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SECTION 59: ADAPTATIONS OF THE ROMAN ALPHABET 59 J 



Vietnamese 
Nguyen Dinh-HoA 

The currently used conventional orthography in Vietnam is a Roman script called 
(chit?) quoc-ngu 'national language'. To letters of the Latin alphabet its inventors add- 
ed diacritical marks to indicate vowel quality and/or one of the six tones of the stan- 
dard dialect — that of Hanoi, the capital city. The two earlier systems of writing which 
native scholars had at their disposal until the first decades of the twentieth century are 
chu nom 'southern' or 'demotic script' — a system of "square characters" derived 
from written Chinese — and chu Han, chu nho 'Han' or 'scholarly script', i.e. the 
characters learned from the Chinese, who ruled Vietnam from 1 1 1 b.c.e. to 939 c.e. 
The codifier of the quoc-ngu system was Alexandre de Rhodes (1 591-1660), a 
brilliant French Jesuit scholar/missionary from Avignon, who continued the work of 
other Catholic missionaries in the creation of an alphabetic system for the new con- 
verts to Christianity. Indeed, he said that he based his Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin 
dictionary, published in Rome in 165 1 , on earlier works by Gaspar de Amaral and An- 
toine de Barbosa, both from Portugal (cf. Rhodes 1991). Although the Roman script 
was initially used only in religious writings, including catechisms and prayer books, 
it eventually spread beyond the world of European missionaries and their local fol- 
lowers, who found it fairly easy to learn. However, its official use began only in 19 10, 
when a decree issued by the French Resident Superieur of the protectorate of Tonkin 
(northern Vietnam, where Rhodes first served) required that all public documents be 
transcribed into quoc-ngu. Orthographic changes were later suggested by French 
scholars and colonial administrators, and after independence were recommended at 



p 


t 


trW 




th [t h ] 




b 


d[d] 




ph[f\ 


x[s] 


s\J] 


V 


d[z] 


gi M 


m 


n 
I 
r 





SECTION 59: ADAPTATIONS OF THE ROMAN ALPHABET 593 

table 59.27: The Onsets 

ch[c] clklq [k] 



kh[x] 

g(h) [y] 

nh Qi] ng(h) [n] 



The influence of Romance orthography is clear in the writing of the velar stop; it 
is k before a front vowel / e e, but c before the other vowels, and q before [w]: kim 
[kim] 'needle', ke [ke] 'millet', kern [kern] 'cream, ice cream', cam [kam] 'orange', 
cam [kvm] 'cooked rice', cam [k5m] 'mute, dumb', kam [kam] 'to resent', cum 
[kum] 'flu', com [kom] 'green rice', com [kom] 'gaunt, skinny', quy [kwi] 'to kneel 
down', que [kwe] 'village', gwe [kwe] 'stick, twig'. 

The voiced dental stop [d] is written with barred <f, as opposed to non-barred d, 
which represents the voiced spirant [z]: compare da [da] 'banyan' and da [zd] 'skin' 
(modern [z] < 17th-century [d] d, whereas [d] < implosive [d] d y hence the odd-seem- 
ing assignment of the letters). 

The consonants [t J 3] are typical of the central and southern dialects, in which s 
represents [J] and gi represents [3] : sa [Jd] 'to fall down' , xa [sd] 'far' ; gia [3d] 'house- 
hold'; cf. da [za] 'skin' (modern [s] probably < 17th-century laminal [s], and [J] < 
apico-alveolar [s], which the missionaries equated with Portuguese x and s respective- 
ly). Although the Hanoi dialect does not distinguish d from gi in pronunciation, there 
is a contrast in spelling: ddnh 'to save, put aside' and gianh 'to dispute' are both pro- 
nounced [zairj]. 

In most northern dialects, the six and chltr contrasts are neutralized: sa 'to fall' 
and xa 'far' are both pronounced [sd], che 'to denigrate' and tre 'catfish' are both pro- 
nounced [ce]. Some speakers even confuse lao [law] 'Laos, Laotian' and ndo [ndw] 
'which'. 

For the velar spirant [y] and nasal [rj], a letter h is added after g or ng if the nu- 
cleus is a front vowel / e e\ thus ga [yd] 'station, depot', but ghi [yi] 'to record'; ngo 
[rjo] 'corn, maize', but nghi [rji] 'to suspect'. 

The initial sequence [kw] is always written qu, as in qua [kwd] 'to cross over', 
quy [kwi] 'to kneel down', que [kwe] 'village', quet [kwet] 'to sweep'. In other con- 
texts, however, [w] is spelled o before a, a, e, as in hod [hwd] 'peace', toan [twdn] 'to 
intend', hoqc [hwa ? k] 'or', ngoqc [rjwa ? k] 'brackets', khoe [xwe] 'strong, healthy', 
xoe [swe] 'to spread (wings)'; but u before /, e, a, a as in tuy [twi] 'although', khuy 
[xwi] 'button', thue[t h w6] 'tax', tuan [twsn] 'week', khudn [xw5n] 'to lug' (heavy 
object)', thua [t h wv] 'time (in the past)'. 



94 PART X: USE AND ADAPTATION OF SCRIPTS 



table 59.28: Tone Marking 



Tone 


Orthography 


Phonetic Value 


Gloss 


level 


ma 


[ma] 


'ghost' 


high rising 


ma 


[ma] 


'cheek' 


low (falling) 


ma 


[ma] 


'but' 


dipping-rising 


ma 


[ma] 


'tomb' 


high rising glottalized 


ma 


[ma ? ] 


'horse' 


low glottalized 


ma 


[ma ? ] 


'rice seedling' 



In syllable-final position C 2 can appear one of the stops p t ch [c] c [k], or one of 
the nasals m n nh [n] ng [rj], apart from the off glides described above. Some ortho- 
graphic irregularities occur: thus ach anh are pronounced [aik airj] (dch dnh do not 
occur), e.g. sack [saik] 'book', anh [airj] 'elder brother'. (After the rounded vowels u 
o, the velars take on the roundness feature, and the resulting labiovelars [kp rjm] 
may be perceived as [p m] though spelled k ng.) 

The diphthongs pronounced [aj aw] are spelled ai ao, while those pronounced 
[aj aw] are spelled ay au\ e.g., hai [haj] 'two' versus hay [haj] 'interesting', sao [saw] 
'star' versus sau [saw] 'behind'. 

Of the six phonemic tones, the high or mid level tone is unmarked, whereas the 
other five are indicated by diacritics placed above or below the vowel letter 
(table 59.28). 



Sample of Vietnamese 

1. Vietnamese: Viec 

2. Transcription: vi ? ok 

3. Gloss: task 

/. mot cong-cuoc chung cua nhieu 
2. mo ? t korj-ku ? 9k curj kus jiisw 

j. one undertaking collective of many 



sang-tac 


craT 


quoc-ngu 


chac 


la 


sdrj-tdk 


CUJ ? 


kusk-rjuf 


cak 


Id 


create 


script 


national-language 


certain 


be 



ngiroi, trong do co 

rjutej ton do ko 

people inside which have 



/. ca cac 

2. kd kdk 

3. even pl 

j. Nhvrng 

2. iiuln 

3. however 



giao-si 
5dw-si ? 
missionary 

ngircn co 
rjutej ko 
person hav 



ngiroi Tay-ban-nha, B6-dao-nha va Phap-lan-tay. 
rjtuoj toj-bdn-na bo-da w-rp va fdp-lan-toj 
people Spain Portugal and France 



/. Alexandre de Rhodes 

2. aleksadro do Koidz 

3. Alexandre de Rhodes 



cong 


nhat trong 


viec 


ay la 


CO 


korj 


n?t Pq 


vi ? ok 


oj la 


kd 


? credit 


uppermost inside 


task 


that be 


father 


vi 


chmh ong la 


ngifoi 


dau-tien 


dem 


VI 


ciii orj Id 


nutej 


dow-tion 


dem 


because 


exactly he be 


person 


first 


take 















J. 


in 


nhurig 


sach 


bang 


chu 1 


2. 


In 


riufn 


sac 


ban 


cul ? 


3- 


print 


PL 


book 


use 


serif 



qu6c-ngu% tnti nhat la 

kuak-rjiu 7 t h ul npt Id 

script national-language order first is 

/. mot cuon tir-dien, khien cho ngu'd'i sau co tai-lieu ma 

2. mo ? t kuon tui ? -di9n xisn co rjmsj saw ko taj-li ? 9w md 

3. one clf dictionary cause give people later have materials in.order.to 



/. 


hoc 


va ke-cini. 


2. 


ho ? k 


vd ke-kuiw 


J. 


study 


and research 



The creation of a script for the national language was certainly a collective 
undertaking of many people, including missionaries from Spain, Portugal and 
France. However, the person who deserved the most credit in that task was 
Father Alexandre de Rhodes, because it was he who first had several books 
printed in the national language script, especially one dictionary, so that later 
people could have materials to study and do research.' 

—Duang Qudng-Ham 1941: 191. 



Vietnamese 

Dirang Quang-Ham. 1941. Viet-nam van-hoc su-yeu [Outline history of Vietnamese literature] (7th 

printing, i960). Saigon: Bo Quoc-gia Giao-duc. 
Emeneau, Murray B. 1951. Studies in Vietnamese (Annamese) Grammar (University of California 

Publications in Linguistics 8). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 
Gregerson, Kenneth J. 1969. "A Study of Middle Vietnamese Phonology." Bulletin de la Societe des 

Etudes Indochinoises 44: 135-93. 
Hashimoto, Mantaro. 1978. "The Current State of Sino- Vietnamese Studies." Journal of Chinese 

Linguistics 6: 1-26. 
Haudricourt, Andre-Georges. 1949. "Origine des particularites de 1' alphabet vietnamien."D<3ft Viet- 

Nam 3: 61-68. 
Nguyen Dinh-Hoa. 1955. Quoc-ngu: The Modern Writing System in Vietnam. Washington, D.C.: 

Author. 

. 1986. "Alexandre de Rhodes' Dictionary." Papers in Linguistics 19: 1-18. 

. 1990. "Graphemic Borrowings from Chinese: The Case oichu nom, Vietnam's Demotic 

Script." Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica 61: 383-432. 
Rhodes, Alexandre de. 1991. Tu dien Annam-Lusitan-Latinh, trans. Thanh Lang, Hoang Xuan 

Viet, and Do Quang Chinh. Hanoi: Khoa-hoc Xa-hpi (Latin orig., Dictionarium Annamiticum 

Lusitanum et Latinum, 1651). 
Thompson, Laurence. 1984-85. A Vietnamese Reference Grammar, 2nd ed. (Mon-Khmer Studies 

13-14). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 
Uy-ban Khoa-hoc Xa-hoi Viet-nam. 1983. Ngu-phdp tieng Viet [Vietnamese grammar]. Hanoi: 

Khoa-hoc Xa-hoi. 



THE WORLD'S 
WRITING SYSTEMS Pettr ™ els 

William Bright