Vietnam has two writing systems: the chữ
quốc ngữ and chữ Nôm. Chữ
quốc ngữ uses a roman alphabet with accents.
Chữ Nôm, Hán Việt included, uses ideograms,
similar to Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
Chữ Nôm was used in Vietnam for more than 1,000 years
before the 1920's, when it was
replaced by chữ quốc ngữ.
Chữ Nôm was neglected for the next 70 years.
Hundreds of thousands of documents exist in chữ Nôm,
the ideographic national script used in Vietnam
since the country's independence from China
in 939 AD. These documents – literature, medicine,
drama, music, court records, philosophy, village records,
and royal proclamations among them – are now in
danger of further destruction after more than 125 years of
warfare, and hundreds of years of monsoons, pillage and
neglect. In addition, major Nôm documents have been found
languishing, unidentified, in many European and East
Asian libraries, museums, and private holdings, as well
as libraries and private homes in Vietnam. Most of
these invaluable texts are in grave danger of becoming
lost forever. The preservation of Nôm heritage is a
desperate race against time.
The last national examination for students of chữ
Hán Nôm was in 1919. Scholars who can read and understand
chữ Nômtoday are almost extinct.
scholars are not authorized to teach
in colleges and universities, because they have not had
modern pedagogical training, and, the traditional
teaching methods lack knowledge of pedagogy. As a
result of the wars and the requirements of modern
education, there are precious few Vietnamese teaching
materials for chữ Nôm. This is the greatest loss to
Vietnamese culture in history, second only to the
loss of life in the wars.
Chữ Nôm (including chữ Hán Việt)
devised "ideographically" to represent
Vietnamese speech, has never been standardized, or
printed (except by woodblock) until recently. Unlike
the romanized Vietnamese script, whose alphabet includes
only 29 letters and 5 accent marks,
never had an "alphabet".
The Nôm Studies
is a research project in text documents written in the national
ideographic script called chữ Nôm in Vietnam.
This project is part of the activities of the Center for Vietnamese Philosophy,
Culture & Society of Temple University.