Vietnam's Evolution of Script

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Melissa Woodman
The evolution of the Vietnamese writing system
December 16, 2011
Introduction to South East Asia
1,500 words

Vietnam has always been admired for maintaining its own identity after various foreign invasions from the Chinese and the French. However, one of Vietnam’s most identifying features is its unique writing system. Vietnam’s writing system has adapted throughout centuries due to outside influences and has even evolved into a particular Latin script. The fact that Vietnamese was reformed into a Roman script makes it the only South East Asian country that has done so. This essay will provide and analyse various historians’ accounts of the evolution of Vietnam’s writing system. The essay will begin by discussing China’s influential rule over the Vietnamese and its introduction of classical Chinese script. Consequently, the essay will elaborate on how the Vietnamese were able to create their own hybrid script, chu nom, in the midst of the Chinese millennium. Further on, the essay will illustrate the gradual influences of external Catholic missionaries and the reformation of the Vietnamese script into quoc ngu, or national language, through Jesuit missionary, Alexandre Des Rhodes. Moreover, the essay will then emphasize on the French invasion and its effects on the Vietnamese writing system. To sum up, the essay will analyse the further spread of quoc ngu through Vietnamese scholars, and how it has become the writing system that it is today including cognate words that will be presented to further exemplify the evolution of the Vietnamese writing system. During Chinese millennium rule, dating from 2nd BC to 10th century AD, the Vietnamese were culturally imprinted by the Chinese (Sardesai pp. 34.) The Sinification of the Vietnamese brought forth the introduction of, “Chinese classics, Confucian ethical ideals, and Chinese ideographs.” (Sardesai pp.34) In Focus on South East Asia, ASEAN Focus Group further elaborates on the Sinification of Vietnam by describing that, “...ordinary Vietnamese displayed such characteristically “Confucian,” traits as respect for hierarchy, emphasis on an individual’s social obligations, intense family loyalty and reverence for education and scholarship. Even so, Vietnamese popular culture always remained self-consciously distinct, hostile to China and wary of the country’s Sinophile upper class.” With attention to this period, the Vietnamese adopted Chinese ideograms and classical Chinese, or chu nho, and was established as the official language of Vietnam (Miksic pp. 80.) Nevertheless, classical Chinese was the ‘vehicle’ necessary for intellectual growth, but only the court and upper class had access to learn it (Miksic pp.80.) This caused a gap between the elites and the latter, creating a cultural division between Sinified Vietnamese and rebellious Vietnamese (SEAN Focus Group pp. 144.) However, even though the Chinese had successfully indoctrinated their culture into the Vietnamese upper class, the Vietnamese latter resented the Chinese rule and wanted to express their own identity (Miksic pp.80.) As a result, the Vietnamese created their own form of hybrid script called nom. Nom, or chu nom, means ‘southern characters’, and was conceived with the help of Chinese characters without as many consistent rules of construction (Miksic pp. 80.) The hybrid script, chu nom, gave the Vietnamese the ability to express Vietnamese vocabulary and gave writers and poets a chance to express themselves without having to follow the Chinese prosody or other strict classical Chinese rules. According to South-East Asia: Literatures and Languages, “the nom script was also used to for official edicts of the Ho (beginning of the 15th century), and the Tay-son (end of the 18th century) and the first years of the Nguyen dynasty (early 19th century.) In general, however, nom tended to be used most in the works of a non-official nature and of popular literature.” (Miksic...
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