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History of writing in Vietnam

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"I speak Vietnamese" (Tôi nói tiếng Việt Nam - 碎呐㗂越南) is written in Latin (Vietnamese alphabet) or written in mixed scripts of chữ Hán (Chinese characters) and chữ Nôm (underline).
"I speak Vietnamese" (Tôi nói tiếng Việt Nam - 碎呐㗂越南) is written in Latin (Vietnamese alphabet) or written in mixed scripts of chữ Hán (Chinese characters) and chữ Nôm (underline).

During ancient times, the ancestors of the Vietnamese were considered to have been Proto-Austroasiatic (also called Proto-Mon–Khmer) speaking people, possibly traced to the ancient Dong Son culture. Modern linguists however, describe modern Vietnamese having lost many Proto-Austroasiatic phonological and morphological features that original Vietnamese had, such as the linguistic separation of the Muong and Vietnamese languages 1000 years ago.[1][2][3] Before the introduction of the Chinese-style writing system, the Vietnamese language had a spoken language but no academic, formal, scholarly written text until 111 BC. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, Vietnamese literature, governmental, scholarly, and religious (Daoist, Confucianist, Buddhist) documents, steles, and temple signs were written in classical Chinese script (Vietnamese: cổ văn 古文 or văn ngôn 文言), using Chữ Hán (Chinese characters) and chữ Nôm (Chinese characters adapted for Vernacular Vietnamese invented in the 10th century). This had been done since at least 111 BC up to at least the 19th Century in Vietnam, which suggests nearly 2000 years of Han-Nom scripture.[4][5]

Although most historians classify Chu Nom as having widespread usage in the 10th century, Chu Nom was already used since as early as the 8th century in novels and poetry in Vietnamese, in which many were written in the chữ Nôm script. The Chu Nom script used Chinese characters (chữ Hán) for Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary, and an adapted set of characters to transcribe the sound and meaning of vernacular words of Vietnamese language with Vietnamese approximations of Middle Chinese pronunciations.[6] The development of Chu Nom coincides with around the time the Vietnamese language and the Muong language (and other languages of other ethnic groups of the time) started to diverge.

The two concurrent scripts existed until the era of French Indochina when the Latin alphabet chữ quốc ngữ gradually became the written medium of both government and popular literature.[7]


In Vietnamese, Chinese characters go by a variety names:

The Vietnamese word chữ 𡨸 (character, script, writing, letter) is derived from a Middle Chinese pronunciation of (Modern Mandarin Chinese in Pinyin: zì), meaning 'character'.[13]

Sino-Vietnamese (Vietnamese: từ Hán Việt 詞漢越 "Sino-Vietnamese words") refer to cognates or terms borrowed from Chinese into the Vietnamese language, usually preserving the phonology of the original Chinese. As for syntax and vocabulary this Sino-Vietnamese language was no more different from the Chinese of Beijing than medieval English Latin was different from the Latin of Rome. It's major influence comes from Vietnamese Literary Chinese (Chữ Hán).[14]

The term Chữ Nôm (𡨸喃 "Southern characters") refers to the former transcription system for vernacular Vietnamese-language texts, written using a mixture of original Chinese characters and locally coined Nôm characters not found in Chinese to phonetically represent local Vietnamese words, meanings and their sound.[15][16] However the character set for chữ Nôm is extensive, containing up to 37,000 characters, and many are both arbitrary in composition and inconsistent in pronunciation.[17][18]

Hán Nôm (漢喃 "Hán and chữ Nôm characters") may mean both Hán and Nôm taken together as in the research remit of Hanoi's Hán-Nôm Institute, or refer to texts which are written in a mixture of Hán and Nôm, or some Hán texts with parallel Nôm translations.[19] There is a significant orthographic overlap between Hán and Nôm and many characters are used in both Hán and Nôm with the same reading.[20] It may be simplest to think of Nôm as the Vietnamese extension of Han characters.

The term chữ quốc ngữ (𡨸國語 "national language script") means Vietnamese written in romanized script.


Chữ Hán

Chinese characters is called as Chữ Hán (𡨸漢) or Hán tự (漢字, lit. 'Han Character') in Vietnamese. Possibly even a thousand years earlier, in the late first millennium BC, Yuè elites in what is now southern China may have already adopted a form of writing based on Chinese characters to record terms from their own languages.[21] During the Chinese rule from 111 BC to 905 AD, Chinese characters had been used as the official writing of the region. Local texts written in Chinese probably also included some characters adapted to represent Proto-Viet-Mường sounds, usually personal names or Vietic toponyms that had no Chinese equivalent.[21] According to some scholars, the adoption Chữ Hán or Hán tự had been started by Shi Xie (137–226), but many disagree.[21] The first indigenous Vietnamese writing in Chinese started in late-Tang period, around ninth century by Liêu Hữu Phương.[22]

These writings were at first indistinguishable from contemporaneous classical Chinese works produced in China, Korea, or Japan. These include the first poems in Literary Chinese by the monk Khuông Việt (匡越), the Nam Quốc Sơn Hà (南國山河), and many Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist scriptures.[5][23][24][25]

By 1174, Chinese characters Chữ Hán had become the official writing script of the court, mainly used by administration and literati, and continued to serve this role until mid-19th century when the traditional writing system was abolished in favor of a French education system which was taught in chữ quốc ngữ.[26]

Vietnamese readings of Chữ Hán

In Vietnam, Chữ Hán texts were read with the vocalization of Chinese text as such, equivalent to the Chinese on-yomi in Japanese kanbun (漢文) or the assimilated vocalizations in Korean hanmun (한문/漢文).[27][28] This occurred alongside the diffusion of Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary into the vernacular Vietnamese language,[29] and created a Sinoxenic dialect.[30] The Sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank was the one of the first linguists to actively employ "Sino-Vietnamese" to recover the earlier history of Chinese.[31]

Chữ Nôm

Vietnamese birth certificate in 1938 showing different scripts in descending frequency: chữ quốc ngữ, chữ Nôm, chữ nho, French
Vietnamese birth certificate in 1938 showing different scripts in descending frequency: chữ quốc ngữ, chữ Nôm, chữ nho, French

From the 13th century, the dominance of Chinese characters began to be challenged by Chữ Nôm, a system of writing created based on the Chinese script to record the Vietnamese language. Nôm script borrowed Chinese characters in their phonetic and semantic values to create new characters.[32]

While designed for native Vietnamese speakers, Nôm required the user to have a fair knowledge of chữ Hán, and thus chữ Nôm was used primarily for literary writings by cultural elites (such as the poetry of Nguyễn Du and Hồ Xuân Hương), while almost all other official writings and documents continued to be written in classical Chinese until the 20th century.[33][34]

Though technically different from chữ Hán, it is simplest to think of it as a derivation of chữ Hán - with modifications thereof as well as new Vietnamese-coined logograms. Together, they are called Hán Nôm.

Chữ quốc ngữ

Latin script of Vietnamese language, also called as Chữ quốc ngữ is the currently-used script of Vietnam. It was first developed by Portuguese missionaries in the 17th century, based on the pronunciation of Portuguese languague and alphabet. For 200 years, chu quoc ngu was used within the Catholic community.[35] During French colonization the alphabet was further modified and then later made part of compulsory education in 1910, to make Vietnamese has main writing system is same with French.[36]

Meanwhile, the use of classical Chinese and its written form chu Hán declined. At this time there were briefly four competing writing systems in Vietnam; chữ Hán, chữ Nôm, chữ quốc ngữ, and French.[37] Although the first romanized script chữ quốc ngữ newspaper, Gia Dinh Bao, was founded in 1865, Vietnamese nationalists continued to use chữ Nôm until after the First World War.

After French rule, chữ quốc ngữ became the favored written language of the Vietnamese independence movement.[38]

As a result of education of chữ quốc ngữ exclusively, most Vietnamese are unable to read earlier Vietnamese texts written in Hán Nôm. The Hán Nôm Institute is the national centre for academic research into Hán Nôm texts, and there are modern movements trying to restore Hán Nôm to Vietnam, in part or in full. However, almost all ancient poems and literary texts have been translated to and converted to Chữ Quốc Ngữ, which makes the need for literacy in Hán-Nôm obsolete.

Modern usage of Chữ Hán and Chữ Nôm

A calligrapher writing the Chinese character 祿 "good fortune" (Sino-Vietnamese reading: lộc) in preparation for Tết, at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi (2011)
A calligrapher writing the Chinese character 祿 "good fortune" (Sino-Vietnamese reading: lộc) in preparation for Tết, at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi (2011)

Individual Chữ Hán are still written by calligraphers for special occasions such as the Vietnamese New Year, Tết.[39] They are still present outside Buddhist temples and are still studied for scholarly and religious purposes.

With the introduction of Viet Calligraphy (Thư pháp chữ Việt) since the 1950s, Viet Calligraphy enjoys tremendous success in Vietnamese Calligraphy at the expense of chu han Calligraphy.

Since the mid-1990s, there has been a resurgence in the teaching of Chinese characters, both for Chữ Hán and the additional characters used in Chữ Nôm. This is to enable the study of Vietnam's long history as well as cultural synthesis and unification.[40]

For linguists, the Sino-Vietnamese readings of Chinese characters provide data for the study of historical Chinese phonology and reconstruction of the Old Chinese language.

Additionally, many Vietnamese study Han characters to learn other languages such as Chinese, Japanese, and sometimes Korean. This can make it easier to study these languages due to the high concentration of Chinese-cognate words. Hence, they also end up with some measure of fluency with Hán-Nôm characters.

The significance of the characters has occasionally entered western depiction of Vietnam, especially since French rule. For instance, novelist E. M. Nathanson mentions chu Hán in A Dirty Distant War (1987).[41]

Mixed script

Vietnamese Mixed Script in the Ho Chi Minh Museum in 2016
Vietnamese Mixed Script in the Ho Chi Minh Museum in 2016

It is known that Ho Chi Minh wrote in a mixed Latin–Hán-Nôm script. In light of the history of Hán-Nôm, there are some unofficial movements restoring Hán-Nôm script such as the Han Nom Revival Committee of Vietnam (委班復生漢喃越南,[42]

Despite efforts from sources aiming to restore Hán-Nôm, Chu Quoc Ngu still remains the main method of transcription by Vietnamese-speakers worldwide since the end of the 19th century.


  1. ^ 清水政明, Masaaki Shimizu. "The Mường features in the written Ancient Vietnamese". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ "Vietnamese literature". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-02-10.
  3. ^ LaPolla, Randy J. (2010). "Language Contact and Language Change in the History of the Sinitic Languages". Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2 (5): 6858–6868. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.05.036. ISSN 1877-0428.
  4. ^ Nguyễn, Tri Tài (2002). Giáo trình tiếng Hán. Tập I: Cơ sở. Nhà xuất bản Đại học Quốc gia Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh. p. 5.
  5. ^ a b "Vietnamese literature". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  6. ^ Asian & Pacific quarterly of cultural and social affairs – Volumes 20–21 Cultural and Social Centre for the Asian and Pacific Region 1988 – Page 7 "... known script that was used by the Vietnamese, the "Southerners," to transcribe their language, in contrast to the Chinese ideographs (called chữ Hán i.e., "Chinese script," or chữ nho i.e. "Confucian script") of the "Northerners," the Chinese."
  7. ^ Vietnam 10 – Page 522 Nick Ray, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, Iain Stewart – 2009 "For centuries, the Vietnamese language was written in standard Chinese characters (chữ nho). Around the 13th century, the Vietnamese devised their own writing system called chữ nôm (or just nôm), which was created by combining two Chinese words or by using single Chinese characters for their phonetic value. Both writing systems were in use until the 20th century – official business and scholarship was conducted in chữ nho, while chữ nôm was used for popular literature. The Latin-based quốc ngữ script, widely used since WWI, was developed in the 17th century by Alexandre de Rhodes (see the boxed text, right). Quốc ngữ served to undermine the position of Mandarin officials, whose power was based on traditional scholarship in chữ nho and chữ nôm, scripts that were largely inaccessible to the masses."
  8. ^ Hội Khai-trí tiến-đức (1954). Việt-nam tự-điển. Văn Mới. p. 228.
  9. ^ Đào, Duy Anh (2005). Hán-Việt từ-điển giản yếu. Nhà xuất bản Văn hoá Thông tin. pp. 281, 900.
  10. ^ Nguyễn, Tài Cẩn (2001). Nguồn gốc và quá trình hình thành cách đọc Hán Việt. Nhà xuất bản Đại học quốc gia Hà Nội. p. 16.
  11. ^ Hội Khai-trí tiến-đức (1954). Việt-nam tự-điển. Văn Mới. pp. 141, 228.
  12. ^ Đào, Duy Anh (2005). Hán-Việt từ-điển giản yếu. Nhà xuất bản Văn hoá Thông tin. p. 281.
  13. ^ Nguyễn, Tài Cẩn (1995). Giáo trình lịch sử ngữ âm tiếng Việt (sơ thảo). Nhà xuất bản Giáo dục. p. 47.
  14. ^ Marr, David G. (1984), Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920–1945, p. 141, Because the Chinese characters were pronounced according to Vietnamese preferences, and because certain stylistic modifications occurred over time, later scholars came to refer to a hybrid 'Sino-Vietnamese' (Han-Viet) language. However, there would seem to be no more justification for this term than for a Fifteenth Century 'Latin-English' versus the Latin written contemporaneously in Rome.
  15. ^ Nguyễn, Khuê (2009). Chữ Nôm: cơ sở và nâng cao. Nhà xuất bản Đại học Quốc gia Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh. pp. 5, 215.
  16. ^ Hugh Dyson Walker East Asia A New History −2012 Page 262 "...chu nom, Vietnamese transcription, using Chinese and nom characters for Vietnamese sounds."
  17. ^ Denecke 2017, p. 525.
  18. ^ Hannas, Wm. C. (1997). Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780824818920. The linguistic defects are the same as those noted throughout this book for Chinese characters generally, caused by the large number of tokens (some twenty thousand in chữ nôm), the arbitrariness of their composition, and the inconsistent way the units and their components connect with the sounds of the language.
  19. ^ Trần, Văn Chánh (January 2012). "Tản mạn kinh nghiệm học chữ Hán cổ". Suối Nguồn, Tập 3&4. Nhà xuất bản Tổng hợp Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh: 82.
  20. ^ Hung, Eva; Wakabayashi, Judy (2005), Asian translation traditions, p. 174, A large portion of the lexicon of the Vietnamese language in recent centuries derives from Hán. Consequently, there is a significant orthographic overlap between Hán and Nôm, which is to say that many characters are used in both with the same meaning. This is primarily a lexical, not a syntactic, phenomenon, although Hán grammar did influence Nôm prose to a relatively significant extent (Xtankevich 1986).
  21. ^ a b c Kiernan, Ben (2017). Việt Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present. Oxford University Press. p. 152. ISBN 9780195160765.
  22. ^ Kornicki 2017, p. 568.
  23. ^ Cœdès, George (1966). The Making of South East Asia. Translated by H. M. Wright. University of California Press. p. 87. ISBN 9780520050617. No work of literature from the brush of a Vietnamese survives from the period of Chinese rule prior to the rise of the first national dynasties; and from the Dinh, Former Le, and Ly dynasties, all that remains are some poems by Lac Thuan (end of the tenth century), Khuông Việt (same period), and Ly Thuong Kiet (last quarter of the eleventh century). Those competent to judge consider these works to be quite up to the best standards of Chinese literature.
  24. ^ Nick Ray; Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (2010). Lonely Planet Vietnam. Sino-Vietnamese literature was written in Chinese characters (chữ nho). Dominated by Confucian and Buddhist texts, it was governed by strict rules of metre and verse. Modern Vietnamese literature (quoc am) includes anything recorded in ...
  25. ^ Woodside, Alexander Barton (1971). Vietnam and the Chinese Model. p. 53. ISBN 9780674937215. Although traditional Vietnamese scholars called Sino-Vietnamese literature 'serious literature' and nôm literature 'the literature of pleasure', this dichotomy is obviously misleading.
  26. ^ Li 2020, p. 102.
  27. ^ Bjarke Frellesvig A History of the Japanese Language 2010 – Page 258 "... the rendition of Chinese text in Japanese, which affected grammar and usage (see 9.1) and (kanbun-)ondoku, the vocalization of Chinese text as such, which paved the way for the intake of a large number of loanwords from Chinese (9.2).
  28. ^ Nichibunken newsletter Kokusai Nihon Bunka Kenkyū Sentā 1996 – No23–36 – Page 52 "The novel was then translated from Chinese into Vietnamese by a Vietnamese revolutionist. Knowledge of kanbun (classical Chinese) was quite common among Vietnamese intellectuals, and the new kanbun style of Liang Zhi-chau ..."
  29. ^ Hannas, Wm. C. (1997). Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 77. ISBN 9780824818920. Sifting out Sinitic from native vocabulary is more of a problem in Vietnamese than in Japanese or even in Korean because of the longer history of contact between Chinese and Vietnamese, and because of the intimacy (most Vietnamese would...) Vietnam was under Chinese 'suzerainty'... During this long period, the Vietnamese language itself was overshadowed and to some extent replaced by Chinese, opening the door to thousands of Chinese terms...
  30. ^ Language research – Seoul University Language Research Centre 1990 – Volume 26 – Page 327 "The term Sinoxenic dialects was first used by Samuel Martin to refer to the foreign readings of Chinese characters, such as Sino-Korean, Sino-Japanese, and Sino- Vietnamese. By Sino-Korean, Sino- Japanese, and Sino- Vietnamese, ..."
  31. ^ John R. Bentley A Descriptive Grammar of Early Old Japanese Prose 2001 – Page 39 "... (1975:195, fn. 3) and his reconstructions, but it is interesting to note that Pulleyblank's work actually supports Miller's claims. ... to have been one of the first linguists to notice the importance of SV in reconstructing earlier stages of Chinese."
  32. ^ Li 2020, p. 102-103.
  33. ^ Ha Minh Nguyen, Bac Hoai Tran, Tuan Duc Vuong Colloquial Vietnamese: The Complete Course for Beginners Routledge 2012 Page 3 "Because of thousands of years of Chinese domination and influence, the Vietnamese used Chinese characters known as chu nho as their official written language for many centuries. However chu nho was not easy to learn and only the ..."
  34. ^ D. W. Sloper, Thạc Cán Lê Higher Education in Vietnam: Change and Response 1995 Page 45 "All teaching materials are written in Han, Chinese classical characters known as chu nho. From about the thirteenth century a Vietnamese system of writing, chu nom or simply nom, was developed. ... chu nho was used for official business and scholarship, while chu nom was used for popular literature."
  35. ^ Li 2020, p. 106.
  36. ^ "Quoc-ngu | Vietnamese writing system". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  37. ^ Andrew Simpson Language and national identity in Asia 2007 Page 428 "..there existed a situation in which there were briefly four different available writing systems in Vietnam, chu nho, chu nom, quoc ngu, and Romanized French. ... (4) The acceptability of quoc ngu was then further heightened by its use to translate works of literature from Chinese and chu nom, as well as through its ..."
  38. ^ Simon Eliot, Jonathan Rose A Companion to the History of the Book – Page 124 2009 "The first publication in quoc ngu was the first Vietnamese newspaper, Gia-dinh báo (Daily Paper, 1865), ... During World War I, the colonial administration encouraged quoc ngu journalism for propaganda purposes, and as a result journals"
  39. ^ Vietnam Economic Times Volume 98 – Page 14 Viện kinh tế thế giới (Vietnam) "Today calligraphy is considered one of their most respected art forms. Vietnam also has a long history of calligraphy, but in its earliest form it was called Han Nom, a way of using the Chinese characters to convey Vietnamese words."
  40. ^ Simon Eliot, Jonathan Rose A Companion to the History of the Book Page 124 – 2011 "Since the use of quoc ngu for education has rendered most Vietnamese now incapable of reading earlier Vietnamese ... an increasing commitment to the publication of translations from Chinese or of transcriptions from nom texts to render ..."
  41. ^ E. M. Nathanson Dirty Distant War 1987 Page 121 "So they took the Chinese ideographs for those words, changed them a little to make them distinctive from the Chinese characters, and in that way developed a written language. That's the script that became what we refer to today as chữ nho."
  42. ^ "委班復生漢喃越南 (ủy ban phục sinh hán nôm việt nam)". Retrieved 2019-04-13.

Works cited

  • Denecke, Wiebke (2017), "Shared Literary Heritage", in Li, Wai-yee; Denecke, Wiebke; Tian, Xiaofen (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE-900 CE), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 510–532, ISBN 0-199-35659-9
  • Kornicki, Peter (2017), "Sino-Vietnamese literature", in Li, Wai-yee; Denecke, Wiebke; Tian, Xiaofen (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE-900 CE), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 568–578, ISBN 0-199-35659-9
  • Li, Yu (2020). The Chinese Writing System in Asia: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-00-069906-7.

External links

This page was last edited on 3 March 2021, at 01:53
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