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The purpose of the orthography is to denote the spoken language. The Vietnamese quốc ngữ writing system has a few little problems that we haven’t attempt to solve, such as ă, â, gi, qu... [The Vietnamese GI, originated from the ancient Italian GI, has the sound equivalent to the English Z. So then the word “gì” is z` (a consonant with an accent). Or the QU produces the sound like W; so words such as quốc should actually spelled quuốc = wuốc. Notice how currently quần and quằng are pronounced differently for one is qu + uần (spelled the Việt cộng style, it’s u – ớ – nờ – uân – quờ – uân – quuân – huyền - quuần), the other qu + ằng (ă – ngờ – ăng – quờ – ăng – quăng – huyền – quằng).] Before reforming the system basing on the current quốc ngữ scripts, perhaps they should try to solve those things first.
Is making the Vietnamese writing system polysyllabic necessary? It is not a necessity for the language, per se. The QN script has been monosyllabic for centuries, so to speak, and it hasn’t diluted the Vietnamese language, at least to a measurable degree. So why should we change it, if it’s working okay?
First thing to look at is the language itself. Is Vietnamese a monosyllabic “language”? (Not to be mistaken for a monosyllabic orthography). The answer is mostly so. A huge number of Vietnamese terms are consisting of only one sound: ba, xanh, đi, nhớ... Singly, there are only roughly 6,500 syllables in Vietnamese. So even if with every sound, we have three meanings, it can sum up to only around 20,000 words. Twenty thousand is not adequate for a language, and we know, if we opened a Vietnamese dictionary, it has more than twenty thousand words. With this illustration alone, we can safely assume that the Vietnamese language itself is not monosyllabic.
Having spoken Vietnamese, we noticed that a lot of times, a word is not a term or anything, but just a sound. Like khuâng, what is khuâng? There’s no such thing as a khuâng. But wait a minute! What about bâng khuâng? Well, bâng khuâng are two “words” that constitute a term, an adjective, to be exact. So we have two “words” that have no meaning whatsoever individually, put together and they produce something meaningful. Khuâng isn’t the only word in Vietnamese that doesn’t have any meaning on its own. It’s not a prefix nor suffix, really, but it’s not “word”, to the conventional sense. What, then, do we make of it? It’s just a sound. A sound in conjunction with another sound to create a part of speech. Like chopsticks, which is mostly used for picking up food, singly are almost useless. Two sticks together to make a pair, two syllables together to make a, uhm, for the sake of discussion, let’s call it a “term”. This backs up the previous conclusion that the Vietnamese “language” isn’t monosyllabic.
Secondly, now that we’ve established the fact that Vietnamese isn’t restrictly monosyllabic, is there anything wrong with using a monosyllablic writing system to denote a polysyllabic language? Not anything apparent suggesting that it’s “wrong” to do so. It’s been like that for centuries, why bother to change it when it still functions? Under the education system of the Republic of South Vietnam, missing a hyphenation was considered a spelling mistake, I don’t think students would welcome this change. (Back then, if you didn’t spell Việt Nam as “Việt-Nam”, points would be deducted.) But before discussing that and similiar adversaries for change, why the change? I personally welcome it, because I like changes. If we change into something sucks, we would realize how good what we had was. We can simply go back to it. But if we don’t change at all, how would we know whether what we have is the best? Tradition is a great thing. Consider it the past, and we all should know history. Nevertheless, tradition shouldn’t be an obstacle for improvements. With the if-it-ain’t-broken-don’t-fix-it mentality, the Vietnamese people had been farming pretty much the same way for millenia. Americans just started on farming for about three hundred years. Being an experienced practitioner the Vietnamese is, it’s hilarious to say an American family is more productive than a Vietnamese village, when it comes to agrarian matters.
Not all changes are good, but not all changes should be dismissed primitively either. So let’s take a look at the proposal on the dissyllabicization of the Vietnamese script. The classical example is the title of Emperor Gia Long: Khai Thiên Hoằng Đạo Lập Kỷ Thùy Thống Thần Văn Thánh Võ Tuấn Đức Long Công Chí Nhân Đại Hiếu Cao Hoàng Đế. If you come across this title on a textbook, how the world would you know how to read it? “Con cháu vua Thế Tổ dùng mỹ hiệu “Khai Thiên Hoằng Đạo Lập Kỷ Thùy Thống Thần Văn Thánh [pause to catch some breath…] Võ Tuấn Đức Long Công Chí Nhân Đại Hiếu Cao Hoàng Đế [take a little break…] để truy tôn vị khai sáng ra cơ nghiệp nhà Nguyễn.” Now let’s imagine doing that as a teacher. We can’t expect our listeners to get it if we don’t get it ourselves. The hyphenation in the past would solve that problem: Khai-Thiên Hoằng-Đạo Lập-Kỷ Thùy-Thống Thần-Văn Thánh-Võ Tuấn-Đức Long-Công Chí-Nhân Đại-Hiếu Cao-Hoàng-Đế. Notice how you can distribute the pause evenly so there isn’t a huge gap? KhaiThiên HoằngĐạo LậpKỷ ThùyThống ThầnVăn ThánhVõ TuấnĐức LongCông ChíNhân ĐạiHiếu CaoHoàngĐế, exotic looking, serves the same purpose.
At this point, people would give the classical case of “pháthành”. “Ông tỉnhtrưởng ra lệnh pháthành”. Is he ordering [people] to take down the wall or to public [something]? Of course, with the context, it should be clear, but without it, we can’t tell. Phát hành or phá thành, there would be tons of cases like this. Hmm, confusion already, why should we accept it? This suggestion isn’t perfect after all. But one can argue that without the context, many, many things are confusion anyways. If we hear, “It is red”, without context, is it “It is red” or “It is read”? Em có bận không = Are you busing? Or is it something perverting?
So it has its pros and cons: There are issues need to be addressed. This proposal addresses some issue but ignores others, while creating other issues. My personal conclusion? Toss it back into the drawing board.
We buy computers and then later on upgrade them. After a while, we throw them away and get newer ones. Why? Because of the availability of something better. When there’s a newer version of a program, oftentimes we are cautious about implementing it. Microsoft updates solve some problems and generate newer problems. One thing though, the OS in 2003 is better than the one is 1995.
We should be cautious of changes, but remember the fact that not all changes are bad. Vietnamese is polysyllabic; a polysyllabic writing system isn’t a bad idea. I support those people in their cause and encourage them to work on a better reformation. O ther wise I think they would be ve ry un suc cess ful. (Notice how much better it is to have a single “word” for unsuccessful? And it's much easier to skim a polysyllabic text than its monosyllabic counterpart.)
dchph vào ngày Jun.13.2009, 19:39 pm