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A new book to learn Japanese kanji through real etymologies

#1
Hi there.

I've been studying kanji for more than 7 years and I've come up with a book to teach kanji through real etymologies, which I think is pretty relevant to this board.

In order to publish the book I've launched a Kickstarter campaign and we are on track but still there is a long way left. Many people have shown very good feedback but the project doesn't get much exposure outside the Kickstarter community, so I'm sharing it with people that may have interest in such a book.

Feel free to check the project page here and see if you like the book and think it's for you!

In case you wonder, I'll sum up what's different compared to other kanji learning books out there:

The foundation of the book is the deep etymological research I've made. The basic (indivisible) compounds used in the Chinese character formation are actually pictograms, and we have access now to those pictograms in their bronze script and oracle-bone script forms. I include this glyph besides each component in order to show the real (original) form and how they suggest a meaning and work in relation to other characters. This way you can depict quite clearly a quite comprehensive system of character formation: you start to naturally learn characters and see the logic behind it. The compound characters are deductible from the components you've learn before (although in each new entry the character is entirely explained through its components one more time). You can see an example of this in the Kickstarter page itself.

In addition to that and related to it, it’s the order in which the characters are learnt. I'll explain with an example:
  • First you learn 145 radicals at once (although they are already grouped by topics)
  • Then the book gets divided in levels of difficulty based on school grades, from level 1 to 6 and then secondary school. Each level is a different chapter.
  • We go with the chapter 1 (level 1). The chapter first gets divided into topics (human world, natural world and man-made world).
  • Lets start with the human world. There we have the first phono-semantic compund: 交 (garde 1), then we have the character 校 (also grade 1), and then the character 効 (grade 5)
  • The characters 絞 and 郊 also share the component 交 but they are of the secondary school level, so they will appear in the level 7 (secondary school grade chapter)
This way you can learn the 2136 joyo kanji in a very efficient and smooth way. I think the book not only makes a good learning system but also a valuable academic resource.

If you are skeptical and think the examples on the page are cherry-picked or don't show the whole system you can ask for any kanji's etymology (within the joyo list) and I'll explain it to you here according with the content of the book. I have not gone further with examples in the page because kanji are teaching gradually and you need to know some components first in order to smoothly learn new kanjis, in any case, in a board like this I have more room to write at length.

I'm also up to any suggestion!

A sample of the book:

[Image: 9f7d7d1e65b87d90e9dc85cf9addc6e2_origina...6265448ff6]
Edited: 2017-03-16, 2:25 am
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#2
Does your manuscript cover simplifications like 廣→広? Seeing the traditional forms can be useful for etymology study.
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#3
(2017-03-16, 10:45 am)fkb9g Wrote: Does your manuscript cover simplifications like 廣→広? Seeing the traditional forms can be useful for etymology study.

While the book focus on the official characters used today (the simplified forms or shinjitai) traditional forms are mentioned and there is also an index that covers them.
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#4
Thanks for your response!

Seeley & Henshall's 2016 book The Complete Guide to Japanese Kanji also covers the jōyō kanji with their bone script etymologies. Your book looks like it is better in a few ways:
  • less crowded page layout improves legibility
  • fewer irrelevant historical/speculative notes
  • better bone script glyphs (Henshall's are muddy and often illegible)
Also, a correction: the jōyō list has 2136 kanji (not 2163 or 2146).
Edited: 2017-03-16, 12:33 pm
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#5
I'm digging the black magic aesthetic. Also, thank you very much for planning to release an e-book. If this turns out to be a good resource once it's complete, I might buy a physical copy, it'll look great next to Language Myths.
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#6
Maybe fix the typesetting ... Angel
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#7
(2017-03-16, 12:32 pm)fkb9g Wrote: Thanks for your response!

Seeley & Henshall's 2016 book The Complete Guide to Japanese Kanji also covers the jōyō kanji with their bone script etymologies. Your book looks like it is better in a few ways:
  • less crowded page layout improves legibility
  • fewer irrelevant historical/speculative notes
  • better bone script glyphs (Henshall's are muddy and often illegible)
Also, a correction: the jōyō list has 2136 kanji (not 2163 or 2146).
Although Henshall does give a short, snappy mnemonic for each kanji which is why I like his book.....
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#8
Oh, I missed something. The examples show all readings given in romaji. Will there be a version with no romaji, ebook or otherwise? If not, I won't be able to recommend it.
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#9
(2017-03-16, 2:19 pm)wareya Wrote: Oh, I missed something. The examples show all readings given in romaji. Will there be a version with no romaji, ebook or otherwise? If not, I won't be able to recommend it.

I'm cool with romaji being in the book.  Not all users may be familiar with kana.  They might just be for whatever reason looking at kanji.  Refusing to use a book because it has romaji in it is a bit...extreme.

What if it had both romaji and kana?
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#10
(2017-03-16, 3:01 pm)phil321 Wrote: What if it had both romaji and kana?

Then someone would probably edit out the romaji and I might, theoretically speaking, end up recommending a pirated edited version of the book instead of the official commercial one. I don't want to end up doing that.

It's not that romaji is necessarily bad, but that kanji study is a very good environment in which to "trick" people who won't study properly otherwise into practicing the kana.
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#11
(2017-03-16, 2:19 pm)wareya Wrote: Oh, I missed something. The examples show all readings given in romaji. Will there be a version with no romaji, ebook or otherwise? If not, I won't be able to recommend it.

Yes many people have talked me about this. I will do a survey on Kickstarter with the options kana and romaji.
Edited: 2017-03-17, 5:15 am
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#12
I think this will be a nice book for completionists or those interested in etymology (like me). However I wouldn't recommend learning kanji this way. Tracing from etymology works best for the 200+ primitives/radicals (and not all of them), which are kind of pictographs. For kanji that are composites of primitives I believe Heisig's method has the upper hand. Besides, when writing the kanji you don't want to "mix up" strokes with ancient forms of the kanji, which I'm afraid this is bound to happen when you study 2000+ kanji through etymologies.
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#13
(2017-03-17, 2:57 am)wareya Wrote:
(2017-03-16, 3:01 pm)phil321 Wrote: What if it had both romaji and kana?

Then someone would probably edit out the romaji and I might, theoretically speaking, end up recommending a pirated edited version of the book instead of the official commercial one. I don't want to end up doing that.

It's not that romaji is necessarily bad, but that kanji study is a very good environment in which to "trick" people who won't study properly otherwise into practicing the kana.

In the end, it's entirely up to the author of a book whether he/she wants romaji in it or not.  I, and many other people find having both useful.  I'll vote with my wallet.
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#14
This might sound like heresy, but although I loathe romaji for everything else, I like using them with kanji and still do when I'm learning new kanji readings. I've never really liked the convention of using katakana for On and hiragana for Kun; with katakana, especially, I have a tendency to mix up and confuse similar shapes. This is not a problem when reading an actual text, since I'll quickly realize that I read a character wrong when it doesn't fit the word, but it is a big problem if you are learning one or two-syllable sounds in isolation. Also, ALL CAPS for on just registers better in my brain and helps me remember which is on and which is kun.

No doubt this is a weakness and I'd have been better off learning the way Japanese children do, with the katakana and the hiragana, but it's just backing up the opinion that there can be more than one good option for non-native learners.

Project looks cool, I already backed it. I love kanji etymologies even though I didn't use them much when learning. Good luck with it!
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#15
(2017-03-17, 9:52 am)tanaquil Wrote: This might sound like heresy, but although I loathe romaji for everything else, I like using them with kanji and still do when I'm learning new kanji readings. I've never really liked the convention of using katakana for On and hiragana for Kun; with katakana, especially, I have a tendency to mix up and confuse similar shapes. This is not a problem when reading an actual text, since I'll quickly realize that I read a character wrong when it doesn't fit the word, but it is a big problem if you are learning one or two-syllable sounds in isolation. Also, ALL CAPS for on just registers better in my brain and helps me remember which is on and which is kun.

No doubt this is a weakness and I'd have been better off learning the way Japanese children do, with the katakana and the hiragana, but it's just backing up the opinion that there can be more than one good option for non-native learners.

Project looks cool, I already backed it. I love kanji etymologies even though I didn't use them much when learning. Good luck with it!

That's how I approached the kanji when I first learnt it too, romaji kanji spellings happened to stick better, but I also understand that students want to get rid of it as much as possible.

Thank you for your support!
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#16
(2017-03-17, 9:52 am)tanaquil Wrote: I've never really liked the convention of using katakana for On and hiragana for Kun; with katakana, especially, I have a tendency to mix up and confuse similar shapes. This is not a problem when reading an actual text, since I'll quickly realize that I read a character wrong when it doesn't fit the word, but it is a big problem if you are learning one or two-syllable sounds in isolation. Also, ALL CAPS for on just registers better in my brain and helps me remember which is on and which is kun.

EXACTLY.  I find exactly the same thing--that it's easier to learn the readings of new kanji using romaji when you're learning them in isolation.  I do the same thing--I sometimes mix up the readings of similar looking katakana.

In fact, when I read the frames in RTK2 often I'll confirm my reading of the katakana ON by looking at the kanji written in hiragana in the "exemplary compound".

I always thought that since the Japanese don't write kanji in kana anyway there's no justification in being dogmatic about refusing to use romaji to gloss the readings of kanji.
Edited: 2017-03-18, 5:16 am
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#17
I was hoping for something maybe a little more robust, like one that would step me through all the stages of the script.

Would happily pay a few hundred for something like that.

As for this, maybe I would back it, I'm not so sure.
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#18
(2017-03-16, 2:22 am)alexadler Wrote: This way you can learn the 2136 joyo kanji in a very efficient and smooth way.
What makes you say that? It doesn't seem efficient.

It seems like the student would be flooded with a lot of information he/she doesn't need to learn the Kanji. That's the opposite of efficient.

I'm also not quite sure what you mean by "learn the Kanji". What exactly does the book set out to teach? I can see that the readings for instance are written down next to the Kanji, but you don't seem to make any attempt to help the reader learn them. So how is he supposed to do that? Just remember 4-5000 readings?

There is also no attempt to explain how the Kanji are written, so you're not teaching that.

So, to sum up my objections/questions:
1. Define what it is that you're teaching, exactly.
2. Give an estimate of how long it would take for a student to learn it.
3. Offer some kind of evidence or argument to back up that estimate.
4. What would the benefits of learning it be?
5. What's the purpose of mentioning the Japanese readings, next to each Kanji? It seems like unrelated information, that's only there to clutter the page.
6. What happens when what we know about the etymology of a character isn't enough to "teach it"?
Edited: 2017-03-18, 11:14 am
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#19
(2017-03-18, 10:26 am)Stansfield123 Wrote: I can see that the readings for instance are written down next to the Kanji, but you don't seem to make any attempt to help the reader learn them. So how is he supposed to do that? Just remember 4-5000 readings?

It's pointed out quite well on the project page that you will learn phonetic components from which the Kanji derive their readings. This sounds somewhat similar to RTK2 with its signal primitives. My question would be just how widespread and useful are these phonetic components throughout the book. Is it done in such a way that is more complete or effective than RTK2 (which is generally considered not all that effective)?

Finally, there's the big issue with anything like this. People don't really study kanji from a book these days except maybe just an initial reading to get their bearings on new characters. The biggest chunk of time is spent in the SRS. Is any sort of Anki deck or similar option going to be available? I would assume that an official one would not, given that I don't see anything mentioned. And how would such a deck be arranged, given that there seems to be a combination approach to learning both the characters and readings here, given that cards will ideally not test multiple forms of information?
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#20
This is interesting that you're doing this, but this is sort of the opposite of RTK, and since you have 4 posts it sort of seems like you're not really an RTK user and you just came here to promote your book.

It sounds like an interesting book, but I doubt many people here will prefer that to the RTK method considering what this community is built on.

How would learning the etymologies be useful for complicated characters like 繭 for example? That hardly looks like a cave drawing of a cocoon but makes a lot of sense as a story revolving around the radicals.

Ps
Romaji sucks. I would avoid the book for that reason. With the exception of ADOJG I see Romaji and immediately assume they're going to talk to me like I'm an idiot. Romaji sends the message that you don't expect us to take our studies seriously, so to people who are studying seriously this is off-putting. Romaji books are for anime kids who have a passive interest but never intend on jumping in the deep end of the pool. Sorry, just my opinion.
Edited: 2 hours ago
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