 实 comes later (and why the need to look that one up at all really, seeing as it is part of a compound headed by 确, as "explicitly" given at the very start of the page: 'Task: Look up 确实‘). Surely it would've been far better to avoid any clutteredness and potential confusion by commencing with a compound such as 实惠, and then followed it with another completely different example of a character(-compound), yet preferably one again with a radical from the first page of the chart used (to avoid having to jump over its page breaks).

4) It is using a dictionary with an index that directs one to a page number rather than supplying the Pinyin immediately in the index itself. While this may be the norm in Chinese-Chinese dictionaries sold in the mainland (and has its advantages when it comes to syllable-tones with lots of characters, which may stretch over quite a few pages!), the western beginner is far more likely to be using a bilingual dictionary (such as those from Oxford, or the University of Hawaii) that gives immediate Pinyin rather than mere page numbers. This may be a minor point, but one that is still revealing about the methods and (arguable lack of) thinking of the Yale writer(s).

Would you agree that this is a fair summary of (the flaws of) this resource, Roddy? And do you have any more "good ones" that you'd like me to cast my beady eye through? LOL. I take your point though that it is an attempt (just not a particularly good one) to provide the bare bones of how to use "a" Chinese dictionary.

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daveonhols

Have to say ... your crash course is way way way over the top complicated.

Using a Chinese dictionary is seriously not that hard, the methodology is simple:

1. Identify radical.

2. Count strokes of radical.

3. Find radical in radical look up table.

4. Turn to characters of radical section from 3.

5. Count strokes of character that are not in radical.

6. Find subset of characters with that radical and stroke count.

7. Find your character.

There are only a few complications, the biggest of which (IMO) is that beginners can't identify the radical. Also, beginners don't always know how to count strokes. Arguably this is because beginners aren't familiar with characters in general which is related to but not quite the same as not knowing how to use a dictionary.

I think you might like to decide if your crash course should be about actually how to use a dictionary (much simpler) or actually about better familiarizing oneself with the structure of characters (arguably more complicated). At the moment it feels to me a bit stuck between the two.

And also, I would be tempted to remove some of the more academic stuff about recursive third sort order or whatever it is. I can use a Chinese dictionary quite OK but I had never heard of this thing before ... so I am tempted to say it is not hugely necessary. Although it is an interesting bit of knowledge so thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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Gharial

Good points, Dave, especially the "stuck between the two". I'm definitely going to at some point rewrite and reorganize the course, so that it includes at least a few worked examples first before it leads into the more detailed, speed look-up nosebleed stuff!

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LanguageBarrier

Gharial Wrote:

Good points, Dave, especially the "stuck between the two". I'm definitely going to at some point rewrite and reorganize the course, so that it includes at least a few worked examples first before leading into the more detailed, speed look-up nosebleed stuff!

Please rewrite soon Gharial.

I feel confident you know what you are explaining but enthusiastically posted it prematurely undertanding it’s content but not neccesarily teaching it!

From a beginners point of view.

I also wonder if the course (with examples) could be wrtten in it's "own right" with reference to the Gif pages where required rather than the Gif's making up the course.

Starting the course with a short paragraph explaining the "Crash Course" it's objectives and level of understanding you aim to teach within it's pages.

Crash Course - Implies to me, Short, Comprehensive and Thought-Out learning aid,

Thanks Again

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Gharial

Here is the first page rewritten to include a basic example of a look-up:

post-35117-0-13394200-1319839828_thumb.gif

If anyone wants me to make "new" gifs of pages 2-9 and post them, I can, but the pagination has suffered (e.g. the example of residue initial stroke blocks now straddles pages 3-4, whilst the radical chart divisions now span pages 4-5 and 5-6) and I don't have time right now to improve it, so it'd probably be best to just staple this revised gif to the top of the old stack and transfer from the revision back to the old version of page 1 at the point where the six basic, simple strokes are introduced (which is at the beginning of paragraph 7 in the revised/the beginning of paragraph 3 in the old. Basically, four completely new paragraphs have been added between the old version's first and second paragraphs, and a very slight rewrite done of that old second paragraph).

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Gharial

I think I've found something to rival or exceed my crash course: James McCawley's The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters. I'd seen this book mentioned (in generally glowing terms) several times before, but what finally prompted me to check it out via Google Books preview was John Lawler's comment (here: http://www-personal....e/booklist.html ) that this was "The most readable and interesting treatment of Chinese characters available in English". Hmmm... :-?

Exhibit number 1 (page 13):post-35117-0-32516300-1337495544_thumb.jpg

http://books.google....epage&q&f=false

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LanguageBarrier

Hello Gharial

That looks interesting.

I'll have a look.

:D

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Gharial

Hi LB. McCawley's book may well get the Sinologically-newbieish yet pretty determined reader familiar enough with menus, but that glaring piece of misinformation that I've quoted, and the rather idiosyncratic method McCawley's developed for counting "strokes" generally, means there will likely be quite a few bad habits to unlearn for anyone hoping to springboard from his work into dictionaries proper. But hey, maybe his book has always been bought primarily by old (and quite "old school") hands, who'll know better.

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LanguageBarrier

Hello Gharial

Yeah, it's an odd quote.

I'm not sure I understand the reasoning behind it :(

Let's reinvent decimal counting system and eh.... leave out number 8.

:lol:

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Gharial

You should look at the rest of that page and the preview generally for more context, LB. Briefly however, McCawley's method essentially involves regarding each "corner" within a character's strokes as initiating a new stroke for the purposes of stroke-counting. That's all "well and good" (though given the pages he devotes to spelling out his system, it might've been easier to just learn conventional stroke-counting methods, what with their "added bonus" of actually being transferable to other reference works!), in that 'you don't have to know how the hand moves in writing the character the traditional way' (not that there is any non-traditional way, other of course than McCawley's, for the simple example provided, of 日 being 5 "strokes" rather than 4 in McCawley's system. [The attentive reader though will've noticed a more complex example mentioned in passing earlier: that of 魚 being a 13- rather than an 11-count in McCawley's system]. 'Conventional' rather than 'traditional' might've been a better word to use). He is plain wrong however when, on the other hand and in attempting to account for any possible confusion regarding strokes ending in hooks (which a reader obviously might assume were yet more "corners"), he assigns qualities to the traditional/conventional indexing system that AFAIK it simply does not have, by saying that it, unlike his book now, counts hooks as part of the stroke count; that is, I've never seen 丁 or 糸 counted, as McCawley suggests, as 3 and 8 strokes in any conventional index, but rather, always as 2 and 6 strokes respectively. (McCawley's system meanwhile counts these as 2- and 7-stroke items). This sort of misinformation just makes the transition to standard works that bit more difficult and potentially fraught (old dogs learning new tricks and all that). What McCawley of course should've said is that the conventional system doesn't count corners OR hooks, whereas his system counts the corners (that is, it is his system if any that is the inconsistent!), simple as that. Anyway, this "respected" linguist is deceased now, and his book hopefully little more than a dated curio (even if it's still being reprinted as a "classic" or whatever).

:lol::mrgreen:

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