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Remembering Kanji

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Re: Remembering Kanji

Postby hyperconjugated » Fri 09.26.2008 10:53 am

Hyperworm wrote:I'd like to be able to remember for sure which kanji is used in which situations (and how to write it), and not just be able to recognize kanji compounds using vague unstable mental images of kanji.

Just press henkan lol :-D Maybe some people need ability to handwrite all kanji on spot without any reference works. I don't think most students of Japanese need that ability but that just me. Also this thread is interesting read
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Re: Remembering Kanji

Postby Harisenbon » Sat 09.27.2008 1:42 am

hyperconjugated wrote:Just press henkan lol :-D Maybe some people need ability to handwrite all kanji on spot without any reference works. I don't think most students of Japanese need that ability but that just me. Also this thread is interesting read


I consider the ability to write a kanji without using a computer of looking it up to be on par with knowing how to spell in english. To put it another way, computers come with spell check now, so why should we learn how to spell?
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Re: Remembering Kanji

Postby Wakannai » Mon 09.29.2008 1:33 pm

y bther to sphell chk wen peepl no wat u meen?
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Re: Remembering Kanji

Postby agirman » Thu 10.02.2008 3:50 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:The character 寺 was made from 寸, which at the time represented a hand, and 之, which was used purely for sound to express walking. The original meaning was to work with hands and feet, then to types of buildings associated with work, which later came to refer specifically to where priests stayed, thus a temple.


Do you have a source on this? I have examined every kanji that contains as a radical and have not found anything that would indicate that it does or has ever meant "hand", with the possible exception of 肘. I am not a scholar of ancient Japanese, nor am I trying to be argumentative (though as text lacks any inflection, I can easily see this query being interpreted as a challenge... which it is not meant to be), but from a practical stand point, I can't see why 寺 would be considered a combination of 之+寸 when it appears to me that the かんむり/かしら is clearly 土. Not to say that a system as complex as a language isn't riddled with such logical traps, but hey.

Yudan Taiteki wrote:In the rest of the kanji having 寺, the kanji acts mostly for sound value, although it tends to lend some meaning of work/movement (i.e. in 時, 持, 侍). But this isn't necessarily relevant to remembering the kanji in the modern language.

The main problem is that none of this has anything to do with Japanese. The big step you need to make is to apply what you're doing with these symbols to actual Japanese words, sentences, and paragraphs. Learning kanji means learning to read Japanese, it doesn't just mean making sense of abstract collections of lines.


I also have to disagree with you here, as my goal is to not to 'make sense of abstract collections of lines' but rather to construct a mental framework that I can act upon. True, learning Japanese (and therefore applying the symbols to actual Japanese words, sentences, and paragraph) is a worthy goal, but saying that ignores the means by which you get there. I'm not saying that my way is the best way, but I think you're dismissing it out of hand. I see no difference between the example I outlined and the act of remembering english roots:

"polis" means city, ergo:
metropolis, necropolis, politician, etc...

knowing that "micro" means small and "scope" means 'to see' is enough to derive the meaning of 'microscope'/'microscopic' even if you've never encountered the word. You could probably easily parlay that into periscope and microcosm, and build that into peripheral and cosmic. Likewise, knowing that 言 means speech or language, I can glean information about 詩 that I would not otherwise have been able to. Even if I can't say a priori that 詩 means poetry, once I look it up, I will see that there's some sense to having 言 as a radical in there (since poetry does indeed involve words), and as I'm reading something moths down the road, the radical will serve as a reminder to me of the kanji's meaning. Again, I'm not saying it's for everyone, but I find it to be a perfectly viable way to expand my English vocabulary, because knowing the atoms reduces the need to remember each word individually, and likewise, to learn kanji (which incidentally I always learn in conjunction with a vocabulary word, as a matter of course).
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Re: Remembering Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 10.02.2008 6:32 pm

agirman wrote:
Yudan Taiteki wrote:The character 寺 was made from 寸, which at the time represented a hand, and 之, which was used purely for sound to express walking. The original meaning was to work with hands and feet, then to types of buildings associated with work, which later came to refer specifically to where priests stayed, thus a temple.


Do you have a source on this? I have examined every kanji that contains as a radical and have not found anything that would indicate that it does or has ever meant "hand", with the possible exception of 肘. I am not a scholar of ancient Japanese, nor am I trying to be argumentative (though as text lacks any inflection, I can easily see this query being interpreted as a challenge... which it is not meant to be), but from a practical stand point, I can't see why 寺 would be considered a combination of 之+寸 when it appears to me that the かんむり/かしら is clearly 土. Not to say that a system as complex as a language isn't riddled with such logical traps, but hey.


The information was from the 漢字源 (Kanjigen) dictionary, which has etymologies for every character. Remember that these characters are thousands of years old and have gone through form and meaning changes. Yes, in the modern character the top part is 土 but originally it was 之.

According to the Kanjigen's entry for 寸, the character represents a hand, and has always indicated a unit of length, but the entry notes that when 寸 was used in other characters it often carried the meaning of a hand, or holding. This is not always evident in the modern meanings or forms of the characters and sometimes the connection is loose or obscure.

I was just talking etymology, not necessarily useful information for learning characters. The only reason I brought it up is that you had speculated on the etymology of 寺.

As for the learning method, I always caution against using any method that seems to rely on some idea that kanji are the basis on which the foundation of the entire Japanese language is built. Associating 持 (for instance) with an English meaning like "have/hold" can be useful, but on the other hand it can act as a mental block when you come across words like 維持 or 支持 that have little to no connection with having or holding something. It's even worse with other kanji like 着 or 行 that are used in words with a wide variety of meanings that are hard to capture in English keywords or meanings.

I'm always wary of English keywords or meanings for kanji because they never encapsulate the wide range of usages that many kanji have, and they encourage a view of kanji as embodying meaning in themselves rather than through a link to the sounds and words of the Japanese language. Stories and mnemonics can be good for remembering kanji, particularly writing them, but you have to be careful, particularly with English "meanings".
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Thu 10.02.2008 8:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Remembering Kanji

Postby richvh » Thu 10.02.2008 6:48 pm

Henshall (A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters, p. 37) says about 寺:

Once written (止 over 寸), leading to long-standing belief that 止 is stop 止 129. However an earlier form (pictogram skipped) shows that it is in fact the confusingly similar variant of growing plant 生 42 q.v. It is used here to symbolise activity (an extended meaning from living growth as opposed to inanimate inertia), and combines with measure/hand 寸 909, which here means regular and methodical use of the handsregular and methodical use of the hands, to give [b]active and methodical use of the hands (rather than stationary work with hands when 止 is taken to mean stop). This was a reference to clerical work (the English use of the term manual labor to mean physical labor being somewhat misleading), and by extension place of work/government offic. It can still have this meaning in Chinese, but generally came to mean temple since temples were often associated with clerical work.
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Re: Remembering Kanji

Postby agirman » Fri 10.03.2008 10:13 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:The information was from the 漢字源 (Kanjigen) dictionary, which has etymologies for every character. Remember that these characters are thousands of years old and have gone through form and meaning changes. Yes, in the modern character the top part is 土 but originally it was 之.

According to the Kanjigen's entry for 寸, the character represents a hand, and has always indicated a unit of length, but the entry notes that when 寸 was used in other characters it often carried the meaning of a hand, or holding. This is not always evident in the modern meanings or forms of the characters and sometimes the connection is loose or obscure.

I was just talking etymology, not necessarily useful information for learning characters. The only reason I brought it up is that you had speculated on the etymology of 寺.


Thank you, that seems like it would be an interesting resource. I have a bit of a love affair with (English) etymology, so I would be most curious to leaf through it.

Yudan Taiteki wrote:As for the learning method, I always caution against using any method that seems to rely on some idea that kanji are the basis on which the foundation of the entire Japanese language is built. Associating 持 (for instance) with an English meaning like "have/hold" can be useful, but on the other hand it can act as a mental block when you come across words like 維持 or 支持 that have little to no connection with having or holding something. It's even worse with other kanji like 着 or 行 that are used in words with a wide variety of meanings that are hard to capture in English keywords or meanings.

I'm always wary of English keywords or meanings for kanji because they never encapsulate the wide range of usages that many kanji have, and they encourage a view of kanji as embodying meaning in themselves rather than through a link to the sounds and words of the Japanese language. Stories and mnemonics can be good for remembering kanji, particularly writing them, but you have to be careful, particularly with English "meanings".


I see your concerns. It's true that such blocks can be very dangerous (if you need proof, try learning to type on a Dvorak keyboard) and I wholeheartedly agree with you. My focus in learning Japanese however, has been to attain a "critical mass" of knowledge with which I can begin to blunder my way through conversations. I totally understand that making such a device as previously explained isn't going to carry me through the whole language, as there are always exceptions. (Speakers of English should know this implicitly, as ours is a Frankenstein's monster of a language). I would still say that knowing "I before E except after C" is a pretty handy device to know, even if you're going to trip over leitmotif eventually.

There's a book I recommend, called Pragmatic Thinking and Learning, which isn't about Japanese, or even language; it's about how one goes about attaining mastery of a given subject. To whit:

Andy Hunt (Pragmatic Thinking and Learning) wrote:Despite the mythological overtones, this vision is fairly common when considering an expert in any particular field (ours [software engineering] is just arcane enough to make it a really compelling image).

Consider the expert chef, for instance. Awash in a haze of flour, spices, and a growing pile of soiled pans left for an apprentice to clean, the expert chef may have trouble articulating just how this dish is made. “Well, you take a bit of this and a dash of that—not too much—and cook until done.”

Chef Claude is not being deliberately obtuse; he knows what “cook until done” means. He knows the subtle difference between just enough and “too much” depending on the humidity, where the meat was purchased, and how fresh the vegetables are.

It’s often difficult for experts to explain their actions to a fine level of detail; many of their responses are so well practiced that they become preconscious actions. Their vast experience is mined by nonverbal, preconscious areas of the brain, which makes it hard for us to observe and hard for them to articulate.

When experts do their thing, it appears almost magical to the rest of us—strange incantations, insight that seems to appear out of nowhere, and a seemingly uncanny ability to know the right answer when the rest of us aren’t even all that sure about the question.

It’s not magic, of course, but the way that experts perceive the world, how they problem solve, the mental models they use, and so on, are all markedly different from nonexperts.

A novice cook, on the other hand, coming home after a long day at the office, is probably not even interested in the subtle nuances of humidity and parsnips. The novice wants to know exactly how much saffron to put in the recipe (not just because saffron is ridiculously expensive).

The novice wants to know exactly how long to set the timer on the oven given the weight of the meat, and so on. It’s not that the novice is being pedantic or stupid; it’s just that novices need clear, context-free rules by which they can operate, just as the expert would be rendered ineffective if he were constrained to operate under those same rules.

Novices and experts are fundamentally different. They see the world in different ways, and they react in different ways. Let’s look at the details.


I am sure that your experience in Japanese is more comprehensive than my own, and that the advice you give here has been hard-won. I am likewise sure that your advice is more than sound, I just feel like making the jump from pedantic methods like mine to organic methods like yours is something beyond the means of those just starting to learn.
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