Thursday, March 10, 2016

quick hanja penance

Learning hanja (Sino-Korean characters) is often a combination of developing muscle memory and engaging in whole-language learning. You don't necessarily "read" a hanja character the way you do a word written in letters (i.e., symbols with a roughly 1:1 sound-symbol correspondence); instead, you take in the whole character, understand its meaning-in-context, and utter the syllable it represents.*

In a comment, I admitted to my buddy Charles that I didn't know the two Chinese characters that, together, mean "congratulations": chuk-ha. Since I have little to do in the office today (just finished a major book project, so we're in winding-down mode), I thought I'd look up "congratulations" and practice it a bit. The results were pretty godawful:

I did, however, do a slightly better job when I switched to a thicker marker:

We're getting closer to muscle-memory mastery of the characters. Aesthetically speaking, I like the chuk but hate the ha, which I find ass-ugly.

*People like Professor Mark Miyake—who has made a career of studying East Asian languages—will argue that it is indeed possible to "sound out" a Chinese character if you have some notion of the pronunciation of the character's radical (root). This is somewhat true in my experience, but I'm not convinced the method is all that reliable when it comes to guessing the pronunciation of a never-before-encountered character.



Charles said...

Your penmanship, even at its worst, is much better than mine. I've always had horrible penmanship no matter what language I write in. As an undergrad, my Japanese TA told me that I wrote "like a child." Even now, my foreign students ask me to write Korean "properly," by which they mean block characters that look like print. They seem to have no problem with my atrocious English writing, though. I suspect it's because they're still learning Korean. That being said, I'm definitely not winning any awards for either 한글 or 한자 penmanship.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks. I've had students tell me that they prefer my Chinese writing to my hangeul penmanship. I still need to work on that.

Charles said...

I've thought of taking hangeul calligraphy lessons, actually. You know, in all that free time I have.

Oh, and on the sounding out of Chinese characters, I would say it's more like taking educated guesses as to what the pronunciation might be. Even in some cases where you know how the radical is pronounced, the character may still not take its pronunciation from that. And sometimes it is slightly different.