Before the introduction of the Chinese-style writing system, the Vietnamese language had a spoken language but no formal written language until 111 BC. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Vietnamese literature, governmental, scholarly, and religious (Daoist, Confucianist, Buddhist) documents, steles, and temple signs were written in classical Chinese (Vietnamese: c? v?n or v?n ngôn ), using Chinese characters or ch? hán. This had been done since at least 111 BC.
Since as early as the 8th century novels and poetry in Vietnamese were also written in the ch? nôm script, which used Chinese characters (ch? hán) for Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and an adapted set of characters for the native vocabulary with Vietnamese approximations of Middle Chinese pronunciations.
In Vietnamese, Chinese characters go by a variety names:
Sino-Vietnamese (Vietnamese: t? Hán Vi?t "Sino-Vietnamese words") refer to cognates or terms borrowed from Chinese into the Vietnamese language, usually 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 Ch? Nôm ( "Southern characters") 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 ch? nôm is extensive, containing up to 20,000 logograms, and many are both arbitrary in composition and inconsistent in pronunciation.
Hán Nôm ( "Han and ch? Nôm characters") 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 ch? qu?c ng? ( "national language script") means Vietnamese written in romanized script.
Possibly even a thousand years earlier, in the late first millennium BC, Yuè elites in what is now southern China may have already adopted a form of writing based on Chinese characters to record terms from their own languages. During the Chinese rule from 111 BC to 905 AD, Chinese characters had been used as the official writing of the region. Local texts written in Chinese probably also included some characters adapted to represent Proto-Viet-Mng sounds, usually personal names or Vietic toponyms that had no Chinese equivalent. According to some scholars, the adoption Ch? Hán or Hán t? (, lit. 'Han Character') had been started by Shi Xie (137-226), but many disagree.
Ch? Hán was used extensively in the Chinese government and administration. Chinese was also the language of medicine, astrology, religion, science, and high literature such as poetry. In this period of over a thousand years, most of the inscriptions written on steles are in Ch? Hán. Middle Chinese was the main language of this period. In early 9th century, Vietnamese Confucianist and poet Liêu H?u Phng () created Tang poetry style poem named " l? s?n" and were recorded in the Quan Tangshi.
These writings were at first indistinguishable from contemporaneous classical Chinese works produced in China, Korea, or Japan. These include the first poems in Ch? Hán by the monk Khuông Vi?t (), the Nam Qu?c S?n Hà (?), and many Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist scriptures.
It has been suggested that Chinese characters were present in Vietnam even before 111 BC, based on the interpretation of the inscription considered as a word on an ancient Vietnamese dagger. However, more research needs to be done. Moreover on the Dong Son bronze drums used between 700 BC-100 AD that were unearthed in Northern Vietnam contained possible inscriptions have yet to be deciphered.
Between 939 to 1919, Ch? Hán continued to be used as the major means of writing, especially among scholars and in government even the Vietnamese got independence from the Chinese since 938.
In Vietnam, Ch? Hán 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, and created a Sinoxenic dialect. The Sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank was the one of the first linguists to actively employ "Sino-Vietnamese" to recover the earlier history of Chinese.
From the 10th century, the dominance of Ch? Hán began to be challenged by Chu Nom, a system of modified and invented characters modeled loosely on Chinese characters. Ch? Nôm - unlike the system of Ch? Hán - 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 Nôm is documented to be from the 8th century.
While designed for native Vietnamese speakers, Nôm required the user to have a fair knowledge of ch? Hán, and thus ch? Nôm was used primarily for literary writings by cultural elites (such as the poetry of Nguy?n Du and H? Xuân Hng), while almost all other official writings and documents continued to be written in classical Chinese until the 20th century.
Though technically different from ch? Hán, it is simplest to think of it as a derivation of ch? Hán - with modifications thereof as well as new Vietnamese-coined logograms. Together, they are called Hán Nôm.
Ch? qu?c ng? is the currently-used script of Vietnam and is based on the Latin alphabet. It was first developed by Portuguese missionaries in the 17th century. During French colonization the alphabet was further modified and then later forced upon the population in 1910.
Meanwhile, the use of classical Chinese and its written form chu Han declined. At this time there were briefly four competing writing systems in Vietnam; ch? Han, ch? Nôm, ch? qu?c ng?, and French. Although the first romanized script ch? qu?c ng? newspaper, Gia Dinh Bao, was founded in 1865, Vietnamese nationalists continued to use ch? nôm until after the First World War.
As a result of education of ch? qu?c ng? exclusively, most Vietnamese are unable to read earlier Vietnamese texts written in han nôm. The Hán Nôm Institute is the national centre for academic research into Hán nôm texts, and there are modern movements trying to restore han nom to Vietnam, in part or in full.
Individual chu han are still written by calligraphers for special occasions such as the Vietnamese New Year, T?t. They are still present outside Buddhist temples and are still studied for scholarly and religious purposes.
With the introduction of Viet Calligraphy (Th? pháp ch? Vi?t) since 1950s , Viet Calligraphy enjoys tremendous success in Vietnamese Calligraphy at the expense of chu han Calligraphy.
Since the mid-1990s there has been a resurgence in the teaching of Chinese characters, both for ch? han and the additional characters used in ch? nôm. This is to enable the study of Vietnam's long history as well as cultural synthesis and unification.
Additionally, many Vietnamese study chu Han characters to learn other languages such as Chinese, Japanese, and sometimes Korean. This can make it easier to study these languages due to the high concentration of Chinese-cognate words.
The significance of the characters has occasionally entered western depiction of Vietnam, especially since French colonization. For instance novelist E. M. Nathanson mentions chu Han in A Dirty Distant War (1987). In Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket one may occasionally see signs in han nom.
It is known that Ho Chi Minh wrote in a mixed Latin-Han Nom script.
In light of the above advantages of han nom, there are recent movements that are trying to restore the use of han nom script such as the Han Nom Revival Committee of Vietnam (, http://www.hannom-rcv.org/).
Despite efforts from sources aiming to restore their Chinese influences in the way Vietnamese use their written language, Chu Quoc Ngu has been the only written language accepted by Vietnamese worldwide since the end of the 19th century.
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.
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 ch? nôm), the arbitrariness of their composition, and the inconsistent way the units and their components connect with the sounds of the language.
A large portion of the lexicon of the Vietnamese language in recent centuries derives from Hán. Consequently, there is a significant orthographic overlap between Hán and Nôm, which is to say that many characters are used in both with the same meaning. This is primarily a lexical, not a syntactic, phenomenon, although Hán grammar did influence Nôm prose to a relatively significant extent (Xtankevich 1986).
No work of literature from the brush of a Vietnamese survives from the period of Chinese rule prior to the rise of the first national dynasties; and from the Dinh, Former Le, and Ly dynasties, all that remains are some poems by Lac Thuan (end of the tenth century), Khuông Vi?t (same period), and Ly Thuong Kiet (last quarter of the eleventh century). Those competent to judge consider these works to be quite up to the best standards of Chinese literature.
Sino-Vietnamese literature was written in Chinese characters (ch? nho). Dominated by Confucian and Buddhist texts, it was governed by strict rules of metre and verse. Modern Vietnamese literature (quoc am) includes anything recorded in ...
Although traditional Vietnamese scholars called Sino-Vietnamese literature 'serious literature' and nôm literature 'the literature of pleasure', this dichotomy is obviously misleading.
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