red dot Temple University College of Liberal Arts red dot Center for Vietnamese Philosophy, Culture & Society
   N Ô M · S T U D I E S
A research project in the Vietnamese Nôm cultural heritage
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The 喃學 Nôm Studies Project

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. Surviving Nôm 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, chữ Nôm 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.

at the Nôm reading room, the National Library of Vietnam, December 2006.

Center for Vietnamese Philosophy, Culture & Society Gladfelter Hall 1016 1115 Polett Walk red dot
Tel. 215 204 9207 red dot Temple University Philadelphia, PA 19122 Nôm page queries: Ngô Thanh Nhàn