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Right, and another, very fundamental problem with Heisig-style approaches is that they ignore the role that sound plays in writing, essentially treating every character like a semantic compound (會意字). Writing has three components: form, sound, and meaning. Ignoring any of those is detrimental. Chinese characters (form) have sound components and meaning components. Learning characters via their functional components makes it possible to use the sound and meaning of a word to recall the form (that is, how to write the character). If you know the character you want to write is pronounced jiāng and the meaning is a river, it's easy to use your knowledge of sound components (what can sound like jiāng? 將、工、畺 etc.) and meaning components (what's likely to be in a character that means river? 水) to recall how to write the character (江, of course).


The point of all this (one of the points, anyway) is to strengthen the learner's ability to recall any character they've learned with a high degree of accuracy over a long period of time. Mnemonics fade away over time (though they can be very useful in getting the character into your head in the first place), but a systematic knowledge of how functional components work will serve you well for a very long time.


Another benefit to this sort of system is predictive ability. If you know what pronunciations 尚 (for instance) can represent as a phonetic component, then when you run into 淌 for the first time, you'll have a good idea of how it might be pronounced and what it might mean (especially if it's in context).


A lot of people ask us why we place so much importance on being etymologically accurate — teachers have told us that their students use method X and get good grades on their tests. Those two points (long-term recall and predictive ability) are the answer. We're not aiming to help people ace their dictation tests (which is a very short-sighted metric), we're aiming to help people get literate in Chinese, to be able to use it as a tool over the long term.

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What will the digital format be? A simple pdf/epub, integration with pleco or your own website/app?


TBA. ;) We don't have anything locked down just yet, but I'll announce here when we do.




Sounds like what zhongwen.com has.


I talked a bit about zhongwen.com in the first post. His etymologies are flawed and very outdated because he based his book/site almost entirely on the 說文解字 (one noted palaeographer has said, and I'm paraphrasing, that it isn't outrageous at all to say that the 說文解字 is wrong most of the time. It is nearly 2000 years old, after all.). Ours will be based on the latest research, plus it will be in a much more usable format, not to mention a host of other advantages over his book and others. It's probably the best thing out there currently, but after all, Harbaugh is an economist and not a specialist in etymology.


Another point where ours differs with Harbaugh's is that we will have semantic charts showing a basic outline of how the meaning has changed over time. So you'll learn how a character got from its original meaning (亦 meant armpits, for example) to its current day meaning. The only meaning that has a direct relationship to a character's form is its original meaning, so for characters like 亦, this is especially helpful.



Thanks for the kind words, everyone! I should mention that we're also open to suggestions for content ideas. The post on 高興 was suggested by one of our followers on Twitter, for example. If you have a question about etymology, studying Chinese characters, or anything else that we think merits a post or video, we'll do one!

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Well, to ShaoLan's credit, she (or her team) has some serious marketing skills. I'd love it if we could get a TED talk, write-ups in The Wall Street Journal, and all the other media attention she got, but I wouldn't even know how to start going about it. From a design standpoint, too, they did a great job. But that's where it stops, unfortunately. Her character explanations are folk etymologies at best and made-up gibberish at worst, she doesn't even talk about pronunciation, and her "qualification" for doing the book is that her father is a calligrapher. Well, mine is a chiropractor. Anybody care for a spinal adjustment? :mrgreen:

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I'm not sure Chineasy was successful simply because there wasn't anything better. Some people just seem to want to have their belief confirmed that all Chinese characters are pictograms...


Anyway, really excited about this project! Will the entries in the dictionary be similar to your blogpost on 高興? And if not, is there any chance you could give us a teaser of what the final format will look like?


Also, is it possible you could give any estimate of when the dictionary will be done?

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Will the entries in the dictionary be similar to your blogpost on 高興? And if not, is there any chance you could give us a teaser of what the final format will look like?


Well, we want to avoid overloading people with information. That kind of thing will be in the "red pill" section, but the info will be more condensed than in the blog post.


As far as what it will look like, we're working on that. It will, of course, depend on the platform via which we release it. Once we get that finalized, we should be able to post a mock-up of what the final product will look like. I can give you a general timeline:


1. Ash is working on getting his paper on sound components finished and getting a promise of publication from a journal. That has to happen before we can talk to anyone about our approach to sound components. I even had to sign an NDA for him to tell me about it. He's a little protective of it. This might take a month or two, depending on the journals he shops it to.

2. After that, we'll hopefully be able to nail down the distribution platform. I'm not sure how long this takes, but I wouldn't imagine it's a really long process.

3. Then we can show you the mock-ups.


Also, is it possible you could give any estimate of when the dictionary will be done?


We're hoping to finish within a year or so. To continue the above timeline:


4. Once that's done, I have to go back to Taipei for a few days so we can shoot our pitch video...

5. ...for our Kickstarter. We've put a ton of our own money into this, but the research itself involves hiring people to do data entry, create and maintain our database, library maintenance, not to mention office rent and upkeep, etc. We're keeping our costs as low as possible (and they probably get sick of hearing me ask, "And how much is that? Are you sure we need it?") but it still gets expensive. We could pitch the project to investors, but we don't want to lose creative control over the project to a 行外漢 if we don't have to. On that note, we're open for suggestions about possible perks for different donation levels.

6. After that, it's just (just!) a matter of finishing the slog through all the research, writing the thing, and getting it published. But we're writing it in three languages (more accurately, we're writing it in Chinese and then translating it to English and German), so it takes time. The upside of this is that releasing it digitally should significantly cut down on the amount of time it takes.


During the whole process, we'll continue putting up blog posts and videos about Chinese characters and how to learn them, as well as other topics like how to improve your tones, etc. We've also got a list of blogs that we're hoping to guest post on (one of which is already confirmed), so look out for that, too.


By the way, our blog is now here. It should be accessible from China now, but if not, let me know. Chinese and German versions are coming soon.

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A really interesting project, can't wait for it to be ready.


As for donation perks, it's tricky. Apart from the obvious branded detritus, I would say access to exclusive content would most interest people, but that would mean more work on your side or risk keeping potential promotional material like the blog posts you've already published hidden. Maybe early access to information would encourage people to donate, something like showing research notes, little titbits of info that you weren't able to use. Cutting room floor stuff. Maybe if you made the "red pill" section subscription only, then gave donators free access; six months for x amount, a year for a bit more, something like that. Of course, I'd rather it all be free, but you have to pay for all this somehow. Oh and please don't actually call it the "red pill" section in the finished product. That would be embarrassing.


PS Wordpress images etc all have the wordpress domain name, so will automatically be blocked in PRC. Host them somewhere else and you'll be fine.

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Don't worry, the red pill thing is just a joke. :) I'm not sure if I like the idea of making that content subscription-only or otherwise cost extra, and it would certainly make things more complicated.


We were thinking about doing things like exclusive videos or ebooks for donors at a certain level. For instance, the content of Ash's annual ICLP talk would make for a good video, and it's something the vast majority of people can't get access to normally. We're also thinking about offering a live webinar or even 1-on-1 Skype consultations. Hadn't considered branded detritus, though. Outlier coffee mug, anyone?


But yeah, maybe research notes or other behind-the-scenes stuff would be an option.


Thanks for the ideas.

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I think that certain blog posts or dictionary entries, perhaps condensed and with a bit of design magic, would be appealing on a t-shirt or coffee mug. What better way to say "I'm studying a really cool and difficult language, and I'm pretentious enough to tell everyone about it"? I'd buy the mug. The question is, which character? A set of 5000 would be impractical.

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- Custom calligraphy if you know some calligrapher who wants to support your project as a top perk
- Postcards/shirts ... with fancy oracle bone characters
- Sponsorship for individual characters, so that somewhere my name is listed as sponsor of “龜"
- Limited prints: Special gold edition, cheat-sheets (most common components, phonetic components, ...)
- I also like the idea of getting additional videos

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