Thursday, February 5, 2009

Radicals/Components 101 - 002

#chinese #hanzi #mandarin #japanese #kanji .
Radical/Component 1
Radical/Component 3
The second radical - gǔn "line" - is used as the radical index in dictionaries for characters like 中,卜,临,师 and 且. As I mentioned in the first part of this series I don't use radicals as a look-up tool for dictionaries, so I lack in experience here. (Today we have and the likes!) But I got a little hick-up when seeing 且 here. If you look at the stroke order diagram (animation) here 丨is indeed the first stroke, but so it is in radical 109 - mù 目eye, so I am rather happy not having to dig deeper into these radical radicals. They work perfectly well here as a menu for components.

A vertical stroke ..... In a character like 中 (zhōng - middle) it doesn't need any elaborations: a vertical stroke dividing a rectanglar right in the middle. Heisig uses the keyword walking stick (or cane, rod) for this component. In 丨+ 日 (rì - sun/day) we get the new character/component 旧 (jiù - past, worn, old), i.e you need a cane to take you through the old days.

Brush Strokes

In the first radicals/components (2-6) we will have to move below the "atom" level of the characters - components - and look at the "elementary particles" as individual brush strokes. This has little to do with the meaning, but the aesthetics of characters and how to improve handwriting. Yes, handwriting is an essential part of learning here.

The most important feature of vertical strokes is that they should be absolutely vertical. As you can see with horizontal strokes - like Radical/Component 1 - it's rather a rule than an exception that they are slanted upwards, but no angle whatsoever with strictly vertical strokes.

All Kanji/Hanzi as we see them today are created with a brush. To learn how to write them well you need to have a font - or examples - making this clear. - The nciku animations use a very similar font. - To use a font created for printed matters in small type is a very bad model: see the white on black characters below.

These strokes even have names: the one to the left is called "dropping dew" and the one to the right is called "suspended needle". The thin black lines show the approximate paths a brush would take when painting these strokes. When writing with a pen - nag, nag: preferably a fountain pen - it's not necessary to make the long trip back upwards in the dropping dew stroke, but the important point to distinguish between the clear tapering off in the needle stroke, where you gradually ease the pressure of the pen until the stroke fades out. In dropping dew you keep the same pressure and make a distinct stop and make a small upwards movement before releasing the pen. This is all about making the writing look ALIVE.

Stroke Order Diagrams: -

Radical/Component 1
Radical/Component 3

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Today's Word: Nun's Dragon

#chinese #mandarin #hanzi #japanese .
There is a goldmine of "funny words" to be explored in the "hanzification" of imported words. This is one area where Japanese has the edge, so to say. Where Chinese only uses Hanzi to write foreign words - and then you have to know how the character is pronounced - Japanese has the phonetic Katakana to make the pronunciation easy; more later.

It would be tempting to search for some correlation between the meaning of the individual characters and the word they represent, but I think this is in vain for 99% of the time. So what is a Nun's Dragon, or if you prefer, Nun Dragon? Ní + Lóng = Nylon. To satisfy out never ending quest for interesting images, we can visualize a nun putting on her Nylon Dragon Stockings in her cell. Beware though: 尼姑 is a Buddhist nun and 修女 is Christian nun.

We have already explored various dragon characters here, but I am still too fond of the traditional Dragon Character to skip it here:

A beauty, isn't it? (Would be interesting, though, to learn how the Masters of Simplification arrived at the version above!) Finally a look at Nylon from the Japanese perspective:

As you probably know Japanese has two scripts on top of Kanji: Hiragana and Katakana. The latter is used mostly for foreign loanwords - and do they have those in tons in Japanese? - and some emphasis in ordinary text. This means that once you have learned the 48 syllables in Katakana you can pronounce most loanwords, but there is a black hole here: these loanwords are not always what we think! アルバイト arubaito, from German Arbeit, does not simply mean work, but part-time work. And so on....

Radicals/Components 101 - 001

#chinese #hanzi #mandarin #japanese #kanji .
Question: What is the difference between a radical and a component (or primitive)?

Answer: First of all it's a question about how they are used. The radical listing - Wikipedia: List of Kangxi Radicals - was basically "invented" as an indexing system making it possible to find individual characters in a dictionary. They can thus also be called classifiers, used as headings in dictionaries.

A component is either the smallest unit - "atom" - in a character or more than one unit "bundled" under one label/keyword. The character for sun/day is an indivisible unit/component for all learning purposes here, but when you for the sake of memorization combines 日 + 一 you get a new label: 旦 sunrise (Heisig: nightbreak). This is then a component used in other characters.

Question: Why at all bother with "Radicals" here and not stick with, say, components or primitives?

Answer: It's the most common term for character components and are used a lot in China, Japan and other countries where Hanzi/Kanji make up the basis of the writing system. Eventually there will be a time when we need to find a character/word in a dictionary using the radicals.

Radical/Component 001: one (yī)

In the beginning there was ONE. As a radical 一 has that meaning of "one" in 三 only, as far as I know: 一 + 二 (radical 7) = 三.

As a component it has several functions and meanings. First of all it's a horizontal 'delimiter': horizon, floor, heaven, ceiling etc. It's very common to have things hanging down from 一 or reaching up to the roof/ceiling/top:

不 天 下 干平 雨

The other way around it can symbolize the ground/floor/horizon/bottom in the characters

上 旦 丘

So what's the purpose of turning "one" into other meanings? Memory! Not all of us have perfect visual recall or a memory able to store very abstract concepts. It's simply easier to memorize a story than strokes or abstract concepts/symbols. To take a very simple example here (a character you probably will remember as a visual):

+ = (links to

"The wizard keeps his magic wand hanging down from the ceiling" or "The fortune teller has his divining rod/staff hanging down from the ceiling". (卜 [bǔ] = fortune telling 下 [xià] = under/down).

Questions/comments are appreciated.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Today's World: I Ching or Economy?

#chinese #mandarin #hanzi #japanese #kanji .
[ See also Tomorrow's Chinese/Japanese Radical(s) ]

I am a man of honor keeping my promises, so here is something easy:

It is easy: change + scripture = Book of Change = "I Ching" or Yìjīng as preferred in China. The simplified character for "easy/change" is a sun. On top of .... rays? An animal? Since it's not so far removed from the character for pig - 豕 - it would be possible to assign the label piglet to it, but Heisig has gone one step further and views it as the curly tail of the pig/piglet. Suggested story: It's easy to change a huge pig to a small piglet - or even nothing but a tiny piggy tail - when you put it under the hot, shrinking sun. 'Nuff said.

Let's dig deeper into Chinese tradition:

The Yin/Yang ☯ duality is probably even more CHINA than I Ching, for many of us living in the west. The Female Principle vs. the Masculine Principle, some would say. Sun vs. Moon (as in the simplified characters above) , Day vs. Night, Light vs. Darkness ... Darkness? Yes, if we look at the traditional characters the YANG principle is dominated by the top Sun, but all those strokes to the right in YIN is actually telling us that it's in the SHADE, and what's more refreshing after too much sun than to get into the shade? (阝 = some sort of hill/pinnacle).

From the world of Chinese thought to the ups and downs of the Brave New World we're living in : economy:

It's just like it should be. In the combination of the characters easy/change and sutra/scripture we got The Book of Change. OK, the character to the right above has many more meanings apart from "cross (a river)", like aid, relieve, help, be of help, benefit but it is still a stretch to arrive at Economy. That' is, if the ancients were clever enough to predict that the economy in the future - our time - would be "a religion/philosophy in need of help"??

See: I am making this easy, not getting deep down into any character details. Until now. I can't help getting very fascinated by how these characters have traveled through the ages, from China to contries like Korea, Japan and Vietnam. When you think about it, it's really amazing that there hasn't been more "corruption" of the originals.

Here are three versions of sutra (WikiPedia):

The component for thread 糸 is the same in all three versions, apart from the three strokes at the bottom reduced to a single one in the simplified character, as usual. The old character/component 巠 presents some familiar items like 一 (one - yī) and 工 (work - gōng) with sandwiched <<< style="font-weight: bold;">

Update: This project follow the technique/method of James W Heisig ("Remembering the Kanji" and Remembering the Hanzi"). It's nothing more than doing exactly what's been done here: break down the characters to smaller "atoms" (radicals/primitives/components) and turn them into actors in a story to help you remember the character. In Heisig speak the two components ス + 工 in 经 are a spool. In my own mental image the entire character is a Tibetan Prayer Wheel (Wiki) where prayers - sutras! - are sent rotating on threads from the center spool. Click image from WikiPedia below to enlarge.

Tomorrow's Chinese/Japanese Radical(s)

#chinese #mandarin #hanzi #japanese #kanji .
After setting your neurons into crazy loops with all the complex characters here, I am happy to announce that tomorrow - February 3, 2009 - is the day when all will be peace and ease here. Then I will start to post everything from step one, hopefully with a couple of updates every day. No promise, though.

The entire idea with this site is to demonstrate that it is NOT very difficult to learn and remember even the most complex character. This is not to say that it will not require time and effort, but the process per se is not something to fear or loathe.

Instead of seeing 2000+ Kanji or 3000+ Hanzi as your dreadful future, you can instead see a limited amount of friendly components, radicals, primitives, or graphems (a term used in the book Kanji ABC) where each of them is fairly easy to learn and memorize.

Despite the fact that I have never used these items as part of the list of RADICALS, I have chosen to start there since they are easily available on the net: List of Kangxi radicals - Wikipedia. Suddenly we have a limited list of 204 radicals, which will be boiled down to even a smaller number here for learning reasons. (If you look at the list you will notice that the final radicals are complex characters, which can be broken down to smaller components. Not what we need here.)

Until tomorrow I leave a character animation from as something to look at and perhaps even meditate over. "One" is the very beginning. This is a brush stroke, but we should try to get as close as possible even when using a pen, preferably a fountain pen.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Today's Word: Electric Brain

#chinese #mandarin #hanzi #kanji .
Yes: computer. You guessed right.

I have not found any frequency list so I am not sure which of the two words for computer is the most common one, but I guess it is the second one below:

电脑 diànnǎo -- 计算机 jìsuànjī

Nevertheless, I think an Electric Brain 电脑 is more fun than a Calculation Machine 计算机.

电脑 diànnǎo -- 计算机 jìsuànjī

Nevertheless, I think an Electric Brain 电脑 is more fun than a Calculation Machine 计算机.

As mentioned earlier here, I was not very happy with Chinese Simplified Characters when I started to go from Japanese/Kanji to Mandarin. - Here you find the posts on Simplifications. - There still are some simplified characters that I would like to have reverted to their original, traditional version, if I could. Electricity is one of those hanzi:

Not all characters are immediately offering a view of the original idea/object, but here is an excellent time-machine. The top part of the traditional character - same as the Kanji - is the rain radical/primitive 雨, used in so many characters for weather etc.: 雲 cloud, 雪 snow, 露 dew, 雷 thunder and so on.

The bottom component is the most interesting, though: is it a turtle, tortoise or a dragon? The blue, middle characters are tortoise and a simplified version of dragon (Kanji, but also a less frequently used Hanzi). So the first 'vision' of electricity was some sort of dragon in the sky appearing when it's raining. Neat. What's left in the simplified form is thus only the dragon part.

Confession: I was too much in a hurry when I wrote Today's Hanzi: Very difficult?

As you might remember I confessed ignorance regarding the bottom components of the "mane" character below.
If I had given my memory a bit more time to work, it would possibly have arrived at "hmmm.. doesn't this remind me a bit of BRAIN??" Let's look at the simplified brain character again (to the right below).
First there is what we can call the moon-flesh component signaling a part of the body. Then we have a) a lid of some sort, b) X and c) a container shape. We can agree that the brain indeed is a huge X - seen a brain recently? - contained in our skulls. No argument there. But.... here we go rats again!

I know, I know.... You might go rats here in the beginning, but the whole idea with this project is to show show you that each and every Kanji/Hanzi - simple or complex - is painted from a very limited palette of components/radicals. There is no absolute consensus on exactly how many radicals we should use, but consider slightly over 200 as the maximum.

To make it more interesting the ancient scribes added their own twists and misreadings, and we will never know exactly what. The traditional brain has the "hair" trio <<< and [x] with a little dot or accent´. No doubt: a head. If we go further back in history you can see that head of the ancient mouse/rat had the same head, but without the extra dot.

Trust me: Your memory is vastly superior to any computer! There will be a slight memory overflow in the beginning as you dive into this, but the dust will soon settle. Electric Dragon (in the Sky) settles into the Body Part called Brain. Now quickly: put on the lid!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Today's Hanzi: Very difficult?

#hanzi #chinese #mandarin #kanji
Chinese Characters can be difficult to remember, not doubt about that. But there is probably a notion that "difficult" character - that is: complex character with many strokes - are more difficult to remember than more ordinary Hanzi/Kanji. What about these mainstream character:

They might be easier than the more complex and stroke-rich character we will look at soon. but remember that you can fill an entire page with these "medium" characters, and the individual characters will soon start to get fuzzy.

I continued exploring animal words/characters after posting Today's Word: Cat-Headed Bird-Bird. I think my experience from Japanese can be applied to Chinese as well: animal names can have pretty tough characters. Here is what caught my eye: Iguana - lièxī.

The right character is the generic one for lizard: insect (see below for another one) + "chop" (divide, separate = tree + axe), i.e. something that chops up insects. A lizard tongue? But it's the left one that is Today's character: mane. I didn't manage to download an image where it's very clear that iguanas have some sort of mane on their back, but this was pretty good:

And here is a close-up of only "mane" liè:
Hmmmm.. A lot of stuff, isn't it? But wait: the difficulty is to identify the components. Once you have done that, it's very unlikely you will forget the character. The left part is a component meaning ... hair. And the bottom part is also meaning .... hair, or to be more precise, a head with hair and beard. Once again the doubling-up we have seen before: hair + hair = mane.

If you look at the most common traditional character and Kanji for hair you find the first component again (on top of the component for "friend"):

The bottom part is slightly more tricky, but if you ignore the fact that < < < style="font-weight: bold;">Taped/crossed over mouth is the symbol for the head here.

And then I have to declare defeat! I have not found any etymological suggestions regarding the lowest 7 strokes, looking like some sort of legs, really. We have already seen these "legs" in the character for mouse/rat. (Weiger suggest that these strokes are the whiskers of the mouse.) But here it is a beard! We have to draw them as graphical elements and memorize them as such.

It's interesting - and sort of a relief - to note that the lower component set in "mane" has been simplified in characters like wax/candle and hunt. Note "insect" again - from above - to the left in the first character and the "wild dog" component in the second one. See cat in Today's Word.

The final challenge is to draw this character so it gets fairly equal in size to other character, but it's perfectly OK to make it slightly higher when writing with a pen/pencil. But DO draw it several times. Promise? Then I will promise less complex characters the next several times here :-) Good luck!