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In which year did Vietnamese first start using the term chữ quốc ngữ

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In which year (1910 or 1938) did Vietnamese first start using the term chữ quốc ngữ 字國語 and was it influenced by China, France or Japan?

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All these terms make me smile.

The simple explanation is that having been influenced for a thousand years by China, even though there are obvious and not so obvious differences, it sometimes hard to tell which part of someone’s culture is different and which is not.

For example, I was talking to my Chinese friend, and asked him, you guys ‘Do you guys say “pinyin” to mean romanization of words? Because we say ‘phiên âm’, and it sounds and means the same’. OK, after establishing that, I asked ‘We Vietnamese say “Quốc Ngữ” to mean our national language, and you guys say something like “Guo Yu”, do those words mean the same. He says Yes again.

But then, reflecting on that, the words “Quốc Ngữ” and “Guo Yu” sound and mean the same, so a stranger can easily confuse and think that the speaker is referring to the same language, right?

And so it goes in the cultural field, I guess

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From 1919 onward, the Emperor Khải Định 啓定 (1885–1925) made a decree that Vietnam cease to use Chinese as official written language and was replaced by Romanized Vietnamese. (From wikipedia)


Gia Định Báo 1865, the first Vietnamese newspapers in new “quốc ngữ”. The term “quốc ngữ” was traditionally used for chữ Nôm also.

Gia Dinh Bao - Wikipedia


The first government examination “Đi Thi” in alphabet writing was recorded in this poem from poet Trần Tế Xương 1870–1907. He had to know French, Han writing, chữ Nôm and new quốc ngữ. This poem must be written in Chữ Nôm and was transferred into new “quốc ngữ”. Note: bút chì is pencil.

Tấp tểnh người đi tớ cũng đi Cũng lều cũng chõng cũng đi thi Tiễn chân, cô mất hai đồng chẵn Sờ bụng, thầy không một chữ gì! Lộc nước còn mong thêm giải ngạch Phúc nhà nay được sạch trường qui Ba kỳ trọn vẹn, thêm kỳ nữa Ú ớ u ơ ngọn bút chì!

Rhymed with even lines and i in seventh beats following Tang Regulated verse .

Lüshi (poetry) - Wikipedia

Seven-character eight-line regulated verse ( qilü ): a form of regulated verse with eight lines of seven characters each.

Quốc ngữ in 1890, from Southern official document


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First of all,

Thank you for asking to answer, Robert Matthews (馬學進) . Here is the answer from my humble knowingness:

It's neither in 1910 nor 1938. The term “Chữ Quốc Ngữ" (which means “ the scripts of national language”,and has the corresponding Han characters as “ 字國語”), was firstly used in 1867, in the very first Vietnamese newspaper “Gia Định Báo/嘉定報” ( Gia Định News, with “Gia Định/嘉定” was the name of an old military citadel, now belongs to Saigon- Ho Chi Minh city). Thus, the term “Chữ Quốc Ngữ”, was created by the Vietnamese themselves, considerably inspired by the term “Quốc Âm/ 國音” which means “ National Sounds”, was used to refer to “Chữ Nôm/ 字喃”- The native scripts for writing Vietnamese. Therefore, “Chữ Quốc Ngữ” has nothing to do with China, France nor Japan…ect.

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I think you already had the answer yourself. Anyway, I am glad to answer your request, thanks to some wiki info I can search.

For me, the first letter should be ???? ( chữ ) instead of 字 ( tự ). The term ????國語 ( chữ quốc ngữ ) was acknowledged that started using in 1867 by a book of Trương Vĩnh Ký ( Pétrus Ky - Wikipedia )

One page of the book published in 1867


Your Robert Matthews (馬學進)'s answer to What is Mandarin called in the Chinese language? I've heard it call "the National language" but is that what it's actually called in China? The ethnic people who spoke "Mandarin" named it "the National Language" from the get go? stated that the term 國語 started using in Japan in 1895 and China in 1913. If so, there was no evidence that Vietnamese term ????國語 had been influenced neither by China or Japan.

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Here’s what I think I know (please clarify if I’m mistaken)

(1) Alexandre de Rhodes created a Latinized script for Vietnamese in 1651. Over the centuries, the script was gradually improved, but it was mostly used for Bible translation and religious instruction.

(2) In the 19th century, France forced Vietnam to sign humiliating treaties and gradually took over more and more of its territory.

(3) Also in the 19th century, more and more Vietnamese were starting to learn chữ Quốc ngữ for their own convenience and education

(4) In 1910, all Vietnamese were required to switch over to chữ Quốc ngữ for most official purposes.

VietnamAnswer only allows a limited space for questions. Here is my detailed question and the clarifying details that I was unable to post.

My three-part question is this:

I’ll call it “X” for “unknown”. Because quốc ngữ means “National Language,” it seems unlikely that foreign missionaries would use the name quốc ngữ 國語.

B: In which year did Vietnamese people switch from “X” to “quốc ngữ”? Based on my research, I guessed 1910 or 1938.

C: Chinese people were influenced by Japan’s use of the term 國語. Is it possible that Vietnamese people were similarly influenced when choosing the name quốc ngữ 國語?


Japan started its successful self-strengthening movement in the Meiji Period (latter half of the 19th century). Japanese scholars visited the West, and on their return the government established a western-style parliament and school system, laid its own railroads, electrified major cities and built up a powerful army that was able to defeat much larger nations: Russia and China.

I imagine, but I have no hard evidence that Japan’s success may have provided a reference model for other Asian countries, as detailed in this post: Robert Matthews (馬學進)'s answer to What is Mandarin called in the Chinese language? I've heard it call "the National language" but is that what it's actually called in China? The ethnic people who spoke "Mandarin" named it "the National Language" from the get go?

I spent about 90 minutes reading sources in English, French, Chinese and Russian (some of the languages I know). I also tried to read Vietnamese sources with the aid of Google Translate (Yes, I know it’s often laughably wrong, but I was only looking for one specific fact).

[Wikipedia text] Theo tư liệu trong "Lễ kỷ niệm 70 năm Ngày thành lập Hội Truyền bá Quốc ngữ (25/5/1938)" do Bộ Giáo dục và Đào tạo tổ chức ngày 25/5/2008, thì Hội ra đời ngày 25/5/1938, đến ngày 29/7/1938, Thống sứ Bắc Kỳ công nhận sự hợp pháp của Hội. Đó là dấu mốc chắc chắn cho vị thế " chữ Quốc ngữ ".

[Google Translation] According to the document in the "70th Anniversary Ceremony of the foundation of the National Association for the Promotion of the National Language (May 25, 1938)" organized by the Ministry of Education and Training on May 25, 2008, the Association was born on May 25, 1938, to July 29, 1938, Governor of Tonkin recognized the legitimacy of the Association. That is a sure sign for the position of the "Quoc Ngu word" .

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Chữ Quốc Ngữ have ZERO CHINA, FRANCE OR JAPAN influences. It was created by Vietnamese Catholic scholars and Portuguese/ Italian Jesuits.

The first history book of Vietnam written in chữ Quốc Ngữ published by Priest Benedict Thiện in 1659:


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No one knows which year. In fact, it was neither 1910 nor 1938, but long before that. The Vietnamese native sinograph chữ Nôm (字喃) was popularly called Quốc âm (國音), yes, but it was also called Quốc ngữ (國語) as early as Lê dynasty (1428–1789). Chữ Nôm was called Quốc ngữ in in title of Thập giới cô hồn quốc ngữ văn (十誡孤魂國語文).


During the Tây Sơn dynasty (1778–1802), a non-Vietnamese Christian missionary wrote a Christian text in chữ Nôm with the title Thánh giáo yếu lí quốc ngữ (聖教要理國語), once again referring to chữ Nôm as Quốc ngữ.


By the era of Emperor Thành Thái (1879–1954), chữ Nôm was still referred to as Quốc ngữ in the text Đại Nam Quốc Ngữ (大南國語). It’s important to note that by now, the Latin alphabet had gained prominence and widespread popularity by this point.


So no, the term Quốc ngữ didn’t suddenly appear in 1910 or 1938, nor was it an influence from contemporary China, Japan, or France. Vietnamese had been calling the writing system that wrote their native language as Quốc ngữ for many centuries already. It’s just that the term is now used for the Latin alphabet.

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