Ngôn ngữ - Language
The Vietnamese language belongs to a language group which was established
a long time ago in East Asia. Changes in material conditions over many
centuries and the increasing demands of cultural life have influenced the
While adopting many elements of the Chinese language, the Vietnamese
people changed many Chinese words, gradually creating Han-Viet
(Chinese-Vietnamese) which incorporated purely Vietnamese words. "Vietnamization"
not only applied to the Chinese language, but also to French and other
language groups, creating a diverse vocabulary for the Vietnamese
Chữ Viết - Written
When the multi-ethnic Vietnamese nation was taking shape, a great monarchy
was established in the North, and it began a southward expansion. The
Vietnamese nation underwent thousands of years of Northern domination.
This was why Chinese was used for a long time as the official written
language. Local mandarins of various levels were allowed to sit for
examinations in the Northern Court (China), and were recruited into the
administrative machinery of foreign invaders.
Based on Chinese characters, the Vietnamese worked out a unique writing
system of their own called Chữ Nôm. In Chữ Nôm, two Chinese characters
were usually combined, one of which indicated the meaning of the
Vietnamese word, while the other indicated pronunciation. Chữ Nôm was
welcomed and widely used by the masses in their daily life, as well as in
transcribing their national history and literature. According to
researchers, Chữ Nôm probably originated around the end of the Northern
domination period and early in the 10th century (the independence period).
The oldest evidence of Chữ Nôm currently available is a stele in the Bao
An Pagoda in Yen Lang, Vinh Phu province, dating back to 1209 AD (Ly
Dynasty). It was not until the 13th century under the Tarn dynasty that
Chữ Nôm was systematized and used in literature.
(alias Han Thuyen) and Nguyen Si Co wrote poems in Chữ Nôm. Ho Quy Ly
(1400 AD) made Chinese textbooks which translated the Vietnamese language
using the Chữ Nôm writing system. He also used Chữ Nôm to write royal
proclamations and ordinances. In the 15th century, Nguyen Trai, a national
hero, used Chữ Nôm to write 250 poems in Quoc Am Thi Tap (Collection of
Poems in the National Language). The Chữ Nôm literature continued to be
developed from the 16th century onwards and totally dominated national
literary circles. Ba Huyen Thanh Quan (the wife of the Chief of Thanh Quan
district), Cao Ba Quat and Kieu Story of Nguyen Du, and the translation of
Chinh Phu Ngam (Lament of a Wife Whose Husband has Gone to War) by Doan
Thi Diem were quite noteworthy poems.
In conjunction with the development of the nation, the Vietnamese
language was constantly developed and improved. Around the 17th century,
western missionaries came to Vietnam and learned Vietnamese in order to
disseminate Catholicism. They developed a romanced script to represent the
Quốc Ngữ (meaning national language) in order to translate prayer
books and catechisms. A number of Portuguese and Italian missionaries used
Quốc Ngữ to compile catechisms and Portuguese-Vietnamese and
Vietnamese-Portuguese dictionaries. Based on these works, Alexander de
Rhodes, a French Jesuit missionary, published the Vietnamese
Portuguese-Latin dictionary which was a fundamental catechism in Rome from
1649-1651. After Alexander de Rhodes, Quốc Ngữ was further improved by
foreign missionaries and Vietnamese scholars.
In 1867, some colonial schools began to teach Quốc Ngữ. It was not until
early in the 20th century that Quốc Ngữ became widely used in the local
primary educational system. The introduction of Quốc Ngữ constituted a new
step in the development of the Vietnamese language. While romanization
received a reserved welcome in other Asian countries, it recorded
extraordinary success in Vietnam, creating favorable conditions for
cultural and intellectual development.