A radical, “gen(i)us” new idea for learning Chinese characters


Chimpanzee head sketch

Monkey with character?

My idea stems from the fact that I always had a facility for learning the Linnean binomials of animals and plants which as you probably know are made up of a genus name, bearing a capital initial letter and then a species name. Sometimes you get a third part, which is subspecies.

For example, chimpanzees and bonobos share the genus Pan, bonobos being Pan paniscus and there are no subspecies, whereas common chimps are Pan troglodytes and there are four subspecies, P.t.troglogytes, P.t.schweinfurthii (North Zaire) and two others.

So my idea was to give each Chinese character a linnaean binomial as a way to drive it home. It might be a way to help people latch mentally onto some of the harder characters. I don’t have ZH font installed on the machine I’m writing on now, so I will just describe it in terms of the “rules” for doing it.

The “genus” name would show the radical of the character, but in Latin. So if you have the hand radical in a character, it would be in the genus “Manus“.  “拍” to beat or clap has the hand radical and the white component, so its Linnean binomial would be Manus albus, the common beat or clap.

You could consider the link ups of two characters in one word as like symbiotic relationships of two living things, its frequency in linguistic use could be acquainted with its rarity or endangeredness, whether it’s in the list also for Korean and Japanese could be the zoogeography, and even the stress could determine what kind of an organism it is. The first tone could be for herbivores, the second for carnivores, as they have to jump up and pounce on often larger prey, the fourth for insectivores, pouncing on the lower prey, and third tone for omnivores.

It just may be a way to learn some of them. I don’t think it’s any crazier than Drs Goodman, Heisig or Hoenig, all of whom are pretty much in the mainstream, so please don’t unfollow or call for the white van just yet!

About David J. James

52 year old accountant who loves languages, literature, history, religion, politics, internet, vlogging and blogging and lively written discussion. Conservative Christian, married to an angel, we have three kids, and live in Warsaw, Poland. I can help you with company set-up, bookkeeping, payroll, tax, audit and due diligence all over Poland and the region.

Posted on 13/01/2011, in Birds and Mammals, Blog only, Default or Miscellaneous, Languages and Linguistics, Learning Japanese and Chinese, My posts on other fora/blogs, Postaday2011, Uncle Davey's Natural Selection and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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