|Time period||circa 1200–1949|
|Sister systems||Simplified Chinese, Kanji, Hanja, Khitan script, Zhuyin|
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols.|
Chữ Nôm (字喃/𡨸喃/𡦂喃 [cɨ̌ˀnom]) is a demotic script formerly used to write popular literary work in the Vietnamese language. The script makes use of the standard set of classical Chinese characters to represent Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary; as well as other new characters coined following the Chinese model to represent vernacular Vietnamese vocabulary in an adapted Sino-Vietnamese script.
The script was widely used from 15th to 19th Centuries by Vietnam's cultured elite, including women, for works in verse while formal historical and government writings were still carried out, by men only, in classical Chinese. For instance one of the most well-known pieces of Vietnamese literature, Truyện Kiều was composed in chữ nôm.
Nôm was displaced by the Latin-based modern Vietnamese alphabet in the 1920s. Although Nôm is no longer taught in the education system, the characters, alongside original Hán (Chinese) characters, are still used as decoration symbols of good luck. The task of research and preservation of major texts in Nôm is still conducted by the Institute of Hán-Nôm Studies in Hanoi.
- chữ nôm often capitalized chữ Nôm (𡨸喃 "characters for talking") the transcription system for native Vietnamese language using original and newly made Chinese characters to represent Vietnamese sounds. The initial word chữ is itself a newly made nôm character unknown in China. It is a compound of 宁 (for sound, an approximation to Vietnamese sound "chữ") and 字 (for meaning "character") written together as 𡨸. The character set for chữ nôm is extensive, up to 20,000, arbitrary in composition and inconsistent in pronunciation.
- chữ Hán (漢 "Han script") and chữ nho, sometimes capitalized chữ Nho (儒 "Confucian script") are the native Vietnamese names for the form of classical Chinese used by Vietnamese court officials and scholars in pre-modern Vietnam from the end of the Chinese domination of Vietnam until the loss of sovereignty to French Indochina. The term chữ Hán is also used in Vietnam in reference to modern Chinese. The term chữ nho is more restricted to local Vietnamese Confucian use of Chinese. Again the nôm ideogram for chữ (𡨸 "script") is not found in Chinese and is a local invention to represent the same Vietnamese native word now written "chữ" in the Latin-based Vietnamese alphabet.
- The term Hán tự ([hǎːn tɨ̂ˀ] 漢字, "a Chinese character") is the Vietnamese pronunciation of the same Chinese word hanzi, as Korean hanja, and Japanese kanji. The term is mainly used in typographic, calligraphic and lexical contexts to describe Sino-Vietnamese Chinese and Japanese characters.
- The term Hán Nôm (漢喃) in Vietnamese, designates the whole body of premodern written materials, both Hán and Nôm. Hán and Nôm could also be mixed in texts and given parallel Hán and Nôm readings, particularly in the case of translations of Chinese medicine books. The Buddhist history Cổ Châu Pháp Vân phật bản hạnh ngữ lục (1752) gives the story of early Buddhism in Vietnam both in Hán script and in a parallel Nôm translation. The Jesuit Girolamo Maiorica (1605–1656) had also used parallel Hán and Nôm texts.
- The term quốc ngữ (國語 "National language") refers to texts written in the modern romanized Vietnamese alphabet.
In imperial Vietnam (939-1919), formal writings were, in most cases, done in classical Chinese while vernacular Vietnamese was used only for less serious literature. These writings are indistinguishable from contemporaneous classical Chinese works produced in China, Korea, or Japan.
A system of modified and invented characters modeled loosely on Chinese characters called chữ nôm, which, unlike the system of chữ nho (or chữ Hán), allowed for the expression of purely Vietnamese words, was created in Vietnam at least as early as the 13th century.
The use of Chinese characters to write the Vietnamese language can be traced to an inscription with the two characters "布蓋", as part of the posthumous title of Phùng Hưng, a national hero who succeeded in temporarily gaining back the control of the country from the hands of the Chinese during the late 8th century. These two characters literally mean "cloth" + "cover" but are evidently used for phonetic value not the Chinese meaning. They may represent (archaic) Vietnamese bố cái, "father and mother" (i.e., as respectable as one's parents), or Vietnamese vua cái, "great king". During the 10th century, the founder of the Đinh Dynasty (968-979) named the country Đại Cồ Việt (大瞿越). The second character of this title is another early example of using Chinese characters to represent Vietnamese native words, although which word it represents is unknown.
The oldest examples of Chữ nôm are a stele at a temple at Bảo Ân (1209) containing 18 characters naming villages and people, and a stele at Hộ Thành Sơn in Ninh Bình Province (1343), listing 20 villages. The first claimed literary writing in Vietnamese is said to have been an incantation in verse composed in 1282 by the then Minister of Justice Nguyễn Thuyên and thrown into the Red River to expel a menacing crocodile.
Hồ dynasty (1400-1407) and Ming conquest (1407-1427)
During the seven years of the Hồ dynasty (1400-1407) Chinese script was discouraged in favor of chữ nôm which became the official script. This was reversed with the subsequent fourth Chinese domination and twenty years in which use of the vernacular language and demotic script were suppressed.
During the Ming dynasty occupation of Vietnam chữ nôm printing blocks, texts and inscriptions were destroyed; as a result the earliest surviving texts of chữ nôm post-date the occupation. While intended to record Vietnamese, chữ nôm paradoxically 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 chữ nho (or chữ Hán) as Hán Văn (classical Chinese) until the 20th century.
Lê (1428-1788), Tây Sơn (1788–1802) and Nguyễn dynasties (1802-1945)
Usually only the elite had knowledge of chữ Nôm, which was used as an aid to teaching Chinese characters (DeFrancis 1977:30). After the emergence of chữ Nôm, a great amount of Vietnamese literature was produced by many notable writers, among them Nguyễn Trãi of the 15th century, who left us the first surviving collection of Nôm poems. Vietnamese literature flourished during the 18th century, which saw the production of Nguyễn Du's Tale of Kieu and Hồ Xuân Hương's lyrics. These works were circulated orally in the villages, so that even the illiterate had access to the Nôm literature.
On the other hand, formal writings were still mostly done in classical Chinese.
French Indochina and the Latin alphabet
From the latter half of the 19th century onwards, the French colonial authorities discouraged or simply banned the use of classical Chinese. The traditional Civil Service Examination, which emphasized the command of classical Chinese, was dismantled in 1915 in Tonkin and 1918-1919 in the remaining part of Vietnam. The decline of the Chinese script also led to the decline of chữ Nôm given that Nôm and Chinese characters are so intimately connected. During the early half of the 20th century, chữ Nôm gradually died out as quốc ngữ grew more and more standardized and popular. In an article published in 1935 by Cordier he stated that quốc ngữ is rapidly dethroning Chinese characters and is replacing chữ Nôm so that by 1935 out of one hundred literate persons 70 knew quốc ngữ, 20 knew chữ Nôm and 10 knew Chinese characters.
The chữ Nôm characters can be divided into two groups: those borrowed from Chinese and those coined by the Vietnamese. There was no development of a syllabary like Japanese kana or Korean hangul; in part to the analytic nature of Vietnamese as opposed to the agglutinative morphology of Japanese and Korean.
In chữ Nôm, the characters borrowed from Chinese are used to:
- represent Chinese loan words from the Tang period, such as 本 bản ("root", "foundation"), from Early Middle Chinese /pən'/.
- represent native Vietnamese words with a similar meaning. For example 本 may also represent vốn ("capital, funds"). When a character would have two readings, a diacritic may be added to the character to indicate the "indigenous" reading. Thus when 本 is meant to be read as vốn, it is written as 本㆑, with a diacritic at the upper right corner. In this case the word vốn is actually an earlier Chinese loan that has become accepted as Vietnamese; Hannas (1997:80–81) claims that all such readings are similar early loans.
- represent native Vietnamese words with a similar sound. For example, 沒 (Early Middle Chinese /mət/) may represent the word một ("one"). In this case 沒 is only used phonetically, regardless of the meaning of the word it represents in Chinese.
To draw an analogy to the Japanese writing system, the first two categories are similar to the on and kun readings of Japanese kanji respectively. The third has its parallel in the Man'yōgana script that became the origin of hiragana and katakana.
The coined characters can be divided into:
- semantic-phonetic, which are composed of two parts, one (a borrowed character or radical) indicating the semantic field to which the word (that the character represents) belongs or simply the word's meaning, another (a borrowed or invented character) the approximate sound of the word. For example, 𠀧 (ba "three") is composed of 巴 the phonetic part and 三 the semantic part. This type of character is the most common one among the invented characters.
- compound-semantic characters, which are composed of two Chinese characters which represent words of similar meaning. For example, 𡗶 (trời "sky", "heaven") is composed of 天 ("sky") and 上 ("upper").
- modified Chinese characters, which can be related either semantically or phonetically to the original Chinese character. For example, the Nôm character 𧘇 (ấy "that', "those") is a simplified form of the Chinese character 衣, their relationship being a phonetic one; the Nôm character 爫 (làm "work", "labour") is a simplified form of the Chinese character 為, their relationship being a semantic one.
Most common characters
The website chunom.org gives a frequency table of the 586 most common characters in Nom literature. According to chunom.org the most common 20 characters are as follows:
1. 羅 là to be 2. 吧 và and 3. 各 các all; every; (plural maker) 4. 没 một one 5. 固 có there is 6. 𧵑 của of 7. 得 được to get 8. 𥪝 trong in 9. 𤄯 trong clear 10. 𠊛 người people 11. 忍 những (plural marker) 12. 學 học to learn 13. 如 như as 14. 詞 từ word 15. 會 hội to meet 16. 咍 hay or; good 17. 空 không not 18. 体 thể body 19. 四 tư four 20. 拱 cũng also.
In 1867, the reformist Nguyễn Trường Tộ proposed a standardization of chữ Nôm (along with the abolition of classical Chinese), but the new system, what he called quốc âm Hán tự (國音漢字 lit. "Han characters with national pronunciations"), was rejected by Emperor Tự Đức. To this date, chữ Nôm has never been officially standardized. As a result, a Vietnamese word can be represented by variant Nôm characters. For example, the very word chữ ("character", "script"), a Chinese loan word, can be written as either 字 (Chinese character), 𡦂 (invented character, "compound-semantic") or 𡨸 (invented character, "semantic-phonetic"). For another example, the word béo ("fat", "greasy") can be written either as 脿 or . Both characters are invented characters with a semantic-phonetic structure, the difference being the phonetic indicator (表 vs. 報).
Chữ Nôm software
There are a number of software tools that can produce chữ Nôm characters simply by typing Vietnamese words in quốc ngữ:
- HanNomIME, a Windows-based Vietnamese keyboard driver that supports Hán characters and chữ Nôm.
- Vietnamese Keyboard Set which enables chữ Nôm and Hán typing on Mac OS X.
- WinVNKey, a Windows-based Vietnamese multilingual keyboard driver that supports typing chữ Nôm in addition to Traditional and Simplified Chinese.
- Chunom.org Online Editor, a browser-based editor for typing chữ Nôm.
Chữ Nôm fonts include:
- VietUnicode, a Unicode font including chữ Nôm characters. It is hosted at SourceForge. The project's main page is http://vietunicode.sourceforge.net/. Downloadable TrueType fonts are available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/vietunicode/ (download hannom.zip file).
- B.N. Ngo The Vietnamese Language Learning Framework - Journal of Southeast Asian Language and Teaching, 2001 "... to a word, is most frequently represented by combining two Chinese characters, one of which indicates the sound and the other the meaning. From the fifteenth to the nineteenth century many major works of Vietnamese poetry were composed in chữ nôm, including Truyện Kiều"
- Hugh Dyson Walker East Asia A New History -2012 Page 262 "...chu nom, Vietnamese transcription, using Chinese and nom characters for Vietnamese sounds."
- Hannas: Asia's Orthg DILM Paper - Page 82 Wm. C. Hannas - 1997 "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 chu' nom), the arbitrariness of their composition, and the inconsistent "
- Lonely Planet Vietnam 10th Edition 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."
- Nguyễn Đình Hòa Vietnamese London Oriental and African Language Library Vol.9. John Benjamins Publishing Company 1997 Page 6 "1.7 Writing Systems - The language has made use of three different writing systems: first, the Chinese characters, ... 1.7.1 Chữ nho or chũ Hán - Chinese written symbols, shared with Japanese and Korean—the two other Asian cultures that were ... Indeed from the early days of Chinese rule (111 B.C. to A.D. 939) the Chinese governors taught the Vietnamese not only Chinese calligraphy, but also the texts of Chinese history, philosophy and classical literature (while the spoken language ..."
- Unicode character 21A38
- Effective Designs of the Computer-Assisted Chinese Learning Program for Beginning Learners of Chinese Characters MT Lu, G Hallman, J Black 2010 "A character is a logograph used in written Taiwanese (Hanji), written Japanese (Kanji), written Chinese (Hanzi), written Korean (Hanja), and written Vietnamese (hán tự). A logograph is a grapheme which represents a word or a morpheme."
- Asian research trends: a humanities and social science review - No 8 to 10 - Page 140 Yunesuko Higashi Ajia Bunka Kenkyū Sentā (Tokyo, Japan) - 1998 "Most of the source materials from premodern Vietnam are written in Chinese, obviously using Chinese characters; however, a portion of the literary genre is written in Vietnamese, using chu nom. Therefore, han nom is the term designating the whole body of premodern written materials.."
- Vietnam Courier 1984 Vol20/21 Page 63 "Altogether about 15,000 books in Han, Nom and Han—Nom have been collected. These books include royal certificates granted to deities, stories and records of deities, clan histories, family genealogies, records of cutsoms, land registers, ..."
- Khắc Mạnh Trịnh, Nghiên cứu chữ Nôm: Kỷ yếu Hội nghị Quốc tế về chữ Nôm Viện nghiên cứu Hán Nôm (Vietnam), Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation - 2006 "The Di sản Hán Nôm notes 366 entries which are solely on either medicine or pharmacy; of these 186 are written in Chinese, 50 in Nôm, and 130 in a mixture of the two scripts. Many of these entries ... Vietnam were written in either Nôm or Hán-Nôm rather than in 'pure' Chinese. My initial impression was that the percentage of texts written in Nôm was even higher. This is because for the particular medical subject I wished to investigate-smallpox-the percentage of texts written in Nom or Hán-Nôm is even higher than is the percentage of texts in Nôm and Hán-Nôm for general medical and pharmaceutical .."
- Wynn Wilcox Vietnam and the West: New Approaches 2010- Page 31 "At least one Buddhist text, the Cổ Châu Pháp Vân phật bản hạnh ngữ lục (CCPVP), preserves a story in Hán script about the early years of Buddhist influence in Vietnam and gives a parallel Nôm translation."
- David G Marr Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945 1984 p141 "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.8"
- Đào Duy Anh: Chứng tích xưa nhất về chữ Nôm: một tấm bia đời Lý Cao Tông, Nghiên cứu lịch sử số 134, 1973.
- DeFrancis 1977:21-23.
- Keith Weller Taylor The Birth of Vietnam 1976 - Page 220 "The earliest example of Vietnamese character writing, as we have noted earlier, is for the words bo and cai in the posthumous title given to Phung Hung. Although Vietnamese character writing was eventually developed for literary purposes "
- DeFrancis 1977:23.
- Laurence C. Thompson A Vietnamese Reference Grammar 1987 Page 53 "This stele at Ho-thành-sơn is the earliest irrefutable piece of evidence of this writing system, which is called in Vietnamese chữ nôm (chu 'written word', nom 'popular language', probably ultimately related to nam 'south'-note that the ..."
- Wm. C. Hannas Asia's Orthographic Dilemma 1997- Page 83 An exception was during the brief Ho dynasty (1400-1407), when Chinese was abolished and chữ nôm became the official script, but the subsequent Chinese invasion and twenty-year occupation put an end to that (Helmut Martin 1982:34)."
- Mark W. McLeod, Thi Dieu Nguyen Culture and Customs of Vietnam 2001 Page 68 - "In part because of the ravages of the Ming occupation — the invaders destroyed or removed many Viet texts and the blocks for printing them — the earliest body of nom texts that we have dates from the early post-occupation era ..."
- DeFrancis 1977:44-46.
- Wm. C. Hannas (1997). Asia's orthographic dilemma. University of Hawaii Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-8248-1892-X. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
- DeFrancis 1977:179.
- Cordier, Georges (1935), Les trois écritures utilisées en Annam: chu-nho, chu-nom et quoc-ngu (conférence faite à l'Ecole Coloniale, à Paris, le 28 mars 1925), Bulletin de la Société d'Enseignement Mutuel du Tonkin 15: 121.
- David G Marr Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945 1984 Page 141/142 "By the same token, some women developed word skills to the point where they could outmatch any male participants — much to the delight of their peers.9 Partly as a means to capture Vietnamese folklore in writing, the literati gradually improvised a separate ideographic system to accord with the sounds and syntax of the spoken language.10 known subsequently as nom, this unique Vietnamese script unfortunately remained even more unwieldy than the Chinese from which it was spawned. Unlike Japanese kana or Korean Hangul/no process of character simplification that resulted in a basic set of phonemes or syllables. Some of the problem lay in the tonal and nonagglutinative nature of Vietnamese as contrasted with Japanese or Korean.11 More important, however, was the attitude of most Vietnamese literati, who continued to regard Chinese as the ultimate in civilized communication and thus considered nom a form of recreation."
- Hannas (1997:80–81).
- Pulleybank, Edwin G. (1991) Lexicon of Reconstructed Pronunciation in Early Middle Chinese, Late Middle Chinese and Early Mandarin, University of British Colombia Press, ISBN 0-7748-0366-5.
- chunom.org "This page shows the character sets ordered by frequency."
- DeFrancis 1977:101-105.
- Chʻen, Ching-ho (n. d.). A Collection of Chữ Nôm Scripts with Pronunciation in Quốc-Ngữ. Tokyo: Keiô University.
- DeFrancis, John (1977). Colonialism and Language Policy in Viet Nam . The Hague: Mouton.
- Hannas, Wm. C. (1997). Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Chapter 4, "Vietnamese". Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1842-3
- Nguyễn, Đình Hoà (2001). Chuyên Khảo Về Chữ Nôm = Monograph on Nôm Characters. Westminster, CA: Institute of Vietnamese Studies, Viet-Hoc Pub. Dept.. ISBN 0-9716296-0-9
- Nguyễn, N. B. (1984). The State of Chữ Nôm Studies: The Demotic Script of Vietnam. Vietnamese Studies Papers. [Fairfax, VA]: Indochina Institute, George Mason University.
- O'Harrow, S. (1977). A Short Bibliography of Sources on "Chữ-Nôm". Honolulu: Asia Collection, University of Hawaii.
- Schneider, Paul 1992. Dictionnaire Historique Des Idéogrammes Vietnamiens / (licencié en droit Nice, France : Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, R.I.A.S.E.M.)
- Zhou Youguang 周有光 (1998). Bijiao wenzi xue chutan (比較文字学初探 "A Comparative Study of Writing Systems"). Beijing: Yuwen chubanshe.
- Nom Preservation Foundation
- Chữ Nôm, Omniglot
- Tự điển Hán Nôm, Nôm Na Hanoi
- The Vietnamese Writing System, Bathrobe's Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Writing Systems
- Chữ Nôm frequent characters
- (Vietnamese) Tự Điển Chữ Nôm Trích Dẫn, Viện Việt-Học
- (Vietnamese) Vấn đề chữ viết nhìn từ góc độ lịch sử tiếng Việt, Trần Trí Dõi