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definition - Chữ_Nôm

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Chữ Nôm

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This article contains Vietnamese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of chữ Nôm, chữ Hán and chữ Quốc Ngữ.
Chữ Nôm
Spoken languagesVietnamese
Time periodcirca 1200-1949
Parent systems
Sister systemsSimplified Chinese, Kanji, Hanja, Khitan script, Zhuyin
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.
Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese
Variant characters
Simplified Chinese
Simplified Chinese (2nd-round)
Traditional/Simplified (debate)
Hán tự
  • Chữ Nôm
East Asian calligraphy
Input methods

Chữ Nôm (Vietnamese pronunciation: [cɨ̌ˀnom] lect?; /喃/喃) is an obsolete writing system of the Vietnamese language. It makes use of Chinese characters (known as Hán tự in Vietnamese), and characters coined following the Chinese model. The earliest example of chữ Nôm dates to the 13th century. It was used almost exclusively by the Vietnamese elites, mostly for recording Vietnamese literature (formal writings were, in most cases, not done in Vietnamese, but in classical Chinese). It has now been completely replaced by quốc ngữ, a script based on the Latin alphabet.



Using Chinese characters to represent the Vietnamese language can be traced to , part of the posthumous title of Phùng Hưng, a national hero who succeeded in temporarily gaining back the control of the country from the hands of the Chinese during the late 8th century. These two characters may represent bố cái, "father and mother" (i.e. as respectable as one's parents), or vua cái, "great king". During the 10th century, the founder of the Đinh Dynasty (968-979) named the country Đại Cồ Việt (). The second character of this title is another early example of using Chinese characters to represent Vietnamese native words, although which word it represents is unknown (DeFrancis 1977:21-23).

Until the 1970s, it was thought that the oldest surviving piece of Vietnamese writing was a stone inscription of 1343 in which Chinese characters were used to represent the names of some 20 villages. In 1970, however, a Vietnamese scholar reported the discovery of a stele at a temple at Bảo Ân dating 1209, on which 18 Chinese characters were used to record the names of villages and people who had donated rice land to the pagoda. The first piece of literary writing in Vietnamese appeared in 1282, when the then Minister of Justice Nguyễn Thuyên composed a charm in verse that was thrown into the Red River to chase away a crocodile (DeFrancis 1977:23-24).

Usually only the elite had the knowledge of chữ Nôm, which was used as an aid to teaching Chinese characters (DeFrancis 1977:30). After the emergence of chữ Nôm, a great amount of Vietnamese literature was produced by many notable writers, among them Nguyễn Trãi of the 15th century, who left us the first surviving collection of Nôm poems. Vietnamese literature flourished during the 18th century, which saw the production of Nguyễn Du's Tale of Kieu and Hồ Xuân Hương's lyrics. These works were circulated orally in the villages, so that even the illiterate had access to the Nôm literature (DeFrancis 1977:44-46).

On the other hand, formal writings were still mostly done in classical Chinese. An exception was during the brief Hồ Dynasty (1400-1407), when Chinese was abolished and Vietnamese was made the official language. However, the subsequent Chinese invasion put an end to that. The Vietnamese language, and its written form chữ Nôm, became a preferred vehicle for social protest during the Lê Dynasty (1428-1788), which led to its being banned in 1663, 1718, and 1760. There was a final attempt during the Tây Sơn Dynasty (1788–1802) to give the script official status, but this attempt was reversed by the rulers of the subsequent Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945). Gia Long, founder of the Nguyễn Dynasty, supported chữ Nôm before becoming the emperor, but reverted to classical Chinese soon after seizing power (Hannas 1997:83-84).

From the latter half of the 19th century onwards, the French colonial authorities discouraged or simply banned the use of classical Chinese. They decreed the end of the traditional Civil Service Examination, which emphasized the command of classical Chinese, in 1915 and 1918-1919. The decline of the Chinese language (hence that of the Chinese characters) meant at the same time a decline of chữ Nôm, since the Nôm and the Chinese characters are so intimately connected (DeFrancis 1977:179). During the early half of the 20th century, chữ Nôm gradually died out as quốc ngữ grew more and more standardized and popular.


A page from Tự Đức Thánh Chế Tự Học Giải Nghĩa Ca (Chinese: 嗣德聖製字學解義歌), a 19th-century primer for teaching Vietnamese children Chinese characters. The work is attributed to Emperor Tự Đức, the 4th Emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty. In this primer, chữ Nôm is used to gloss the Chinese characters, for example, is used to gloss

The chữ Nôm characters can be divided into two groups: those borrowed from Chinese and those coined by the Vietnamese.

Borrowed characters

In chữ Nôm, the characters borrowed from Chinese are used to:

  1. represent Chinese loan words. Sometimes the character would have two pronunciations, one more assimilated into the Vietnamese phonological system, another reflecting more the original Chinese reading (that of Middle Chinese). For example, ("root", "foundation") can be pronounced as either vốn or bản, the former being the more assimilated "Nôm reading", while the latter the so-called "Sino-Vietnamese reading". A diacritic may be added to the character to indicate the "indigenous" reading. When is meant to be read as vốn, it is written as 本㆑, with a diacritic at the upper right corner.
  2. represent native Vietnamese words. For example, to use to represent the word một ("one"). In this case is only used phonetically, regardless of the meaning of the word it represents in Chinese. Hannas (1997:81) says that he cannot find any example of using a Chinese character semantically to represent a native Vietnamese word, i.e., there is only on reading, but no kun reading, for the Chinese characters in Vietnamese, to draw an analogy from Japanese kanji reading. However, Zhou (1998:223) gives some example of kun reading in chữ Nôm.

Invented characters

The coined characters can be divided into:

  1. semantic-phonetic, which are composed of two parts, one (a borrowed character or radical) indicating the semantic field to which the word (that the character represents) belongs or simply the word's meaning, another (a borrowed or invented character) the approximate sound of the word. For example, (ba "three") is composed of the phonetic part and the semantic part. This type of character is the most common one among the invented characters.
  2. compound-semantic characters, which are composed of two Chinese characters which represent words of similar meaning. For example, (trời "sky", "heaven") is composed of ("sky") and ("upper").
  3. modified Chinese characters, which can be related either semantically or phonetically to the original Chinese character. For example, the Nôm character (ấy "that', "those") is a simplified form of the Chinese character , their relationship being a phonetic one; the Nôm character (làm "work", "labour") is a simplified form of the Chinese character , their relationship being a semantic one.


In 1867, the reformist Nguyễn Trường Tộ proposed a standardization of chữ Nôm (along with the abolition of classical Chinese), but the new system, what he called quốc âm Hán tự (國音漢字 lit. "Han characters with national pronunciations"), was refused by Emperor Tự Đức (DeFrancis 1977:101-105). To this date, chữ Nôm has never been officially standardized. As a result, a Vietnamese word can be represented by variant Nôm characters. For example, the very word chữ ("character", "script"), a Chinese loan word, can be written as either 字 (Chinese character), (invented character, "compound-semantic") or (invented character, "semantic-phonetic"). For another example, the word béo ("fat", "greasy") can be written either as or File:Chu nom fat 2.JPG. Both characters are invented characters with a semantic-phonetic structure, the difference being the phonetic indicator ( vs. ).

Chữ Nôm software

There are a number of software tools that can produce chữ Nôm characters simply by typing Vietnamese words in quốc ngữ:

  • HanNomIME, a Windows-based Vietnamese keyboard driver that supports Hán characters and chữ Nôm.
  • Vietnamese Keyboard Set which enables chữ Nôm and Hán typing on Mac OS X.
  • WinVNKey, a Windows-based Vietnamese multilingual keyboard driver that supports typing chữ Nôm in addition to Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

Chữ Nôm fonts include:

See also


  • DeFrancis, John (1977). Colonialism and Language Policy in Viet Nam . The Hague: Mouton.
  • Hannas, Wm. C. (1997). Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Chapter 4, "Vietnamese". Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1842-3
  • Schneider, Paul 1992. Dictionnaire Historique Des Idéogrammes Vietnamiens / (licencié en droit Nice, France : Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, R.I.A.S.E.M.)
  • Zhou Youguang 周有光 (1998). Bijiao wenzi xue chutan (比較文字学初探 "A Comparative Study of Writing Systems"). Beijing: Yuwen chubanshe.

Further reading

  • Chʻen, Ching-ho (n. d.). A Collection of Chữ Nôm Scripts with Pronunciation in Quốc-Ngữ. Tokyo: Keiô University.
  • Nguyễn, Đình Hoà (2001). Chuyên Khảo Về Chữ Nôm = Monograph on Nôm Characters. Westminster, CA: Institute of Vietnamese Studies, Viet-Hoc Pub. Dept.. ISBN 0971629609
  • Nguyễn, N. B. (1984). The State of Chữ Nôm Studies: The Demotic Script of Vietnam. Vietnamese Studies Papers. [Fairfax, VA]: Indochina Institute, George Mason University.
  • O'Harrow, S. (1977). A Short Bibliography of Sources on "Chữ-Nôm". Honolulu: Asia Collection, University of Hawaii.

External links

Chữ Nôm test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator


All translations of Chữ_Nôm

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