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Chữ Hán

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Title: Chữ Hán  
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Subject: Ho Chi Minh City, Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary
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Chữ Hán

Chinese characters
Type styles
  • Strokes
  • Stroke order
  • Radicals
  • Classification
  • Variants
    Standards on character forms
    Standards on grapheme usage
  • Literary and colloquial readings
  • Use in other scripts
  • Zetian characters
  • Nü Shu
  • Kanji (Kokuji)
  • Kana (Man'yōgana)
  • Idu
  • Hanja (Gukja)
  • Nom
  • Sawndip
  • Until the beginning of the 20th century, government and scholarly documents in Vietnam were written in classical Chinese (called chữ nho "Confucian script," or chữ Hán "Chinese script"), using Chinese characters with Vietnamese approximation of Chinese pronunciations.

    At the same time popular novels and poetry in Vietnamese were written in the chữ nôm script, which used Chinese characters for Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and an adapted set of characters for the native vocabulary.[1]

    The two scripts coexisted until the era of French Indochina when the Latin alphabet quốc ngữ script gradually became the written medium of both government and popular literature.[2]


    The terms chữ Hán ("Han script") and chữ nho ( pronounced [cɨ̌ˀ ɲɔ] "Confucian script") are largely interchangeable.[3] Both mean writing of Chinese in Chinese characters. However in modern Vietnamese usage chữ Hán can also refer to characters in the modern Chinese or Japanese languages - for example in reference by the journal of the Linguistics Academy of Vietnam to the introduction of pinyin in the PRC in 1958.[4]

    The term chữ ("character") is in regular use in Vietnamese, for example "chữ thập" means the Chinese "10" character (, Vietnamese thập, used as the "cross" in Chữ thập đỏ "Red Cross"). The ideogram for chữ ( "script") is normally not found in Chinese printed texts and Unicode character 21A38 may also may fail to display in html browsers[5]) and is sometimes substituted by the character for tự ( "character"), the characters nho ( "Confucian") and Hán () are part of the common Chinese-Japanese-Korean-SinoVietnamese character set. chữ Nho is often capitalized in Vietnamese texts. Nho is written and pronounced with a different tone from chữ nhỏ, "minuscule font".[6]

    The term Hán tự ([hǎːn tɨ̂ˀ] , "a Chinese character") is mainly used in typographic, calligraphic and lexical contexts, and used in Vietnamese to describe Sino-Vietnamese characters, as well as Japanese kanji or modern Chinese hanzi.[7][8][9] The term Hán tự is still used in relation to individual ideograms, (or Chinese hanzi or Japanese kanji); an individual character is distinguished as "chữ," for example "chữ vật ()" for the Chinese character "thing" () pronounced "vật" in Vietnamese.[10]

    The term Hán văn ( "Han literature") means Chinese literature.

    Hán-Việt or "Sino-Vietnamese" is a term which is used by modern scholars in relation to Vietnam's Chinese-language texts to emphasize local characteristics and particularly the phonology of the Chinese written in Vietnam, though in regard to syntax and vocabulary this Sino-Vietnamese was no more different from Chinese used in Beijing than medieval English Latin was different from the Latin of Rome.[11] The term "Hán-Việt transliteration" is also used for Chinese place names in Vietnam.[12]

    The term chữ nôm ( "script for talking") refers to the former transcription system for vernacular Vietnamese-language texts, written using a mixture of original Chinese characters and locally coined nôm characters not found in Chinese to phonetically represent Vietnamese sounds."[13] However the character set for chữ nôm is extensive, up to 20,000, and both arbitrary in composition and inconsistent in pronunciation.[14]

    Hán - Nôm may mean either both Hán and Nôm taken together, as in the research remit of Hanoi's Hán-Nôm Institute, or refer to texts which are written in a mixture of Hán and Nôm, or refer to some Hán texts with parallel Nôm translations. There is a significant orthographic overlap between Hán and Nôm and many characters are used in both Hán and Nôm with the same reading.[15]

    The term quốc ngữ ( "National language") means Vietnamese written in Romanized script. This is different from the historical term quốc âm ( "National sound") meaning chữ nôm, found in the title of the 16th Century poetry collection Quốc âm thi tập.[16]


    The Chinese domination

    No writings in Chinese by Vietnamese writers survive from the Chinese domination.[17]

    Imperial Vietnam

    Main article: Confucian examination system in Vietnam

    In Imperial Vietnam (939-1919), formal writings were, in most cases, done in classical Chinese. This was true both of the language of government and administration, and also of entry into government and administration by the wholly Chinese-language Confucian examination system in Vietnam. Chinese was also the language of medicine, astrology, religion, science and high literature such as poetry. Vietnamese existed only as an oral language, before the creation of the nom script to preserve and circulate less serious poetry and narrative literature. These writings are indistinguishable from contemporaneous classical Chinese works produced in China, Korea, or Japan as are the first poems in chữ nho by the monk Khuông Việt and the Nam Quốc Sơn Hà by general Lý Thường Kiệt.[17][18][19]

    Localisation and Sino-xenic pronunciation

    Main article: Literary Chinese in Vietnam

    In Vietnam Chinese text Hán Văn (Hán Văn/) was read with the vocalization of Chinese text as such, equivalent to the Chinese On-readings in Japanese kambun (漢文), or the assimilated vocalizations in Korean hanmun (한문).[20][21] This occurring alongside entry of Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary into the vernacular Vietnamese language.[22] And creating, in Samuel Martin's term, a Sinoxenic dialect.[23] The Sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank was the one of the first linguists to actively employ "Sino-Vietnamese" to recover the earlier history of Chinese.[24]

    Period of coexistence of two languages and two scripts

    Main article: Vietnamese literature

    From the 13th Century the dominance of Chinese writing - chữ nho - began to be challenged by a system of modified and invented characters modeled loosely on Chinese characters called chữ nôm, which, unlike the system of chữ nho (or chữ Hán), allowed for the expression of purely Vietnamese words, was created in Vietnam at least as early as the 13th century.[25] During the Ming dynasty occupation of Vietnam chữ nôm printing blocks, texts and inscriptions were destroyed, so that the earliest surviving texts are from after the period.[26] While designed for native Vietnamese speakers, chữ nôm required the user to have a fair knowledge of chữ Hán, and thus chữ nôm was used primarily for literary writings by cultural elites (such as the poetry of Nguyễn Du and Hồ Xuân Hương), while almost all other official writings and documents continued to be written in chữ nho (or chữ Hán) as Hán Văn (classical Chinese) until the 20th century.[27][28]

    French colonial period

    The use of classical Chinese, and its written form, chữ nho (or chữ Hán), died out in Vietnam early in the 20th century during the middle years of French Indochina. At this time there were briefly four competing writing systems in Vietnam; chữ nho, chữ nôm, quốc ngữ, and French.[29] Although the first romanized script quốc ngữ newspaper, Gia Dinh Bao, was founded in 1865, Vietnamese nationalists continued to use chữ nôm until after the First World War when quốc ngữ became the favoured language of the Vietnamese independence movement.[30] Some scholars still study it today although its application is mostly confined to the historic context of Vietnamese texts.

    Usage today

    Individual Hán tự are still written by calligraphers for special occasions such as the Vietnamese New Year, Tết.[31]

    Use of quốc ngữ for education in both North and South Vietnam from 1945-1975, and then all of Vietnam since 1975, has rendered most Vietnamese unable to read earlier Vietnamese texts, whether written in Chinese chữ nho, or vernacular chữ nom. Hán Nôm Institute is the national centre for academic research into both Hán and nôm texts. Since the mid-1990s a small resurgence in teaching of Chinese characters, both for chữ nho and the additional characters used in chữ nom, to enable the study of Vietnam's history has emerged.[32] Additionally many Vietnamese study Hán tự characters as part of learning modern Japanese and Chinese; in some cases it is also studied as part of learning Korean as a study tool for learning Korean etymology. The significance of the characters has occasionally entered Western depiction of Vietnam; for instance novelist E. M. Nathanson mentions the characters in A Dirty Distant War (1987).[33]

    For linguists the Vietnamese readings of Hán tự (like those of kanji and hanja) provide data for the study of Middle Chinese and historical Chinese phonology.


    External links

    • Hán tự: A Vietnamese-Chinese wordlist (via Wayback Machine)
    • Từ điển Hán Việt Thiều Chửu () (via Wayback Machine)
    • Từ điển Hán Nôm
    • Hán Việt chú thích, Chinese-to-Vietnamese transliteration
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