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Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary

Title: Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary

Author: Rick Harbaugh
Format: Paperback
List Price: $19.95
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Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary

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Editorial Reviews
From the Author
This dictionary is aimed at serious beginning students who want a more analytic approach to learning characters and at intermediate students who want to improve their understanding of characters. Students who are only interested in the spoken language should consider other dictionaries.

Product Description:
This dictionary is designed to help students understand, appreciate and remember Chinese characters. It has the following features: -Every character entry includes a brief traditional Chinese etymology. -Genealogical charts highlight the connections between characters, showing the creation of more than 4000 characters from less than 200 simple pictographs and ideographs. -Mandarin standards in China and Taiwan are distinguished. -Simplified forms for each character are given. -Character entries list all words which use the character in any position, allowing a word to be found even if the first character is unknown. -English definitions are referenced in an English-Chinese index. -A word pronunciation index allows students to directly search for an overheard word without having to guess the initial character. -A stroke count index lists every character by number of strokes.

Product Details
  • Paperback: 545 pages
  • Publisher: Zhongwen.Com; 1 edition (August 1, 1998)
  • ISBN: 0966075005
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Average Customer Review: based on 55 reviews.

Spotlight Reviews

55 of 57 people found the following review helpful:

Find a character with ease, March 15, 2002

Reviewer: "solidoak" (Philadelphia, PA USA)

What a cleverly designed book!
-Search by pinyin (romanization)
-Search by bopomofo (zhuyinfuhao)
-Search the English word list
-Search by THE PART OF THE CHARACTER YOU RECOGNIZE (doesn't have to be the radical)
-Or, ok, search by stroke or radical

-Another way to search, not mentioned in other reviews or even in the intro to the book itself: search by looking for a character that goes with the target character (i.e. I have no idea what this character is, but I just saw it printed right after the word for water. Fine, I'll just look up water, and there's my mystery character). And the definitions show plenty of combinations as well. After all, what is a zi (character) by itself?

With this book, you will not be squinting through row after row of tiny characters as with, say, the Far East brand dictionary. You can find a word or combination in seconds, I promise.

Focuses on "traditional" characters, as used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc, the same characters that have been used for the last 2000 years. Also, includes simplified form in brackets, which have been used in Mainland China for 50 years.

If you don't care about written Chinese, and you just want to look up what you hear, then John DeFrancis' ABC Dictionary is surely the book for you. (It has simplified characters searchable by pinyin combinations).

If you love Chinese writing, and long to look up every word you see, but are tired of asking your friend to explain it to you,
then this book, 'Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary
by Rick Harbaugh' is perfect.

One thing on the website which is missing from the book: reference numbers linking the character to Wieger's etymology, which (correctly or not) attempts to further explain a character's origins with samples of gu-wen (ancient writing).

Notice that this book currently takes 1-2 weeks to ship.

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful:

Terrific tool for learning and memorization!, April 21, 2003

Reviewer: bryan12603 (Poughkeepsie, NY USA)

This is a review of _Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary_ by Rick Harbaugh.

This is an excellent book for helping students to (1) learn and memorize Chinese characters, and (2) identify characters that are difficult to find in traditional dictionaries. However, as Harbaugh himself makes clear, it is important not to confuse this learning tool with a scholarly guide to the actual etymologies of Chinese characters.

In order to understand what is distinctive and especially useful about this dictionary, you need to know a little about how Chinese characters are composed. (If you already know this, or are not interested, skip to the next paragraph in this review.) Traditionally, there are five types of Chinese characters. The simplest characters are either pictograms (which were originally pictures of something concrete) or simple ideograms (whose structure suggests their meaning, even though they are not pictures). So, for example, the character for "person" was originally a drawing of a person, and the character for the number three is three horizontal lines. Many people assume that all Chinese characters fall into these two classes, but in fact only a small percentage do. Most Chinese characters are semantic-phonetic compounds, in which part of the character gives a hint about the sound, and another part gives a hint about the meaning. The last two types of characters are compound ideograms (in which two characters are compounded into one, and their individual meanings contribute to the meaning of the whole) and phonetic loans (in which a pre-existing character is borrowed to represent a word whose sound is similar to that of the word the character originally represented). Now, traditional dictionaries are organized according to over 200 so-called "radicals." Every character in Chinese has at least one radical in it somewhere. So if you want to identify a Chinese character you haven't seen before (or can't remember), you take an educated guess at what the radical in it is, then look for it under that radical in the dictionary. However, one problem is that the radicals of some characters are not obvious.

What Harbaugh has done is to organize his dictionary around 182 pictograms and simple ideograms. (Many of these overlap with the traditional radicals, but others do not.) Then he shows (using extensive "genealogical" charts) how about 4000 other characters are built up from the original 182 by adding more components. Part of what makes this book really useful is that Harbaugh builds the charts in a way that highlights the phonetic components of characters. For example, his basic character 175 is identified as a "pictograph of [the] interlocking framework of a house." This character is pronounced GOU, and underneath it in Harbaugh's dictionary you will find four characters with very similar pronunciations (and one with a different pronunciation) that include that character as a component. In contrast, in a traditional dictionary, the original GOU is not a radical at all. Furthermore, in a traditional dictionary, EACH of the similarly-pronounced characters would be found under a different radical. Consequently, Harbaugh's dictionary takes a lot of the mystery out of character composition and recognition. Harbaugh also gives you mnemonics for each character. For instance, the first character under GOU means "to construct." It has the wood radical on the left, so Harbaugh suggests you remember it by thinking of a "wooden framework."

Each character entry provides a wealth of additional information: the simplified form of the character (used in Mainland China), an identification of the components of the simplified form, the meanings of the character (and their parts of speech), a list of common expressions in which the character is the SECOND component (with an index number to help you find the first character in the expression), and then a list of common words in which the character is the first component (along with their pronunciations, in Pinyin, part of speech, and meanings).

Harbaugh has done almost everything imaginable to make this dictionary reader-friendly. Suppose you see one of Harbaugh's components in a character, and look for it there in his dictionary. Some characters have more than one component in them, so Harbaugh may not have put the primary entry for a character where you are looking for it. However, Harbaugh provides cross-references, so you can find a character under ANY of its components. Finally, this dictionary has a number of indexes: an index to expressions by their English translations, a Pinyin (pronunciation) index to characters and expressions, a "Mandarin Phonetic" (Bopomofo) index to characters and expressions, a total stroke number index to characters, and a traditional radical index to characters.

The only concern I have with this fine dictionary is that an incautious student (or scholar) might innocently confuse it with an actual etymological dictionary. Harbaugh knows better himself. As he explains in his introductory material, his etymologies are based on those in the 2,000 year old _Shuowen jiezi_ by Xu Shen. This is an important work, but as a result of modern archaeology, we now have access to earlier forms of characters than Xu Shen did. Anyone seriously interested in historical etymology will have to go beyond Xu Shen (and Harbaugh's dictionary).

With that minor warning, I can say that Harbaugh's _Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary_ is a godsend to students of Chinese.

Customer Reviews
Avg. Customer Review:

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:

Chinese-English Dictionary Written by an English Speaker, August 29, 2004

Reviewer: Dale Dellinger (Irvine, CA USA)

I like the organization of this dictionary. I had used a few other Chinese-English dictionaries before I found this one and I was often frustrated by not being able to find the right Chinese character. If you've had any experience with looking up Chinese characters, you know it can be hit-or-miss -- especially if it's a word you don't know at all. The beauty of this dictionary is that it gives you so many different ways to look up the characters that if you can't find it one way, you can always try a different way. You can even find a word by looking up one that's similar and the one you are looking for will probably be nearby.

Also, I like the fact that Rick Harbaugh is a native English speaker. First, he wrote the dictionary from the point of view of an English speaker learning Chinese, not the other way around. That's why there are so many ways to look up the characters. Second, it's very encouraging to me to see an English speaker become so proficient in Chinese that he can write a dictionary!

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful:

an eye opener, mind opener dictionary., July 16, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
1-has pinyn & bofomo that helps me to find traditional characters that i love.2-you can memorize/remember 4 to 8000 characters if you were a child who started learning chinese at age 5,but if you are an adult foreigner, you will need a more logic dictionary like Harbaugh's. 3-i wish he made a larger size dictionary w/ larger characters.4-i give him 5 stars because very few writer/instructor would tell you the trick
in learning dancing, playg piano,guitar, etc

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful:

A great resource, but be forewarned, June 27, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
This dictionary isn't entirely historically accurate in its geneaologies. That said, whatever is does give you in terms of the root of the characters is often very easy to remember, and it does help you remember how to write the characters, if not what they look like. For practical reasons, it's very good in that sense.

Yes, it allows you to search for characters based on pin-yin, stroke count, some sort of Mandarin pronunciation system I've never heard of, English equivalents, or by radical. You can search for characters by the part of the character that you DO recognise; obviously this builds a lot of redundancy into the dictionary, which isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't always work that way, i.e. sometimes you recognise a component of a character and want to search for it, but it just isn't there. There are simply too many bases to cover, and though it generally works, it doesn't in all cases. Another thing, I find the radical index difficult to use until you're quite a ways into studying Chinese: for example, if I see the three-dots-of-water radical, and want to find it, I can't look under 3-stroke radicals, because this radical is, in fact, listed under 4-stroke radicals in the form of the water (shui3) character. Same thing with the 3-stroke grass radical, which is actually listed under the full 6-stroke grass. Sure, the radical, when alone, is written out in 6 strokes but as part of a character, it's liposuctioned down to 3, thus, you must get used to it, which isn't a big deal after you've studied for a while, but for beginners, it's tough.

The dictionary encompasses about 4000 characters, which is quite sufficient for most students, just not for people who are very advanced, but you may still find it interesting in that case anyways.

The full text of this dictionary is available online, and as another reviewer said, search for the title of this dictionary at Google and you will get the link; Amazon doesn't let you post URLs in reviews. I think one of the big advantages of the print version is that the main entry characters are printed in calligraphy-style, whereas the computerised version contains digitised, stick-figure characters that are difficult to copy properly by hand, not to mention difficult to recognise until you're used to reading Chinese in all kinds of fonts. Likewise, with the print version, you don't need to be reading Chinese beside your computer in order to look up words, although it doesn't really matter if you're reading over the internet...

My main problem with this dictionary, which is probably one of the best and most practical for English-speaking students of Chinese, is that is uses only traditonal (aka fan3ti3zi4, complex/full characters) characters. You can't look up simplified characters, and they can only be found in small print beside the main entry traditional characters.

Now, let's set this issue straight: simplified characters are less pleasant to look at, are a slap in the face to Chinese culture and, well, just feel fake to me. The problem is, all of mainland China uses almost exclusively simplified characters, i.e. knowing how to write traditional characters might land you a job as a sign-maker or a calligrapher, but you need to be functional in simplified characters! Let's be honest; maybe 30 or 40 million people in the world, that is, Taiwan, HK and a few Chinese communities abroad use traditional characters, whereas the 1.3 billion in China all use simplified. All the literature I have available to me is in simplified characters, so this dictionary isn't all that useful in that sense. Don't buy it thinking you'll get by without a hitch: the differences between simplified and traditional characters may not be a big deal for natively literate Chinese, and you can get used to the differences, but for beginners, it can be impossible. You don't want to be in the dictionary guessing from 10 entries, which traditional character most resembles the simplified character you're looking for. Don't do that to yourself. If you buy this dictionary but want to study simplified characters, get another dictionary as well to help you w/ simplified characters. Still, this dictionary helps you learn and appreciate the characters, and less than half of all characters are simplified anyways, so it's not useless, but you'll need another dictionary as an aid.

Otherwise, the only other thing I could wish for is a larger size dictionary. This one is about the size of an old Gameboy; i.e. very portable but the indices are printed so small they give me headaches if I'm doing heavy duty work in the dictionary. I wish there were an encyclopaedia or telephone book-sized volume with bigger print for those of us who don't need to take the dictionary backpacking in the Himalayas. Other than that, a great buy, you won't regret it, but like other people say, it won't be the only dictionary you'll ever need. It also comes shrink-wrapped, which may make it more difficult to return.

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:

A fairly good dictionary, April 21, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
Things I like about this book:

*Easy to use (the characters are referenced by Pinyin, radical index, stroke number, and Bopomofo; there is also a small English to Chinese index)

*Fairly good definition (although the book will certainly not distinguish between words like dai jia and jia ge [the former does not mean monetary price, while the latter means monetary], the definitions are overall pretty good)

*Somewhat comprehensive (the book isn't for the scholar, but for a student of Chinese it is fine; it has about 20,000 words, characters, and phrases)

Things I don't like about the book:

*Tiny print (although the main character is fairly large, the words list for that particular character is printed in TINY font; this book is certainly not for those with trouble seeing small print)

*It emphasizes traditional characters (although I am a student learning simplified character and is perfectly fine with the book; the book is really more suited for those learning traditional characters)

But if you want to buy a really good dictionary, however, try the Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (ISBN 0195911512) and Xinhua Zidian (ISBN 7801031989).

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