Japan: Nothing but Sincerity as Far as the Eye Can See

I have written about this at some length previously, so I'll keep my commentary on this video brief. I think this escaped zebra drill in a Japanese zoo nicely illustrates the tooth-aching levels of sincerity commonplace in Japanese society. In America such an exercise would inevitably deteriorate into bystanders flinging rocks and filth at the zebra--if the zoo staff doesn't do it first.


Bob said...

Hello Serge,

I recently stumbled across your blog while researching mnemonic techniques for Chinese characters. You have a very interesting and informative blog. I learned a lot from your post on your mnemonic system for Chinese pronunciation.

I was wondering if you were familiar with Wieger's book on Chinese characters, and specifically his arrangement of characters by phonetic series. I have been thinking about building a memory palace for characters and have thought about building it according to his arrangement by phonetic series. Wieger organizes about 10,000 characters under 858 phonetics, which are the characters that serve as the phonetic component in phono-semantic compounds. Under each phonetic are listed several characters, usually around 12 but sometimes varying from 5 to more than 20, that contain the phonetic and are pronounced the same or similarly to the phonetic, and also contain a radical that suggests meaning.

Here is the list of the phonetics from the book arranged by stroke order:


And here are the phonetic series:


I have been thinking about a memory palace organized this way because of the problem of remembering character pronunciations. When you come across a character, there is no inherent phonetic information that can trigger phonetic associations except for the phonetics of phono-semantic compounds, whereas you're presented with graphical elements that can trigger semantic associations. Also, most characters are phono-semantic compounds, while the rest are several hundred pictogram or ideograms that are relatively easy to remember.

With this memory palace, a character you come across can be divided into the radical and phonetic, and then the phonetic can be divided into strokes to trigger a more specific location where the phonetic is. At the location, the pronunciation of the phonetic can be stored, and then sub-locations could store the phonetic series for that phonetic. One difficulty though is that often the characters in the phonetic series aren't pronounced identically to the phonetic, so some system similar to yours of encoding Chinese pronunciation may be necessary.

At any rate, what are your thoughts on this system based on your experience with mnemotechnics and Chinese characters? Have you checked out Wieger's book and his phonetic series arrangement?

Thanks, and keep up the excellent blogging.

Bob said...

I should add that I started thinking about the Wieger phonetic series memory palace after seeing this post by a guy who memorized a German dictionary of about 15,000 words in a few months:


He gives many useful tips for building massive vocabulary memory palaces.

The alphabetic nature of German and most other languages means that when you come across a word, the letters of the word can immediately trigger locations where you have words and meanings stored. Whereas Chinese characters don't have any alphabetic information. Wieger's phonetic series seemed like the best substitute.

Serge Gorodish said...

Thanks very much for the feedback, and the link to the article. I found it interesting, but not entirely clear. I don't quite get how he is linking the vocabulary to palace locations, as well as English (or Portuguese) equivalents.

As far as Chinese goes, I have a system that works for me, and I'm stickin' with it. For a lot of languages, as long as the phonology is not too tricky, I think you can go with a direct-link system such as Harry Lorayne describes in his books.

I haven't looked at Wieger's book, but it looks rather similar to Soothill's dictionary:


I find the Heisig approach handles phonetics along with radicals as character "components." The important point is that each component gets a unique keyword that you can use to think about it. With a bit of familiarity, the phonetics are a powerful tool for remembering the pronunciation given the character--or vice-versa.

Bob said...

Regarding the article I linked to, the writer constructed his memory palace based on the structure of the dictionary. An example would be having all words beginning with the letter "A" on the first floor, "B" on the second floor, "C" on the third, and so on. Then the first floor would be subdivided, with say the words starting with "ab" in the first room, "ac" in the second, etc. And then the, say, the 5 words (or whatever) that start with "ac" would be in the second room, associated with certain places or objects in that room that encode the word and its English meaning. Thus when reading the foreign language and coming upon a word that's not immediately recognizable, you can "look up" the word in the memory palace because you can see how it's spelled.

After reading about this system, I began thinking about ways of devising a similar system for Chinese characters, which of course aren't alphabetical and thus have to have a different basis of arrangement for a memory palace. I thought of the radicals or phonetics as being the best approximation for alphabet letters, with phonetics being the better choice since within each radical category there are so many characters and the characters are arbitrary unless you know the phonetics.

Bob said...

Regarding your system, if I understand it correctly, it's a combination of Heisig's system for meaning, and your own system of encoding Mandarin sounds, right?

If so, does it work by associating elements of a character to Heisig's keywords, which trigger an image or story which then incorporates the encoding of the pronunciation? In other words, rather than associating characters to a memory palace and then to a specific location in the palace that holds the image or object that reveals the information about the character, the characters or the elements of the characters are associated directly to specific keywords which trigger images or stories. Rather than pointing to a specific location first, the characters in your system point directly to keywords which point to images or stories. Would that be accurate?

Your system for Mandarin phonology seems to have about 50 distinct personages and locations whose combinations can give all the Mandarin syllables. How many keywords does Heisig's system have? Does each character have its own keyword, or is there a smaller number whose combinations generate the character meaning?

Serge Gorodish said...

My system doesn't necessarily depend on the Heisig system, but you need something to link the image for any given character to. Heisig uses a unique keyword for each character, which I think is a good idea. This frequently entails using synonyms for similar characters; for example, 舍 is "abode", 屋 is "habitation", 寓 is "residence", 宅 is "dwelling", 家 is "house."

I don't see the need for organizing characters by phonetic, radical, etc., unless your goal is to recite the dictionary in order. Creating a keyword for each phonetic would require at least 888 different keywords. I think at that point you might as well go full Heisig and have a different keyword for each character. Heisig's system also gives an important clue to the meaning, more than the radicals. And my system will give you the pronunciation.

The Heisig approach is designed to remind how to write the character when you have the keyword. Recognizing the character when you see it is a by-product and generally easier.

Bob said...

I was thinking that by memorizing the radicals and the phonetics, you'd have roughly 1,000 keywords, which would then combine to form the rest of the characters, which themselves are combinations of radicals and phonetics. Instead of assigning a keyword to each character, each character that isn't a radical or a phonetic would a radical + phonetic combination, and thus could be reduced to a keyword + keyword combination, whose keywords come from the pool of 1,000.

Serge Gorodish said...

Hmmm... you might be on to something. I'm not sure this is so different from the Heisig approach. One principle which it took me time to realize is that (with perhaps a few exceptions_) every character is put together from at most two components. (I have little interest in whether these are called "radicals" or "phonetics.") A character which appears to be made of of three or more parts is really made of two, if only you take the time to track down the pieces.

Simple example: 女 is a character, 氏 is a character, 日 is a character. You could say the character 婚 is made of these three put together. But it works better to think of 婚 as 女+昏, in which 女 is the radical and 昏 the phonetic.

On the other hand, you can think of 昏 as 氏+日, in which 日 is the radical, having something to do with the meaning of 昏, but the function of 氏 is obscure, since both sound-wise and meaning-wise, it seems to have nothing to do with 昏.

So my policy, when encountering a character that appears to be composed of more than one part, is to bend every effort to track down two subcomponents as independent characters, even though sometimes these are obsolete or obscure.

The big question is whether the subcomponents are always found in the existing lists of radicals or phonetics. I haven't tried to answer this and the best I can say is maybe, but I suspect not.

A useful resource for this is the online dictionary at ctext.org, which has a "composed of" feature in the entry for each character (which however misses some of the tricky cases, such as 輿, which technically is 與+車--與 being tricky in such cases).

Serge Gorodish said...

Yeah, so here'a n issue with this approach: the character

has radical:

and also phonetic:


So memorizing radical+phonetic still leaves a gap of memorization.