By Duane Godding
The History and Orthography of the Vietnamese Language
The history of the Vietnamese language has been divided into six different periods, namely the Pre-Vietnamese, Proto-Vietnamese, Archaic Vietnamese, Ancient Vietnamese, Middle Vietnamese, and Modern Vietnamese periods (p.1, Language Translation). For purposes of this assignment I will only briefly discuss each period. The Pre-Vietnamese period marks the time of the Muong language which is said to be the predecessor of Vietnamese and the closest language known today to Vietnamese. During the Proto-Vietnamese period we see an influx of Chinese vocabulary in the language of the people living during that time. It is dated circa 7th to 9th century A.D. Also during this period the Vietnamese language only had three tones, whereas today it has six tones.
The Archaic Vietnamese period is the period when the language started to develop its own lexicon circa 10th century A.D. The Ancient Vietnamese period comes around circa 15th century A.D. The Vietnamese changed their writing system from the standard Chinese system to a more logographic system of writing, called Chữ nôm (which today literally means simple words). This meant that the symbols and characters adopted from the Chinese were still present, but instead of one symbol meaning one word, one symbol could mean a phrase or a grouping of words, making it simpler to learn how to read and write. There was also a split in the tones, splitting the three previous tones into six tones. During the Middle Vietnamese period, many Jesuit missionaries from Europe came to the region in the 17th century and brought with them their language in the form of dictionaries and other writings, like Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes of Portugal. He created a Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary which allowed for a transfer between the languages of the Vietnamese people and almost anyone else from Europe whose language derived from Latin (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.). The Modern Vietnamese Period is just simply Vietnamese that was spoken from the 19th century A.D. until present day. The most critical periods in my opinion for the development of Vietnamese are the Proto-Vietnamese, Archaic-Ancient Vietnamese, and Middle Vietnamese Periods. The Proto-Vietnamese period is important because in Modern Vietnamese, we can still see how prevalent the Chinese language was in terms of Vietnamese vocabulary and grammar. There are many words that are either the same in Chinese or very close in sound. The Archaic Vietnamese period is important because the Vietnamese people started to make their own culture and to slowly began their leave from China. This is clear that this happened because they wanted to develop their own writing system, one that was unique to Vietnam. It is also fully changed into their own with the development of the Chữ nôm characters in the Ancient Vietnamese period. The Middle period is extremely important because this period really changed how the Vietnamese language was to be written and spoken even. With the entrance of European missionaries into the country, and the development of a sort of universal dictionary, transfer of language was easily done. The French also influenced the Vietnamese language by making the Vietnamese Chữ nôm characters Romanized characters in the 19th century when they colonized Vietnam (p.1, Windows on Asia). This made it even simpler than the Chữ nôm characters to teach, learn, and communicate. As we have learned, Vietnamese has gone through many changes in terms of its writing system. When peoples develop a writing system, it is first based off of another peoples’ writing system and sort of follows that system as a guide (p.3 Haudricourt). The Vietnamese writing system again originally followed the Chinese writing system and for many years used the Chinese characters and symbols in order to write. Then there were several ‘peculiarities’ that…