Dec 11, 2017

Outlier Kanji Dictionary

Preview image of kanji etymology explanation provided by Outlier Kanji Dictionary

One of the most difficult things about learning Japanese is, of course, kanji. Often kanji feel arbitrary and randomly made up, making memorising difficult.

Well, good news everybody! We are very happy to announce that our friends at Outlier Linguistics are making an awesome new dictionary of kanji etymology which will be released exclusively through Japanese.

It will offer accurate explanations of the historical origins of 3000 kanji, including a lot of information that has literally never been available in English before.

Earlier this year, they have already released the Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters. Now they are going to adapt the content for Japanese learners.

How is it different?

The Outlier Kanji Dictionary explains how kanji actually work, so that you'll understand the real sound and meaning connections between them.

A component breakdown of the kanji 想 showing meaning- and sound components

Here's John Renfroe from Outlier:

Our dictionary takes cutting-edge research on the origin and evolution of the kanji and distills that information into something that's clear, correct, and easy to digest even for zero-level beginners.

We explain kanji in terms of their functional components. Some components express meaning (meaning components), some express sound (sound components), some depict something (form components), and some do none of the above (empty components) because they're either corruptions of other components in an earlier form of the kanji, or they merely serve as a mark to distinguish one kanji from another.

Scholars have known for years that teaching kanji in terms of their actual structure significantly enhances retention, but the available resources mostly rely on traditional etymologies to explain kanji structure, if they make any attempt at all. Traditional etymologies largely rely on the Shuowen Jiezi 説文解字 (せつもんかいじ Setsumon Kaiji in Japanese), which is nearly 2000 years old.

In fact, one of the world’s leading scholars on the history of the writing system, 劉釗 Liu Zhao at Fudan University in Shanghai, has this to say: Of the characters in the Shuowen Jiezi for which paleographic data exists, it is not at all an exaggeration to say that 80-90% of the Shuowen's explanations are problematic.

John and his team have much better evidence and research available in 2017, but no resource for learners has attempted to make use of the most up-to-date research. They have studied the history of the Chinese writing system at the Master's and PhD level under some of the top scholars in the world.

Fixing Mnemonics

We love using mnemonics to learn kanji. It's a very powerful way to aid memory. However, most mnemonic systems for learning kanji break the kanji down incorrectly, and completely ignore each component's function within the kanji. Learning real kanji structure and the real function each component has allows you to see the real system-level connections between the kanji. Layering a mnemonic on top of that makes it that much more powerful.

Here's an example: 開 "open". A popular mnemonic for 開 is that it's composed of 門 door/gate and 开 "torch". The mnemonic goes that if you hold a torch 开 when you arrive at the gate 門, they'll open 開 the gate and let you in. That's fairly memorable, but it's much more effective to learn the real etymology here, because it allows you to see connections with other kanji, which the "torch" story obscures. In fact, 開 is a door (門) which is closed (indicated by 一), and is being pushed open by two hands (廾). And that "two hands" component shows up in a lot of other kanji.

Radicals, right?

Radicals were created as a way of indexing kanji in a paper dictionary. They aren't an inherent part of the writing system; they were invented after the writing system had already been around for over 1500 years! They may or may not have anything to do with the structure of the kanji itself, so it's best to ignore radicals when talking about kanji structure, and to use them for their intended purpose: looking up kanji in paper dictionaries.

In fact, the clue is in the Chinese and Japanese term for radical: 部首. Beginning with the Shuowen Jiezi 説文解字, dictionaries were organized into sections, or 部. Each kanji in a given section contained the same graphical component. That component would be the first entry of the section, or the "section head" (部首).

Radicals are often chosen arbitrarily by a dictionary editor. The component serving as the radical may or may not have had a function in that kanji, and the function may not have been to express meaning; sometimes the sound component is the radical, and the meaning component is not. In 錦 (キン) "brocade", for example, 金 (キン) is both the radical (that is, 錦 shows up in the 金 section of the dictionary) and the sound component, but 帛 "silk" is the meaning component.

The Outlier Kanji Dictionary explains characters in terms of their functional components rather than talking about radicals, because doing so allows you to understand how kanji are actually structured.

Early-bird access

There will be a demo available in the next update of Japanese for you to try for yourself!

Every contribution counts, so if this is something you'd like to see in Japanese then we hope you'll consider backing their project.

Kickstarter: The Outlier Kanji Dictionary

Aug 17, 2017

Welcome to Japanese 4.0 for iOS

Collection of screenshots showing Japanese 4.0 on iPhone

Today is the big day! After years of development, we're happy to announce Japanese 4.0.

Rewritten from the ground up, Japanese is now better than ever. We've updated all of our best-loved features and added new features that'll help you take your Japanese learning to the next level.

Faster & More Accurate

We’ve taken huge steps in improving Japanese's search engine. Perhaps the biggest leap forward is our new Handwriting Recognition software, which allows you to draw any kanji in any order and have it recognised by the app. We've got it pegged at about 99.3% accuracy at the moment, but as more and more users make use of the new software, that accuracy will go up and up.

We’ve also added a text reader tool, where you can input text copied from messages, emails, the internet etc. and have Japanese display the kanji readings in furigana. Each word links back to its dictionary entry so that you can translate the text quickly and accurately and add any unknown words to your study lists.

Intuitive and Easy to Use

Japanese's study system has also been improved. The flashcard system has been redesigned and upgraded, making it more intuitive and useful. We also upgraded the SRS study algorithm study algorithm behind it and it is now based on the famous Anki algorithm. However, we’ve made changes to the code, gearing the platform to those learning the Japanese language.

Across the board, Japanese has become even more intuitive to use. With an all new user interface and the inclusion of Split View for large screen Apple devices, you can now look up definitions while you surf the Internet, without ever having to switch apps. We think this is the best version of Japanese yet.

Constantly Improving

To make sure the app is always the best version of what it can be, users can now submit feedback/report errors on definitions and examples, and we will forward this feedback to the relevant sources: JMdict for definitions and for examples sentences. We hope you enjoy all the new features! We hope you enjoy the update, and the access to new features! To see a more comprehensive list, please visit our features page.

As ever, thanks for using Japanese and for sending in your suggestions for improving the app.

Jul 20, 2017

Version 1.7 for Android

Today we’re pleased to announce the launch of Japanese 1.7 for Android. This update brings the Android version of Japanese closer to the iOS version and is free for all users.

The main changes can be found in the reference section. JLPT lists (N5 - N1) have been added, meaning that you can study the words you need for those taxing proficiency tests.

We’ve also added words by parts of speech and by classification, alongside a list of kanji that can be found in each level of the notorious Kanji Kentei and classifications of kanji by school year.

For those needed to refresh or relearn their kana, we’ve added a kana library, allowing you to quickly and easily check basic kana before moving on to kanji.

We’ve also made several minor bug fixes and changes under the hood that should speed up the running of the app.

Apr 20, 2017

Version 1.6.2 for Android

Version 1.6.1 includes additional information when displaying kanji. Kanji dictionary reference information now appears alongside each kanji.

In this release several minor bugs and compatibility issues were fixed, so the app should run more smoothly.

Mar 13, 2017

Version 1.6.1 for Android

Version 1.6.1 includes additional information when displaying kanji. KanjiDictionary reference information now appears alongside each kanji.

In this release several minor bugs and compatibility issues were fixed, so the app should run more smoothly.

Get Japanese Now.

Japanese can be downloaded for free.