Why include 艮 in Chinese 101?

I’m just learning Chinese, so I am curious - why is gen3 included in the “skritter Chinese 101” list? According to http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_138 it’s the single LEAST useful kangxi radical. Can you help me to understand why it’s important?

My guess would be because it’s contained as a character component in so many other characters. Other than the ever-used 很 , there are many other. Attached Is a screenshot from my Pleco dictionary. There are many more!

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I think there is a misunderstanding here! A radical is a character that is used to categorise other characters in dictionaries. Therefore, when it says “there are just five characters (out of 49,030) to be found under this radical”, this doesn’t mean that it’s not a common character component, it just means that few characters have 艮 as their radical. As @Apomixis correctly points out, 艮 is quite common as a phonetic component, which makes it useful to know. Hope this helps!

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@SkritterOlle, @Apomixis … thanks for the replies!!! Further questions abound.

I didn’t realize there was a difference. It seems like there are are ways one character can be “in” another character - both as a radial and as a phonetic component? I had only read about radicals before. Is there some online resource which explains these differences, and also explains why Wikipedia might say something like “it’s very infrequent” while an online dictionary shows it as frequent?

Also … how does knowing this base character (which by itself seems pretty useless) help me to

  1. Pronounce a never-before-seen character? (It seems like the answer is no, based on the above screenshot)
  2. Guess the how a previously unseen character is written? (This also seems like the answer is no, based on the above)

If it doesn’t help with #1 or #2 … then is it just … writing practice? As in, get use to this shape, it appears frequently? If so, it would be nice to know, since then it’s a waste of time to memorize the meaning OR the pronunciation of this base character.

Hi! I actually have a blog post written about this. I will publish it later today or possibly tomorrow, so if you can just wait a bit, everything should become clear! And if it isn’t, you can of course still ask. :slight_smile:

I just wanted to add one thing: a character may be included in a component also as a non-radical AND a non-pronunciation component. So, it’s even more complicated. For example, the character 数 gets its pronunciation from 攴, which is also the radical for this character. However, there is still the 娄 piece, which helps make the character unique in appearance, but doesn’t add to either the direct-translation meaning nor pronunciation, nor as a radical.

I did want to add that the Chinese dictionary app Pleco is a FANTASTIC dictionary available both for iOS and Android. It’s not an online dictionary, but a complete offline dictionary app. Its basic version is free but you can buy other dictionaries as in-app purchases.

It gives breakdowns of the characters and their radicals and components. My understanding of how characters “interact” went up an order of magnitude by using Pleco as a learning tool.

Sorry to sound like a commercial or something, but it really is a fantastic tool (and there is even an built in integration in the iOS Skritter app to open words in Pleco!..not sure about Android Skritter)

got it @Apomixis . i’ll just continue to think out loud @SkritterOlle … hmmm… wouldn’t it be helpful to know when i am learning a character WHY i’m learning it … seems like the following are general buckets, perhaps in rough order?

  1. The character is useful by itself. “rice”
  2. The character is a necessary grammar component, like “hen”
  3. The character is a component (radical or not) that contributes pronunciation help to high frequency use words (but not useful by itself
  4. The character is a component (radical or not) that is merely good to practice for the sake of making other characters easier to write.

If you wonder about why i am being pedantic about this, it’s because i’m trying to be as efficient as possible in learning … and i’ve played around with writing my own radical / component frequency analysis programs to tease some of this out and help learning but all it’s done so far is teach me about python bugs :smile:

@bombycine I would stay away from spending time trying to tease out patterns yourself unless you already know Chinese quite well. You risk answering the wrong questions. Instead, ask here and perhaps we can point you in the right direction. I’ll do my best to anwser your question. Before I do that, though, please check this article I just published on the blog. It should answer some of your questions and the articles linked to in it should answer even more.

Regarding why you learn a specific character, you’re right that it would be helpful to know. Ideally, if we designed a course for teaching Chinese characters, it would be divided into different units focusing on different areas, such as one with characters that are useful to master stroke order, others that are useful for learning about semantic or phonetic components. And so on.

The Chinese 101 list is a first step towards directing users to study useful characters and words, but we have a long way to go. In the meantime, I suggest that you follow our blog, where we write about these things.

Oh boy … looks like I have a lot of blog catching up to do. :slight_smile: Thanks for the education!

Have you read Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy by DeFrancis? I don’t see any mention of it on your blog … I’m re-reading it now.

Yes, I have, but it was a while ago now and I don’t have it available. Anything in particular? There’s tons of stuff to read online, but starting with the articles linked to in the article should solve most of the problems you’ve mentioned here. As far as I know, there might not be reliable frequency lists for phonetic components, but I might be wrong. Happy studying!

Here is my take on radicals and character components:
When I started learning Mandarin about 8 months ago I struggled badly with retention. However, then I realized how important radicals are and crammed like crazy until I had them all (~200) down perfectly.
I regard it as a “prime directive” to have the radicals completely memorized solidly before embarking on vocabulary expansion. It helps tremendously with building mnemonics etc.
In addition, radicals and character components are like the numbers and symbols are for maths. You can’t possibly calculate 2+2 when you are unsure what 2 means.
Clearly, ten numerals for decimal math are easier to remember but I can only encourage anyone very strongly LEARN the RADICALS.
As far as phonetic components go, it took a while until I fully realized how important they are. This is due to the fact that you need to know really well several examples for each sound (and they are not always identical but often close) until it becomes obvious.
So now I know about 1700 characters and about 2000 words and it helps me to learn new ones faster. Occasionally, when I see a “new” character I can guess it’s sound (mind you almost never the exact tone) and that is very encouraging, and feeling good while studying improves retention tremendously.
Other components contribute to meaning and are very consistent. As Olle pointed out in his articles, 月, when on the right side or at the bottom (not 100% but close) refers to body parts. Now when you try to remember a particular one, all you have to worry is the remainder of the character (most often related to sound). As pointed out by others, this is not 100% the case but so predominant that it is actually VERY useful, to the extent of being essential for swiftly achieving Chinese learning goals.

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I agree, except that some of the radicals are very uncommon, so you don’t need to catch them all. Learning the most common 100 or 150 will be enough for most people. It’s great that you have gained such an understanding in 8 months, it took me much longer to figure these things out. :slight_smile:

Pleco IS great, but the Andriod app does not have the breakdown of the characters :frowning: ; which btw is my all time favorite. I’m always asking my wife for her phone just for that function because like @SkritterOlle I’m in love with Chinese characters!! oh and my wife too :stuck_out_tongue:

@bombycine you can read up on the 6 types of Chinese characters called 六书, I did a quick search and found a decent link here click me and maybe Olle can do a post explaining them, fingers crossed. Check out books like 走进汉字 or any books about 汉字演变

Yes, I could do that, but I think the most important thing is to know and understand how each component contributes to the meaning of the whole character, rather than knowing which categories they are (which is often disputed anyway).