Origins of the Vietnamese Writing System: Quốc Ngữ

Recently I attended a fantastic lecture by Professor Christopher Lovins as part of the Oberlin Korean Student Association (OKSA) Biennial Conference, and while not the main takeaway by any means, I learned a little bit of something about the origins of hangul, the modern day Korean writing system. I should probably actually provide some more information on that, but since it got me thinking on how writing systems originate in general, I wanted to share a bit about the origins of my parents’ language: Vietnamese. As some may know, though Vietnamese and Vietnam has had a lot of influence from China, we no longer use Chinese characters in our writing system, and this has been so for a very long time.

“Considering that Vietnam has been an independent nation for a thousand years, quoc ngu has a surprisingly brief history. The system was developed by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. The earliest extant dictionary using quoc ngu was the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum, published by Alexandre de Rhodes in 1651. Rhodes, who was French, relied heavily on earlier Portuguese dictionaries in compiling his work.

Quoc ngu was largely neglected until the 19th century when it was taken up by the French colonial government as a means of breaking the grip of Chinese culture and fostering Western ways of thinking. Despite its colonial background, the simplicity and ease of use of quoc ngu resulted in its gradual spread, especially after it was seized on by the Vietnamese reformers in the twentieth century as a means of breaking free from Chinese tradition and spreading mass literacy. It was eventually chosen as the official Vietnamese script only in the 20th century.”

Read more here!

Also, for those who are curious, the image for this post is the cover to The Little Red Riding Hood, written in Vietnamese!


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