Chu nom

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The characters for Chữ Nm written in  style. A variant is: 字喃
The characters for Chữ Nm written in Khải thư style. A variant is: 字喃

Chữ nm (字喃 lit. "southern script") is a classical vernacular script of the Vietnamese language that makes use of Chinese characters (Vietnamese hn tự).



Chu nom, in earlier times known as Quốc m (lit. national pronounciation), is supposed to have originated around the 10th century. The old name of Vietnam, Đại Cồ Việt (939), makes use of Quốc m. The earliest written material of Chu nom that has survived until present was found on a stele at a temple at Bảo n dating 1209. Another Chu nom inscription was found on a bronze bell at the Vn Bản pagoda in Đồ Sơn. It is dated 1076, but there is uncertainty about the correctness of this date.

After Vietnamese independence from China in 939 CE, scholars began their creation of chữ nm, an ideographic script that represents Vietnamese speech. For nearly the next 1,000 years — from the 10th century and into the 20th — much of Vietnamese literature, philosophy, history, law, medicine, religion, and government policy was written in Nom script. During the 14 years of the Ty Sơn emperors (1788-1802), all administrative documents were written in chữ nm. In the 18th century, many notable Vietnamese writers and poets composed their works in chữ nm, among them Nguyễn Du and Hồ Xun Hương. With the 17th century advent of quốc ngữ — the modern roman-style script — Chữ nm literacy gradually died out. In 1920, the colonial government decreed against its use. Today, fewer than 100 scholars world-wide can read Chữ nm effectively. Much of Vietnam's written history is inaccessible to the 80 million speakers of the language. A few Buddhist monks and the Jing, the Vietnamese living in China, can read Chữ nm to some extent. (Original text provided by the Nom Preservation Foundation, with permission granted to publish this text under the GNU Free Documentation License.)

There are efforts by the Vietnamese government to integrate Chu nom into the educational system. Chu nom characters have been codified in the Unicode standard. Software has been developed to make the writing system computationally accessable, and fonts that contain Chu nom characters have been created only recently.

Writing System

In Vietnam Chinese characters were originally used to write Chữ nho (classical Chinese) only. In Chu nom the use of these characters was extended in many ways. Additionally a vast number of new characters have been invented by Vietnamese writers.


There are many classical Chinese words that have found their way into the Vietnamese language by borrowing. These loanwords are written with the original Chinese character (hn tự). Example: 味 vị (flavour), 年 nin (year). In addition many naturalised Chinese words are found in Vietnamese, i.e. words that have been borrowed from Chinese before Chinese characters were introduced to Vietnam and therefore have preserved a different pronounciation. These words are mapped to the corresponding characters of classical Chinese, too. Example: 味 mi (equivalent to vị, flavour), 年 năm (equivalent to nin, year).

Phonetic character borrowing

Many native Vietnamese words are written by using characters emptied of meaning (chữ giả t, false loan characters). Such a character is reused for its pronounciation only. Its original meaning is ignored. Thus the character gained a second meaning. Often a character gained many different meanings by phonetic borrowing.

Character Invention

Many new characters were invented for native Vietnamese words (called chữ thuần nm, proper Nom characters). These new characters are based on the phonetic borrowing and add a semantic component that hints at the new meaning resulting in a new distinct character. In some cases resulting character has an already existing chinese lookalike, but with a different meaning.


In 1867 Chu Nom was standardized by Nguyễn Trường Tộ but the new system (Quốc m Hn Tự, lit. national pronounciation han characters) was refused by emperor Tự Đức. Until now Chu nom has never been officially standardized. As a result a lot of variant characters exist for native Vietnamese words. Often a native Vietnamese word could be written either with a phonetically borrowed character or with many distinct characters invented by Vietnamese writers. Many characters have been simplified in different ways. A good example is the word Chữ nm itself. Chữ can be written with 字 (originally pronounced tự) or with the character 𡨸 (see picture ( that is composed of 宁 on the left and 字 on the right. Additionally the position of 宁 and 字 can be switched forming a variant (see picture). Another variant is 𡦂 (see picture (, composed of two 字, one on the left and one on the right.

Related topic

External links

de:Chu nom ja:チュノム nl:Chu nom vi:Chữ_Nôm zh:字喃


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