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Outlier Linguistic Solutions


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Good question! They're sort of a vague indicator of semantic distance. If the semantic component's meaning is very close to the character's meaning, we'll use "indicate." A bit further, and we'll say "points to." If it's a looser connection, we'll say "hints at." There's some subjectivity to it, of course, but we wanted to break up the monotony somewhat, without doing it in a random way.

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Thanks. To clarify this concept of semantic distance, you are not saying that you have less confidence (with a "hint", say) that a component is a semantic component, right?


But rather that, whereas it's hard to imagine a semantic component in 她 not being a component that means 'woman', in 作 the 亻 (for 'people') could quite easily have had a different semantic component (e.g. a 扌) or indeed none at all?

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Well, anything could have had different components, and often did. Components with compatible meanings were swapped out all the time, especially in Warring States script. 亻 could be swapped for 女卩身尸大 etc., as all have to do with people. 糸巾帛布幺 etc. often got swapped for each other too, as they all have to do with textiles. We ended up with the characters we have in the modern script due in some ways to historical coincidence.


So we're not indicating uncertainty or a lower level of confidence, or that something could have been something else. We're simply indicating how close the semantic relationship is between the character's meaning and that of its semantic component.

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  • 2 months later...

Quick heads up: our Black Friday sale is going all weekend—40% off anything in the store (dictionary, courses, and posters, for both Chinese and Japanese) with the discount code 'BFCM2021'. We're also in the process of re-filming the courses and adding a bunch of material to them, so we'll likely raise prices on the courses sometime next year, making the current price probably the lowest price they'll be available for again.


Edited to add: of course any new material will be included no matter when you purchase the course!

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  • 1 month later...

I was sitting there looking at 疑窦, trying to figure out what the 穴 in 窦 was trying to tell me, before I noticed that the remainder was the d-u sound from 读 and 牍. Unfortunately the Outlier entry only sent me deeper - why does a character pronounced in Modern Mandarin as mài lead to shu/xu/du/dou pronounciations? And why does 賣 get used to represent these, yet 買 seems to stay out of the action as a sound component? Was wondering if any research had been done on this?


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I have a theory: it's due to confusion between 賣 and 𧸇.

賣 (說文作𧷓。从出从買) apparently got its sound from 買.

𧸇 (从貝𡍬聲。𡍬,古文睦。讀若育。) also means 'to sell' but is pronounced yù < juk. (I suspect it's the same word as 鬻 and 儥.) If you look at 說文, these characters with a *uk sound all have a 先+買-lookalike as their phonetic component, not 出+買. For 贖 the text even reads 从貝𧸇聲.

But this distinction obviously disappeared over time, just like the 月/肉 distinction.


EDIT: I don't know why but some characters won't display on my phone

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There are actually two characters/components that resemble 賣 in modern Chinese: 𧶠 yù and 賣 mài. They have different origins but have largely converged in the modern script (that is, though I've typed them using different code points here, in standard Chinese and in most fonts, 𧶠 yù is written identically to 賣 mài when it appears as a component). 𧶠 yù is the sound component in those characters, not 賣 mài. The system data is generated by code and then checked by hand, but it looks like we missed this one. We'll get it fixed so that it's more clear in the next update. Thanks for pointing it out!


Here are early forms of each (賣 mài in 小篆, 𧶠 yù in 西周金文), along with a quick breakdown of their original components:



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  • 9 months later...

Yes, it did! We added another 180 Essentials entries (total ~3350) and 80 Expert entries (total ~330).


We've also just launched a new course: Early China: History, Culture, and Archeology. It starts in February but it's open for registration now. Should be a really interesting one!

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  • 5 months later...
  • New Members

I noticed a few inconsistencies in the system level information, wanted to check if something is going wrong on my end. It seems like a lot of characters don't show up in the series that they're part of. For example, the entry for 澱 says that 殿 is a sound component, but looking at the sound series for 殿, the only entry is 臀 (I think that 澱 also might not appear in the semantic series for 氵, but the list was too long to confirm). Some other ones I've noticed are:

  • 滷 doesn't appear in the system level info for 鹵
  • 奠 doesn't appear in the system level info for 酋 or 大
  • 豁 doesn't appear in the system level info for 谷
  • 尷 doesn't appear in the system level info for 監
  • 尬 doesn't appear in the system level info for 介
  • 瓷 doesn't appear in the system level info for 瓦
  • 啄 doesn't appear in the system level info for 豖
  • 柴 doesn't appear in the system level info for 此
  • 惹 doesn't appear in the system level info for 若
  • 舵 doesn't appear in the system level info for 舟 or 它
  • 趁 doesn't appear in the system level info for 走 or 㐱
  • 衍 doesn't appear in the system level info for 行
  • 焰 doesn't appear in the system level info for 臽

Not sure if I'm missing an update or something, or if the information is really not there in the dictionary.


By the way, I love the system-level info feature (which is why I've used it enough to notice the things that are off). It really helps me organize the characters into meaningful clusters that are much easier to understand and remember. I really appreciate the work you've put into this!

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Thanks for pointing that out! It looks like we didn't fully update the system data with the last release. We'll get that fixed in the next one. Glad you like the system data—we're big fans of it too!

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  • 6 months later...

Two big updates to the dictionary in the past 6 weeks or so:


v1.9 added around 500 new Essentials entries and about 75 new Expert entries.


v1.10 added another ~270 Essentials entries, bringing the total to over 4000 characters. This was our final goal for number of entries covered. We'll still continue to add new characters, but they'll mostly be semantic and phonetic components that don't have entries yet, unless any glaring omissions are found.


But we're pretty happy to say our dictionary now covers all the characters you need to know in order to become fully literate in Chinese, including all of the characters for the HSK and (I think, but still need to confirm) TOCFL tests.


In other news, we put together some really cool courses this year, all of which are now available to do self-paced:


Get Speaking Mandarin: Learn all of the basic grammar and most common several hundred words of Mandarin, and drill it until you can use it with confidence in normal conversations with native speakers. The course starts from zero assuming no prior knowledge; however, the vast majority of people who have taken it are beginners who 1) struggle to understand native speech in real life contexts, or 2) struggle to string sentences together in real time conversations. We've seen massive improvements from people, both self-reported and observed/reported by Ash (my co-founder), who's teaching the course. One student said the course has "progressive, consistent, and well-thought-out materials that have dramatically accelerated my progress. My language exchange partners here have been amazed at my progress over the past 3 months, and really appreciate that my sounds are more clear, tones more accurate, and grammar much more natural sounding." We'll be doing more of these courses at higher levels starting in 2024.


Early China: History, Culture, and Archeology: I mentioned this course in a previous post, but that was before the course actually took place. I'm very proud of this one—it covers the history and archeology from the neolithic precursors of Chinese culture through the Han Dynasty. Each lesson consists of a history portion where we discuss the social and political developments of the time in question, and an archeology portion where we dive into a recently discovered archeological site that has reshaped our understanding of the period. The course also includes video walking tours of a few museums in China, along with a few thousand photographs of the artifacts in the museums. We also read from historical sources from the Shang (oracle bone inscriptions) through the Han, with both the original Chinese and English translation provided for each text.


Chinese Cursive Crash Course: an 8-week (or 8-lesson) crash course in reading and writing 草書 and other cursive styles. You'll learn the principles of abbreviation by which cursive forms of characters are created, which helps to decipher unfamiliar cursive forms. We also looked at a lot of famous works of 行書 and 草書 and discussed some of the most important calligraphers in Chinese history. This one was a super fun course. If you know at least 300 characters and want to learn about cursive, this is the course for it. 


Intro to Premodern Chinese Literature: A survey of Chinese literature through the early 1800s, starting with the Odes 詩經 and finishing with Dream of Red Chamber 紅樓夢. This one is taught by Brendan O'Kane, who has really done a bang-up job. Many of you longtimers will be familiar with Brendan, but for those who aren't, he's an accomplished literary translator and has taught Chinese literature and translation at the university level in both Beijing and the US. Our students have been crazy about it, so if you're into literature, I highly recommend it. Taught in English with both the original Chinese and English translation provided for each text.


Philosophy and Practice in Early China: A survey of the "six schools of thought" of ancient China, and why the "six schools" model falls short of describing the real situation. The course covers the major philosophical texts of the Warring States period, plus a lot of recently unearthed philosophical texts that are rewriting our understanding of early Chinese thought. It's taught by Dr. Sam Goldstein, who did his PhD on Chinese religion and excavated philosophical texts. Taught in English with both the original Chinese and English translation provided for each text.


And last week, we just announced a collaboration with Andrew Methven of Slow Chinese and the Mandarin News Mastery course. He's teaching a 5-week crash course on how to read the news in Chinese called the Chinese News Bootcamp, starting January 9. Very excited about this one!

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