Sino-Vietnamese characters

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Although few Vietnamese can read Sino-Vietnamese characters in modern times, they remain common in calligraphy. Here the character 喜 (happiness) is given twice. This represents the “double happiness” of a bride and groom.

Sino-Vietnamese characters (Vietnamese: Hán Nôm[1]) are Chinese-style characters read as either Vietnamese or as Sino-Vietnamese. When they are used to write Vietnamese, they are called Nôm. The same characters may used to write Chinese. In this case, the character is given a Sino-Vietnamese, or Han-Viet, reading. Han-Viet is a system that allows Vietnamese to read Chinese. It is equivalent to pinyin in English.

Some of these characters are also used in China; others are used only Vietnam. Chinese characters were introduced to Vietnam when the Han Empire invaded the country in 111 BC. Even after Vietnam became independent in AD 939, the country continued to use Classical Chinese ([Hán văn] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) for official purposes. In the 1920s, Vietnam shifted from traditional characters to the Latin alphabet. The Han-Nom Institute was founded in Hanoi in 1970 to collect and study documents written in the traditional script. The institute has submitted a list of 19,981 Sino-Vietnamese characters to Unicode for electronic encoding.[2] This includes a core set of 9,299 characters called the Nôm Ideographs.

History[change | change source]

A page from the bilingual dictionary Nhật dụng thường đàm (1851). Characters representing Chinese words are explained in Nôm.

Chinese characters were introduced to Vietnam after the Han Empire conquered the country in 111 BC. Independence was achieved in 939, but the Chinese writing system was adopted for official purposes in 1010.[3] Soon after the country achieved independence, Vietnamese began to use Chinese characters to write their own language. The Van Ban bell, engraved in 1076, is the earliest known example of a Nôm inscription.[4] Nguyen Thuyen composed Nôm poetry in the 13th century. However, none of his work has survived.[3] The oldest surviving Nôm text is the collected poetry of King Tran Nhan Tong, written in the 13th century.[5]

Classical Chinese was used by the royal court and for other official purposes. The Temple of Literature in Hanoi was the best-known school for the study of Chinese. The civil service examination tested knowledge of Chinese. It was given once every three years. Students who passed the exam could go on to become magistrates. Confucian scholars saw Chinese as the language of education and looked down on Nôm. Popular opinion favored Nôm. Some kings thought that all writing should be done in Chinese. They suppressed Nôm. Other kings promoted Nôm. In 1867, King Tu Duc issued a decree encouraging the use of Nôm. Only a small percentage of the population was literate in any language. But nearly every village had at least one person who could read Nôm aloud for the other villagers.[6] Jean-Louis Taberd wrote the first Nôm dictionary in 1838.

The blue script is modern Vietnamese, while the characters in brown and green are Nôm. Characters that are also used in Chinese are shown in green, while those specific to Vietnam are in brown. It says, "My mother eats vegetarian food at the temple every Sunday."

In 1910, the colonial school system adopted a "Franco-Vietnamese curriculum", which emphasized French and alphabetic Vietnamese. The Vietnamese alphabet is a form of the Latin alphabet that includes tone marks. On December 28, 1918, King Khai Dinh declared that the traditional writing system no longer had official status.[7] The civil service exam was given for the last time at the imperial capital of Hue on January 4, 1919.[7] The examination system, and the education system based on it, had been in effect for almost 900 years.[7] China itself stop using Classical Chinese soon afterward as part of the May Fourth Movement.

Language issues[change | change source]

Chinese characters are used to write various languages in China and elsewhere, including Mandarin, the most widely spoken language in China, Cantonese, spoken in Hong Kong and southern China, and Classical Chinese, traditionally used for formal writing. The characters were formerly used in Korea and in Vietnam. Japan uses a mix of Chinese characters and two other native phonetic writing systems. Even characters that retain their original meaning in all languages may be read in various ways. The character 十 is pronounced as shí in Chinese romanization (pinyin), in Japanese romanization (Hepburn), sip in Korean romanization (Revised Romanization), and thập in the Han-Viet system used in Vietnam. In all these languages, the meaning of the character is “ten.”

Sino-Vietnamese characters
Vietnamese name
Vietnamesechữ Hán Nôm
Hán-Nôm字漢喃

The majority of the characters used in Nôm are of Chinese origin, chosen because they have an appropriate pronunciation or meaning. For example, the character used to write the word "Nôm" 喃 is pronounced nán in Chinese and means “chattering.”[note 1] The fit between the Chinese character and the Vietnamese word is not always exact. The word "Nôm" does not have any negative connotation in Vietnamese, but rather suggests plain talk, something easy to understand.[8]

Nôm also includes thousands of characters not found in Chinese. Many Nôm are only used in Vietnamese, so if Chinese people who don't know Vietnamese read them, they will not be able to know what they say. In contrast, Japan developed only a few hundred kokuji, most of them describing plants and animals only in Japan, and Korea had just a small number of rarely used gukja. These characters were created by writers who combined pre-existing elements. One element, called the radical, indicates the character's meaning, or at least a semantic category. The other element, called the remainder, gives pronunciation. This is similar to how most Chinese characters are written. Like Chinese, Vietnamese is a tonal language. In contrast, Japanese and Korean can be written in phonetic scripts that do not indicate tone.

Readings[change | change source]

When a character is read as Vietnamese, it is romanized according to its Nôm reading. When it is read as Chinese, it can be romanized into Vietnamese as Han-Viet, or into English as pinyin. The chart below uses a darker background to display the Nôm Ideographs (V0 to V3). The characters in V3 and later sets are generally not found in Nôm dictionaries.

Hán Nôm Ideographs
Ideograph Composition Readings English Codepoint V Source Status in Chinese
Nôm Han-Viet Pinyin
⿰女美 mẹ mĕi mother U+5A84 V0-347E Kangxi, HDZ
⿰亻⿱𠂉昜 thương thương shāng to love U+50B7 V1-4C22 Kangxi, HDZ, HK glyph
𠎬 ⿰亻等 đấng đẳng děng Used in đấng anh hùng (heroes) U+203AC V2-6E62 None
𠾾 ⿰口湿 nhấp thấp shī Used in nhấp nhổm (anxious) U+20FBE V3-3059 None
Nom Character U+2B1A1.svg ⿰育个 dọc dục Used in bực dọc (frustrated) U+2B1A1 V4-5224 None
Nom Character V04-405E.svg[9] ⿰朝乙 giàu triêu cháo wealthy U+2B86F V4-405E None
Chu nom fat.svg ⿰月報 béo báo bào fat U+F04A5[note 2] Not assigned None
Key: Kangxi and HDZ (Hanyu Da Zidian) are comprehensive Chinese dictionaries. The HK glyphs are a set of nearly 5,000 glyphs taught in the Hong Kong school system.
Sources: The Unicode Consortium & 1991-2013, The Unicode Consortium 2012. The Nôm readings are from the Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation, Han-Viet is from Hán Việt Từ Điển, and pinyin is from Purple Culture.

Encoding[change | change source]

In 1994, the Ideographic Rapporteur Group agreed to include Sino-Vietnamese characters in Unicode.[10] In 1993-2001, the Han-Nom Institute assembled a collection of 9,299 “Nôm Ideographs" in four sets. These are the V0, V1, V2, and V3 characters shown below. A Sino-Vietnamese character is first assigned a V Source code, and later a codepoint. These codes are used to transmit and store the character electronically. An appropriate font must be installed to render them.

The Nôm Ideographs were extracted from two dictionaries published in the 1970s, one in Saigon[11] and the other in Hanoi.[12][13] V Source annotations were added to the glyphs that were already encoded. The rest were assigned codepoints in Extension B.[14] The Hán Nôm Coded Character Repertoire (2008) integrates the work of the Han-Nom Institute with that of the U.S.-based Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation.[2] This book presents a comprehensive list of 19,981 Sino-Vietnamese characters, including the Nôm Ideographs, manuscript variants, characters formerly used by the Tay people of northern Vietnam, as well as numerous Chinese characters with Han-Viet readings.[13]

Set Characters Unicode block Standard Date Example Sources
V0 2,246 Basic Block (593), A (138), B (1,515) TCVN 5773:1993 2001 𨒒 mười ten U+28492 Vũ Văn Kính & Nguyễn Quang Xỷ 1971
V1 3,311 Basic Block (3,110), C (1) TCVN 6056:1995 1999 hỷ happiness U+559C Vũ Văn Kính & Nguyễn Quang Xỷ 1971, Hồ Lê 1976
V2 3,205 Basic Block (763), A (151), B (2,291) VHN 01:1998 2001 𣃤 vừa fit, match U+230E4
V3 535 Basic Block (91), A (19), B (425) VHN 02:1998 2001 𠁙 chả not U+20059 Manuscripts
V4 785 Extension C The V4 set is split between extensions C and E. It contains 2,230 characters.[13] 2009 Nom Character U+2A74C.svg bị to get U+2A74C Vũ Văn Kính 1994, Hoàng Triều Ân 2003, Nguyễn Quang Hồng 2006
V4 1,028 Extension E 2015 Nom Character V04-5055.svg phở U+2C5BE
V5 ~900 This set was proposed in 2001, but the characters were already encoded. No V Source was added. 2001 kích[15] spear U+39B8 Vũ Văn Kính & Nguyễn Quang Xỷ 1971, Hồ Lê 1976
V6 ~8,000 Basic Block, Extension A Assembled by the Nôm Na Group. Most of these are Chinese characters that are already encoded. Projected ai einsteinium U+9384 Trần Văn Kiệm 2004
Sources: Nguyễn Quang Hồng 2008, The Unicode Consortium & 1995-2013, and The Unicode Consortium 2012

Notes[change | change source]

  1. This character (Nôm, ) is identical to the character for “chattering” and is derived from it. (Lê Quý Ngưu & Trương Đình Tín 2007, Vol. 1, p. 1406.) So Nôm does not mean “southern" (nam, 南), as sometimes claimed.
  2. Not yet in unicode. This is a temporary code assigned by the Nôm Foundation.[1]

Citations[change | change source]

  1. Terrell, p. 126: "Hán Nôm Sino-Vietnamese characters."
  2. 2.0 2.1 Institute of Hán-Nôm Studies & Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hanna 1997, pp. 78–79, 82.
  4. VietnamNet (Nov. 11, 2004), "International seminar on Nom script", Communist Party of Vietnam Online Newspaper Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. (Vietnamese) Trần Nhân Tông, Cư trần lạc đạo phú
  6. Marr 1984, p. 142.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Phùng Thành Chủng 2009
  8. Nguyễn Phương Mỹ, chief content developer, "mtd9 EVA, Version 5," LacViet Computing Corp. 1994-2009. See entries for “nôm” (“simple, easy to understand") and “nôm na” (“in simple terms”).
  9. This character is specific to the Tay people of northern Vietnam. It is a variation of , the corresponding character in Vietnamese.
    Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation, "Detailed information: U+2B86F."
    VNPF, "List of Unicode Radicals".
    Trần Văn Kiệm 2004, p. 424, “giàu.”
    "giàu", VDict.com.
    Hoàng Triều Ân 2003, p. 178
  10. The Unicode Consortium 2006
  11. Vũ Văn Kính & Nguyễn Quang Xỷ 1971.
  12. Hồ Lê 1976.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Nguyễn Quang Hồng 2008.
  14. The Unicode Consortium & 1995-2013
  15. Hồ Lê 1976, p. 152, "kích".

Bibliography[change | change source]

  • Hồ Lê, ed. (1976), Bảng tra chữ Nôm [Nôm Index], Hanoi: Institute of Linguistics, Social Sciences Publishing House. This books lists 8,187 Nom characters.
  • Hoàng Triều Ân (2003), Tự điển chữ Nôm Tày [Nôm of the Tay People], Hanoi: Social Sciences Publishing House
  • Institute of Hán-Nôm Studies; Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation (2008), Kho Chữ Hán Nôm Mã Hoá [Hán Nôm Coded Character Repertoire], Hanoi: Social Sciences Publishing House
  • Lê Quý Ngưu; Trương Đình Tín (2007), Đại Tự Điển Chữ Nôm [The Great Nôm Dictionary], Ho Chi Minh City: Hứa Tuấn. This is the most comprehensive Nôm dictionary with over 19,000 characters.
  • Nguyễn Hữu Vinh (2009), Tự điển chữ Nôm trích dẫn [Dictionary of Nôm Characters with Excerpts], Westminster, Calif.: Institute of Vietnamese Studies
  • Nguyễn Quang Hồng, ed. (2006), Tự điển chữ Nôm [Nôm Dictionary], Hanoi: Education Publishing House. Hồng was the leader of the Nôm encoding project. This dictionary contains 12,000 entries.
  • Nguyễn Quang Hồng (2008), Giới thiệu Kho chữ Hán Nôm mã hoá [Encoding of Han-Nom Fonts], Hanoi: Social Sciences Publishing House
  • Nhóm Nôm Na (5 July 2005), "Quy trình Nôm Na: Giúp đọc Nôm và Hán Việt và chữ Nôm trên mạng", Tạp chí Nghiên cứu và Thảo luận (PDF). This article tells how the Nom Na Tong font was created.
  • Noboyuki, Matsuo (1998), "The Han Nom Institute, Hanoi", Asian Research Trends: a Humanities and Social Science Review, Tokyo: Yunesuko Higashi Ajia Bunka Kenkyū Sentā, p. No. 8–10, p. 140
  • Marr, David G. (1984), Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 978-0520050815
  • Taberd, A. J. L. (1838), Dictionarium Anamitico-Latinum, Bengal, India: J. Marshnam This first Nôm dictionary.
  • Terrell, Peter (2002), Langenscheidt's Pocket Dictionary Vietnamese, Berlin, Munich: Langenscheidt Publishing Group, ISBN 9781585730599
  • Thanh Nhàn Ngô (2005), Manual, the Nôm Na Coded Character Set, Hanoi: Nôm Na Group Ngô's group was sponsored by the Nôm Foundation. This work was later integrated into the Hán Nôm Coded Character Repertoire (2008).
  • Trần Nghĩa; Gros, Franỗois (1993), "Di sản Hán Nôm Việt Nam [The Han-Nom literary heritage of Vietnam]", Tạp chí Hán Nôm [Journal of Han-Nom Studies] (1 (14)) Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |journal= (help) This is a comprehensive bibliography.
  • Trần Văn Kiệm (2004), Giúp đọc Nôm và Hán Việt [Help with Nôm and Han-Viet], Đà Nẵng Publishing House, Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation. This book contains 17,761 Sino-Vietnamese characters. (Nhóm Nôm Na 2005)
  • The Unicode Consortium (1991–2013), Unihan DatabaseCS1 maint: date format (link)
  • The Unicode Consortium (1995–2013), Unibook Character BrowserCS1 maint: date format (link)
  • The Unicode Consortium (2006), "Han Unification History", The Unicode Standard, Version 5.0 (PDF)
  • The Unicode Consortium (Aug. 12, 2012), CJK E V8.1 M Set (PDF) Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Vũ Văn Kính (1999), Đại tự chữ Nôm [Great Nôm Dictionary], Trung tâm Học liệu This is the most widely available Nôm reference. It is an updated version of Vũ Văn Kính’s 1971 work.
  • Vũ Văn Kính; Nguyễn Quang Xỷ (1971), Tự điển chữ Nôm [Nôm Dictionary], Saigon

Fonts[change | change source]

Some characters in this article may require the installation of an additional font to display properly:

  • Hanamin B  – This Japanese font supports nearly 90,000 characters, including those in Unicode CJK Extension C.
  • NomNaTongLight – This font, created by the Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation, is based on characters found a 1933 woodblock print (Nhóm Nôm Na 2005).
  • Han Nom Font Set  – This open source font supports over 70,000 Unicode CJK codepoints.
  • Fonts for Chu Nom. How to display and use Han-Nom characters.

Other websites[change | change source]