Vietnamese Culture - A 1970's Perspective
                        Copyright 1996 Vn-families

Issue #21. The different systems of writings in Viet-Nam, Vietnam 
Bulletin, Februrary 1, 1971.

We will run this column weekly until we run out of interesting cultural 
Please direct all questions to [email protected]
Here is the proposed schedule of this column.

Issue #1:  Tet 1971 in Vietnam! by Phu Si, VB710118
Issue #2:  The Unicorn dance at Tet, by Minh Tam, VB710118.
Issue #3:  The origin of Tao Quan, the three kitchen gods, by
           George F. Schultz, VB710118.
Issue #4:  1971 - The year of the Pig, by Van Ngan, VB710118.
Issue #5   The Joy of "first writing of the new year", by Thuy Ngoc,
Issue #6:  Traditional Vietnamese male attire, by Van Ngan, VB710208
Issue #7:  The legend of Princess Lieu Hanh, George F. Schultz, VB710215 
Issue #8:  The dialogue on Mount Na-Son, George F. Schultz, VB710222
Issue #9:  The secret housewife, George F. Schultz, VB710301
Issue #10: The golden axe, George F. Schultz, VB710308
Issue #11: Golden age of Viet Nam under the Hung Kings, Pham Tung, 
Issue #12: The legend of Chu Van Dich, George F Schutlz, VB701221
Issue #13: The sandalwood maiden, George F. Schultz, VB7010??
Issue #14: Legend about Emperor Ly Thai-To, George F Schultz, VB7010??
Issue #15. Chu Dong-Tu and Princess Tien Dung, George F. Schultz,
Issue #16. The husband's most difficult task: teaching his wife, 
           Van Ngan, VB 691216
Issue #17: Superstition in Viet Nam, Van Ngan, VB6911??
Issue #18: Hair: VN style, VB7007??
Issue #19: Funeral rites in Viet-Nam, Van Ngan, VB7006??
Issue #20: "Non Bai Tho" or the "Poetical Leaf", ???, VB7011??
Issue #21: The different systems of writings in Viet-Nam, ???, VB710201 
           - June 5, 1996.
Issue #22: Vietnamese literature in "Chu Nom", ???, VB710201 -
           June 12, 1996.
Issue #23: The boat of illusion, Nguyet Cam, Heritage Sept/Oct 1995
            - June 19, 1996.
Issue #24: Tran Hung Dao's proclamation to his officers, 
           George F. Schultz, VB 710201 - June 26, 1996.
           The different systems of writings in Viet-Nam

                         "Chu Nho"

Did the Vietnamese people have their own system of writing before their 
cultural contact with China? This is a question which archaeology and 
linguistics have also so far been unable to answer.

During the centuries of Chinese occupation, Chinese was in Viet-Nam, as 
Latin in medieval France, the only written language, used in official 
documents as well as literary works. The Chinese characters were called 
"Chu Nho", which literally means "the scholars� script". Although 
written in the purest tradition of Chinese calligraphy, the Chinese 
characters received, however, a distinctly Vietnamese pronunciation, 
which enriched the Vietnamese spoken language with newly-coined Sino-
Vietnamese words. A great number of Chinese words. mostly philosophical 
terms, were thus adopted.

                        " Chu Nom "

The first stage of Viet-Nam�s linguistic or rather scriptural 
"liberation" from China began in the mid-13th century with the 
development of a new system of writing which, although still based on 
the Chinese characters, was specifically Vietnamese, the "Chu Nom" 
(literally: "the vulgar system of writing "). Under this system, each 
Vietnamese word was transcribed by the combination of two Chinese 
ideograms, one used for phonetization purposes, the other to indicate 
the meaning.

The knowledge of Chinese was still necessary to understand "Chu Nom". 
Furthermore, there were no fixed and strict rules in the combination of 
Chinese characters, which often led to several different possible 
interpretations of the same word.

In spite of all these shortcomings, during six centuries, the "Chu Nom" 
was to be used as a literary language alongside the "Chu Nho". Han 
Thuyen, a mandarin and poet of the 13th century was a pioneer in its 
literary use.

                           " Quoc Ngu "

A true linguistic revolution took place in the 17th century with the 
"romanisation" of the Vietnamese language. The name of the French Jesuit 
missionary Alexandre de Rhodes, from Avignon, is generally associated 
with the invention of " Quoc Ngu " (literally "national script") using 
the Roman alphabet.

The first printed work in "quoc ngu" was Alexandre de Rhodes� 
"Cathechismus" published in Rome in 1649. But the development of the new 
script was in fact a collective undertaking which started in the early 
16th century. Several generations of Catholic missionaries, Spanish, 
Portuguese, French and Italian,  took part in this undertaking. Although 
not often mentioned, the contribution of Vietnamese scholars, mostly 
Catholic catechists, was certainly not negligible.

The "quoc ngu" was codified in the late 17th century but it was not 
until the early part of the 20th century that it was definitely adopted 
and gradually superseded the "chu nho" and "chu nom".