Outlier Linguistics Wants to Demystify Chinese Characters for Pengyous


How often have you looked up the radicals for a Chinese character in order to help you understand and memorize a new vocab word, only to realize the radicals don’t seem logical?  For example, how does sheep+ big= beautiful (羊+ 大= 美) ? Because Chinese characters have changed so much through history, simply knowing the modern radicals is often not enough to understand a character.

These were the issues the founders of Outlier Linguistics—a new Chinese language-learning app currently in development—sought to solve. Here is an example of how美 is defined by Outlier Linguistics:

The core Outliers Linguistics team, Ash Henson, Christian Schmidt, and John Renfroe, collectively share 27 years of living and learning in Chinese speaking countries. They have broken down hard to interpret Chinese linguistic and paleographic texts to find the aspects of characters that make memorizing a character easier for new learners.

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An example of the evolution of a Chinese character.

Learning Chinese can be frustrating for foreigners because some of the meaning of characters has been lost throughout history. Until now, understanding the etymology of characters has been way too difficult and time consuming for Chinese language learners, so we rely on rote memorization. In the long run, the lack of cultural context and meaning behind the basic components of Chinese characters makes the language more challenging. That’s the beauty of Outlier Linguistics—they are doing the hard work of bringing to light the cultural context behind each character.

The app is currently in development, and will be funded through a Kickstarter campaign. They are close to reaching this goal, and even small contributions give you special access to the app and future versions/updates!

Those familiar with Pleco can attest to how big a difference having a wealth of knowledge available on a smartphone makes learning Chinese or functioning in China. Outlier Linguistics can potentially make memorizing Chinese characters much easier, something those of us at Project Pengyou are very excited about!

Credit to Sinosplice and Tech in Asia,  Outlier Linguistics and  Emily Haile for the images, and Tech in Asia for the featured image.