28 July 2017 @ 04:46 pm
In English we often shorten phrases by omitting an entire half or more: "Ask not for whom the bell tolls (it tolls for thee)", "Birds of a feather (flock together)". Words are the same way, "(inter)net, teach(er), sis(ter)". Strings of words also get their first or last sounds or letters taken and merged: "Government Issue = GI, Tele Vision = TV", "shark tornado = sharknado". Japanese is exactly the same way. Each kanji is a unique word and they mix and match these words in order to say what they want. For example:

公 public/popular/wide 安 safe 局 department = 公安局 government department of public safety (3 words)
安 calm/safe 心 core/mood = mental relief (2 words)
不 not 安 calm/safe = worry (= mental upset) (2 words)
安 calm/safe 全 complete = safety, security (2 words)

公安局, 安心, 不安 and 安全 aren't unique words worth memorizing. You instead need to remember the kanji meanings, because each kanji is a separate word. Japanese people always mix and match words this way to create whatever it is that they want to say; we in English say "library, librarian", we say "Washingtonian, laundrette", but, for some reason, we don't say "libroshop, librette, bookian, bookette" — Japanese people (and most cultures in the world in general) do exactly that however. For the most part it doesn't matter what a word's origin is, they'll mix and match it to say what they want.

The trouble with this only comes when what we think is "a complete word" is actually short for a longer word. For example:

少年[男] = "few-years [male]" = young boy
少[年]女 = "few-[years] female"= young girl
妖怪[獣] = "uncanny-suspicious [beast]" = ghost, demon
妖[怪]力 = "uncanny-[suspicious] power" = demonic/supernatural power
[犯]無実 = "[crime] not true" = innocent (of a crime)

These appear in real life as: 少年, 少女, 妖怪, 妖力, 無実 and the dictionary won't show you the origins I've pointed out above, despite that if you actually do know what the full word/phrase must have at some point been (as a native speaker does!) then the shortened word is instantly recognizable and memorable without any special study.

It's my goal to make a dictionary and textbook that teach Japanese in exactly that way: showing you that what you're learning isn't actually a special, unique word and thus making everything a lot easier to learn. The problem is, this takes an amazing amount of time, especially since I'm still learning Japanese myself — I have to create the entire dictionary by gathering words MYSELF, figure out all the kanji meanings MYSELF because the existing materials are completely awful. For example, a "word" like 妖力, despite being constantly in use in manga and anime, isn't in the dictionary. I myself have to find this word and realize 妖 is short for 妖怪, as well as that 妖怪 itself is short for 妖怪獣.

So anyway, my idea was to make a dictionary that only gives kanji meanings, except it'll also point out when compound words are abbreviations (like 妖: 1. uncanny, 2. 妖怪[獣] and then I might have 妖怪[獣] as a separate entry because its meaning isn't obvous). What do you think? What should I make sure to do or not do? What are the problems you've been finding in dictionaries and textbooks? What's your ideal dictionary/textbook?
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