Outlier Linguistics – You got me at 祭 and 黑

Well, that’s a first for me, backing up a kickstarter project, which will also happen to be my first paid add-on on Pleco, one of my favorite Chinese learning tool.

The digital press has been generous in covering and putting the word out in support of Outlier‘s crowdfunding campaign, a Chinese dictionary that will take apart sinograms and integrate insights from paleography, hence, offering a new approach to more easily remember Chinese characters.

After seeing many people vouching for it on my Twitter timeline, Pleco’s founder being one of them, I finally took a closer look at the app, tried their demo, watched a few of their videos, and actually learned a few things which eventually convinced me to jump on the band-wagon.

To give some perspective, I’ve been learning Chinese for a while now, and have seen/tested quite a few new services/apps to learn Chinese over the years, yet, these days, I mostly stick to Pleco and Skritter. I occasionally resort to Wenlin for obscure characters or figure out characters with a specific radical, and more recently, have enjoyed using moedict 萌典 to lookup words in Minnan/Taiwanese. I’ve been set in this little learning habit for a while, so welcoming another tool, Outlier, is somewhat of a big deal for my Chinese learning, lol.

As I see it, I expect Outlier to be – for me, personally –  a casual and convenient helping-aid to help me remember challenging Chinese characters or those which I just can’t get to stay inside my head, and extend my understanding of the written Chinese language.

About 祭.

At some point in my Chinese learning, I realized that I had reached a level where I knew enough characters that some of them were starting to confuse me by their similarities. I had even started a list to keep track of all those look-alikes, with the intent to investigate them later.

If I recall, 祭 and 發 were two of the characters that gave me a hard time, mainly when it came to writing them. For the life of me, I never managed to remember the top part, so when I saw the video from Outlier dissecting the semantic components of 祭, it all became clear and I felt like “Duh! Why did I never think of looking at it this way“, especially given the fact that a similar explanation is provided in Wenlin.

So this is a typical situation where Outlier will come in handy for me, now, if only I could get my hand on that list of characters look-alikes I put together a while back…

About 黑.

The character for black, 黑, is among the first being learned in a formal Chinese class setting, a time of struggle for any students mostly focused on rote memorization. But with 50+ new characters to learn daily, I’m not sure I would have had the time to appreciate the history of each new character back then. Cramming it all to ace the vocabulary quiz the next day was my primary worry.

So, as simple and dull as 黑 can look to any advanced Chinese learners, I was pleasantly surprised to learn some hidden information about it.

原來如此, the top part represents the front view of a person whose face has been tattooed as punishment for a crime, while the lower part is an empty component which is a result of character corruption.
Onto the Experts section, where I learned that this type of punishment is called 墨刑, one of the ancient Five Punishments 五刑.

Fun trivia, no? At least cool enough to convince me funding the project by opting for the Expert Edition. 🙂

(screenshots are from Outlier’s app demo)

Another cool aspect of Outlier, is that it’s Made in Taiwan, meaning that Traditional Chinese is not overlooked, and audio recordings featuring a Minnan-influenced Mandarin (i.e. Mandarin in Taiwan) option is also in the works.

In addition, the Outlier team look like a solid bunch, with the background and technical resources to dive in the nitty-gritty details of Chinese characters, and present all that quality information in a palatable format for users.

The project is already fully backed, but the funding is still open until June 12th!



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