Thanks for posting about our project, @zenpai!
I wanted to address some of the concerns.
First, the core value of our dictionary is not in the ancient forms, but in the fact that we explain kanji structure in terms of their functional components. That is, we break each kanji into its components and explain what each component’s function is: is it depicting something (a form component), is it related to meaning (a meaning component), or is it indicating the pronunciation (a sound component)? Sometimes a component does none of the above (empty components either 1. simply serve to distinguish two characters from each other, or 2. are a result of corruption, in which case we explain what the component was originally and what its function was).
As I explain in the video linked above, that allows you to see the real meaning and sound connections between kanji, so that you develop an understanding of the logic underlying the writing system.
We have a few other similar videos on our Facebook page.
The dictionary will be an add-on for the Japanese app, and it will integrate with their SRS and other forthcoming learning tools. So it’s a dictionary/reference, but it will also have SRS functionality.
We’re also planning to build a web version, which will have more robust learning functions, mnemonics, vocabulary, even sentences with audio, etc. The eventual goal is a one stop shop for literacy in Japanese. This will be a stretch goal for our project, which we’re announcing soon.
As for what happens if the Japanese app ceases to exist or support our dictionary in the future for whatever reason, we will make sure that all of our Kickstarter backers have access to it in some form or another, whether a PDF, or building our own app, or something else.
As for “etymology vs. mnemonics,” we’re actually huge fans of mnemonics. But they’re much more powerful when they’re based on an understanding of the kanji’s actual structure, which is what we’re providing.
@acm2010 I’m not sure what you mean by “just pulling in stuff from JMDict,” but that’s not what we’re doing. We’ve hired Ulrich Apel, one of the world’s foremost Japanese lexicographers (he did WaDoku) to create the meaning, pronunciation, and vocabulary data for us. We’re not using any open source data here.
Yes. According to memory expert Kenneth Higbee, the #1 thing that increases retention is that the learner understands the thing to be learned. This explanation tells you that 1. 日 gives the meaning. 2. That 𡗗 does not give a sound or meaning. 3. Why 𡗗 is there to begin with even though it’s not giving a sound or meaning. In other words, this short, concise explanation for 春 tells you exactly why it looks the way it does. And, after reading it, you fully understand the form. Once you understand how kanji really express sound and meaning, the easier it is to remember them, recall them and predict things about ones you haven’t learned yet.
As for how knowing the original meaning helps you to learn, it explains the connection between the kanji’s form and its meaning. One example is 漢: why does it have water 氵? Because it originally referred to the name of a river, then to the people who lived near it, to the dynasty they founded, and then to the ethnicity of the people that dynasty ruled over. You don’t have to memorize all of that, of course, but it does help to know there’s a logical reason for “water” being there.