Click here to read the Vietnamese version "Sửađổi Cáchviết TiếngViệt" (Unicode) of this writing!

Vietnamese2020 Writing Reform Proposal

By dchph 



A note on this English version

The present state of the Vietnamese writing system

  1. Vietnamese and its Chinese factors
  2. Vietnamese and Chinese commonalities
  3. Vietnamese: an isolated language? Garbage!
  4. The politics of polysyllabics
Why does the current system need reform?
  1. The weakest links
  2. The other pictures
  3. Polysyllabic writing fosters an ability to think abstractly and collectively
  4. Accuracy facilitates data processing
How to reform the current Vietnamese writing system?
  1. Polysyllable correctness
  2. Setting the mindset
  3. No old-fashioned hyphenation -- get rid of this once and for all!
  4. Spring into action


x X x


This English version of "Sửađổi Cáchviết TiếngViệt" is to address the subject matter with a perspective for the Vietnamese readers. However, it is also intended for those English speakers who may be interested in Vietnamese language issues, not know much about the Vietnamese language, and unaware that the Vietnamese words cited in this writing are actually written in a proposed combining formation. After all, this is what it is all about.

This version is more descriptive than what is discussed in the Vietnamese proposal since certain facts may appear so obvious to the Vietnamese, but not to non-native speakers. On the other hand, some viewpoints are intentionally left out in the Vietnamese version because, though they may appear to non-native readers by and large as supportive arguments, those matters can become emotionally offensive to Vietnamese readers. They, indeed, touch on some sensitive issues that make up a person's national pride in his or her own cultural heritage. Because of that, native readers may react unfavorably and not accept certain arguments regarding the genetic composition that has made up both the Vietnamese people and their language as we know today. Consequently, those very issues may have negative effects on other arguments which are good and worthwhile otherwise.

Therefore, the author of this writing is asking for the understanding that the main point raised in this propsal does count, that the current Vietnamese writing system is in an urgent need for a new polysyllabic system reform, and that this is not an academic thesis or scientific research after all since some hypotheses need futher studies. In any cases, this is an original writing, yet an elaborate analysis of the needs for reforming the current Vietnamese writing system and a serious proposal of how to make it better.



Back to top


Why Vietnamese2020? Vietnamese2020 is a new Vietnamese writing system in the years to come and that should be the way Vietnamese will be written in the year 2020. This is a proposal and analysis of the needs to reform the current Vietnamese writing system into the new Vietnamese2020, which will have a slightly different appearance from what it is known today.

This proposed writing reform, above all, ideally would expose monolingual native learners to symbolic patterns that would have positive effects on abstract and collective thinking by means of a polysyllabic way of writing, i.e., writing all syllables of a word in a combining formation. This is a part of the human cognitive process to be achieved via, one among other things, its pre-defined text strings of whole words that appear repetitively in peculiar shapes in their whole entirety and would resemble much more like graphical representation of concepts rather than individually syllabic spellings as in the case of the current monosyllabic writing of the Vietnamese language.

In fact, in a polysyllabic formation meanings of words, tightly bound to their symbolistic shapes that are made of combined syllables and those symbols, are to achieve the same effects as those of ideographs. In English or German writing systems polysyllabic words show that type of symbolistic characteristic and, in a way, they are usually perceived abstractly through varied shapes of respective long text strings. On the contrary, with the Vietnamese monosyllabic writing system, readers have to, mentally, go through the process of, firstly, recognizing each one of those separately written syllables, making sense out of it individually, and only then, lastly, being able to comprehend meanings of the final mentally assembled words. In fact, polysyllabic scripts enable readers' brain to absorb larger batches of continuous text strings, which will render similar visual effects as those of ideograms. As a result, we will recognize the conceptions of words right away simply just by catching the sight of continuous strings of polysyllabically combined words. Those who have already possessed advanced knowledge of a foreign language, especially German, might have already experienced such highly visual effects.

Being an inferior form, a monosyllabic writing system can only represent one syllable at a time as in the case of the present Vietnamese orthography. That is to say, only a portion of concept is conveyed in that one syllable. It is not hard to see that if all databases had been built the way as a monosyllabic "Vietnamese dictionary" is structured in a monolingual native Vietnamese speaker's brain then the world might have come to know different kinds of databases far less ideal than what the computing world has achieved to date!

As a matter of fact, Vietnamese is no longer a monosyllabic language, but, in writing, syllables which make up a polysyllabic word are still written separately, just like the way the Vietnamese had handled block-written Chinese characters before the end of 19th century. For example, in today's Vietnamese orthography words like "học bổng" (scholarship), ''bâng khuâng" (melancholy), "bâng quơ" (vague), "ma tuý" (narcotic), and thousands of others, obviously dissyllabic in nature, are still written in separate syllables as such. Writing that way is exactly the same as breaking those polysyllabic English words into separate syllables as "scho lar ship", "me lan cho ly", "va gue", or "nar co tic", etc.

It does not matter in what language, monosyllabic writing is illogical and unscienific. The cited dissyllabic Vietnamese words above should be accurately written in combining formation as "họcbổng", ''bângkhuâng", "bângquơ", "matuý", respectively. That polysyllabic way of writing will precisely represent the true dissyllabic characteristics of today's Vietnamese. Again, if English had been written the way Vietnamese is, it would have never become the technical language tool in the modern computing technology with such popularity worldwide as it is enjoying today.

A society progresses if its language progresses. Stagnance of Vietnamese monosyllabic way of writing, as a result, has hampered Vietnam's advancement in many ways including those of developments in computing fields. It is painful to reform, but we have to do it.

This new proposed writing system, ideally in a sense, will lay out a foundation for building blocks of polysyllabic principles. Its final results will lead to the development of new guidelines to build a standardized polysyllabic writing system. In the long run, this new Vietnamese polysyllabic orthorgraphy purposedly will foster children's ability to learn things abstractly and collectively. At the same time, this will also create a favorable condition for data processing fields to progress properly, which, in return, will stimulate economic development.

Please join us in this writing reform effort NOW by starting to write Vietnamese in the combining formation of syllables for each word-concept. For now emails and internet postings are a few good places to begin with. In practice, while awaiting official orthography guidelines, hopefully, from a governmental body such as a national language academy, the easiest way for those who already know a foreign language, when in doubt, is to think of an equivalent word in English or in another common foreign language since all of them is totally written in polysyllabic formation as having been known to the world as of the present day. For example, for "although" we have "mặcdù", for "blackboard" > "bảngđen", "faraway" > "xaxôi", and so on. With regard to building a successful polysyllabic writing system, the German writing system is highly recommended as a good model to serve as a referent framework or building block model to devise a new Vietnamese script.

Let's be the first pioneers of a new Vietnamese language reform to set new polysyllabic standards in the years to come! Do not think that you are going to waste time on something unrealistic. It is a noble cause that will benefit our nation in terms of stimulating our children's abilities to think abstractly and collectively, which is the foremost reason behind this proposed Vietnamese writing reform. If we all go for it or simply just say "yes" to the proposed reform, our voice will be heard and our dream will become a reality. All you need is to act, quickly.

Back to top



A striking characteristic of languages is their enduring existence over the time and they are the least likely succumbed to sudden changes. In its long history of progress a language must have undergone changes in certain ways, especially its writing system, at certain time. Writing reform has been in many a case a necessary phase in the course of societal development that many countries have gone through.

It is time for us all to come to terms that today's global internet does, in fact, require the current Vietnamese writing system be changed in order to not only become more precise in writing for effective communication, but also create a favorable condition to accommodate logical structural changes in Vietnamese data processing areas.

Today's Vietnamese writing system does not truely reflect dissyllabic characteristics of its spoken language. As a result, it is no longer adequately suitable for today's increasing demands in data processing. This is one of the imminent and main reasons behind this proposal. The other reason, equally important, is that a new polysyllabic Vietnamese writing system will facilitate and foster our children's ability to think abstractly and collectively.

In terms of Vietnamese data processing, this new proprosed writing system will put forward a foundation for a reform framework. Its new writing structure will help build more accurate data schemes for electronic representations and analytic contextual language databases. Translating algorithms will be simpler and more accurate. A translation machine, a much needed tool to translate English webpages for Vietnamese momolingual speakers, as a result, will be possible since codings will be structured and indexed around more logically built databases. That is how a polysyllabic reform will certainly bring about with its uniform and accurate semantic language codes. Consequently data sorting, spelling, lexicographical categorizing and indexing, header tagging for searching and many other computing aspects in Vietnamese will become easier.

All of these areas have been formidably difficult to implement given the current way of writing Vietnamese. In Vietnamese dissyllabic words constitute a majority in the Vietnamese vocabulary. This new reformed Vietnamese writing system will be based on a dissyllabic principle, that is, all two-syllable words shall be written only in a combining formation to represent truely the dissyllabic characteristics of the spoken language. This new polysyllabic way of writing will be able to address some problems in computing fields, such as those caused by the old monosyllabic way of writing by reducing as few as possible the number of concepts or meanings associated with each dissyllabic word through the combination of two related syllables in writing within their word boundary as demonstrated by their vocal expressions.

On the other hand, writing reform is also much needed for another even more pressing reason, equally important and not the least, that is, to help monolingual Vietnamese speakers, starting with native-speaking youngsters, develop mental abilities to acquire academically cognitive intelligence. The new polysyllabic way of writing Vietnamese suggested in this proposal will foster children's collective and abstract thinking skills through a highly symbolistic writing system, namely multi-syllable words written in combining formation. Just imagine, with a quick glance at large batches of continuous text strings and by simply catching the mere overall sights of those symbolic shapes, we will immediately be able to absorb and process the concepts that those polysyllabic written words convey without intermittent delay as we do in our current way of monosyllabic writing system. This cognitive process of linguistic acquisition, undoubtedly, will help us read faster and think more abstractly.

Given those factors, writing reform is deemed as a necessary and urgent matter since it will ultimately benefit the country scientifically as well as economically in the long run. In the past, matters of writing reform, one way or another, have never been considered as a national issue partly because many obstacles in its implementation are seemingly overwhelming, especially when it comes to changing people's writing habit of the whole nation.

If the majority of us has recognized the shortcomings and weaknesses of the current writing system as to be pointed out later, we all should join in this reform initiative to build up momentum for a popular movement. Only then we can raise awareness and voice demands of this type of writing reform to prompt the Vietnam's government for actions such as putting that matter on a state's agenda, at least to initiate the first phase to establish a language academy reponsible for devising a reform master plan. Only then our goals in a writing language reform will be no longer a dream.

With these ideas in mind, the following sections are to examine the writing reform matter in a more detailed analysis covering some aspects of the present state of the Vietnamese writing system, why it needs reform, and how to reform it.

Back to top


In this section we will examine some of characteristics of Vietnamese and forms of its scripts that have been changed through the ages to help us understand better about shortcomings and weaknesses of the present Vietnamese writing system.

1) Vietnamese and its Chinese factors

In my latest research entitled Introduction to Sinitic-Vietnamese Studies I have demonstrated that Vietnamese vocabulary stock contains an ovewhelming portion of more than 90% words of Chinese origin. This fact is based on a new dissyllabic approach to help discover more of the Vietnamese etymology of Chinese origin.

This section will quickly explain the reason why there exist so many Chinese words in the Vietnamese language, including those of basic lexicons. The implication of this argument is that if Chinese has already been classified as a polysyllabic language by the world's large universities' renown linguistic circles, then Vietnamese should be considered as such, too. The point raised in this matter is to establish a rapport of linguistic similarities between the two languages which is a premise to recognize the polysyllabism, or to be exact, dissyllabism, of Vietnamese, the underlined motive for this proposed writing reform.

The historical fact that Vietnam had gone though a millennium of Chinese domination, from 111 BC to 936 AD, is one among prominent factors which had played an active role in the integration of Chinese vocabularies into the Vietnamese language. In its evolution Vietnamese has absorbed thousands of words from the ancient to contemporary times with dialectal variations of the Chinese language (to be mentioned only as "Chinese" in general thereafter) throughout different stages of development of the Vietnamese language by way of both borrowing and localizing a great number of Chinese words.

The Chinese linguistic influence is a direct result of waves after waves of Chinese migrating population from China. Their immigrating path has been a southward movement towards the then Vietnamese terrains for over the past 2000 years long before and after Vietnam gained independence from China in 936 AD. Those Chinese migrants, generally, had been of a mixture of poor peasants fleeing from ravaging wars and hunger back in their homeland, exhausted long-march soldiers on endlessly conquering missions, and a great number of disgraced political exiles along with their accompanied family. Many of them, probably mostly men, had chosen to settle or be married into Vietnamese families and they never returned to their homeland.

Over the years and many generations later most of these Chinese immigrants had totally been assimilated into the Vietnamese society and identified as parts of the larger dominant Vietnamese ethnicity known as "Kinh" among many other ethnic groups. This assimilation process must have been occurring rather slowly and gradually over the years since all descendants of those immigrants appear totally Vietnamese along with the full integration of their dialectal elements, which have been carried over with them to the new but similar cultural environment, into the Vietnamese language.

It is not hard to appreciate this Chinese factor in Vietnam's history since one can find the same analogy in modern time with a fraction of Vietnamese women having given birth to more than 50 thousand Amerasians during the preiod of less than ten years between 1963 and 1973 when the American soldiers were present in South Vietnam. Similarly back in time in the history of Latin American nations, we have also seen the transformational similarities in the biological and linguistic compositions which make up the peoples currently living in all those countries.

The linguistic penetration of vast Chinese lexicons into Vietnamese vocabulary stock is also the results of forceful imposition of the use of the Chinese language on the local people by the Chinese conquerors during their one thousand years of occupation of the then Vietnam. Undoubtedly the Chinese influence since then had gradually found its way into all layers of the Vietnamese language permanently, from the upper scholarly vocabulary stock down to the basic linguistic stratum, which have been used widely in all walks of daily life as we have seen today.

This linguistic adoption process had been spreading long before and after Vietnam's having victoriously gained independence from China in the tenth century. Interestingly, from that time the old feudal Vietnam had also voluntarily adopted the Chinese writing system in full at first as the official written language of the land. Later on, the creation of Nôm characters the transcribe Vietnamese based on the Chinese block writing system with modifications had been put into unofficial use until the end of the 19th century. Consequently, there had emerged in Vietnamese two common vocabulary stocks, widely known as the HánViệt (the Sino-Vietnamese) and the HánNôm (the Sinitic-Vietnamese or Vietnamese lexicons of Chinese origin, including those older loanwords from ancient Chinese). (Read more in Introduction to Sinitic-Vietnamese Studies).

Back to top

1) Vietnamese and Chinese commonalities

Vietnamese and Chinese share most of the linguistic attributes including those unique characteristics, e.g. basic vocabulary stock, morphemic compounds, dialectal and colloquial expressions, grammatical markers, classifiers, and functional words. Those characteristics are something so linguistically specific and peculiar to those languages of the same linguistic family, which used to be believed one of the Sino-Tibetan languages. To say the least the apparent traces of the Vietnamese basic lexicons seem to have originated from the same linguistic roots as those of Chinese. The influence of the Chinese language on Vietnamese was dated as far back as to China's Qin-Han Dynasties started in 221 BC or might even have taken place earlier. In fact, culturally inundated words of ancient Chinese origin such as "đủa" 箸 (chopsticks), "bếp" 庖 (kitchen), "canh" 羹 (broth for soup), "bàn" 案 (table), "ghế" 椅 (chair), "tủ" 匵 and "củi" 櫃 (cupboard), "vuquy" 于歸 (bridal wedding ceremony), "thángchạp" 腊月 (December), and the like are still being in use in the Vietnamese language while they are no longer used in the modern Chinese language. Specifically in this cultural context, there is no doubt that Vietnamese has adopted most of Chinese words for its own use.

The vocabulary list grows densely if it is to include more of old-time words that both Chinese and Vietnamese are still using now. Some of those words are "thánggiêng" (正月 January), "Tết" (春節 Spring festival), "TếtÐoanngọ" (端午節 Late Spring Festival), as well as those of numerous basic ones which might have originated from the same roots such as "cha" (爹 father), "mẹ" (母 mother), "anh" 兄 older brother), "chị" 姐 older sister), "canh" (羮 broth), "thịt" (腊 meat), "ăn" (吃 eat), "uống" (飲 drink), "lúa" (來 whole rice grains), "voi" (為 elephant), "trâu" (牛 water buffallo), "cọp" (虎 tiger), "lửa" (火 fire), "lá" (葉 leave), "đất" (土 soil), and the list continues on. (See more in Appendix B).

This language absorbing process had been continuously going on long after Vietnam's gaining independence from China. Recent evidences carved on tablets, unearthed in Vietnam in the late 1970's, show many Sinitic-Vietnamese words originated from the lexicon usages as recently as of China's Ming Dynatsy in the 16th century. Furthermore, the linguistic influence in this respect has continued all the way to the modern time with those up-to-date words such as "khôngdámđâu" (不敢當 it's not so), "baxạo" (三八 be all mouth), "tầmbậy" (三八 nonsense), "bạtmạng" (拼命 take risky action), "phaocâu" (屁股 chicken's butt as a delicacy), "dêxồm" (婬蟲 lecherous), etc. Pending a substantial proof of a linguistic genetic affinity, these underlined commonalities purposedly raised here are to attempt to establish a relationship of the two languages. They both have long been sharing the common linguistic roots that actually had started hundreds of years before the first Han Dynasty's Chinese invading armies ever set their feet on the then Vietnam's soil. (See more in Appendices)

The historical development of Vietnamese has also seen the adoption of Chinese ways of coining new vocabularies for its own use, especially in creating dissyllabic words, or words that are comprised of two syllables those two-syllable compounds that are made up with meaningful syllables. Just like those of Chinese counterparts, Vietnamese syllables, in most cases, can be used independently with each individual syllable as a word itself with its own meaning. That is, those syllables can be treated as independent words just like the original Chinese characters which have given rise to them.

Throughout this transformational process, addtionally, there exist also composite dissyllabic words, i.e, those words with two syllables of which either or both can not be used as an independent word. In fact, many dissyllabic words have emerged as whole words of one unit which can be used only in their entirety. Those pairs of syllables that make up dissyllabic words have become more dependent on each other to render a whole concept and cannot be further separated into smaller meaningful parts.

In Vietnamese we can easily find composite words formed with those combined syllables. They have permanently become dissyllabic and morphemic in nature, each of which might have lost its original meaning if separated, for example, "càgiựt" (ill-behaved), "càlăm" (stammer), "cùlần" (unworldly), "càmràm" (whining), "lãngnhách" (nonsense), "xíxọn" (talkative), "dưahấu" (water melon), "basạo" (be all mouth), etc ... and numerous other words amounted to the thousands in number.  (See more in Appendix B)

For the matter of proving the dissyllabism in Vietnamese, simply we can randomly pick samplings from multiple pages from a Vietnamese dictionary and they will show that the existing dissyllabic words are accounted for well over two thirds of its contemporary vocabulary altogether. Vietnamese is certainly no longer a monosyllabic language, as a matter of fact, and it has become more and more dissyllabic and polysyllabic in nature. In all, today's Vietnamese vocabulary stock consists of a great number of two-syllable or dissyllabic words has become dominantly one of the main characteristics of present-time Vietnamese, which characterizes the true nature of dissyllabism of the Vietnamese language. Unfortunately, the current Vietnamese romanized dissyllabic words are not clearly and accurately presented because they are actually written in separate syllables with a white space in between.

The implication of this fact is that Vietnamese has transformed itself from simplicity to sophistication, that is, from a monosyllabic to dissyllabic language, vocally, however, its written forms are still in their original state where the romanized words are still in its mirrored imitation of each Chinese character for each syllable. For the matter of scripting forms, we can recall that for the first 60 years or so since the romanized writing system had been put into the official use those dissyllabic words were hyphenated to reflect the fact that the Vietnamese vocabulary stock had evolved from monosyllabic words into dissyllabic words. That was how dissyllabic composite and compound words were written with a hyphen in between in the early days to signify their dissyllabism in their entirety.

However, some Vietnamese linguists have argued that, as a matter of fact, historically, Vietnamese has evolved from polysyllabism to monosyllabism and then finally emerged as dissyllabism -- i.e. containing characteristic of multi-syllabic, uni-syllabic, and bi-syllabic word language, respectively -- thanks to a great deal of influence of Chinese that had exerted directly on the Vietnamese language during a long span of over one thousand years under the Chinese domination in Vietnam's history.

Were Vietnamese originally a polysyllabic language as suggested as such? That could have been the case at certain point of time in history. Vietnamese, since its earlier stage as demonstrated in many earlier form of Nôm scripts, had already had forms of complex consonantal initials and polysyllabics -- containing a characteristic of multi-syllabic words -- just like some other regional languages in the Mon-Khmer language family.

Their viewpoint is notable due to the fact that the Vietnamese language itself might have not been solely a monosyllabic tongue originally. Evidences can be found in the so-called pure Vietnamese lexicons of which the two syllables always go together in pairs, for instance, màngtang (temple), mỏác (crown of the head), đầugối (knee), khuỷtay (elbow), bảvai (shoulder), cùichỏ (elbow), mồhôi (sweat), cùlét (tickle), etc. and one even finds some polysyllabic words such as xấcbấcxangbang (in tatters), bảlápbảxàm (talking nonsense), (gió)heomay (breeze), (ngủ)libì (sleep soundly), (cờ)bayphấtphới (flying flag), (mưa)lấtphất (drizzle), (nhìn)chămbẳm, (nhìn)chằmchặp (gaze steadily), lộnxàngầu (in chaos), mêtítthòlò (totally attracted to), (thở)hồnghộc (breathe shortly), bađồngbảyđổi (temperamental), lộntùngphèo (in chaos), tuyệtcúmèo (it's fabulous), bachớpbanháng (absent-minded), bãithama (graveyard), etc. All of those words plus many others cannot be separated into meaningful separate syllables.

Polysyllabic nature can also be taken into account if a few complex consonantal initials as in bl- of "blời" (the sun), "blăng" (the moon) which had been still in use until the 17th century as recorded in the ancient Nôm characters themselves with two separately written characters and earlier romanized Vietnamese-Latin or Vietnamese-Portugese dictionaries. The case of "blời", "blăng" could have later evolved into "mặttrời" and "mặttrăng" by way of b > m, then m [m] sound became vocalized into "mặt". If this is the case such sound a change is just like the case of "khlong" that had evoled into "khủnglong" (dinosaur) in Chinese. In this specific illustration, in historical phonology, the possibility of bl- to have evolved into a simple consonant retroflex tr- (not completely the same as English complex tr-) is very high. Another possibility is that they were simply dissyllabic words of "mặttrời" and "mặttrăng", but since both compounds were pronounced quickly, those missionaries who heard the contracted form in certain dialects which made the initial sound strings appear as complex consonantal clusters had eventually transcribed them as "blời" and "blăng", respectively!

On the other hand, in a farther path Vietnamese might have evolved from monosyllabism to polysyllabism, then, again, to monosyllabism, and lastly, back to dissyllabism. The reason for this hypothesis is that we can not absolutely ascertain that many "characters" transcribed in the ancient Nôm had actually been polysyllabic words or monosyllabic words started with complex consonantal initials!

At the same time, however, it should be taken into consideration that the patterns that make up those cited words tend to show the developing trend of dissyllabism in nature. The implication of this phonetic development shows that Vietnamese might have evolved from monosyllabism to dissyllabism, that is, from simplicity to sophistication.

The notion of dissyllabism in Vietnamese is also based on the fact that many dissyllabic words are composed of synonymous syllables. This characteristic is opposed to that of monosyllabism of a large number of stand-alone one-syllable words existing in the Vietnamese vocabulary stock.

The very reason for those dissyllabic words having come into existence is that they had been meant to avoid homonyms in monosyllabic words which may mean different things and have become more and more specific and specialized in concrete meanings. The same is true for those modern Chinese dissyllabic words with two synonymous syllables, which have been coined the same way as those of Vietnamese. In fact, today's Vietnamese appears to show clearly that it is a language of dissyllabism in nature as found in this kind of synonymous compounds, that is, many of these words are comprised of two elements, or syllables, which are almost synonymous with each other, e.g., tức|giận (mad/angry), trước|tiên (firstly/initially), cũ|kỹ (ancient/old), kề|cận (by/near), gấp|rút (urgently/quickly)...

Why do all these matters have to do with this Vietnamese language proposed reform? It is further to prove that Vietnamese is solidly a polysyllabic language since it shares all attributes and characteristics of the Chinese language, which is considered largely as a polysyllabic language by most of the world's large research institutes regarding the true nature of Chinese language. This issue appears simple and straightforward, but for some people it is not easy to see that Vietnamese is a dissyllabic language. That is why it is so Chinese about the Vietnamese language, both so intertwined with each other that research on one language would be incomplete without relating to the other.

Back to top

3) Vietnamese: an isolated language? Garbage!

Characteristics of dissyllabic synonymity as described above have somehow misled some specialists of Vietnamese into considering Vietnamese as an isolated language, i.e., structurally both word and sentence compositions are merely made of separate syllables called words. What they might have meant is that Vietnamese is still in its earlier stage of development, which has not fully evolved into a structurally mature language in which word forms change to reflect tenses and cases to indicate time and syntactic relation.

That concept is opposed to that of a composite language, a newly coined concept used in this writing. Composite language indicates a notion parallel to the concepts of inflectional languages where word and sentence structures are based on derivative forms like those used in English. In Vietnamese composite words syllables function as integral components in word formations, not much different from English radicals and affixes, for example, for "vănsĩ" we have "writer", "nghệsĩ" "artist", "quốcgia" "nation", "quốctế" "international", and so on.

We can also treat many Vietnamese composite elements, i.e. "affixes" and "radicals" or roots and suffixes, exactly the same way as what those terminologies mean since they effectively render similar compositions in English since those "affixes" are used as materials to build complete word-concepts. Besides, in Vietnamese we also have particles that make words such as "maulên" "(be) quick", "bànvề" "talk about", "ănđi" "go ahead and eat", adverbs "nhấtlà" "especially", "chonên" "therefore", unique classifier-words such as "bầutrời" "the sky", "quảđất" "the globe", "khuônmặt" "face", "bàntay" "hand", and reduplicatives "bànghoàng" "being stunt", "bồihồi" "sorrowful", "bẻnlẻn" "timidly", "bộpchộp" "hasty", etc. This type of words brings Vietnamese even closer to Chinese than any of the Mon-Khmer family of languages in which no similar connotative structures are found.

For those who have naively said that Vietnamese does not have "grammar" simply because it does not indicate cases and tenses by way of inflectional affixes (a notion that has given rise to the opposite concept of an isolated language), let's point out that "grammar" is what constitutes particular sets of internal rules in a language. In the case of Vietnamese with its composite linguistic charateristic, there also exists is a unique grammatical function that also encompasses the notion of structured sentences which are built with grammatical markers and particles, e.g. "rồi" "already", "sẽ" "will", "đã" "have (in perfect tense)", "bị" (a grammatical form of passive voice), "vìvậy" "therefore", "chodù" (though), "lên", "đi", "thôimà" (particles indicating actions)... As a matter of fact, the way Vietnamese "complete" sentences are built today has been strongly influenced by French grammatical structures. Earlier Vietnamese writings indicate quite clearly how Vietnamese sentences were built. Interestingly enough, until the present time, Vietnamese word orders and senctences are still perfectly legitimately complete with an absence of implied subjects or objects. This syntactical feature is quite relatively unique. It demonstrates that usages of both words and sentences set the "tone" to indicate the exact meanings which composite sentences are supposed to convey. The following examples will give you an idea what all these linguistic composite notions are about:

  1. "Ðã biết vậyrồi saocòn mắcphải?" ("If you've already known so, how come you still did that?"),

  2. "Chodù thếnào đichăngnữa, cònnuớccòntát." ("No matters what, let's give it a best shot.")

  3. "Thậtlà ngu thấyrõ, cơhội đếntay chẳnghiểusao lạiđể vuộtmất?" ("That's really stupid! How could he let that opportunity slip away?"),

  4. "Ănno rồi chỉbiết ngủ thôi. Chả làmnên tíchsự gì! ("He just eats and sleeps, good for nothing!")

The illustrations cited here are those made with connotatively composite structured sentences, where particles play an important role in delivering the intended messages. We can clearly see that the manipulation of words has effectively rendered a particular tone for each sentence, which in turn sets forward the connotative implications of the absence of grammatical subjects, objects, or tenses.

Another way to look at one of the composite characteristics of the Vietnamese language is to examine the following examples of word structures in Vietnamese as in artist = nghệsĩ, singer = casĩ, writer=vănsĩ .... Hypothetically if suffix conventions like -sĩ = -s as that of English -ist, -er, -or..., exist in the Vietnamese language then we will have:

nghệs (artist), văns (novelist), hoạs (painter), nhạcs (musician),

or -gia = -z, then we will have:

tácz (writer), luậtz (lawyer), sángchếz (inventor),

or sự- = s- then we will have:

stình (circumstance), scố (incidence), sviệc (matter), sthể (situation),

or -thuật = -th then we will have:

kỹth (technology), nghệth (arts), math (magic), mỹth (art),

or f- = phi then we will have:

flý (illogical), fquânsự (demilitarized), fnhân (inhuman), fliênkết (non-aliance), fchínhphủ (non-governmental)...

Therefore, -s, -z, s-, -th, f- in a way could be treated as suffixes which can function exactly as those same elements in the English language. The implications of this analogy tell us that Vietnamese vocabularies with composite structures have in parallel some of the derivative characteristics of an inflectional language just like English or French. After all written languages as they appear in present forms are just products of symbolic conventions.

In addition, modern Vietnamese is highly dissyllabic in nature even in those sentences of which single words seem unrelated but they are vocally said as if they were paired syllables in two-syllable words, which are supposed to convey a complete notion along with adverbal particles, for instance:

  1. "Ăn lẹ | cho xong | rồi đi!" ("Finish eating then go!") or 
  2. "Chờ mãi | không thấy | nó tới | tụi nầy | mới đi!" (We have been waiting, but he didn't show up, then we go!)

    Not much particular about that way of saying since that kind of connotatively structured sentences are quite common in Vietnamese daily conversations. In folkloric lyrics, that kind of structurally dissyllabic rythm is quite populous, such as

  3. "Yêu nhau | cởi áo | cho nhau |,

    Về nhà | dối mẹ | qua cầu | gió bay!"

    "To love is to give [my cloth to you] even though I had to tell lies to my mom [that I had lost my outfit because the wind blew it away over the bridge on my way home.]"

In this kind of sentences, all pronouns and tenses are totally implied within the dissyllabic-oriented boundary.

Again, to make this point clear, these connotative composite sentences are not formed simply by just having syllables or words put together as "isolated language theorists" suggested. They are built with composite structures with a series of connotative composite words, or word-concepts, that have synthetically blended together, with or without grammatical markers, to denote the messages clearly enough without being mistaken to whom they are addressed and when actions have taken place.

In a highly inflectional language such as Russian, we have cases, i.e., nominative, accusative, dative..., in which order of words can be shuttled around anywhere in a sentence and the intended meanings do not change and will be understood. In Vietnamese words cannot be manipulated in the same manner, but implications of composite sentences, which are built mostly with composite words, deliver the same message effectively that speakers have in mind to without the need to specifically and explicitly identify any subjective and objective pronouns, or tenses.

That composite words and sentences are impartible syntactical features of the Vietnamese language, spoken casually and naturally by any native speakers on any occasions, makes Vietnamese a composite language, not an isolated one, since the composition of those sentences are not simply a total or combination of individual words. Good examples of "isolated language" sentences are those made by young kids who start picking up the language, any languages, forming childish phrases or sentences by simply assembling separate words without regards to any grammatical or semantic connotations whatsoever.

If you, especially non-native speakers, are still unclear what all these composite concepts are about, it is not surprising because they actually require a good command of Vietnamese of a native speaker's level of fluency to appreciate that kind of connotatively built sentence structures, for now just take our words for that. How many non-native speaking specialists in Vietnamese have ever mastered the Vietnamese language beyond the "isolated" level, seeing only separate syllables in a sentence, to this sophisticated native level of fluency in order to be able to utter that kind of sentences in a natural way as Vietnamese do, let alone just doing superficial researches with a conclusion that Vietnamese is an isolated language? They are all wrong -- garbage in garbage out! Can anyone name the most renown forein-born specialists in Vietnamese who are truely fluent in the language at such native level?

It is time now to remind those who are still tailgating the ideas that Vietnamese is an isolated language, and a monosyllabic one as a result for that matter. This is to further emphasize the urgent need for changing the way Vietnamese is now being written as if it actually were what it has been wrongly labelled all along.

Back to top

4) The politics of polysyllabics:

On the contrary, surprisingly, while the dissyllabic nature of Vietnamese is obvious to most non-native "learners" of Vietnamese, "the specialists" in Vietnamese always get it wrong the first time and keep insisting that it is a monosyllabic language. In studying Vietnamese, foreigners will have to learn not only monosyllabic words but also dissyllabic ones. Mere knowledge of individual syllables may barely help them recognize and pronounce most of available syllables in Vietnamese To be truely proficient in the language they have to study dissyllabic words in their entire form. For them, just simply putting syllables together to form two-syllabe words will not help much in mastering the language. Just like studying Chinese, for non-native speakers, an ability to recognize a supposed minimum of two thousand individual characters doesn't make them intelligently comprehend thousands of other dissyllabic words which are within the range of those characters. Similarly, just like us non-native speakers of the English language, the mere recognition of Latin roots, acquired through knowledge of a Roman language such as French, in this language may give them some clues for meanings of words of the same origin, but surely it is insufficient to master usages of those words. Strictly speaking, we have to learn words in their polysyllabic entirety, not just portions of their radicals or syllables.

The dissyllabic characteristic in Vietnamese can be also easily observed by non-native speakers with a little bit knowledge of the language or linguistics. On listening to a series of complete Vietnamese sentences, they will be able to tell apart the boundaries of words in continuously spoken sound strings as commonly used in daily conversations or news broadcasts. That is because in speech the Vietnamese dissyllabic words are obviously uttered with a pairing pattern in a chained text string. Let's say if X represents a syllable, then their sound patterns will appear to those non-native speakers as something rythmic like XX XX X XX XX X XX.... being said in a continuous manner which shows a clear pattern of unbroken paired sounds.

To Vietnamese speakers, actually, this pairing pattern, configuratively speaking, has long been melodious rythms in their ears through popular poetry and folk songs where paired syllable words are best reflected naturally. Unfortunately, this is not exactly what they look like in writing since Vietnamese words have long been always written separately as X X X X X X X...., syllable by syllable. This way of writing certainly has already obstructed the natural evolution and progress of the Vietnamese language in whole, and, consequently, more importantly, done harms to native young speakers' brain development, as well.

In the past centuries prior to the 20th century, the sole writing form of Vietnamese known before that time had long been the Chinese script itself. The development of Chinese vocabulary has been a referential framework and its vocabularies become the raw materials for creation of new Vietnamese dissyllabic words. Since the 10th century afterwards, the Vietnamese people felt they need to express themselves in colloquial Vietnamese, i.e., its own unique sounds and expressions, so they had created the Nôm scripts, or Vietnamese block writing scripts, by using Chinese characters as sources with some modifications to compose Nôm words.

Around the 16th century when western missionaries came to Vietnam to spread their gospels, they must have encountered difficulties in having had to deal with both Chinese and Nôm scripts at the same time in order to translate their religious bibles into Vietnamese. So it was not a surprise that they had cleverly invented an ealier form of Quốcngữ (the preliminary form of romanized Vietnamese orthography) to serve their preaching purpose. In the process of transcribing Vietnamese speech they had recognized the dissyllabic characteristics of Vietnamese words for which they had inserted hyphens between two syllables of a word to create a dissyllabic word-concept, for instance, gia-đình, đồng-bào, ăn-năn...

As a new romanized writing system began pitching in at the turn of the 20th century, hyphenation in writing dissyllabic words had been the norms and put into active use all the way towards the end of the 1960s. At present time, nevertheless, except for its usage in mostly academic work, most of native speakers write dissyllabic words with their associated syllables separately with a white space in between as we all know. As a result, today's Vietnamese orthography appears illogical and unscientific and no longer reflects the true nature of the spoken language any more.

The fact that with only the existence of a large amount of dissyllabic Sino-Vietnamese compounds such as "tổquốc" (country), "phụnữ" (woman), "giađình" (family), "cộngđồng" (community), etc., plus two-syllable Sinitic-Vietnamese composite and compound words such as "sinhđẻ" (give birth), "dạydỗ" (educate), "lạnhlẽo" (cold), "nhờvã" (depend on)... in addition to such a large number of so-called pure Vietnamese words existing in the language today such as "mặccả" (bargain), "bângkhuâng" (melancholy), "ngọtngào" (gently sweet), "mồcôi" (being an orphan), "hiuquạnh" (deserted and tranquil), etc.... (See more in Appendices) it is more than enough to designate Vietnamese as a dissyllabic language, absolutely so.

In real world, any languages on earth nowadays are downright polysyllabic. It is easy to reach that conclusion because in a monosyllabic language we will have a limited number of vocabularies. How many are there possible combinations of consonants and vowels to create sensible one-syllable words? In the case of Vietnamese a quick calculation can tell us that. At our last count they number at about 24,000 combinations, but not all "sounds" are utilized, for example, tưp, nhửng, cunh, lẻp, phèp, tac, etc... therefore, only an estimate of 12,000 "sounds" appear in today's Vietnamese one-syllable words. If tones are not accounted for as those in the Mon-Khmer language family and let's assume an imaginary "monosyllabic language" exist, that language may have only 6000 one-syllable words to live with. In comparison, in English the total number of meaningful words can reach well over 500,000 terms. Just only in the last two decades alone in the computing field there have been thousands of new words being coined and added to the English vocabulary. So in general, if there still exist a "monosyllabic language on earth", it must have been a dead or a nearly extinct language! We hope this statement will kill the idea that Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language once and for all.

For the purpose of gaining more understanding the dissyllabic characteristics in Vietnamese, we can further compare it with English. In some respect, Vietnamese and English share somewhat similar characteristics in terms of functional radicals, which appear as syllables in Vietnamese. It is nothing new about the English language as a polysyllabic language. However, if we filter out all loanwords of Latin and Greek origins, we will be able to identify a great number of words of Anglo-Saxon origins which will suggest their monosyllabic roots, for instance, "go", "keep", "run", "walk", "eat", "sleep", "morning" (< morn), "evening" (< eve) "before" (be+fore), "forward" (fore+ward)... With those basic vocabularies, we can easily equate pure Anglo-Saxon words to those of "original" Vietnamese lexicons with common monosyllabic characteristics -- comparatively speaking because each cited Vietnamese word below might have had a Chinese origin -- such as "ăn" (吃 eat), "uống" (飲 drink), "đái" (尿 urinate), "ỉa" (屙 to shit), "đi" (去 walk), "đứng" (站 stand)... (See more in Appendix B)

Someone may say we cannot compare the two languages of different kinds, just like oranges and apples, since English is an inflectional language that has the word formation made up of radicals plus affixes such as eater, keeper, walker, sleeper... while Vietnamese is an "isolated language" (again, this is an incorrect notion that needs to be corrected as "a composite language" with the new whole ideas behind this term)? Why not? As we have discussed in the foregoing section, the Vietnamese equivalents to those cited English words above are the solid cases of words such as artist = nghệsĩ, singer = casĩ, writer = vănsĩ , etc., of which, interestingly, "sĩ", "giả", or "gia"... for that matter, cannot be independently used, exactly as in the cases of "er", "ist", "or"... in English! In its history of development the English language has readily absorbed foreign elements and, at the same time, their way of forming compound words has given rise to many compounds such as "therefore", "anybody", "however", "nevertheless", "blackboard", "gunship", "eyebrow", etc. This English word formation is completely the same as the composition of the equivalent Vietnamese compounds of "vìvậy", "bấtcứai", "tuynhiên", "bảngđen", "tàuchiến", "chânmày", respectively.

When we write those English words we never separate them into smaller syllables, but we do so in writing Vietnamese, even though many cut-off syllables of dissyllabic words themselves no longer convey the original meanings as they are originally with associated syllables.

Let's examine a few more of other kind of dissyllabic words of composite nature for illustration: bâng/khuâng, hồi/hộp, mồ/hôi, tai/tiếng, mặc/cả, cù/lét.... (meaning "melancholy", "breathing taking", "sweat", "infamous", "bargain", "tickle", respectively,) and thousands of other words of the same nature. Have you ever wondered what exactly each of those cut-off syllables means in Vietnamese? They, indeed, do not make any sense at all, at least in today's usage. Nevertheless, all of them has been mercilessly broken into separate syllables in writing! These words do have meanings only when they go together in pairs in the combining formation of the associated syllables which make up those words. This significant proof firmly shows that Vietnamese is a dissyllabic language.

If the legitimate designation for a pollysyllabic language is to base on the fact that its vocabulary stock contains a large number of polysyllabic words, then only with the existence of all dissyllabic words of Sino-Vietnamese and Sinitic-Vietnamese of Chinese origins in Vietnamese alone, which are undoubtedly innumerable, we can easily classify it as a dissyllabic language. In any cases, the illogical and unscientific way of writing Vietnamese monosyllabically has incapacitated the normal functions of a multi-syllabic language which can effectively serve as a powerful tool for abstract and collective thinking and data manipulation.

Back to top


As a matter of fact, nothing is new about this proposed reform. In the past several renown Vietnamese scholars such as Lãng-Nhân Phùng Tất-Ðắc (now living England), Trịnh Nhật (Australia), Dương Ðức-Nhự, Ðào Trọng-Ðủ, Phạm Hoàng-Hộ (the later two authors both actually had books published in dissyllabic writing form), and other supporting advocates such as Hồ Hữu-Tường, Nguyễn-Ðình Hoà, Bùi Ðức-Tịnh, etc., had voiced their opinions about the polysyllabic nature of Vietnamese and pointed out shortcomings and weaknesses in the current writing system. However, as time had gone by their viewpoints seemed to have lost in vain during Vietnam's period of the most ferocious wartime in the 20th century.

Fortunately, today's progress in the computing technology and emergence of global internet have given us a new window of opportunities, once again, to raise the ideas of reform by means of the web and in other electronic forms like emails and internet postings to spread the words and to actually experiment a new and better way of writing.

Below are some of other reasons why Vietnamese writing needs a reform as, in fact, have been repetitively pointed out here and there in this paper so far. Here we go again to discuss these matters further more in details, this time to focus on the point that how the replacement of current writing system with the one that conforms with a polysyllabic principle, i.e., writing multi-syllable words in the combining formation, will help process informaton faster and efficiently, both mentally and electronically.

1) The weakest links

The present state of Vietnamese is a result of continuous evolution over the time with some inevitable changes along the way in order to have gained a prominent position as it appears today. As we all may have known, for hundreds of years before the beginning of the last century, the Chinese script had been used to conduct official businesses, record history, and compose literary works. Even though the Nôm script was created to transcribe the Vietnamese language, but its limited usage had been confined virtually within literary circles only. It seemed natural having been that way before because, historically speaking, there used to exist a belief, that might be true, that Chinese and Vietnamese both are descendants from the same Sino-Tibetan languistic family instead of the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family as suggested by some new theories initiated by André Haudricourt 50 years ago or so.

So, alas, one would say, our language is seen as not genetically affiliated with Chinese and now we even have our own script of even more superior romanized orthography, so why should we be bothered with the long-gone past? Some others may also argue that spoken languages might have changed phonologically over the time, but their writing system needs not to change at all, for example, English having been spoken differently to a certain degree from its actual spellings and still survived all turmoil times anyway. Predictably, they would say the need for the Vietnamese writing reform does not exist and is not an urgent and necessary matter anymore.

Just a quick look at some of opponents' anti-reform reasons will reveal that none appears substantial. (See some pro and con debates in Bìnhluận về "Sửađổi Cáchviết TiếngViệt" - Vietnamese Forum) This kind of resistance to change will appear in force for sure as in any reforms, but it seems to come mostly from some conservative wings other than from those who appreciate and understand the core matter of reform with an abstract and collective perspective.

For such large magnitude of reform with its far reaching impact on society, anticipation of such resistance to reform is not hard to foresee. One could imagine centuries ago how strong the resistance had been from an opposing camp of elderly scholars against those Nôm innovators who had broken traditonal roles to go about their own business in recording sounds of the past. The Nôm reformers had surely been rediculed for their ideas of advocating an unconventional forms of writing un-Chinese characters which were regarded so sacred by those diehard Vietnamese confucianists.

Their comrades in arms in our contemporary time are also having all the very same reasons for not reforming. They will probably fight to their death to preserve the backward way of writing as we are having today. It is oddly enough for us just to imagine in the next hundred years down the line our descendants would wonder how could we still have had such a retrograde writing system having been in use until the 21st century? The opponents argued that writing reform will create chaos in many related areas. This short view on this matter has obstructed a broader sight of many more long term benefits that associate with the writing reform.

Go out and ask any reform opponents and they may be able to give you enough reasons for not going with the reform and you will find out that their excuses are mostly unsubstantial and more sentimental ones. Someone would say the new way of writing does not look good and people will be confused and misunderstood. The first reason seems so subjective and the latter certainly unfounded. This change-resistant mentality and reserved attitudes towards reform are the weakest links in the progressive chain where all destructive harms, such as backwardness in sciences and lack of an ability to think abstractly and collectively among our children and monolingual adults alike, break in with full force.

Of course, if we wish to realize a radical reform, we can revolutionize a new way of writing by revamping the whole existing system completely to include cases of "derivatives" and even eliminate the diacritical marks being utilized in the current Vietnamese orthography altogether once and for all.

However, that is not exactly what this proposal is all about. If that kind of total reform succeeds learners of Vietnamese as a second language will welcome it whole-heartedly. They will find it easier to learn only full concepts in their whole logical and meaningful entities presented as completely formed words instead of those individually written with separate syllables. Specifically for this matter it is obvious with Vietnamese classifiers, for instance, "con đường" (road), "bầu trời" (the sky), "quả đất" (the globe)... "con" goes together with "đường", "bầu" with "trời", and "quả " with "đất". Non-native learners would not wonder again why sometimes we use the classifiers "con-", "sự-" and sometimes "bầu", or "quả"... They may ask why we couldn't simply just use one classifier "con" or "cái" for everything for the sake of convenience? Of course, we could not get rid of them since this is one of the main characteristics that makes up our language. Interestingly enough, if those words are to be written in combining formation, e.g., "conđường", "bầutrời", "quảđất"... that subtlety will be resolved beautifully since each concept-word is presented in its entirety and wholeness.

Indeed, there are not so many classifiers in Vietnamese, but it is because the way all those classifiers are cut off from their accompanied words fails to indicate clearly which classifier should go with which word. Our illogical way of writing has confused them greatly. This is also another reason to be taken into reforming consideration because Vietnamese classifiers are the ones among major characteristics that set the Vietnamese language apart from others in the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic languistic family distinctively. In the meanwhile, Chinese, a neighboring language associated closely with the Vietnamese language in most aspects, is recognized as a polysyllabic, or dissyllabic for this matter, language, so with all the similarities the two languages share Vietnamese should be considered as a polysyllabic one.

As a matter of fact, our actual goal of reforming today's Vietnamese writing system is not of the matter of convenience for foreigners to study the language or for similar insubstantial reasons. We also do not advocate reform with total changes in transforming modifiers and classifiers in the Vietnamese current writing system into suffixes, e.g., -s, -z, f-, con-, sự- etc. or dropping diacritical marks altogether and the like.

What has been discussed so far is all about the inaccuracy in the current transcription of dissyllabic words in Vietnamese, which has been unfaithfully scribed and shouldn't be so because that is not precisely the way dissyllabic words are spoken in real world. That is, in spoken Vietnamese, pairs of syllables in dissyllabic words are vocally delivered only in one complete utterance of chained sounds with each word pronounced continuously as a whole unit.

So, why are the words broken apart in writing? Someone would say it is because of our habit, and using a language is a habit, so it is best to go with the norms. Also, the way we write Vietnamese now has been understood and widely used by all people from North to South, all books from the old days till now being printed in the monosyllabic form, all street signs being written as such, etc. Changes would only complicate the matters even worse. The newly suggested combining forms do not make the scriptings look pleasing to the eyes aesthetically. The dissyllabic words written in combining formation are difficult to read and write, costly to implement and so on.

We must recognize that the way we are now scribing the Vietnamese language as if it were monosyllabic and "isolated" in its current writing form is apparently unscientific and illogical and that relects a retrograde mindset of us as native speakers of Vietnamese! We all may feel indignant at that statement, but unfortunately, it is the truth, yet that still seems to be an understatement.

Let's get some concensus and capitalize on the shortcomings and weaknesses of the current writing system so that we all can understand the matter fully. Only then we altogether will be able to find acceptable ways to reform it accordingly. If we let this matter go its own way, the natural development of the current writing system will be the avoidance of the reform matter altogether and that will do more harms than good. We must understand that the worst are those invisible harms through the way we perceive things with only monosyllabic materials in our brain. If our people continue thinking the same old way, we are indeed fortifying an already formed gene ready to pass down to the next generations. Inevitably, years after years, this biological condition will mold our youngsters' brains knowing to think only in concrete terms, unsuitable for forming abstract and collective thoughts. In the real world all high achievers and performers later in life seem to point to those kids who have been well equipped a polysyllabic foreign language started in an earlier age. (See more in Ngônngữ và Trítuệ  - Language and Intelligence - by Nguyễn Cường)

Let's ask ourselves the question: why do we have to write our language in an inferior way while we are having all the capacities on earth to do that in a better way? Answer this question in honesty and compare all possible benefits and disadvantages with regard to writing reforms, then you will be able understand one of the pressing reasons why changing the current monosyllabic writing system into a polysyllabic one is better course for the country to follow.

Again, it is no doubt that the current writing system of Vietnamese is not adequate enough in its express form to reflect the true nature of dissyllabic words as they are delivered in paired sounds in real time to denote the whole, complete, and unique concepts. Once we accept the fact that the way we write now is inadequate for modern needs, then we should look into this matter seriously with an open mind and devise a way to fix it.

Back to top

2) The other pictures

Let's take a look over our shoulders to see what our culturally close neighbors have done about that matter.

China, in the past, had very much wanted to change her block writing system into a Latin-based script, but due to certain peculiar and understandable circumstances the Chinese could not implement their ambitious plan. One of main reasonings for not implementing the script reform was that the the early ill-conceived romanization of the Chinese National Putonghua (also known as Mandarin) comprised of so many Chinese homonymous characters written separately as their block counterparts which are simply homophones for that matter. If the Chinese characters were to be romanized then the confusion caused by those homonyms would be worse than the way it had been written in block characters before.

As a matter of fact, Chinese and Vietnamese share so many phonological similarities and the Vietnamese language has been successfully romanized, so can the Chinese language. The Chinese could not do so in the past was simply because they had not seen correctly the polysyllabism of their language. In addition, they also had problems of literacy in general population to deal with. Until the Pinyin system was adapted and fully put into practice in the late 1970s, then came the information age and they had to rush with that pressing matter of computerization where a new coding scheme for the block scriptings was born and they were stuck with them since then.

Historically, interestingly enough, in the past those missionaries who went to China at approximately the same period of time and for the same purpose as those missionaries who came to Vietnam had completely failed to catch on the Chinese with a new romanized writing system. What was the reason? Again, one of the main reasons was that they failed to recognize Chinese as a polysyllabic language. At that time the notion of "polysyllabism" was still outlandish and irrelavant even to the minds of Chinese linguists who were so used to the way block Chinese characters are separately written. In their contacts with western linguistic ideas they were told Chinese was a monosyllabic, so nobody had ever figured out a better way to transcribe the language. When they, both western missionaries and Chinese linguists, transcribed Chinese characters with Latin letters they had created so many homonyms by having transcribed syllables of each word individually, that had certainly caused great confusions to Chinese native believers and leaners. They might have succeded if they had written dissyllabic Chinese words in combining formation or at least with a hyphen in between dissyllabic words as they had done with the Vietnamese orthography! Additionally, the failure to have the Chinese romanized writing system reformed can be explained that it is probably that deep inside the Chinese subconsciousness with over 5000 years of history since the emergence of their "Middle-Kingdom" state, the same writing system of the language has been used extensively by the Chinese people one after another generation. In other words, it has become the soul of their nation.

In the 1960s when Mao Zedong was still alive, he actually had had a plan to reform the Chinese writing system into that of romanization. However, he had been so fond of enjoying ancient Tang poems that he became so reluctant to do so. Needless to say, he was the only one in modern China's history who could have done this kind of reform, but failed.

For China, the golden opportunity has long passed and history will probably not repeat again. Instead, China has already put forward the standardization of the Latinized writing called "Pinyin" for formal use in transcribing the putonghua into Latin letters as we often see words such as "Beijing" or "Guangdong" in news media instead of "Peking" or "Canton". Only until then, interestingly enough, in doing so they recognize polysyllabic nature of their language by writing all polysyllabic words in pinyin in combining formation.

Similarly, for the Japanese language, the matter of writing reform had also encountered unfomadable obstacles met by the Chinese in the attempt to Latinize their putonghua. As a matter of fact, the Japanese language contains even more homonyms if they were to be romanized! For example, when the Japanese transcribe "do" in Romanji, which is variably represented in 104 different Chinese characters, but in Japanese those words are pronounced almost the same. In the meanwhile, this "do" can be written in Vietnamese equivalents not only as "đông", "đôn", "độc", "độn", "đồn", "đốc", "đống", "động", "đồng" but also as "não", "náo", "thuỷ", "bách", "câu", "điện", "viễn", "thời", "nỗ", etc... As a result, the Japanese had had to settle by having added two more national phonetic scripts into the current writing system, that is, Katagana and Hiragana, respectively. These systems are used in parallel to the long adapted Chinese Kanji characters in their writing system, for one, to transcribe western words and, for the other, to scribe peculiar Japanese polysyllabic sounds.

That is not to say the writing system of those two countries have not been reformed. They have done it in a special way, that is, the traditional Chinese characters used in these two countries have undergone a great deal of simplification and the block character-based script is written from left to right horizontally as officially mandated. In short, Japan and China wanted very much to change their current writing systems and they have implemented a partial reform of their writing systems though it has not been completely romanized as they had initially planned.

Here is an interesting question worth mentioning: supposedly those two large countries in East Asia had succeeded in reforming their writing systems with romanization, do you think their existing sciences and technology and economy would have advanced much more than what they have actually achieved thus far today? It is certainly so. If that were the case, they might have achieved much more advancement in those areas than they are having today!

A fair explanation for that reason is that if their writing had been converted to romanization earlier, popular education for over one billion people in China must have been quickly widespread and more successful and the process of computerization in informatics might have picked up speed faster and farther. There is no need to say final results would have been positive results for the economy of both nations. In fact, the way that the Chinese writing system is being used in these two countries had caused many obstacles in the process of industrial modernization in the 80's of the last century. For now, it seems too late for them to return to starting points to undo things because their present Chinese writing systems have been fully integrated into the process of computerization in most areas. If any new writing reforms were going to occur in those two nations anytime soon, the earliest timeline would be in the range of a hundred year unit.

Someone will suggest that Taiwan also has been completely using the traditonal Chinese writing system all along the way since 1949 and that it has been able to achieve remarkable progresses in the field of computing technology. That is right, but it is still lagging behind Japan and, as a matter of fact, its advancement in that field has been accomplished not through the Chinese language, but by means of using English as a medium in information processing.

Here arises another argument: reforming writing system is, supposedly, to progress technologically, but in the case of North Korea, the Chinese writing has been completely replaced by Korean national writing system and that her people have been still living in backwardness. In the meanwhile, South Korea has become undeniably one of the most developed countries in the world; yet, it is still using Chinese characters in its writing system without the need for writing reform.

In fact, the richness of Chinese vocabulary in the Korean language is an integral part of Korean, a unique characteristic of that language -- just like the roles of Sino- and Sinitic Vietnamese vocabularies in Vietnamese -- which has been used by the people of S. Korea who recognize the existence of Chinese elements in their language. In the meanwhile N. Korea had totally eliminated the use Chinese characters in its writing system, which might, otherwise, have helped this nation tap in and grow along with the advancement in Chinese information technological fields all the way as they were developed and implemented in its neighboring allied country.

Someone may also argue that today English is a de facto computing technological medium for data processing which has enabled not only Taiwan, S. Korea, Japan, and China to have achieved remarkable advancement in their information industries -- today China is one of a few countries that have the capacity of sending commercial satellites into the space and she is planning to send her astronauts into... the moon in the next decade!-- but also the western countries such as Germany, France, or any other countries for that matter. Therefore, a latecomer like Vietnam who is still trying to catch in the latest development in computing fields may actually only need to focus solely on utilizing technological English language tools to advance rather than wasting time reforming her own writing system. In the end, Vietnam will still use technical English anyway to process information. English has becoming so dominant a world's language that it will be the key to open all the technological doors, so what is the point for doing differently?

That is a good argument, but not all countries which use English as an official language are able to achieve the same advanced scientific progress, for instance, India, the Philippines, Suriname and Jamaica, to name a few.

It is interesting to note that it is not a coincidence that all developed countries including Singapore, S. Korea , Malysia, Thailand... are those which have gone through language reforms. An overall characteristic of those reforms is that those countries have recognized the existence of polysyllabic words in their languages and that has helped faciliate overall process of computerization.

How is about Vietnam? What do you think of Russia and the Russian language or French and the French language? How is it about the long-gone Roman Empire and the Latin language?

Vietnam would say that it has done that before for the Vietnamese language, for example, many scientific terminologies have been stadardized such as "ốcxíthoá", "cạcbônnát", "canxum", "nitrơát", or the long "y" dropped for short "i", etc. However, obviously this kind of minute "reform" has done more harms than good. What we all have seen is the inferior writing forms has taken place of superior ones, adding unnecessary confusion and burden on learners to study to different sets of lexicons at the same time.

However, inside Vietnam today a prevailing tendency in handling foreign proper names and nouns is to keep original spellings in writing. For fairly educated Vietnamese speakers, with no knowledge of English, in fact, they can still pronounce adequately an approximate sound of foreign and English words employed in Vietnamese texts.

The retention of original foreign spelling practice has been in an opposing position against an approach that has been offically adopted as a mandate until the late 1980's that required all foreign proper names be spelled out in Vietnamese orthography, such as "Oátsingtơn" (Washington), "Ốxtơrália" (Australia), "Nícơxơn" (Nixon)... As we can see that way of transcription should be not used at all simply because of the approximate closeness in Vietnamese way of pronouncing foreign spellings which can be mimicked vocally by monolingual individuals. For the purpose of popular education, keeping original proper names will additinally help native speakers acquaint themselves with foreign spellings to go about daily business efficiently. Nevertheless, for those foreign words that have long been completely localized such as xàphòng (soap, from French savon), kem and càrem (ice cream, from French crème), càphê (coffee, from French café), free, sale, ápphe (affair, French affaire), xinê (movies, from French cinéma) and so on, of course, they should not be changed at all. (See more in Appendix A)

Back to top

3) Polysyllabic writing fosters an ability to think abstractly and collectively

As we all have seen, only a few of us who have been lucky enough to have acquired a second or a third foreign language such as English or French are mostly the ones who can function fairly well with a higher degree success in academic and scientific fields, all requiring abstract and collective thinking skills. That ability must have been results of a cognitive process after a long period of training in academic disciplines, which has effectively molded our brain to work and see things that way.

In fact, the capabilities of thinking abstractly and colectively have helped us achieve successes in many other aspects of lives as well. We can safely assume that the process of acquiring second language, a polysyllabic one such as English, is one of major disciplines that has brought us these skills. Those, assumably, who have been left out of this intellectual circle, in every sense of it, including the economically disadvantaged, are the poor souls whose language skills have been limited monolingually with "monosyllabic" Vietnamese. Unfortunately, those people constitute a majority of overall population. Can our country progress with a large number of individuals whose brains barely function in a limpo state of mind? Think about that over and over again and you will recognize how urgent a reform is needed for the present state of Vietnamese writing system!

Anybody who knows German is well aware of the fact that the way its nouns are written appears to be the most lengthy ones among those of any other Indo-European languages, for example, Informationssystemverarbeitung (information system processing), Aufwiedersehen (see you again), Recherchemöglichkeiten (possibility research), Datenbanken (data bank), Betriebwirschaft (economic management), etc. It does not matter how long a word is, the Germans accept it as one complete word conceptually. Please note that all nouns are started with the first letter being capitalized, which may unexpectedly signify a break and also serve as the beginning of a long text string, which further fortifies the symbolistic effects of those long polysyllabic compounds. That fact implies that the Germans are highly capable of seeing things abstractly and collectively.

Contrarily, we are accustomed to seeing things in minute details, a mindset that tends to associate abstract concepts with concrete objects, individually and sentimentally. For example, we often hear among ourselves boasting that how beautiful our language is, each syllable represents and triggers an object visually and depicts a picturesque perception of a word (actually a syllable for this matter) in our mind, or how orderly our language shows with regard to social hierarchy, etc., when we should call a person by name, by title, by seniority, or by rank, etc., (in this case consider India's social classes which are still in existence!), while in many other languages, including Chinese (that used to be the same as ours for this matter), all first and second person addresses are abstracted to "I, you" in English, "wo, ni" in mandarin, or "je, tu" ("moi", "toi" and "vous") in French. It is so not because in other cultures people do not know how to respect others to address them accordingly, but because their languages have transcended, not descended, to higher abstract degree for this matter.

No matter how good our excuses are for refusing to accept that reasoning, our way of thinking, unfortunately, has incapacitated our ability to think abstractly. From the early ages when we first learned how to write our language, our teachers and parents had taught us how to recognize the relationship between spellings and sounds, but focused only on practicing how to spell out vocally syllables individually and separately. This method of teaching syllabic spellings to those youngsters 50 years ago still remains the same for our post-war newborn generations! Among us some of those who have been elementary teachers in American schools, they may have known too well about this fact: spelling curricula to teach "American" young kids to learn how to spell have been in constant changes in methodology for the last twenty years every year!

Configuratively speaking, we Vietnamese were trained to distinguish trees, but not to see a whole forest. The Americans do not teach their children that way, neither do the Frenchmen, nor the Chinese for that matter.

It seems that nobody pays attention to an agonizing fact that that limpo mental legacy has been passed down one generation after another. We all have failed to utilize our writing system properly as a powerful tool to condition our abstract and collective thinking abilities since our early age and continued to implant this retrograde mindset in our youngsters' brain and still feel proud of it!

Human beings cannot think without languages. Which language tool currently in use now, no matter how inferior it is, is the only option our kids have and learn to live with. In other words, chances are that those monolingual souls will grow up knowing to think things one syllable at a time.

It is undoubtedly that an ability to think things abstractly and collectively is important in many aspects of life. It is the keys to success in many areas, including mathematics, sciences, academics, or economics. We all were not born with this special skill; it partly depends on language training, a multifacet tool that will help people think and reason logically. Worse yet, an already badly-formed monosyllabic "gene" from previous generations is ready to pass down to the next ones.

A bad tool will certainly affect final products. A better polysyllabic language tool will trigger children' brains to develop differently for the better. Reading and writing Vietnamese texts scripted in polysyllabic formation would help children develop and enhance that special ability for sure. They will benefit greatly from seeing concrete and abstract concepts alike only in shapes and symbols rather than in dismembered syllabic spellings. 

The Koreans have recognized this matter as we see in their Korean block writing system, being utilized in both of Korea's own national script and the adapted Chinese characters. They put polysyllabic characters in distinct groups for each concept-word, for instance, "hyundai" = "hiệnđại" (modern), "Dongnama" = "ÐôngnamÁ" (Southeast Asia), "fanghuo" = "phònghoả" (fire prevention), "phónghoả" (set fire), "Kori" =  "Caoly" (Korea), "kamsamida" = "cảmtạ(mi)" (thank you)... If X stands for any Korean block character, you will see that Korean words all appear as XX XXX XX XX as four, not nine, concept-words. That scientific way of writing reflects true nature of spoken words -- and the Koreans' collective mindset as well -- and naturally they are processed faster mentally and in many areas of data processing. The Chinese do not write that way but their highly symbolistic characters are put one after another which will render somewhat the same effect. The Thai writing system does the same with its chained scripts written with no interuptive spacing. In other words, "seeing one catching all" is the idea behind polysyllabic ways of writing.

Writing reform is necessary but not enough, of course, to expect seeable achievements in any technological progress, which is only a premise for overall economic development. Of course, simply staging a language reform is not enough to create favorable conditions for advancement in other areas, but, at least changes in our current writing system will meet rising and immediate needs in the computing fields such as data processing or online translation. Certainly polysyllabic writing reform will help a great deal in those areas.

Let go back to the German example of "Informationssystemverarbeitung". For only the mere shape of this word a German speaker will catch the meaning of it, let's say, in a "nanosecond". Nobody is going to spell out syllables contained in that word mentally in order to understand what it means. However, with the current writing as "xử lý bằng hệ thống truyền thông" a Vietnamese brain will process in 7 "nanoseconds" or more! That is to say a Vietnamese speaker will first have to recognize 7 different shapes of the separately-written syllables. After these syllables have been perceived in his or her brain, only then that person will be able to form 4 different concept-words, and lastly he or she will be able to combine those words together to finalize the concept-phrase collectively to comprehend the meaning! In other words, it will take longer than necessary through several cognitive phases before the message come through our brain!

If we have to translate and write this concept-word the same way as it is written in German as "xửlýbằnghệthốngtruyềnthông" (processed in 1 nanosecond!) then, seemingly at first, it may be still an overkill and an annoyance to a Vietnamese speaker's eyes even though that should be the right way to do. Let's temporarily go for "xửlý bằng hệthống truyềnthông" (processed in 4 nanoseconds.) and we can continue to apply the same pollysyllabic principle for hundreds of other similar words.

If the new polysyllabic writing system were in place now, when our eyes scan of a line of text in a page, we will be able to recognize less word-shapes, but our brain will process more information at an even faster speed! Do you need more explanation about this fact? If so, your brain may be still working at the pace of one syllable at a time. It needs more language, a polysyllabic one, training then, sorry!

We have come to the conclusion that writing the way words are spoken, or the "natural way", as it should be will result in recognizing and processing concept-word-phrases faster than the way syllables of those words are written separately. Readers will not spend more time than necessary to decipher each syllable before combining them to form a word in order to understand what that after-assembled concept-phrase means. In this sense, the "composite" polysyllabic way of writing with Latin letters will similarly render the same symbolistic effects as that of an ideographic writing system, which enable us to think abstractly and collectively.

Of course, not all those nations which use the same Latin scripts to write their languages mostly think the same way. Since we are the ones who are still using monosyllabic inferior spellings, we have not made the full use of this language tool in an effective way. Let's think who else on earth is in the same boat with us? Gotcha! They are the Hmongs -- combined form of polysyllabic words appear sparingly in their writing, though -- and some other aborginal peoples living in Vietnam's Central highland who have inherited our orthography devised specially for them modeled on the existing Vietnamese system. They write the same way as we do! So we have found companions who do think the same.

Let's go back to the bamboo analogy. It seems that we are very good at distinguishing a bamboo tree in front of our front yard from another one around a corner of our village road or even a unique one in a bamboo forest. What is all the fuss about this matter? Do you still remember the reason why we are still having so many problems in the area of simple computing technology? We do not have computers that use the same font scheme system, can do spelling check correctly, or even sort our name or data lists in alphabetical order, let alone can they translate simple English websites.

The writing system we are using now is only a rather new invention with still lots of rooms for improvement. Do not take it at the bare value just as it has been passed down to us from the original inventors and treat it as something nationally sacred; it is simply a means to communicate through a set of symbolic convention. Nothing will prevent us from changing it and making it serve us better. If the new better writing convention based on the pollysyllabic principle is to be created and put into use, that will be the one that we should value and treasure, not the imperfect system that we are having now.

For such a change, we, in fact, do not advocate an extremist approach for reform such as implementing the cases of suffixes -s (-ist, -er..) for "sĩ", -z (-ist, -er..) for "gia", or s- (-tion, -ity, -ance..) for "sự", but we only suggest that everybody gives up a little bit of habit and practice to write Vietnamese the new way with polysyllabic principle -- simply combining all syllables of a word in writing, mostly two, to make it a complete word for the whole concept.

Back to top

4) Accuracy facilitates data processing

One needs not to understand how badly a Vietnamese database structure has been currently built based on existing linguistic logic, such as what redundant attributes of data fields or how lengthy and complicated algorithms are needed to process behind a fairly workable online dictionary or language translation engine, to see an urgency for the need of the new polysyllabic Vietnamese writing system.

With tons of information to be processed daily on a nationwide scale, it is much more effective for us to visually scan strings of words as a series of symbols by quickly recognizing only shapes of concept-words other than to have to mentally decipher individually syllabic spellings of each word.

Specifically, let's say, when one catches the shape of the word "international" he or she does not need to spell it out as in-ter-na-tion-al in order to absorb the meaning that symbolistic text string conveys. At first glance the shape of that word immediately yields in the meaning of the word right away, which is somewhat like taking a glimpse of a picture or a Chinese ideograph. The same effect applies to its derivatives "internationalization", "internationalism", "international imperialism", "internationale"... as well. At the glimpse of the similar shapes of those words our brain processes the information, undoubtedly, at the same speed as that of the word "international" because those "pictures" are closely associated with symbolic conventions similar to the original radical, that is, some new affixes are attached to the derived words to carry extended meanings.

This hypothesis, of course, convinces us to believe that speed of processing of the same concepts is much faster than what a Vietnamese speaker sees in the Vietnamese equivalents written in their current orthography: " quốc tế", quốc tế hoá", "chủ nghĩa quốc tế", " chủ nghĩa đế quốc quốc tế" và "thế giới đại đồng"... If we change to a new polysyllabic way of writing as "quốctế", quốctếhoá", "chủnghĩaquốctế", " chủnghĩađếquốc quốctế" và "thếgiớiđạiđồng"... our brain will get accustomed to the new symbolic shapes and later on it will certainly process the information at a much faster speed.

In terms of space saving, a computer's microprocessor, as a result, will work at a much higher speed with efficiency and accuracy than a human brain for sure. Let's say "chủnghĩaquốctế" will save 3 bytes of spaces for a computer's memory and a Vietnamese electronic speller will work faster and accurately without the ambiguity of mistaking "chủ nghĩa" with "chu nghĩa", or "chú nghĩa", which can actually fool the computer as legitimate words because those individual syllables exist in the Vietnamese language as independent words as well.

The same idea applies well to a database structure where algorithms for translating "chủnghiãquốctế" are as simple and straightforward as "internationalism". The electronic translator does not have to scan a database passing "chủ nhà? chủ tiệm? chủ chứa? chủ trương? chủ ý? chủ trì? chủ quan?" ... bla bla bla..., and all the words started with "chủ" in Vietnamese, before hitting "chủ nghĩa" and then continue to look for "quốc tế" after scanning many other words started with "quốc" such as "quốc hồn", "quốc tuý", "quốc gia"..., and then it has to search for the right "combination" after filtering out "chủ nghĩa cá nhân? chủ nghĩa công sản? chủ nghĩa xã hội? chủ nghĩa cơ hội? chủ nghĩa bành trướng?"... bla bla bla... since there is only one "chủnghiãquốctế" for "internationalism" to process!

In terms of saving paper, or trees for that matter, as a result of eliminating unwanted white spaces between syllables of respective words, we would save even more money than those bits and bytes in a computer's memory for an estimate of 5 to 10 percent. Consequently, printed books would become even more with 5 to 10 percent less expensive.

This language reform, in a way, will practically benefit the overall development in areas of science and technology, which undoubtedly will, in turn, effect the nation's economy -- this can be considered as the core of the reform matter as a Vietnamese saying goes, "có thực mới vực được đạo", loosely meaning "no eat no say". 

Back to top


1) Polysyllable correctness

Before any changes or reform of the existing writing system of Vietnamese to be implemented, some other related cultural factors should also be considered, addressed, and resolved. No matter how controversial certain arguments are, we have to accept certain facts, then let's start working from there using them as starting points. 

Firstly, most languages borrow vocabularies from languages of more advanced countries and, in the case of Vietnamese, there exist a great number of Chinese loanwords. Let's not shy away from the matter when it comes to the fact that many among us, biologically, might have been mutations of that Vietnamese-Chinese mixture. The same reasoning can be applied to the language aspect.

Secondly, our language shares most of characteristics that the Chinese language does have. This should not come to us a a shock as some people, especially those of younger generations who have intensively been exposed to Western cultural contacts since the second half of the last century, naively believe that Vietnamese was born out of both Chinese and French wedlocks. As a matter of fact, there are as few of French words as those of the Mon-Khmer languages in our language (See more in Appendix A). 

With all the attributes that are so similar to those of Chinese, Vietnamese carries all traits that the Chinese language has, including that of dissyllabism. The implication of this fact is that at present time Chinese is a major language that has been extensively researched by many large universities around the world and their Chinese experts mostly have reckoned that modern Chinese is a polysyllabic, or, to be exact, dissyllabic language. Given the Chinese loanword factor in Vietnamese alone, it is enough to constitute Vietnamese a dissyllabic language which is the driving force behind this proposed reform.

Regarding Chinese elements in Vietnamese, a few people have raised up an idea of elimination of those Chinese influence on Vietnamese. If that would be the case, what would have been left in the Vietnamese language? A huge hole in the vocabulary stock and in the culture of Vietnam.

There have been also people who had advocated compaigns of "keeping the Vietnamese language pure" or "giữgìn sựtrongsáng trong tiếngViệt" with the purpose of replacing the use of some Sino-Vietnamese words with those of considered "pure" Vietnamese, for example, "máybay" (airplane) for "phicơ", hence its compound "máybay lênthẳng" (helicopter) for "máybaytrựcthăng", "tênlửa" (rocket) for "hoảtiển", sânbay (airport) for "phitrường"... Ironically, they might have not been aware that "máybay", "tênlửa", or "sânbay"... all have Chinese roots, too!

What if we are to replace the Sino-Vietnamese words that are used to denote sexual organs and notations such as "bộphận sinhdục", "âmhộ", "dươngvật", "giaocấu" by those pure Vietnamese words? It is good to know that the existence of Sino-Vietnamese words in Vietnamese vocabulary hase their rightful place. Just like Latin or Greek roots in English, Sino-Vietnamese words -- many of which have evolved into those of Sinitic-Vietnamese -- undeniably have enriched the Vietnamese language in every conceivable aspects. That is not to mention most of the gammatical functional markers, or "hưtự" such as "và", "dù", "sỡdĩ", "nếu", "nhưng" and so on, being in used in Vietnamese are all of Chinese origins. In other words, one can not complete a Vietnamese sentence without ever using a word of Chinese origin. Therefore, staging a new Vietnamese writing reform should not be not overkill -- don't kill the messengers!

In the evolution of Quốcngữ, since its birth until this day, the Vietnamese writing system has gone through numerous changes and modifications in orthography and spellings. In the second half of the last century till these days, the Vietnamese orthography has been fairly stable without much changes.

Thanks to this stable condition, when we analyze Vietnamese written words with their actual pronunciation, without taking into consideration of what those words were actually spoken in the old days, today's Vietnamese orthography gives us an overview that shows a few traceable relative changes in its historical phonology. For example, "thu" is written as such, but, in reality, it is pronounced as /t'ou/, but not /t'u/, "không" as /k'ongw/, but not /k'ong/, "hộc" as /hokw/ but not /hok/, "ti" as /tei/ but not /ti/; however, "tin" is pronounced as /tin/, but not /tein/, etc... If Northern, Central, and Southern accents are also taken into consideration, today's Vietnamese spellings may no longer accurately reflect the original sounds as they were originally transcribed.

It is not surprising to have that assumption given the fact that language has been always in state of continuously evolving and changing if those creators of "Quốcngữ" had accurately transcribed the sounds of words as they were actually spoken in a certain place and at a certain time in the past.

However, minor changes in Vietnamese phonology have not greatly caused notable shifts in Vietnamese spellings in comparison with those of English, a language that has undergone tremendous changes vocally to the point that in a great number of cases their pronunciation has steered away from original spellings.

With this point of view in mind, in the first stage of this reform campaign, we shall not completely revamp of the Vietnamese orthography for the purpose of transcribing words to match respective sound precisely, but only to focus mainly on how to write polysyllabic and dissyllabic words correctly as they are spoken. This kind of reform will expectedly bring us many beneficial returns eventually as earlier mentioned.

In proceeding to realize this writing reform, therefore, we do not need to wait any longer. Any further research on the dissyllabic nature of the Vietnamese language may be needed to further authenticate the validity of the issue of dissyllabism, but that should not be a premise or condition for an action to proceed reform. Sometimes with just a little bit of common sense, one can realize that a large number of Vietnamese words are mostly composed of two syllables.

If you are still in doubt, for now, let's simply accept the fact that since a large number of dissyllabic Sino- and Sinitic-Vietnamese words exist in the Vietnamese language, in addition to a few hundred French and English loanwords in its lexicon (See more in Appendix A), it is more than enough to designate Vietnamese as a polysyllabic, or to be exact, dissyllabic language.

Back to top

2) Setting the mindset 

As we have discussed this far, the most logical description of characteristic of Vietnamese is that it is undeniably a polysyllabic language.

The last poets on earth have pointed out that if we proceed reforming Vietnamese by writing dissyllabic words in their combining formation we will destroy the structural rules for composing poems in "lụcbát" (a form of Vietnamese national poetry written in six and eight syllable line patterns) or "songthấtlụcbát" (written in a pair of seven syllable lines then followed by six and eight syllable line patterns) or thấtngônbátcú (written in seven syllables in each of a total of eight lines), etc., which would no longer reflect the true melodic rythm in poetry (do you still remember the story of Mao Zedong who was so obssessed with the Tang poetry?)

In reality this matter is not difficult to solve because when one composes Vietnamese poems he or she may want to chose either to write the old way or to go with the new way. In poetry what actually counts is sounding syllables, not visually written syllables. For this matter, poerty is an art and arts usually can go their own way freely.

Vietnamese writing reform is mainly to focus on the way how the language is written as a logical and scientific communication medium. Again, the polysyllabic approach to the writing reform matter will create the visual impact of abstract perception of concept-words, e.g., "coi cọp" (watching tigers) not equal to "coicọp" (a stealing act of avoiding paying ticket when attending a public performance") , hoa hồng" (red-colored flowers) not equal to"hoahồng" (roses or monetary commission), "đánh rớt" (let fall, drop) not equal to "đánhrớt" (give a fail grade)...

A new polysyllabic way of writing will be definitely a useful application to other scientific fields in data processing (accurate spelling checker or precise online translation...) or lexicography of scientific terms for informatics, medicine, industry, commerce, etc... which have brought us modern terminologies such as "dữliệu" (data, files), "dữkiện" (data, information), "trangnhà" (homepage), "bệnhthan" (anthrax), "vimô" (micro), "vĩmô" (macro)...

When new words are coined or created, with the recognition of the polysyllabics of Vietnamese, new scientific terminologies can be applied with a polysyllabic principle. In fact, relatively new concepts such as "lênmạng" (online), "cổngnối" (gateway), "nốimạng" (connected), "trangnhà" (homepage)... have been coined partly, though probably unconsciously, based on this principle where syllables in words with their meanings are analyzed to serve as either radicals or affixes to form new compound, dissyllabic, and polysyllabic words. The only things departing from this principle is that those new words are still scribed in an outdated old-fashioned way with separate syllables written individually.

Regarding one among advantages in applying that princple, i.e. a polysyllabic application, to creation of new words, those syllabic elements can be shuttled around and combined or paired with other syllables to create new words for new concepts in a flexible way (functioning the same way as those of radicals and affixes in English).

Even though Vietnam is still lagging far behind many other nations in scientific fields, her scientific vocabularies have been enriched tremendously in modern time by making use of plentiful existing Sinitic- and Sino-Vietnamese radicals and affixes to translate scientific terms readily available from an advanced nation such as Japan, mostly via Chinese characters, by which the Japanese have used in a similar manner as we do to coin new terminologies.

This lexicographical practice has actually been done a long time ago by the Chinese. In modern time they re-imported those newly coined technical terms with the same old materials made out of Chinese characters from Japan, for instance, equivalent words in Vietnamese such as "chínhtrị" (politics), "cộnghoà" (republic), "dânchủ" (democracy), "tíchcực" (positive), "tiêucực" (negative)... are those of new concept-words that had come into existence by clever creation of Japanese lexicographers around the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In other words, Vietnamese can always conveniently adapt any new scientific words when needs arise to enrich its existing scientific vocabulary.

Here are some other new terminologies, illustrated in the new proposed polysyllabic combining formation to strengthen some viewpoints as discussed above. They are the new computing terms applied with a principle of combining the existing radicals and affixes to coin new words: máyvitính (micro=vi, compute=tính, -er=máy), tinhọc (information=(thông)tin, science=(khoa)học), liênmạng (inter=liên, net=mạng), nângcấp (up=nâng, grade=cấp)... At the same time some other original English words in this field have been widely used either in their full original spellings or slightly modified variants: "chip", "bit", "bai" for "byte", "mê" for "mega", "bo" for "board", "phông" or "font", "CD", "email", "website", "unicode", "internet"...

The implication of the new coinage of such new Vietnamese scientific terminologies standardized and created following that polysyllabic principle also demonstrate the apparently dissyllabic characteristic of modern Vietnamese, just like radicals and affixes in English,where syllables can be used to form new composite words. Concensus rules in this field, that is, you may want to call a computer a " máyđiệntoán" or "máyđiệnnão" more than "máyvitính", but if everybody calls it a "máyvitính", you will have no other choices but acceptance.

However, a similar analogy such as that the current Vietnamese writing system has been widely used and we should accept its status quo does not qualify as a legitimate excuse. The current Vietnamese writing system carry negative boomerang effects that will genetically encode in the young brains of new generations to come. They are definitely cancerous cells -- here we go again -- that have incapitated our people's ability to think abstractly and collectively in order to function and fare properly in a technically advanced modern society.

This is a fact, not fictious fabrication out of some wild and outlandish imagination. Look back again and count how many people in our country, for now, who have done well without a knowledge of a foreign language? Do we want only a few priviledged among us standing out as an elite class who have enjoyed all fruits of having successfully acquired a highly abstract polysyallbic language such as English? Only reforming Vietnamese into polysyllabic writing system will change that situation for the better.

Writing our language as a polysyllabic language as we do with English or German will benefit our nation intellectually and electronically. In short, recondition our mindset and rethink hard about this matter to rebuild our writing system, which is relatively a newborn in comparison with other old-timers scripted in Latin letters. Our Vietnamese orthograpgy is in a process of growing into maturity, deserving and still having room for improvement. Do not settle for less in writing our language with an inferior tool. Let's gear up and put this reform idea into practice right away.

Back to top

3) No more old-fashioned hyphenation -- get rid of this once and for all!

The old way of writing is here to stay as long as we continue doing nothing. This exactly reflects the stagnant progress of Vietnam in many areas as consequences of our prolonged inaction. We have wrongly approached our language as if it were an "isolated" language till these days. It is a concept that in the past western linguists used to imply as a primitive language still in its developing stage, then mirrored by many Vietnamese scholars. Of course they are not around to say so explicitly these days, but their books are still lying around.

Until the last years in the '60s of the 20th century, the Vietnamese writing system had been scribed more accurately than it is today. Most of dissyllabic words were written in combining formation with a hyphen in between two syllables of a word, e.g. quốc-gia (nation), bâng-khuâng (melancholy), lạnh-lẽo (coldly)... The disappearance of the hyphen was a result of a prevailing tendency to make do without it for the sake of convenience. One can save a little bit of time by eliminating extra strokes in writing for dissyllabic words.

Could that also be a result of, unconsciously, the influence of the Chinese scripts, of which each character individually has its own meaning and itself a word that our people have been so accustomed to writing? That is less likely the case because in the old days our nation's illiteracy rate must have been pretty high due to complexities in learning Chinese and Nôm block characters.

Nowadays what we read in newspapers and books and on the internet is the way Vietnamese has been written with syllables of words being written separately with a white space in between as if our orthography were still constrained to those old Chinese scripting systems. This way of writing makes each syllable look like a whole word itself with no visual boundary distinction between words and syllables. However, no matters what, writing dissyllabic words with hyphenation in between syllables is still considered a correct and formal way to write academic paper in Vietnamese at present time.

As for the disappearance of hyphenation, we can safely say that lazy habits are to blame. It is so convenient to write without hyphens, which has gained scribers of Vietnamese some time savings by eliminating extra strokes in handwriting movements. Interestingly enough, with our new polysyllabic writing reform proposal we can achieve the same results and even more by completely eliminating white spaces in between syllables in dissyllabic words once and for all!

Back to top

4) Spring into action:

So far we have explored some good reasons why our current writing system needs reform. Have we reached some concensus in the reform matter so far in order to share our humble part to contribute good deeds our nation? What are we going to do now for that revolutionary idea? Don't worry, this will be a fairly simple reform.

Here are some simple principles to follow when writing a new polysyllabic way:

  1. Make use of our recognition of those words, or syllables for this matter, which usually go together in pairs and in groups as fixed expressions, and start to write them in a combining formation. This is the way we speak those words as continuous sound strings in real time;
  2. write all phrasal expressions, including propositional and idiomatic phrases in combining formation for specific concepts, for example, "mặcdù" (although), "vớinhau" (together, each other), "nhiềuhơn" (more than), "đẹpnhất" (most beautiful), "nhấtlà" (especially), "đólà" (that's), "dođó" (therefore), "chonên" (accordingly), "chotớinay" (until now), "kểtừbâygiờ" (from now on), "ngaylậptức" (right away), "từtrướcđếnnay" (from then till now), "xãhộichủnghĩa" (socialism), "chủnghĩatưbản" (capitalism), "phầnmềm" (software), "hằnghàsasố" (innumerable), "kểkhôngxiết" (uncountable), etc.... We have recognized that a dissyllabic or polysyllabic word is to convey a complete concept, so adopt the new polysyllabic writing habit;
  3. use a foreign language such as English or any other foreign languages, when you are in doubt, as a temporary guide to work you through what should be written in combining formation since they are all polysyllabics in nature, which all have their language written in superior combining formation,

    Let's take English as an example, we will have these equivalents in both languages: although="mặcdù", scholarship="họcbổng", dictionary="từđiển", handbook="sổtay", however="tuynhiên", any="bấtcứ", individualism="chủnghĩacánhân".... In other words, if a group of words, or syllables for that matter, is usually going together most of the time, we should go ahead and write them in combining formation as single words,
  4. For those who cannot make out what a dyssyllabic word is, follow those who know,
  5. Spread words of reform as widely as possible. Pratice it yourself first. Do not forget to make use of all possible means that is readily available at our disposal, such as the internet and emails. If you write a book, write it and have it published in the new combining formation.

    These new forms of communication are undoubtedly the powerful tools through which we all can actively exploit to advocate our ideas of the new polysyllabic writing reform. Little actions at a time will add up over the time. Let's say, when writing emails, many of us are still writing Vietnamese messages without putting diacritical marks. So why don't we simply write dissyllabic words in the combining formation to make recognition of those words easier and even more accurate? Writing advertising materials or store's signs with this new special writing also will attract more attractions than usual. For hosting a website or posting of one's writing work onto the internet, just season it with your pieces of writing in dissyllabic combining formation and that new exotic polysyllabic way of writing has the power to attract more attention for our purpose. (Read more in Viet Email Bang Vietngu2020 Khongzau - Write emails in Vietnamese without diacritical marks)

The more people write the new polysyllabic way, the better chances that we will have a final say in reform decisions down the lines and we all will be proud of being the first pioneers for the betterment of our new polysyllabic writing system.

In early stage of this reform each person will probably write a different way for the same fixed phrasal expressions, but later on gradually over the years, we will be able to filter out uncommon usages and take on only the most commonly used phasal terms for offcial adoption. This shall be the work of a future academy of the Vietnamese language.

Someone may ask, "Fine, but that's for the future. How's about the old books and archives of old printed materials?" Well, once everybody has become accustomed to reading and writing the new polysyllabic way, for which we call ChữViệt2020, TiếngViệt2020, or Việtngữ2020 (Vietnamese2020 or Vietnamese in the year 2020), economic motives will be the pushing force behind every reform. Publishers will, of course, print books according to readers' demands, if in 2020 books would be still printed at all. On the government's side, a new writing mandate should be put on its agenda's action item!

Back to top


We have analyzed the benefits of reforming the existing Vietnamese writing system, which might have not been thoroughly complete and convincing enough, but if you agree with what has been presented above and enthusiastic about that reform matter, do not drag your feet any longer but pick up your pen and put that new way of writing into practice right away. If a majority of us all is actually committed to writing the new combining formation way, this little reform will pose no problems at all, especially in our modern time where we all can put up our writings on the internet, mostly free, as an experiment of reform.This writing in the Vietnamese version written the new way has been done as an example without much efforts at all.

Vision without action is only a dream,
Action without vision only passes time,
Vision with action can change the world.

Joel Arthur Barker


Regarding this matter all comments and opinions from readers are welcome and will be posted on website for further discussions. Be a pioneer in this writing reform movement and together we will make history. Without your contribution to this noble cause, all is but a storm in a teacup.




Last updated 11-06-2011

Back to VNY2K Homepage

Click here to view Appendices


Back to top

Flag counter for pages with this banner only -- reset 06262011