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Which method for Kanji

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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 07.11.2007 9:25 am

I write Japanese on occasion, although a lot of the Japanese I write is either in romaji or on a word processor. I don't have a great need to handwrite Japanese in my daily life, although I'm able to do it when I have to.

Then it happens that quite a few of the keywords also are "*the* meaning" in Japanese.


A kanji does not have a meaning. It's used to write words which have meanings. No kanji has any meaning apart from a language that it is used to represent.

Japanese is admittedly a very special case where you have one ideographic/pictographic set of characters and two sets of phonetic scripts.


Really it's just three sets of phonetic characters; the third set just happens to be larger and more complicated than the other two.

If you know all the basic 2000+ kanji in Heisig's - or any other book covering them - you have a HUGE advantage compared with not knowing them.


First off, 2000 kanji is not "basic". Heisig would have you believe that 2000 are necessary to do any sort of reading whatsoever, but he's wrong. You don't need anywhere near that number to start reading things.

Sure, what you are saying is true. But I could also say that it's a big advantage to have memorized a dictionary vs. not having memorized it. That doesn't mean that memorizing a dictionary is a good use of your time, though.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby NocturnalOcean » Wed 07.11.2007 10:28 am

I think what Suedenjin is saying is just bullshit.
Even if you know 2000 kanji, but you know no grammar, not many words and so on. You won't understand a shit from a japanese text.
These days at school, we have started to read more and more advanced text. Sometime even if I know all the words, and kanjis by themselves, I just happen to not even understand the sentence. Why? Because the grammar happened to soemthing I didn't know, and I ended up understanding nothing. My experience with kanjis, are that sure sometimes you can guess the word that you see, because you know the kanjis. But not because you know some weird kanjis, but because I am able to remember several compounds where the kanji is a part of, and then try to draw some lines, once in a million you are right.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby stevie » Wed 07.11.2007 11:39 am

Even if you know 2000 kanji, but you know no grammar, not many words and so on. You won't understand a shit from a japanese text.

Well I don't think is true either, I just asked a Taiwanese friend about this earlier and she told me that knowing the hanzi/kanji characters alone you can get the general idea. She doesn't know a lot of Japanese (maybe about as much as I do) but she can read a Japanese newspaper and get the gist of what's going on - I am not even close to being able to do that.

Of course (and as we have seen many times in this thread already), for those serious about learning Japanese as a whole, a general idea is not nearly enough.

What I personally can conclude here is that:
- different people are more receptive to different learning methods - I have always believed this (though as was mentioned in another thread I think spaced repetition does no harm to anyone unless learning disabilities come into play I guess).

- heisig or other systems for learning and remembering kanji quickly, are just fine if you want to be able to recognise kanji apart from each other and assign a basic meaning (in english) to it. but not much good as a standalone tool for learning how to read and write and speak Japanese (or Chinese) on the whole. Also, it is worth nothing that any method won't work for everone in the same fashion.

- such systems may be useful if you have a good grasp of the language but aren't able to remember how to write a certain kanji, but I still think actually reading Japanese is the only way to learn how to really read Japanese, once you have accumulated the basic knowledge of grammar and vocabulary to begin doing so.

If you know all the basic 2000+ kanji in Heisig's - or any other book covering them - you have a HUGE advantage compared with not knowing them.

Likewise if you know 10000 words in Japanese you have a huge advantage compared with not knowing them. Also "or any other book covering them" - like the dictionary?

A kanji does not have a meaning. It's used to write words which have meanings. No kanji has any meaning apart from a language that it is used to represent.


The way I understand this is that, if I write 我 alone on a piece of paper and show it to a Japaense person and a Chinese person then they will think differently about it. Likewise for 私. If I ask a third person, with no knowledge of Kanji/Hanzi, then they too assign a different meaning, even if that meaning is 'what the heck is this?'.

Or take a character like 了, after studying Heisig would you have any idea how to use it?

The characters are used to express the language, not the other way around. Even when the characters have the same 'meaning' or connotation in Chinese and Japanese, without knowing the surrounding contexts, then any interpretation you can make of the character must be vague at best. That's just my feeling after reading this (and other) threads. Like I said though, I haven't actually used Heisig because I haven't felt the need to yet.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Suedenjin » Wed 07.11.2007 2:38 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:

Then it happens that quite a few of the keywords also are "*the* meaning" in Japanese.


A kanji does not have a meaning. It's used to write words which have meanings. No kanji has any meaning apart from a language that it is used to represent.

Japanese is admittedly a very special case where you have one ideographic/pictographic set of characters and two sets of phonetic scripts.


Really it's just three sets of phonetic characters; the third set just happens to be larger and more complicated than the other two.


Come, come, Yudan! Where in heaven and on earth have you been tricked into believing that kanji/hanzi is supposed to be a phonetic script??? These characters are pictographic and ideographic elements assigned a vast number of phonetic representations depending on where they occur. Show the kanji for "horse" and a Japanese person would immediatly say "uma". Show it to a mandarin speaking person and they will (propably, since I don't know Chinese) say "ma". I guess you would get other sounds in various parts of China but all would see a large animal able to run fast. Isn't that *THE* Meaning of the Character??

I could go on and on with kanji/hanzi whic have exactly the same meaning in Chinese and Japan. Show the kanji/hanzi for food/eat (SHOKU vs. Shi in Mandarin) anywhere in China/Japan, point to yourself and all litterate individuals will understand that you want to eat some food. Isn't that meaning? Show the kanji/hanzi for "black" when shopping and you will be served according to this and don't have to look at white clothes. And on and on it goes.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby richvh » Wed 07.11.2007 3:02 pm

Show the kanji for "horse" and "deer" to a Japanese person and point to them and you're likely to get your ass kicked. (Point to yourself, and the likely response would be laughter.) Your examples only work because you are using single-character words. When you start to get into multi-character words, it isn't so simple.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 07.11.2007 3:02 pm

"phonetic" is more applicable to Chinese than Japanese, I suppose. It's true that strictly speaking, "uma" is not a phone or a phoneme. It is a sequence of sounds that is assigned to the character.

What I meant to say is that Chinese characters are not ideograms or pictograms. They do not fit the definition of either term. (Exactly what they are is not always clear; various terms have been used for them, including "logograms", "morphosyllabery", etc.)

Show the kanji for "horse" and a Japanese person would immediatly say "uma". Show it to a mandarin speaking person and they will (propably, since I don't know Chinese) say "ma".


Exactly -- the character is representing a sound or group of sounds in the languages these people speak.

Isn't that *THE* Meaning of the Character??


I don't have as much of a problem with "The character 馬 means うま" as I do with "The character 馬 means 'horse'".

Also, you picked a character that happens to refer by itself to a concrete noun and is not widely used outside of things associated with that noun. It's nowhere near as useful with other characters.

The character 食 has no inherent meaning; it's just a jumble of lines. The only reason you can say it "means food/eating" is that it is used to write certain words associated with food and eating in specific languages.

What you're talking about is a very rudimentary, limited form of communication that can only enable you to do very, very highly context dependent things. (And you can do these things with alphabetic scripts in western languages anyway...)

Show the kanji/hanzi for food/eat (SHOKU vs. Shi in Mandarin) anywhere in China/Japan, point to yourself and all litterate individuals will understand that you want to eat some food. Show the kanji/hanzi for "black" when shopping and you will be served according to this and don't have to look at white clothes.


I have my doubts about both of these.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby AJBryant » Wed 07.11.2007 3:17 pm

Nocturnal Ocean, can you please tone down the invective?

You can communicate quite clearly without the naughty words.



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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby stevie » Wed 07.11.2007 3:36 pm

I don't know too much about the terminology.. technically Kanji isn't a phonetic script but then nor is Katakana or Hiragana either. Even so, it's easy to understand Yudan's point about the phonetic aspect of Kanji. Also, I believe Han characters are classed as logograms rather than idiograms because they represent morphemes rather than ideas, but in the context of this discussion I don't think the terminology matters all that much. The distinction is that hiragana and katakana are syllabries, Kanji is not.

Kanji characters do have meaning but only if you know the language which is the point people are pressing here. Yes, there are many examples where a kanji in Japanese and the same Hanzi in chinese have the same meaning or connotation - but not all. Being right half the time still means you're wrong the other half.

Moreover, I really don't find it practical to go around writing 食 if I need something to eat. If I'm in a situation where I need to communicate such and don't speak a language to communicate this I will do so with body language, not whipping out a paintbrush and doing a neat rendition of shoku. Unless I have to resort to that of course.

Which again comes back to learning the language, not just (some of) the characters that represent it in its written form.

I don't have as much of a problem with "The character 馬 means うま" as I do with "The character 馬 means 'horse'".

Just for the record, since I started thinking in this way myself I'm able to remember words, their readings and their meanings in Japanese so much better.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 07.11.2007 3:48 pm

I'm still undecided whether the terminology of kanji matters for learners -- it does seem to me that thinking of them as ideograms (i.e. characters that represent meaning without any sound) can be harmful to learning Japanese because it does steer a learner towards the idea that learning English meanings of kanji is a very important step towards reading Japanese.

If you like kanji meanings, I suggest making your own. For 食, learn common words like 食べる, 食事, 昼食, and 食パン. Even just from those four words you should be able to come up with a fairly good meaning -- and when you do that, you're doing the same thing the dictionary compilers and textbook writers do.

(I'm not saying that English meanings are totally useless or should be actively avoided, I just don't think they're important enough to warrant learning 2000 of them before you start learning how the kanji are read.)
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Suedenjin » Wed 07.11.2007 4:44 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
"phonetic" is more applicable to Chinese than Japanese, I suppose. It's true that strictly speaking, "uma" is not a phone or a phoneme. It is a sequence of sounds that is assigned to the character.

What I meant to say is that Chinese characters are not ideograms or pictograms. They do not fit the definition of either term. (Exactly what they are is not always clear; various terms have been used for them, including "logograms", "morphosyllabery", etc.)

I assume that it's more correct that one part of Chinese characters and their development through history indeed could be described as both pictograms and ideograms. A "horse" character is still an extremely simplified pictogram, i.e. a picture of a horse. "moon", "sun" "mouth" are some other examples of early pictograms.

Show the kanji for "horse" and a Japanese person would immediatly say "uma". Show it to a mandarin speaking person and they will (propably, since I don't know Chinese) say "ma".

Exactly -- the character is representing a sound or group of sounds in the languages these people speak.[/quote]

Nope. Not per se. A totally deaf person will be able to derive MEANING from a lot of Chinese characters. Show the kanji for "cat" and and an image of a cat - or why not a live performance by Missy? - to a deaf kid. Volia. This applies to hundred of kanjis.

Isn't that *THE* Meaning of the Character??


I don't have as much of a problem with "The character 馬 means うま" as I do with "The character 馬 means 'horse'".

Why? "The character 馬 means 'horse'" in China as well as in Japan. A citizen of China will just look at you if you say "uma" but will immediately understand the kanji.

Also, you picked a character that happens to refer by itself to a concrete noun and is not widely used outside of things associated with that noun. It's nowhere near as useful with other characters.


There are many kanji "verbs" and adjectives you understand immediately if you happen now the basic idea - "meaning" - behind the character. Walk, run, new, hot, cold, fresh, old, expensive and so on.

The character 食 has no inherent meaning; it's just a jumble of lines. The only reason you can say it "means food/eating" is that it is used to write certain words associated with food and eating in specific languages.

Exactly. It's a jumble of lines which can be hard to remember. Enter Heisig B) Nevertheless these lines are derived from older and more "expressive" characters. At some time in China there was a consensus that this should represent the action of eating and the food itself. It still is in both CHina and Japan.

What you're talking about is a very rudimentary, limited form of communication that can only enable you to do very, very highly context dependent things. (And you can do these things with alphabetic scripts in western languages anyway...)

Didn't get that paragraph at all.

Show the kanji/hanzi for food/eat (SHOKU vs. Shi in Mandarin) anywhere in China/Japan, point to yourself and all litterate individuals will understand that you want to eat some food. Show the kanji/hanzi for "black" when shopping and you will be served according to this and don't have to look at white clothes.


I have my doubts about both of these.

What sort of doubts? Are you seriously questioning the ability of Japanese and Chinese people to understand "sign language" using their own script??
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Suedenjin » Wed 07.11.2007 4:55 pm

richvh wrote:
Show the kanji for "horse" and "deer" to a Japanese person and point to them and you're likely to get your ass kicked. (Point to yourself, and the likely response would be laughter.) Your examples only work because you are using single-character words. When you start to get into multi-character words, it isn't so simple.


I get your point re "horse" :) "deer"?

I happen to be one of these wicked pull-the-whole-thing-apart and see if you can put it back together again. Words are built up by individual kanji. Individual (more complex) kanji are built of smaller components, sometimes proper kanji or sometimes radicals never used on their own. Just like some people like to open an old-fashioned watch and see how the wheels are spinning there, I like to break open to molecules of written Japanese to get down to the lowest (smallest) level. I just learn and function better that way.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Suedenjin » Wed 07.11.2007 5:07 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
(I'm not saying that English meanings are totally useless or should be actively avoided, I just don't think they're important enough to warrant learning 2000 of them before you start learning how the kanji are read.)

We are finally back to where I started here. The way Heisig lays out his course the English meanings are merely a mnemonic aid, just as his stories/plots. Personally I look in other kanji books/dictionaries as I go along to see how the kanji is used in the proper language. All of the mnemonic tricks fade away into the background the deeper you get into the course.

As I think I said there is now requirement to learn all the 2000 kanji in RTK1. The first time I used his book I dropped out at around 1200-1400 since I was sloppy at creating the mnemonics on my own. Now I am better. I still had a tremedous amount of use of these first characters I could remember when I started to read Japanese. Since there are quite a lot of characters - words, compounds - I frequently encounter in my reading and just never seem to able to remember I decided to start from zero again and go through the entire course in How Not To Forget Kanji. Suits me. Doesn't have the be so for everybody at all.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby stevie » Wed 07.11.2007 5:16 pm

Are you seriously questioning the ability of Japanese and Chinese people to understand "sign language" using their own script??

Well my friend Yuka, a native speaker of Japanese, told me she really dislikes Kanji and has a hard time remembering them - I think this is true of many native speakers albeit to different degrees. We all forget words and their spellings in English from time to time, after all.

So yes, I think there is reasonable grounds to doubt that a native speaker will automatically understand your intention by just pointing to a single character, especially if you try what you have suggested with less common kanji/hanzi. If you're just trying to reach many people with minimum effort, then knowing how to write shoku will maybe get you something to eat - but with body language you can already indicate many such things to almost anyone on earth and you can do it ad-lib on the spot, in realtime.

What you're proposing is an extremely limited form of communication and you have -no- control over how the other person can and will take it. I think this bears consideration as well. Just going up to someone and throwing a flashcard in their face may come over as a little bit rude, or at least outright strange.

For the record, if someone comes up to me and says "food" or shows me a piece of paper with the word "food" on I think, "yeah? what about it?"
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby witega » Wed 07.11.2007 5:45 pm

Suedenjin wrote:
I assume that it's more correct that one part of Chinese characters and their development through history indeed could be described as both pictograms and ideograms. A "horse" character is still an extremely simplified pictogram, i.e. a picture of a horse. "moon", "sun" "mouth" are some other examples of early pictograms.


Here, and elsewhere, you are relying far too much on history. In fact, the majority of users of any language do so with minimal knowledge of the oral or written history of the language. And this has no impact on their ability to use the language to *now*. 馬 started as a pictograph of a horse. Now it is an abstract symbol that no one who didn't already have some knowledge of Japanese or Chinese would associate with a horse. In Japanese that abstract symbol represents the free morpheme 'uma' and the bound morpheme 'ba' -- both of which generally mean horse but not always (e.g., 馬が合う or, as richvh pointed out, 馬鹿). English 'A' started life as a pictogram of a bull's head but that has no relevance to its modern shape or usage. I don't recall off the top of my head what 'I' was originally a pictogram of but again that's irrelevant to modern usage. In English (only) it is a symbol which used alone means the 1st person individual. Used in combination it represents simply a phoneme. Show it to non-English speaking European and it represents only a phoneme (maybe or maybe not the same one as in English). Show it to a Japanese person and he'll think it represents the morpheme こう and may have something to do with construction.

There are many kanji "verbs" and adjectives you understand immediately if you happen now the basic idea - "meaning" - behind the character. Walk, run, new, hot, cold, fresh, old, expensive and so on.


When the used vocabulary of most languages starts at 10,000+ that's not many. At most its the basis of a pidgin not an actual language. And even some of your examples are questionable--高い for example, doesn't always, or even usually mean 'expensive' though that is one of its meanings; and which 'fresh' do you mean? 新た or 涼しい. The one word has 2 meanings in English, but the two meanings don't cross-over in Japanese.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 07.11.2007 7:19 pm

Suedenjin wrote:
I assume that it's more correct that one part of Chinese characters and their development through history indeed could be described as both pictograms and ideograms. A "horse" character is still an extremely simplified pictogram, i.e. a picture of a horse. "moon", "sun" "mouth" are some other examples of early pictograms.


All writing systems (probably) started as either ideograms or pictograms, but the crucial development that changes pictures into a written language is the realization that a picture of a thing can also stand for the sound of that thing.

Exactly -- the character is representing a sound or group of sounds in the languages these people speak.


Nope. Not per se. A totally deaf person will be able to derive MEANING from a lot of Chinese characters. Show the kanji for "cat" and and an image of a cat - or why not a live performance by Missy? - to a deaf kid. Volia. This applies to hundred of kanjis.


For deaf people, replace "sounds" with "signs". No matter what, a child has to learn some language first before they can learn to read written symbols. You simply cannot have a writing system abstracted from language.

Exactly. It's a jumble of lines which can be hard to remember. Enter Heisig B) Nevertheless these lines are derived from older and more "expressive" characters. At some time in China there was a consensus that this should represent the action of eating and the food itself. It still is in both CHina and Japan.


Actually the standard character for "to eat" in Chinese is 吃.

What you're talking about is a very rudimentary, limited form of communication that can only enable you to do very, very highly context dependent things. (And you can do these things with alphabetic scripts in western languages anyway...)

Didn't get that paragraph at all.


What I mean is that you can only your "kanji on paper" technique for very basic things, where the context supplies a lot of the meaning. The things you've described so far would be possible to do without kanji as well; i.e. miming being hungry, or pointing to something black.

What sort of doubts? Are you seriously questioning the ability of Japanese and Chinese people to understand "sign language" using their own script??


I'm questioning the idea that someone armed only with Heisig could carry out significant communication in Japanese or Chinese just by writing characters on paper.

In particular, writing 食 and then pointing to yourself would take some luck to get a native Japanese to interpret that as "Give me food", although it depends a lot on the context. And even if they do interpret it as "give me food", what do you do when they respond "nani ka tabetai n desu ka?" or "zyaa, uti ni kimasen ka?" or something like that? The idea of walking wordlessly up to someone, showing them 食 and pointing to yourself, and being rewarded with food, is pretty unlikely.
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