History of writing in Vietnam

Until the beginning of the 20th century, Vietnamese literature, governmental and religious documents and temple signs were written in classical Chinese, using Chinese characters or chữ hán. This had been done since at least 111 BC. Since as early as the 8th century novels and poetry in Vietnamese were written in the chữ nôm script, which used Chinese characters for Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and an adapted set of characters for the native vocabulary with Vietnamese approximations of Middle Chinese pronunciations; the two scripts coexisted until the era of French Indochina when the Latin alphabet quốc ngữ script became the written medium of both government and popular literature. In Vietnamese, Chinese characters go by a variety names: Chữ Hán: "words from Han Chinese", Hán tự: "Han characters/words". Hán văn: "Han literature" denotes Chinese language literature; the Vietnamese word chữ is derived from a Middle Chinese pronunciation of 字, meaning'character'. Sino-Vietnamese refer to cognates or terms borrowed from Chinese into the Vietnamese language 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. The term Chữ Nôm 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 Vietnamese sounds." However the character set for chữ nôm is extensive, containing up to 20,000 logograms, many are both arbitrary in composition and inconsistent in pronunciation. Hán Nôm 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. There is a significant orthographic overlap between Hán and Nôm and many characters are used in both Hán and Nôm with the same reading, it may be simplest to think of Nom as the Vietnamese extension of Han characters.

The term chữ. During Chinese domination period from 111 BC to 938 AD, Vietnam was under Chinese rule and so Chinese characters or Chữ Hán were used for writing. In most cases, formal writings were done in the language of Classical Chinese. Chinese was used extensively in government and administration for entry via the Confucian examination system in Vietnam, conducted in van ngon. Chinese was the language of medicine, religion and high literature such as poetry. According to Dao Duy Anh, Vietnam started to have Chinese studies when Shi Xie taught Vietnamese people to write. In this period of over a thousand years, most of the inscriptions written on steles are in Chinese characters. During this period, Vietnamese existed as an oral language, before the creation of the Chữ Nôm script to preserve and circulate less serious poetry and narrative literature; these writings were at first indistinguishable from contemporaneous classical Chinese works produced in China, Korea, or Japan. These include the first poems in chữ nho by the monk Khuông Việt, the Nam Quốc Sơn Hà, many Confucian and Buddhist scriptures.

It has been suggested that Chinese characters were present in Vietnam before 111 BC, based on the interpretation of the inscription considered as a word on a dagger. However, more research needs to be done. Moreover on the Dong Son bronze drums used between 700 BC-100 AD, supposed inscriptions have yet to be deciphered. Between 939–1919, Chu Han continued to be used as the major means of writing among scholars and in government. In Vietnam, classical Chinese texts were read with the vocalization of Chinese text as such, equivalent to the Chinese on-yomi in Japanese kanbun or the assimilated vocalizations in Korean hanmun; this occurred alongside the diffusion of Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary into the vernacular Vietnamese language, created a Sinoxenic dialect. The Sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank was the one of the first linguists to employ "Sino-Vietnamese" to recover the earlier history of Chinese. From the 13th Century the dominance of Chu Han began to be challenged by Chu Nom, a system of modified and invented characters modeled loosely on Chinese characters.

Chữ Nôm - unlike the system of chữ nho - allowed for the expression of purely Vietnamese words, was created in Vietnam at least as early as the 13th century. However, the earliest known use of chu Nom is documented to be from the 8th century. While designed for native Vietnamese speakers, chữ nôm required the user to have a fair knowledge of chữ Hán, thus chữ nôm was used for literary writings by cultural elites, while all other official writings and documents continued to be written in classical Chinese until the 20th century. Though technically different from chu Han, it is simplest to think of it as a descendant of chu Han—with modifications thereof as well as new Vietnamese-coined logograms. Together, they are called Han Nom. Quoc Ngu is the


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