Kickstarter for Outlier Kanji dictionary is now live

I like this project, but WK destroyed all for me. Now all nmenomics are built around different meanings. If I get another resource without using those mnemonics and fake “radicals” then it would be like learning again everything.

The tiers are too expensive. A pdf for 10€… most of the people who learn japanese are young, have no money. I have money but I won’t pay 40 to get the app. Seriously.

Thank you! I was having deja vu when I looked at the Kickstarter page.

They’re marketing it as a learning tool. It seems good until you realize there are no lessons, reviews or vocab and that you’d be just brute-forcing thousand of kanji. It’s basically just mnemonics (though "real” ones as opposed to WK’s made up ones), without the structure that would make it appropriate for learning.

It seems good for squashing those pesky leeches, or for when WK’s mnemonics fall short, but $25 for an app?

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It does seem to be a lot for an app, but I think they’re basing their prices on the various dictionary apps offered by some major Japanese publishers.

Now I wonder how much more innovative they really are compared to the other etymological books on the market. I did a quick search and came upon this guy here.

Obviously, the Outlier people look a lot more qualified than that single guy, but what are they bringing in that justifies $50+ for the Expert edition (MRSP $60+)? They don’t offer a PDF of the dictionary, and who’s to say that the people doing the app will continue to provide support for their ‘Lifetime access’ to the dictionary through the app?

I’m not convinced yet, and I really want to be.

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I Kickstarted them at the expert level because the history is really interesting to me, especially getting into the various scripts. My husband dabbles in calligraphy and seeing the evolution of kanji in a handy place would be valuable to me. Thanks for linking!

I’m interested in etymology and looked up all kanji in WK for their phonetic compositions when I did Keisei. I’m very skeptical that “understanding functional components” as touted there is superior to other methods like mnemonics (“cute stories” as they put it). At least it takes much longer to read all that stuff, if you can memorize stuff that doesn’t appear in modern kanji anyway.

For Japanese the phonetic components don’t work out as nicely as they do for Chinese. They are nice to have, but you need some memory-space to memorize the exceptions.

And for the ancient meanings, for example for 春 you get

I mean that’s nice, but does that help you in any way to learn 春 faster?

[I’m a bit interested anyway, but potentially just pulling in stuff from JMDict doesn’t warrant kickstarting, they even make money with an existing product already. I just look at the Chinese edition.]


Do you have a link to the Chinese edition? I’m a lot more interested in that one to be honest.

You can find it at their webpage.

But I remember doing the same thing some months ago with “$60? … maybe later”

Yeah, this is a relaunch. I had backed this at Expert last time and they failed to secure funding. Even created a thread about this last time. People weren’t too keen back then.

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.

I’m not sure exactly what you mean. Can you give me an example of a kanji you think our system wouldn’t be able to handle?

Thanks for the discussion!

I was just looking at the JapaneseApp on that page, it would be a wonder if 姿造り = whole fish sashimi arranged in the original shape (from the “Lightning Fast Search”) is not from JMdict. But good to hear that you will generate a good dictionary.

[Not sure if the world is waiting for another closed-source JP-EN dictionary, though.]

For the second part, more info sure is helpful. But let’s say 𡗗 derived from multiple origins. Actively remember which origin it was takes more effort not less. (No guarantees for 𡗗 as an example, but I’m sure there are multiple shapes that started out differently and merged into the same shape).

Edit: the most helpful thing would actually that 屯 is the phonetic component, even if it doesn’t appear anymore and the reading is not とん (anymore?) but しゅん.

I happen to have a copy of Heisig’s Remembering The Kanji: 1 right here. I thought I remembered reading something about this in the introduction, and I was right:

…So fascinating is this story that many recommend studying etymology as a way to remember the kanji. Alas, the student quickly learns the many disadvantages of such an approach. As charming as it is to see the ancient drawing of a woman etched behind its respective kanji, or to discover the rudimentary form of a hand or a tree or a house, when the character itself is removed, the clear visual memory of the familiar object is precious little help for recalling how to write it. Proper etymological studies are most helpful after one has learned the general-use kanji. Before that, they only add to one’s memory problems.

From there follows about five more paragraphs in the intro to RTK that further detail why mnemonics are the linchpin, so to speak, of RTK and WaniKani.

That isn’t to say that your the project is bad, per se – it just doesn’t seem like it’s optimized for learning so much as it is interesting knowledge after the fact.

I know you’re trying to kickstart a product, but unless you have those plans already in development, they’re just empty promises. Japanese one of the most complex and time consuming languages to learn. You need listening, speaking, reading, “writing” (okay, so typing in today’s world), and a whole lot of interwoven grammar and vocabulary. A so called “one stop shop for literacy in Japanese” would actually need to include all of these elements – at once – in order to truly achieve that goal.

I’m only saying this because you’re officially representing the company, and the semantics behind what you said imply a far greater amount than what you’ve presented in your kickstarter campaign.

E: This was intended to be a direct reply to the post I quoted from – not just a reply to the thread.

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I do agree with the project in the sense that more information is always good. Some things will be remembered, and some things won’t, and that’s OK. The point is to aid in understanding and in retention.

If I got slapped while eating my morning toast, I would remember it for a long time. If I learned something astonishing or interesting about a kanji’s origin, I’d be more likely to remember it. Memory works on associations quite well, since it tends to be one of the foundations of memory.

@OutlierLinguist, I appreciate what you say and that you are addressing concerns pertaining to your kickstarter. But just as a question of good form, it is typically hoped for that if you will promote a product, in any way, you will at Keats be a subscriber of the platform so it doesn’t seem exploitative. Perhaps consider getting a monthly subscription so it’s not too expensive and you look better.

While it is true that mnemonics appear to work, I must confess that RTK touting it does not really inspire confidence in the method. After all, that is what they base their method on. Due to the vested interest, it is expected that they would promote mnemonics…

What I particularly dislike about this project, though, is that it is not standalone. If you’re gonna try and sell me on this type of product, especially at those prices, make sure it’s a product you’ve made in its entirety. I shouldn’t need to depend on a 3rd party platform.

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Correct me if I’m mistaken (I’m far from an expert), but it’s my understanding that the historical/etymological roots for many kanji are a bit removed from their present meaning. Kodansha (KKLC) uses 東 as one such example, stating that the ancient form of the kanji actually represented a water skin pierced with a stick. While interesting as a bit of trivia to bust out at your next kanji party, referring to the kanji’s etymology doesn’t seem to be especially useful in the learning process. How would your dictionary address this particular item or others like it?

Well of course – but RTK was built by someone who needed to learn the kanji quickly. Mnemonic based learners are really easy to come by, too, and RTK kinda helped pave the way for that. It has standing because of its success, imho.

The biggest thing that irks me is that it’s billed as the end-all be-all solution to learning kanji. There are a lot of great reasons to have a dictionary – but language learning is so hard to get right that I’m naturally skeptical of anything claiming too much.

Also – and this is just to be pedantic – you really need more than one expert/scientist to back up a claim. One person is just one person. The scientific method works because of repeated trials and hypothesis testing, not just the testament of one person.


Completely agree with everything stated here.

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I had some issues with the Chinese Expert Edition being on pre-order while kickstarting something else that also has an expert edition, and that was six months ago. That edition seems to be still on pre-order?