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Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary (Paperback)

Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary (Paperback)
Author/Publisher: Rick Harbaugh
Format: paperback
Emphasis: Chinese Characters
List Price: $19.95

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Editorial Reviews
Book 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.

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.

About the Author
Rick Harbaugh started the dictionary many years ago while a graduate student in economics at National Taiwan University. He now teaches economics at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 550 pages
  • Publisher: Zhongwen.Com; 1 edition (August 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0966075005
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds.
  • Average Customer Review: based on 62 reviews.

Spotlight Reviews

99 of 102 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.


83 of 87 people found the following review helpful:

Find a character with ease, March 15, 2002

Reviewer: solid oak "solidoak" (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.


Customer Reviews

Indispensable, March 17, 2006
Reviewer: Julio Silveira

It's really everything you need to start undestanding this uncomprehensible writing system. No sarcasm. It's usefull to know that the carachter for "why" (wei, ?) -- or rather it's traditional form - derives from a pictograph of a female monkey. This is an extreme example -- in fact, getting to know the genealogy of characters helps a lot memorizing it.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

An Worthy Companion in studying Chinese, February 27, 2006

Reviewer: Chris Parnin (Atlanta, GA)

Although, the same material can be found online at zhongwen.com, this book is useful when you need to work with chinese away from a computer. The lookup system, requires a little more hops than most dictionaries; however, once you find the information, related words prove very useful in conveying the alternative usages and the connation of the word.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

Incredible Book for Chinese Learners, February 18, 2006

Reviewer: S. M. F. Ali (Canada)

This book is a priceless gem. How long does it take one to write such a book? I have many books and dictionaries of Chinese, but nothing comes close to the usefulness of this book. The cross-references and the indexes are an invaluable aid to learning Chinese characters.


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:

A student's best friend, December 11, 2005

Reviewer: Winston Kotzan (Chicago)

I have been studying Chinese only for the past 10 months. Thanks to this handy reference book, my progress has been boosted significantly. The Chinese Characters Genealogy Reference (Zhongwen Zi Pu) is written specifically for English speakers taking on the challenge of learning to read Chinese. The search methodology is very organized, allowing the user to look up a word by the elements of its Chinese character, the pinyin spelling, or its English counterpart. Looking up words by the Chinese character can be tricky, but will become easier once you are familiar with how characters are broken down and organized in the genealogical chart. To get the full usage out of this book, it will take some practice looking up new characters.

I was astonished at how many words are packed in this small, portable book. While commuting on the train from work, I used this book as an aid in reading and understanding a Chinese newspaper. The compactness of the book itself really makes it easy to carry different places. In addition to definitions, many commonly used phrases are included.

A major weakness of the Genealogy reference is that it focuses on the traditional Chinese characters used by Taiwan. This presents a disadvantage for students learning the simplified versions of the characters used on mainland China. Although the simplified characters are presented along side the definitions, there is no way to reference a character starting with its simplified version. Nevertheless, this is a must-have reference for anyone serious about learning the Chinese language.


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