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Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby HarakoMeshi » Fri 01.18.2008 3:15 am

According to this link, in 1968 the average University grad knew 157,000 words, and also makes reference to a dictionary with 547,000 compound words.

The article I remember reading said something like 45% of Japanese words had homonyms, so applied to that number there would be over 200,000. However I remember reading that after they elliminated certain words (don't remember the criteria), they arrived at something just over 100,000.

EDITED BY TONY TO FIX THE LINK
Last edited by HarakoMeshi on Fri 01.18.2008 3:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby arbalest71 » Fri 01.18.2008 3:35 am

I agree with some of the points you've made Harako, but.. I don't think there is much future in arguing that Japanese can't be read without kanji. There's a lot of evidence that says that it can be, and that trumps conjecture to the contrary, IMHO.

That doesn't establish that doing away with kanji would be a good idea, and I do think that YT may be too quick to discount their importance in respects that are harder to measure. I can read texts written in any reasonable proposed simplified English orthography (some of which are pretty extreme), but... I also consider these proposed reforms abominations.

Any linguist will tell you that what can be expressed in one language can be expressed in another. Any computer scientist will tell you the same thing about formal languages. What I can do with a supercomputer, I can do with a decent scientific calculator, given enough RAM and time. What I can do in one (essentially Turing-equivalent) language, I can do in another. This does not make me want to program in UnLambda, and it does not make me want to read a modern English Bible (I'm not making a religious argument here- I'm not a Christian- I just recognize that the KJ bible has enormous resonance in English, resonance that is entirely lacking in "Modern English" versions) or a modern Shakespeare.

I'm not well-aligned with the current US crop of conservatives (who often seem like radicals in conservative clothing to me), but I suppose that I am, philosophically, somewhat conservative. The last century had its fill of theorists seeking to overthrow every irrational vestige of the past, and this was not an entirely benign phenomenon.

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 01.18.2008 10:46 am

The Daikanwa Jiten isn't really a Japanese dictionary, it's a dictionary of the classical Chinese corpus. Although theoretically every word in the dictionary *can* be used in Japanese, a good portion of the words in that dictionary have only been used in classical Chinese texts, never in native Japanese ones.

45% of a vocabulary being homonyms sounds way too large to me, but I haven't seen any studies like this so I'm not sure.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby AJBryant » Fri 01.18.2008 3:55 pm

Morohashi was a god among men.

I would kill for a copy of the dictionary. But damn, those things can be expensive.


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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 01.18.2008 4:33 pm

It is a cool set of books -- I have no space in my apartment for a set, and I have very little use for the Morohashi (Genji and the poetry anthologies contain very few Chinese loan words). But often when I go to the library for other purposes I take down a volume of the Morohashi and just leaf through it because it looks cool. :)

EDIT: On the kanji topic, there's an experiment I'd love to see done with Chinese, but it's totally impractical. It would involve trying to teach native English speakers to read Chinese texts with absolutely no reference to Chinese sounds whatsoever. That is, all the teaching would be done in terms of English meaning of characters and words, and the grammatical explanations would just be done in terms of positions of the characters in the sentence. The explanations could be as detailed and technical as you want, as long as they stick to equating the characters and compounds only with English words. How deep of an understanding would it be possible to gain like this? Could you ever develop an actual reading proficiency in Chinese via this method? (My guess is "not that deep" and "no", but there's no way to tell for sure.)
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby furrykef » Fri 01.18.2008 5:58 pm

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if some people have already reached proficiency in written Chinese that way. The only snag in the method would be dealing with characters with similar meanings, since it's hard to keep them separate in your head. That's the main problem with the Heisig method... even though each kanji in his system has a single distinct keyword that never recurs, it's easy to mix some of them up due to their similar English meanings.

Teaching a whole class of people written Chinese that way probably wouldn't work so well, but I'm sure that individuals can do it. Considering that Heisig's new book on hanzi uses the same old method of teaching meanings before readings, I wouldn't be surprised if some people end up reading Chinese this way whether they originally intended to or not!

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby BetterSense » Fri 01.18.2008 6:40 pm

That would basically be like presenting a completely ignorant, english speaking child with chinese writing and saying 'this is english writing' or 'this is what we use to write english'. So, do you think that they could just learn it as english writing? That is a fascinating idea.

I think you could easily write english with kanji but chinese writing is still chinese writing. But then I don't know.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 01.18.2008 7:28 pm

Writing English with kanji would not be easy at all -- it would be impossible without making changes (the way Japan did).
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby furrykef » Fri 01.18.2008 7:52 pm

But Chinese vocabulary and grammar, from the perspective of the written language, have nothing to do with the sounds of Chinese. Some of the hanzi have phonetic hints, of course, but they're not that reliable and I've already learned how to write at least 1500 Japanese kanji without needing phonetic hints, so they're not necessary to understand the written language (although they may be helpful for correlating it with the spoken language).

It should be noted that some people in China already do something like this with their own dialects. There are people who don't speak any Mandarin, but can read and write well in standard written Chinese even though the language doesn't reflect their dialect well. Of course, those languages are still a lot more similar to Mandarin than English is, but you still have a similar situation: people learning the characters with readings that, when text is read aloud with such readings, does not produce any kind of real spoken Chinese.

Not to mention that it wasn't that long ago that all Chinese writing was like that, since text was written in wenyan, an only somewhat modernized version of Classical Chinese that no longer accurately reflected any dialect at all. Native Chinese today find wenyan very hard to read, even though I believe it is taught in schools.

Of course, again, Chinese dialects are still more grammatically similar to one another than English is to any of them, but I don't think the different grammar would be a big obstacle to learning written Chinese with English words, any more than it would be for learning written Chinese with Chinese words.

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby furrykef » Fri 01.18.2008 7:58 pm

Writing English with kanji would not be easy at all -- it would be impossible without making changes (the way Japan did).


That depends on what you call "changes". If you mean changes to grammar or vocabulary, well, obviously that would need to change or you wouldn't be writing in English, you'd be writing in Chinese. But I don't think that using a semi-phonetic system would be necessary, nor do I think it was strictly necessary for Japanese. You could use 了 as a past tense marker, for instance. 走 = "run", 走了 = "ran". True, it'd violate the traditional principle that every character must have a sound, so I guess that could be called a change, but the writing itself could still be very Chinese-like while still clearly representing English and not spoken Chinese.

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 01.18.2008 8:41 pm

I still don't think that it can be called "easy" by any stretch of the imagination -- of course you could probably conform Chinese characters to English somehow, but it would be a lot of work figuring out what characters map to which words (i.e. how do you show the difference between "but", "however", "although", etc.).

I also don't think it would be possible to learn it. The reason Chinese characters are learnable is that they correspond to morphemes in a real language -- if the correspondence was more arbitrary it would be much harder to learn. This is why Japanese just used the characters for sound and developed the kana, rather than somehow trying to represent everything in Japanese with characters used for meaning.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby arbalest71 » Sat 01.19.2008 12:32 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
I still don't think that it can be called "easy" by any stretch of the imagination -- of course you could probably conform Chinese characters to English somehow, but it would be a lot of work figuring out what characters map to which words (i.e. how do you show the difference between "but", "however", "although", etc.).

I also don't think it would be possible to learn it. The reason Chinese characters are learnable is that they correspond to morphemes in a real language -- if the correspondence was more arbitrary it would be much harder to learn. This is why Japanese just used the characters for sound and developed the kana, rather than somehow trying to represent everything in Japanese with characters used for meaning.


I think your experiment would be interesting. The truth is that there are a lot of experiments I think would be very interesting that go way beyond impractical- they are just not possible if you have the slightest concern for ethics. I'd be curious to know if children raised only with written language could ever become really linguistically capable.

I'm sure you're aware of Guatemalan Sign Language. How do you think that your experiment compares to that? I'm talking specifically about people who learned as children who seem to speak the sign language as their dominant language, not the adults who seem to speak a pidgin. I don't have much knowledge about that, so it's possible I am taking someone's word for it when I shouldn't, but it seems to be at least somewhat analogous.

Do you think that someone could learn to read well if they assigned some made-up set of morphemes to the characters? Do you think they would at least be able to learn a bit better than if they didn't? I'm guessing from your use of the word arbitrary that the answer to the first, at least, is no.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby HarakoMeshi » Sat 01.19.2008 5:50 am

I agree with Yudan that it would not be easy to map English to kanji.

Compare the complexity of writing Japanese versus Chinese caused by superimposing kanji on top of an existing language - lots of readings per kanji instead of just one; tons of kunyomi readings assigned to kanji, with irregular readings; much of the language is written with kana. However at least Japanese is already using a lot of words with Chinese (on) readings, so it at least partly conforms to Chinese morphemes and that side of Japanese writing is a lot more regular than the original Japanese side.

Now bring that to English today... if we allowed little use of phonetic parts like 'kana' (maybe could make exceptions for names?) you would end up with a very large number of 'kun' style readings with little pattern, because it would not be easy to break up most english words into regular morphemes to map to the kanji. I think we would either have to use much more kanji, or have much more irregular readings per kanji than Japanese. Either way I think it would be a harder writing system to learn and use than the Japanese have... and that's saying something :D.

If much of English remained phonetic, I'm sure there are many words that could be written with kanji in a practical way.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby furrykef » Sat 01.19.2008 7:54 am

I think we've strayed too far from the point. Perhaps I was too hasty in suggesting that English could be written entirely in kanji "without changes", though I do think it'd be simple enough if you were allowed to invent new kanji. Still, this has little to do with whether you can learn Chinese with English readings, which was itself rather tangential to the preceding discussion!

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby fan1989 » Wed 01.23.2008 6:29 pm

I just joined the forum today and I think it is good to learn kanji for words that are commonly used like 日本語 to be able to understand the language better espically if you are planning on living japan since required to know a certain 180 of the kanji characters to even pass level 4 of the japanese language profiency test.
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