SECTION 59: ADAPTATIONS OF THE ROMAN ALPHABET 59 J
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
th [t h ]
SECTION 59: ADAPTATIONS OF THE ROMAN ALPHABET 593
table 59.27: The Onsets
ch[c] clklq [k]
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  : 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-
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]
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
high rising glottalized
[ma ? ]
[ma ? ]
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
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
ngiroi, trong do co
rjutej ton do ko
people inside which have
/. ca cac
2. kd kdk
3. even pl
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
vi ? ok
chmh ong la
ciii orj Id
exactly he be
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
ho ? k
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.
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.:
. 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:
WRITING SYSTEMS Pettr ™ els