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Learn 2999 kanji systematically, using real etymologies based on the latest research. Everything you need to know to master kanji.
Learn 2999 kanji systematically, using real etymologies based on the latest research. Everything you need to know to master kanji.
Learn 2999 kanji systematically, using real etymologies based on the latest research. Everything you need to know to master kanji.
853 backers pledged $46,473 to help bring this project to life.

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Outlier Kanji Dictionary

$46,473

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Click to try the demo!
Click to try the demo!

You can try out the demo by clicking the image above!

Note that if you visit the demo on your phone (Android or iOS), you can use it in your browser, or you'll also have the option to install it on your phone and use it just like an app! On iOS, if you visit the link to the demo, you can tap "Share" and then "Add to Home Screen." On Android, just visit the link, tap the overflow button (three vertical dots) and select "Add to Home Screen."

What is it?

The Outlier Kanji Dictionary is a revolutionary new mobile kanji dictionary for iOS and Android which explains how modern kanji actually work based on the latest etymological research.

The dictionary will be made available as an add-on for the Japanese app by Renzo Inc. Once it’s released, there will be two options for purchasing it:

  • included as part of a subscription bundled with several other learning tools (currently under development by the Japanese app), or
  • as a one-time purchase, without the additional tools.

However, Kickstarter backers who back a reward tier which includes the dictionary will get an activation code which will unlock our dictionary within the Japanese app (functionally equivalent to the one-time purchase option, although the Kickstarter price is lower than the purchase price will be once it's released).

How is it different?

Our dictionary explains how kanji actually work, so that you'll understand the real sound and meaning connections between them. Why learn the real story? Kanji are based upon simple logic. If you know that logic, it greatly reduces your suffering.

Most kanji learning resources neglect to explain why each kanji looks the way it does. They basically leave you high and dry when it comes to understanding how the writing system works. This video explains the difference between our method and other popular methods out there:

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 We've studied the history of the Chinese writing system at the Master's and PhD level under some of the top scholars in the world. We've already released the Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters last year for people learning Chinese, and we're bringing a PhD in Japanese—Ulrich Apel—onto the team to help us adapt and develop the content for Japanese learners. Ulrich is responsible for Wadoku, the most comprehensive Japanese to western language dictionary in existence.

Our dictionary takes cutting-edge research on the origin and evolution of the kanji and distills that information into something that's clear, correct, and easy to digest even for zero-level beginners.

We explain kanji in terms of their functional components. Some components express meaning (meaning components), some express sound (sound components), some depict something (form components), and some do none of the above (empty components) because they're either corruptions of other components in an earlier form of the kanji, or they merely serve as a mark to distinguish one kanji from another.

There are four kinds of functional components:

If you’d like to learn more about the different kinds of functional components, check out this blog post! And if you’d like to know about the difference between functional components and radicals, make sure to read this post.

Two versions to suit different learners: Essentials and Expert!

We've designed our dictionary so that anyone who is learning kanji, at any level, can benefit. There are two editions of the dictionary to satisfy different levels of curiosity:

Note that the Expert edition includes the Essentials edition, so you will get Essentials data as it becomes available, but, because of the significant amount of extra work involved in creating the Expert entries, the Expert Edition will be released later than the Essentials. But remember that if you back Expert during the Kickstarter, you'll get a copy of Essentials when it comes out, as well as regular updates until the Expert Edition is finished!

Here's a bit more about the features of the Essentials Edition and how they help with learning!

What does the research say?

Scholars have known for years that teaching kanji in terms of their actual structure significantly enhances retention. But the available resources mostly rely on traditional etymologies to explain kanji structure, if they make any attempt at all.

Traditional etymologies mostly rely on the Setsumon Kaiji 説文解字 【セツモンカイジ】, which is nearly 2000 years old. One of the world’s leading scholars on the history of the writing system, 劉釗 Liu Zhao at Fudan University in Shanghai, has pointed out that 80-90% of the Setsumon’s explanations are problematic.

We have much better evidence and research available in 2018, but no resource for learners has attempted to make use of the most up-to-date research. We're filling that gap!

What about mnemonics?

We love using mnemonics to learn kanji! It's a very powerful way to aid memory. However, most mnemonic systems for learning kanji break the kanji down incorrectly, and completely ignore each component's function within the kanji.

But learning real kanji structure and the real function each component has allows you to see the real system-level connections between the kanji. Layering a mnemonic on top of that makes it that much more powerful.

Here's an example: 開 "open." A popular mnemonic for 開 is that it's composed of 門 door/gate and 开 "torch." The mnemonic goes that if you hold a torch 开 when you arrive at the gate 門, they'll open 開 the gate and let you in. That's fairly memorable, but it's much more effective to learn the real etymology here, because it allows you to see connections with other kanji, which the "torch" story obscures.

開 is a door (門) which is closed (indicated by 一), and is being pushed open by two hands (廾). And that "two hands" component shows up in a lot of other kanji. Check out this video to find out more:

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The Poster

The "Semantic Components I" poster lists 50 common meaning and form components, along with their basic modern meaning, pronunciation in both kana and romanization, stroke order, variants, and a few example characters using it as a form or meaning component. It will be A1-sized (59.4 x 84.1cm, 23.39 x 33.11 inches). The poster will feature beautifully handwritten characters by calligrapher Harvey Dam. You can see an example of his handwriting on his bio page on our website.

The Semantic Components II poster adds another 50 semantic components. The layout will be the same, but you'll get an additional 50 components!

Keep these posters on your wall as a reference to jog your memory, or as a way to work on your handwriting!

Reward tiers: Package Deals

 Reward Tiers: Others

We also have larger packages available for those who need multiple copies. Feel free to get in touch about custom reward tiers if none of the tiers offered fit your needs!

Use of funds 

We’re working on this full time, and it’s a huge project. In addition to adapting the existing data, there are several hundred kanji which either differ from their Chinese counterparts (and thus require further research on our part), or aren’t common in Chinese (and thus need to be done from scratch), or are used only in Japanese (the kokuji 国字, kanji created in Japan). Kanji also often have different stroke orders than their Chinese counterparts, so we'll have to adapt those as well. This is a massive undertaking because we're digging into the academic research published on each character (the vast majority of which is not in English).

There's a lot of programming that will need to be done as well. The code is already in place for the Chinese side of our database, but adapting it for the Japanese side is a major undertaking, which will likely take weeks of full-time programming.

Not to mention the meaning, pronunciation, and vocabulary sections for each kanji will have to be more or less done from scratch due to the issues specific to learning Japanese, and this is by far the largest expense. We've brought Ulrich Apel on to the team for this specific reason.

There’s also the cost of adapting, printing, and shipping the printed posters and other overhead costs.

Who are we?

Risks and challenges

The fact that we already have much of the data in place for Chinese (although it isn’t finished) means that we just have to adapt it for Japanese learners, since the two languages both share a writing system: the kanji.

Delivery dates indicate the date by which the first usable version will be delivered. That version will cover at least the first 1000 kanji, and we’ll release regular updates after that until the full dictionary is complete.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 1 or more About US$ 1.00

    Thank you!

    Our eternal gratitude for helping us get this project off the ground!

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    Pledge US$ 10 or more About US$ 10

    PDF Semantic Components Poster 1

    A PDF copy of the poster containing 50 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten kanji by Harvey Dam!

    Includes:
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
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    PDF Semantic Components Posters 1&2

    A PDF copy of BOTH posters each containing 50 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten kanji by Harvey Dam!

    Includes:
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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    Pledge US$ 25 or more About US$ 25

    The Essentials Edition

    Lifetime access to the Essentials Edition distributed through the free Japanese dictionary app on iOS and Android! MSRP: $30+

    Includes:
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Essentials Edition
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    Pledge US$ 40 or more About US$ 40

    The Essentials Package

    Lifetime access to the Essentials Edition distributed through the free Japanese dictionary app on iOS and Android! PLUS a PDF copy of both posters, for a total of 100 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten kanji by Harvey Dam!

    Includes:
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Essentials Edition
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 50 or more About US$ 50

    The Expert Edition

    Lifetime access to the Expert Edition distributed through the free Japanese dictionary app on iOS and Android! MSRP: $60+

    Includes:
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
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    184 backers
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    Pledge US$ 50 or more About US$ 50

    EARLY BIRD: Expert Ed. + 2 PDF Posters!

    Lifetime access to the Expert Edition distributed through the free Japanese dictionary app on iOS and Android! PLUS a PDF copy of both posters, for a total of 100 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten kanji by Harvey Dam!

    Includes:
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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    Reward no longer available 178 backers
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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 65 or more About US$ 65

    The Expert Package

    Lifetime access to the Expert Edition distributed through the free Japanese dictionary app on iOS and Android! PLUS a PDF copy of both posters, for a total of 100 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten kanji by Harvey Dam!

    Includes:
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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    Pledge US$ 69 or more About US$ 69

    The Ultimate Essentials Package

    Lifetime access to the Essentials Edition distributed through the free Japanese dictionary app on iOS and Android! PLUS a PDF copy AND a printed copy of both posters, for a total of 100 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten kanji by Harvey Dam!

    Note: the printed posters will likely be sent out at least 6 months later than the other items.

    Includes:
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Essentials Edition
    • Semantic Components Poster 1
    • Semantic Components Poster 2
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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    Pledge US$ 89 or more About US$ 89

    The Ultimate Expert Package

    Lifetime access to the Expert Edition distributed through the free Japanese dictionary app on iOS and Android! PLUS a PDF copy AND a printed copy of both posters, for a total of 100 common semantic components, featuring beautifully handwritten kanji by Harvey Dam!

    Note: the printed posters will likely be sent out at least 6 months later than the other items.

    Includes:
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
    • Semantic Components Poster 1
    • Semantic Components Poster 2
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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    Webinar Package

    You get everything in the Ultimate Expert Package, plus access to an exclusive 2-hour webinar with Ash Henson, including Q&A!

    Includes:
    • Webinar
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
    • Semantic Components Poster 1
    • Semantic Components Poster 2
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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    Pledge US$ 299 or more About US$ 299

    Small Classroom Package

    You get 1 copy of the Expert Edition, 6 copies of the Essentials Edition, 2 Printed Posters, both PDF Posters, PLUS access to an exclusive 2-hour webinar with Ash Henson, including Q&A!

    Includes:
    • Webinar
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Essentials Edition
    • Semantic Components Poster 1
    • Semantic Components Poster 2
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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    Pledge US$ 399 or more About US$ 399

    Large Classroom Package

    You get 1 copy of the Expert Edition, 10 copies of the Essential Edition, 2 copies of both Printed Posters, both PDF Posters, PLUS access to an exclusive 2-hour webinar with Ash Henson, including Q&A!

    Includes:
    • Webinar
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
    • 10× The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Essentials Edition
    • Semantic Components Poster 1
    • Semantic Components Poster 2
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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    Pledge US$ 499 or more About US$ 499

    Webinar Package + Consultation

    You get everything in the Ultimate Expert Package, webinar access, and three 1-hour, one-on-one Skype consultations with the Outlier team member about implementing the dictionary in your learning or teaching!

    Includes:
    • Consultation Package
    • Webinar
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
    • Semantic Components Poster 1
    • Semantic Components Poster 2
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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  15. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 599 or more About US$ 599

    Small Classroom Package + Consultation

    You get everything in the Large Classroom Package, webinar access, and three 1-hour, one-on-one Skype consultations with the Outlier team member about implementing the dictionary in your learning or teaching!

    Includes:
    • Consultation Package
    • Webinar
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Essentials Edition
    • Semantic Components Poster 1
    • Semantic Components Poster 2
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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  16. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 699 or more About US$ 699

    Large Classroom Package + Consultation

    You get everything in the Large Classroom Package, webinar access, and three 1-hour, one-on-one Skype consultations with the Outlier team member about implementing the dictionary in your learning or teaching!

    Includes:
    • Consultation Package
    • Webinar
    • The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Expert Edition
    • 10× The Outlier Kanji Dictionary: Essentials Edition
    • Semantic Components Poster 1
    • Semantic Components Poster 2
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 1
    • PDF Semantic Components Poster 2
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Funding period

- (31 days)