Thoughts on Routledge’s A Frequency Dictionary of Japanese

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I’ve given this book a look-through, hoping it would be able to serve as a nifty reference for my research and work. To make that story short: it will be.

There are some curious things to note about the book, though:

1) The introduction is very thorough and is worth a read. It discusses the sources that the authors used when making the list and alludes to the ever enduring question of what is a word.

2) The entires are given in kanji (when commonly used) and romaji; but no kana. This is curious because the glossary/first index is ordered by kana, as one would expect from a Japanese dictionary. So regardless the readers are expected to know 1) the “kana order” and 2) what the entries would look like in kana.

3) Various conjugations are treated as words. Entry 3, for example, is た, which is there called a past auxiliary. You’ll also find う from the exhortative conjugation as well, amongst many others.

4) There are combinations of particles and verbs that are also treated as a single word as well. Entry 16, for example, is という, which is と and いう and I cannot for the life of me imagine that anyone actually believes that those are one word. Entry 125 is のではない, which is a particle, a verb, another particle, and another verb.

5) There are spread throughout a  number of useful charts and tables that tell you how frequently alternate pronunciations are used and in what contexts for some words (for example, いう and ゆう) and thematic groupings of certain words, like Animals, for example. (I was surprised to see lion there translated as ライオン because the word that comes to my mind is 獅子, which may or may not be in popular use nowadays.)

6) The further you get into the book, the more “normal” it gets, in the sense that you stop seeing phrases and particles and verb endings and you just see your standard nouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs.

7) Like all reference books, you may want to get your feet wet with the language through a primer or something like that before actually trying to use a book like this. But when you go get around to using this kind of thing, it’s often useful to just read it and find out how far down the list you have to go before you stop recognizing most of the words. Then you start making flashcards or what have you in order to learn all the words you need to know.