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Gharial

Review of Adrian van Amstel's Chinese Character Dictionary

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LawrenceHowell

Superbly comprehensive review! And I could read your prose all day.

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Gharial

Heheh, thank you Mr H (and Balthazar, Lu, Luxi, realmayo, 艾墨本, and whoever else might upvote my review!).😍

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Shelley

Very comprehensive review, well done.

 

As you mention you are interested in 

7 hours ago, Gharial said:

unusual and possibly innovative indexing systems

 

I wondered if you have come across the Tuttle Chinese Character Fast Finder?

This arranges characters based entirely on shape, no stroke counting and no radicals. You could use this with almost no knowledge of Chinese.

It lists 3,200 character including all HSK levels so very useful for the student.

This might not be your final reference but it helps you identify characters and allows you to do further research.

I found it very useful when I started and can still be very useful.

You can preview some pages here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mandarin-Chinese-Characters-Fast-Finder/dp/0804849099/ref=dp_ob_image_bk

 

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Gharial

Hi Shelley, how's it hangin'? :)

 

I remember taking a looksie in certainly the Kanji Fast Finder back when I was in Japan, but reckoned it didn't have enough in it (it's not even a 字典 but just a bare-bones glossary really, and even 字典 become white elephants somewhat if one knows or can closely enough guess the readings necessary to simply jump straight into 词典 (that more Japanese general than kanji dictionaries had radical indexes just in case though! The only one I'm really aware of is the Langenscheidt, which IIRC only total-stroke-count indexes, and then for just the Jōyō)), plus it seemed rather indebted to Halpern's SKIP method (System of Kanji Indexing by Patterns, as used in the Kenkyusha~NTC New J-E Character Dictionary, and the Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary etc: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1B69FR745DVQ2 ), and with its (own) apparent inconsistencies (why for example from the CCFF preview pages are 双 and 水 considered acceptable left-right divisions but 从 and 兆 aren't?).

 

Ultimately isn't it just replacing the "pain" of conventional indexing with the "new" (albeit somewhat less intense if not prolonged) pain of scanning? Especially when one will probably need as you say to return to a dictionary proper to really learn enough LOL. And haven't smartphones with their high-tolerance handwriting input made whatever paper-based look-up methods (unless a method has something non-trivial and more widely applicable to say about character decomposition) kind of redundant anyway? 😱🤩

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murrayjames

@LawrenceHowell

 

Quote

Superbly comprehensive review! And I could read your prose all day.

 

As I read the original post I thought, @Gharial writes like someone who needs footnotes. At the bottom of the post, sure enough, the footnotes are there.

 

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Shelley

@Gharial its not bad, thank you.

 

I wasn't advocating this method as a one fits all panacea. I merely wanted to enlighten you to a method that does not rely on stroke count OR radicals. As you appear to be perfectly aware of this style I feel as if I have tried to teach my Grandmother to suck eggs and she has explained to me all the intricate methods involved in sucking the perfect egg. :)

 

I would like to say that when I was a complete beginner and indeed even now at a more advanced level, I find it very useful. It can help when you aren't sure which component is the radical, especially when there are 2 components that could be radicals or are combined and are actually only one. I don't have a problem discerning which shape category a character falls in to for me this is very clear and straight forward.

Once I have found the pinyin and the tone I can look it up in any of the countless dictionaries I have at my disposal either electronic or paper and fill out my knowledge.

 

I also found your writing very readable not because of footnotes but because of the very liberal and much appreciated use of paragraphs:D

 

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Gharial

@murrayjames Uh oh, I added a couple more footnotes, hope you don't mind :D

 

@ Shelley (I couldn't get the @ function to work as there are apparently quite a few Shelleys on C-Fs and your name didn't appear among the ones given): Your bearded new grandmother might give you a complimentary copy of his I mean her revolutionary new dictionary TM (once it's ready), provided you scrape all the floor fluff out of those broken eggs and make hers a nice strong eggnog. :P

 

Seriously though, that review took several hours per night over more than a week to finish, and there was a fair bit I decided to leave out (or gave up on working out. I'd be better putting the time into my own projects! 😎). And if money were no object I'd probably buy most of Matthews' books (even that one with all the quite involved mnemonics for character meanings and readings including tone).

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Gharial

For what it's worth there are actually a couple of academic reviews of the CCD, one by Zhang Xinming in the vol 2.1 issue (from 2016) of the journal Researching and Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (pdf available at http://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/RTCFL/article/viewFile/32920/pdf ), the other by Jonathan Webster (a Systemic-Functional linguist at the City University of Hong Kong) in the vol 47 no 1 issue (Jan 2019) of the Journal of Chinese Linguistics (one can find at least excerpts of this latter easily enough online).

 

Webster draws on a few of Zhang's observations but is more critical of the CCD, saying towards his conclusion that 'Van Amstel's priority in creating the CCD was clearly the arrangement of the characters, while the information about each character's meaning along with accompanying examples was clearly secondary in importance'.

 

The same or similar could be said about certainly the indexing system and indeed ordering (as with new methods these are usually one and the same!) in McGraw-Hill's Chinese Dictionary & Guide to 20,000 Essential Words: A New Method for Non-Native Speakers to Look Up the 2,000 Most Commonly Used Characters in Chinese (which I bought a copy of before it increases any more in price LOL).

 

That is, the "Broken Marks" method that it employs may well be the best thing since sliced bread to some (even though it often nearly doubles the count number required - for example, 了 is now 4 marks, presumably 一  丿  l  丶 given those are the only 4 prototypes presented generally, rather than as conventionally two strokes, the first akin to 乛 and the second a 亅 - and there is a lot of scanning involved to find characters when only the leftmost and/or highest mark is taken as the first, primary mark in any group of characters with the same number of total marks, and no explanation given of any possible subordering), but making it the actual means of arranging all the characters in the main body of the work (than making it simply just a featured index) consigns users to an eternal mark-based or (if one prefers and via the supplementary conventional, solely simplified* look-up radical index, or obviously most easily via the Pinyin index) a two-stage look-up process even when they already know the pronunciation of the character(s) involved. But hey, it obviously wouldn't do to have made the Pinyin alphabet the main ordering and the Broken Marks method merely supplementary eh, when the BM Newfangled Method is the whole raison d'etre for the creation and more importantly the marketing of the work.

It's not that this particular McGraw-Hill is a bad book - it's beautifully produced, with excellent-quality paper, a very interesting-looking English translation to Chinese supplementary index, and probably the clearest font I've ever seen (albeit not exactly hard given the A4-size pages! Ken Lunde and Miguel Sousa of Adobe helped with the formatting and developed a special font for especially the Pinyin), and the examples can be amusing (e.g. 孩子们要学习中文, 于是, 傻瓜就去买《汉语断笔码词典》 ShaGua's kids wanted to study Chinese, so he bought the 'Chinese Broken Marks Dictionary'. (ShaGua is a recurring character. Strangely, no Pinyin is provided for the examples, which surely limits the market for this supposedly easier-to-use dictionary! The same applies to the Related Words at the end of each entry, i.e. vocab in which the head character isn't initial, but this is similar to say Harbaugh, and this is probably the better vocab builder of the two)) or seek to impart 'unique cultural tidbits' (e.g. 中国的右翼是自由派, 左翼是保守派; 这与美国不同  In China the right wing is liberal but the left is conservative; this is different from America) - but that the editors disseminate a bit too much misinformation in the Preface to justify their venture.

For instance, the Kangxi (1716) was not 'the very first Chinese dictionary' (so let's not overstate the difficulty of compiling Chinese dictionaries), and there seems little point in saying that only two out of 300-plus students enrolled in Chinese courses at the Miami University of Ohio actively used a Chinese dictionary if it's possibly only paper dictionaries that were the focus of the survey (and what about any potential deficiencies or indeed potential pluses e.g. fantastic textbooks full of plenty of lexicogrammatical detail? of the instruction in the Chinese program there); then there is again the strict avoidance of mentioning any possibility of Pinyin alphabetical-ordered direct look-up or even using things like the 难检字笔画索引 ('Stroke Index for Difficult Characters', which goes by total stroke count) in dictionaries such as the Xinhua Dictionary with English Translation (Commercial Press International, 2000) to find e.g. the character 尹, the surname of three native Chinese with PhDs who'd been tasked by the BM's editors to look up said character by radical in the Xinhua. (They all needed several attempts, and one apparently almost gave up, but that is surely due more to the deficiencies of the decisions of the Xinhua's indexers than to radicals per se. Better and/or bigger conventional dictionaries can obviously opt to list 尹 under more or other than just 乙 and 尸 . To take an "extreme" example, the New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary allows the look up of a character by virtually any conceivable radical thanks to its Universal Radical Index).

 

Lastly, Unicode codes are provided for each simplified head character, e.g. 乡 U+4E61, but as there are only 2000 (i.e. pretty frequent) characters included and most people use IMEs etc there will probably not be much use for this feature generally.

 

I'm no defender of convention (well, not simply for convention's sake), but dictionaries like the CCD and this McGraw-Hill do little to help familiarize students with the vast range of established and useful printed, online and electronic resources. The CCD severely underestimates the difficulties involved in visually decomposing Chinese characters, while the McGraw-Hill severely overstates them, and both systems ironically limit easier access to their contents because they are too wedded to their grapheme-based means of arrangement, as if Chinese had never met or ever been married to an alphabet. All that being said, the McGraw-Hill is by far the easier to use and more comprehensively indexed of the two, which is one good thing at least! 😍

 

*There are however both simplified and traditional broken-marks indices supplied, though the simplified essentially reproduces the ordering of the main text and is thus somewhat superfluous.

 

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Gharial

Just thought I'd post a sample entry from the dictionary I'm writing, that aims to offer more than certainly the ones I reviewed above (and if I may say so myself, the parsing and indexing systems I've developed beat the pants off Van Amstel's, it's literally almost as easy as ABC), but it'll be at least a few years yet before any release.🤪

 

How many takers would there be though for a dictionary like this, that starts from the characters in the Oxford/Commercial Press Concise or Pocket and gives them the good ol' phonetic treatment and more, if priced at hmm...around £20-25? (I'll need to see quite what Createspace say might charge for A4 size and with colour for at least those search string headers).😋

 

If there's not much interest, no worries, I'll just produce it for my own reference and further research purposes! 😎🤣

 

Edit: Uploaded new (and tone-corrected!) screencap that gives each sense its own new line rather than packing them all into a block of text, but whether there'll be space to always do this in the finished product remains to be seen (the extra pages might raise printing costs a bit too much).

 

1331800045_entryforyong1.thumb.JPG.9778caa5b02f0cb84b0dba17e8f3f1e9.JPG

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Shelley

Oh yes much better, really like it. I would be happy to use it now. A simple but effective change:)

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Tomsima

@Gharial Just out of interest, in your screencap 平庸 is written with the pinyin 'pīngyōng'. is this an error or is this a literary reading I haven't studied yet?

(Amazing work on the dictionary, cant even comprehend...!)

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Gharial

Thanks Shelley! Your feedback as a potential user is really appreciated.:) I'll now run that Cuba and Tom line by you though come publication time.🤩:P🤑

 

Ooh and thanks also, Tomsima! Keen-eyed corrections like that are really helpful. I guess there's something about the meaning of 平 that keeps throwing my grasp (if it can quite be called that!) of the tone off, even after I've been looking at entries for the compound with 庸. That, or the tone from the entry-focus of  庸 somehow transferred itself back across or something. In future I'll make 100% use of entering hanzi into and copying the resulting Pinyin back from Google than risk typing up the Pinyin myself (but even the Google output sometimes may need slight correcting regarding spacing/word segmentation at least).

 

The really hard work though was the parsing system and the instructions for it (and all the necessary decompositional analyses, possible redirects, etc etc etc), so compiling the actual entries is quite fun in comparison. A rather polysemous entry like 庸 takes about a day (or two, if all the sub-meanings are to cohere well and with a paleographically-motivated, overarching main meaning) to research and draft, but it'll hopefully get quicker as I settle on format, style etc, and there are enough quick entries like 鹌: 鹌鹑(的鹌) - not that I'd quite type it up like that LOL - that the speed sometimes evens out (speeds up) a bit!

 

Thanks again guys, your responses help keep me motivated!🤪

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