Previous Section Table of Contents Next Section Use your PC to Master Japanese and Chinese

Lesson 5: Working with Rare Chinese Characters

Why is this necessary?

In the development of Chinese and Japanese literate culture, the ability of individual Chinese characters to convey meaning encouraged the creation of new characters to convey new meanings. This proliferation got out of way out of hand, resulting in the creation of well over 50,000 Chinese characters, which no one can remember. Efforts to standardize the character set by printed dictionaries effectively reduced the working character set (for those that abided by the dictionaries) to typically between five and ten thousand characters (but not all the same characters). The Japanese went further by reducing the standard character set to under 2000 characters, the general use (joyo) kanji.

Nonetheless, older writing uses characters that are not in any standard symbol set(D- - 7). Because of this, you may need to use characters that are neither in the on-line dictionaries nor in the supplied symbol sets (fonts).

As Chinese characters have become more unified and standardized, the appearances of the characters have changed slightly to become the more modern forms. For special purposes, you may wish to modify the appearance of certain characters in a standard font to suit your taste, or create entirely new symbols for purposes of your own.

Try to Find the Character

The potential need to add a character arises when you cannot find the character or a word in a dictionary while typing. There are two possibilities: The first step is to try to finding the character in the symbol set. If you find it, you need only add a user dictionary(4- 7) entry to access it by pronunciation. Alternatively, you can keep it secret, and enter the character number(D- - 2) directly in the word processor.

Radicals & Strokes

The most straightforward way to find a Chinese character if you know only its appearance is to look it up by radical and stroke. Briefly, Chinese characters can be classified according to their constituent parts. Chinese scholars have determined that all characters contain at least one of 214 unique components, called radicals(D- - 6). Once grouped according to radical, the characters with that radical can be further sorted according to the number of additional strokes(D- - 7) they contain (excluding those used to make the radical). This two-level scheme subdivides the Chinese character set into short lists which can be easily scanned to find a particular character.

Radical & Stroke Dictionaries

Printed (and electronic) radical and stroke(4- 8) dictionaries use this concept to sort characters. The natural ordering of characters by radical and stroke gives rise to the concept of the character number(D- - 2), which is simply the sequence that a particular character ends up in after being sorted first by radical and then by stroke.

Most of the characters in the Smart Characters Combined(4- 9) Japanese and Chinese symbol set are arranged in radical and stroke order for ease of browsing and finding characters. To search for characters in the symbol set:

The first 7331 characters in the Level I Combined(4- 9) symbol set are arranged by traditional Chinese radicals. After that, the small ranges of Japanese joyo kanji that are not traditional Chinese characters, user characters(4- 10), JIS Level I kanji, and rare Big Five(D- - 1) characters are in various orders.

Scroll through the font, looking for your character:

A quick aside: Smart Characters bitmap scales these characters to display text in a document window. The default point size of 12 multiplied by the standard zoom of 133% yields a font resolution of 16 points, which is exactly the size of the lowest resolution font. Also note that the 16 point font is a simpler style than the 24 and 48 point fonts. This is for clarity and legibility.

Character is There

Although we are not really looking for a character, pretend that you are, and have just spotted it while browsing the symbol set...

There it is! It has been there all along, but you didn't find it under the pronunciation or English glosses you searched for. First, query the character to see what dictionaries entries already exist:

Add Pronunciation to User Dictionary

Since you did not find the character under your pronunciation, if you wish, add your pronunciation to your user dictionary(4- 7) (make one up for this example): Adding the pronunciation to user characters is complicated by the symbol set index format codes used to indicate that the character is in the user symbol set code space. These codes precede and follow the characters as follows:


If you edit the entry in Characters and Pronunciation entry, you must position the insertion point between the user character index format code(D- - 3) and the Character. You can use the Alt+Right or Left arrow keys for this purpose, positioning the insertion point after the initial format code (which typically displays in the hidden characters window as "Format n0/3"), and typing in pinyin, bpmf, or hiragana. The pronunciation will display above the character.

You can use the hidden characters window (and the codes window) to view the contents of a Smart Characters edit control. In addition, function keys like F2, F9 and F10 work for dictionary lookup, window and line redraw.

Creating a New Character

For illustration, assume you do not find the character you are looking for, so you will have to create a new character. There are many ways to do this. One way is to just draw the character from scratch. Another is to find a similar character, and copy it to the Font Clipboard, and modify it. Yet another is to scan it into a Paint program, export it to the Windows clipboard, and import it into Smart Characters. We will demonstrate a straightforward approach.

One Method: an Overview

First locate a place for the new character in your user font(4- 12). Then, locate a similar character, possibly differing in only one part (e.g., the radical). Paste the similar character into the user font to become part of the new character. Edit the new character until it becomes the desired character. Finally, document the new character by adding one or more entries to your user dictionary(4- 7).

Open the User Font

In this example, we will be re-creating a user character that is already in your user font: HAN or itagane meaning sheet metal, Nelson #4825. Don't cheat. We will place the new character at the first blank slot, #4 (you can select another location):

Copy from a Similar Character

Although you could work with a character at any resolution, it is arguably easier to scale a character down (remove information) than to scale it up (add information). This character has a hard to draw radical. Find a character with the same radical:

Copy from Similar Characters

As you are looking, notice the characters consisting of just numbers. These are obsolete (even more rare than our example), which have been selected for elimination.

Scaling Parts of a Character

Select Browse Selects | Edit to associate the symbol set view(8- 1) window with the edit character, then use File | Open to locate the other point sizes in your user font and hand tune (clean up) the other scaled versions. Observe the blockiness of scaling up, and the lack of clarity in the scaled down image. Work on each, then compare it with the example character (#2) to get the idea of how glyphs change according to resolutions.

Notice how the 16 point font is far too bold. This is a result of scaling from a 48 point character. You can work on lightening the character, but it is frequently easier to copy from 16 point fonts using the Alternate character set to the 16 point CombinedMing font, because this font has solved the low resolution representation problem in a uniform way and pleasing way.

Document the User Character

For single characters without pronunciations, you can add the pronunciation to the "Prior Pronunciation (edit the entry)" field, despite its name, which comes from the fact that the field is ignored if there is any existing pronunciation, and that any pronunciation entered is added to the first character only in a multiple character entry. Neither consideration applies to a single character annotation with no prior pronunciation.

Automatically Registering a Font

Manually Registering a Font

Pasting a character from your user symbol set is the easiest way to access user characters in a document: Smart Characters handles all the details. However, you may need to use characters in another symbol set, but don't have a user dictionary(4- 7) with a corresponding entry. The quick way to register a symbol set that is already installed on your computer is to select Format | Symbol Sets to invoke the Pick Symbol Set dialog:

The Register Symbol Set Dialog

You can also register a symbol set that may not be not installed on your system using the Register Symbol Set dialog: Unused symbol set indexes are marked (Unused). Index 3 is the most appropriate index for a user symbol set because user characters from that index can be extracted into a special font called a proxy font(D- - 6), and embedded into your document for electronic transmission. Note that the typeface name is the same as the symbol set name, a legacy holdover from the Student version 2.9, and a good reason to install your own unique user symbol set that uses a standard typeface name, like CombinedMing.

It is not necessary to enter a File Name or File Type, since the selected symbol set and typeface is already installed on your system (you could select names from a list). Select OK to return to the Character Format dialog.

Using the Character in a Document

Switch symbol sets by specifying the symbol set in the Character Format dialog (still open from the last example): Use the character by entering its character number(D- - 2): We are done with the user font, so return to the base font, symbol set index(4- 10) 0. There are two ways to do this: from a listing of the symbol set indexes using the Character Format dialog, or directly by entering the appropriate format codes(D- - 3) from the keyboard: Most people will not need to use this manual procedure, preferring instead to make an initial entry in your user dictionary(4- 7), then letting Smart Characters handle the details for you.

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Last Modified: March 23, 1996

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