Calligraphy Class Week 13 How to Read a Calligraphy Dictionary


I bought a calligraphy dictionary this week recommended to us by our teacher. It’s compiled by a Japanese scholar and calligrapher who spent many years researching all the different styles of calligraphy. And there are lots!

calligraphy dictionary

The dictionary was published in Korea in 1985 and hasn’t been undated since then – it weighs 3.5 kg so it’s already pretty comprehensive! (I didn’t think about that when I had to carry it to an English class afterwards and then home. My bag was already quite heavy. Oh my poor shoulders! :?)  Then I had to work out how to actually use the dictionary …

The Chinese characters are organised into groups of characters that share the same component called a radical (部). The character with the fewest strokes comes first. So the first character in the dictionary is the number 1 which is simply one horizontal stroke. But there are many different ways to write this character as we can see here! (BTW The dictionary is read from back to front 😉 )


The radical can often be a character on its own as above or as part of various other characters. The radical gives characters their meaning or phonetic reading. The number two (two horizontal strokes) uses this radical as well as the character representing the number three (three horizontal strokes). This dictionary has 47 pages showing characters that have this stroke as the radical.


The printed character (with a circle around it) shows the standard version of the character. Then the place where the character was found (eg a gravestone in an area of China ) is written under each of the characters. The name of the radical is written on the very left hand side of the page. (In this case it’s number 1 + 部)


Here are more characters this time with the radical meaning tree 木. At the top of each page we can see how to read the characters in Korean letters, hangeul.

calligraphy dictionary

Calligraphy dictionary

The radicals become more and more complicated until at the end of the dictionary we come across ones like this:


And then at the very back there’s an index of all the characters with page numbers all written in Chinese characters. Now all I have to do is learn to write them. 😮


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