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Cáchviết TiếngViệt

by Vũ Vương Thao (David) 

I am writing to give my opinions with respect to the proposal " Sửađổi Cáchviết ChữViệt." I am hoping that you can help forward it to the author and share it with everyone involved.

My initial reaction to this proposal is with disbelief and very strong disagreement. The author known as "dchph" seems to me that he/she does not, I presume, want to give his/her real name or even a contact email address on that page. One would assume that if he/she were to solicit any feedback, as he or she stated on the last paragraph, there would be an email address, a forum, a post-a-comment, a discussion board or some form of an information exchange medium, rather than a one-way broadcast such as it is presented on that web page.

I am a network engineer living away from Vietnam for the past 20 years and I still speak, read and understand Vietnamese fluently. I do not claim to be a scholar on languages, but I find the way Mr/Ms "dchph" (from this point on will be rererred to as "dchph" or the author) is illogical, unreasonable, with no basis or real practical benefit. I refer to the following points dchph made:

1) "It is not scientific; words should be written in syllabic combination as some samples cited above. This will scientifically represent the true characteristics of today's Vietnamese"

To me language is not a science, it is an art. Science is something like representing Vietnamese in UNICODE. Words *may be* written in multi-syllabic in some languages, not should. Who dictates this law anyway?

2) "What are the benefits? Examine German, English, Chinese or Korean and think about it! How do you feel if you have to read and write 'scholarship' as 'scho lar ship' or even 'scholar ship'? But 'hoc bong' is written as such. A society progresses if its language progresses. "The only benefit in joining words together, mathematically, is to save space, reduce the redundancy and increase the compressibility of the language.

3) A society (such as American/Western) progresses because of the freedom and the ease to communicate (example: telephone network, fax, Internet). Joining words together makes it more complicated, restricted, rigid. The monosyllabic nature of present day Vietnamese respresents simplicity and flexibility, powers that enable the writer to create new words, new vocabulary and still be artistic about it. This is why the Vietnamese language is so beautiful.

4) "This new proposed writing system will speed up the process of obsorbing information and facilitate the advancement of science faster"Again, this is an amusing unfounded statement. If the author refers to joining words together so that an email message is overall shorter to transport, a book thinner, so that it can be read more quickly, then that does not mean an advancement of any kind.

5) "Join us in this effort NOW by start writing Vietnamese in combined formation of syllables of a word for each concept. In practice, when you are in doubt, think of an equivalent word in English or in another common foreign language. For example, for 'although' we have 'macdu', for 'blackboard' > 'bangden', 'faraway' > 'xaxoi', and so on."

This is a very blatant example of copying the English language for the sake of copy with no real benefit.

6) "Rõràng là lốiviết nầy phảnánh tính thiếukhoahọc và khôngtiếnbộ của ngườiViệtnam! "Obviously, the progress or dis-progress of the Vietnamese people can not be blamed on the language. I believe there are many other apparent factors that the author simply sidesteps and sweeps under the carpet such as the history of thousands of years of war for example.

"-- họ cóthể hàmý tiếngViệt chúngta còn thôsơ, chưapháttriển, lạchậu, và nghèonàn. "

I believe this is the author's strong and belittled perception and feeling, not necessarily the foreigners' or anyone with rational thinking. I for once feel proud to be Vietnamese, but this is supposed to be a scientific discussion.

7) "conđường=road, bầutrời=the sky, quảđất=the globe... "con" đichung với "đường", "bầu" đichung với "trời", và "quả" đichung với "đất"; nhờđó họ không còn phải thắcmắc về cách chúngta nói khi thì "con", khi thì "bầu", khi thì "quả"... tạisao không dùng hết "con" hay "cái" cho nó tiện!"

I believe the author here fails to see that these combinations of the Vietnamese language are what make the language beautiful, flexible and gives the writer a large scope of creativity. For example "bầu trời" is a lot more expressive and descriptive than just the bland "the sky" - "Bầu" gives the reader the magnitude, the texture and the nature of the sky.

To more correctly compare: "bầu trời == the circular wrap-around-you sky". This demonstrates that Vietnamese is a simple yet extremely powerful language, IMO. By joining words for convenience's sake, you destroy the perpetual existence of individual words. 

8) A more extreme comparison: I am sure others would have pointed out that "I" and "you" used in English to address two parties regardless of genders, relations, age (the revered and elders) is extremely impersonal and callous, and is debatably why community and family relationship links are not as strongly bonded as in the Vietnamese sense. How would you like your son to call you "mày" and call himself "tao".

9) "TiếngAnh là vạnnăng! TiếngAnh là ngônngữ kỹthuật! TiếngAnh là tiếngnói của thếgiới! Cứ xửdụng tiếngAnh làm côngcụ ngônngữ kỹthuật là đủ, cảitổ tiếngViệt chi cho phiềntoái! Ðólà nhờ tiếngAnh mởrộng cánhcửa thunhận tấtcả mọi yếutố -- nhờđó nó pháttriển mạnhmẽ chăng?"

I agree with this viewpoint. English is such global language countries like Singapore has to adopt it as a compulsory language. However, let's remind each other that the progress of Western world is not due to the language, it is due to the freedom and ease and low cost of communication. The more information (read new ideas/technical papers) is published, more will be read and discussed which fuels more publications and the cycle is repeated perpetually in a self-accelerated fashion. To improve the progress of a nation such as Vietnam, communication infrastrure is very much vital in fueling its growth. Five to ten years ago, the progress/advancement of a country could be loosely measured by how many telephone per head of capita, now it is measured by Internet and broadband infrastructure spending.

10) "Ðầuóc conngười đã xửlý nhanh thì máyvitính xửlý càngnhanh và chínhxáchơn. Thídụ "chủnghiãquốctế" sẽ tiếtkiệm cho bộnhớ của máyvitính 3 bytes cho ba khoảngcáchtrắng (spaces), khi kiểmlỗi chínhtả "speller" sẽ làmviệc nhanhhơn và khôngcòn gặp trườnghợp "chủ nghĩa" nếu được viếtthành "chu nghiã", "chủ nghĩa", chú nghĩa" đềuđược máyvitính dễdàng chothôngqua! Nóivề tiếtkiệm giấyin thì chúngta còn tiếtkiệm tiềnbạc nhiềuhơn là tiếtkiệm khoảngtrống trong bộnhớ của máyvitính, và sáchvở inra bớt tốn giấy thì dĩnhiên giáthành trởnên rẻhơn!"

Saving space and cost does not make a language *scientifically better* as the author is always trying to bring across. With the computing power of the CPU doubling in every 12 months, the saving of a byte here and there is irrelevant. All human languages are always very redundant. I fail to see in 1000 years, that human, for the sake of saving space and time, convert their worded language to binary numbers, as computers use, just to save in spacial redundancy or make spell checking quicker.

"Cáilợi đã được phântích, tuy chưa được sâusắc, đầyđủ và thuyếtphục lắm, nhưng nếu các bạn nhậnthấy điềuđó đúng và có nhiệttình, bắttay vàolàm ngaybâygiờ, aiai cũng làm thì còn lo gì không thựchiện nổi cuộccảitổ nhỏbé nầy, nhấtlà bước thửnghiệm trên liênmạng chẳng tốnkém gì cả. Bàiviết này là một thídụ điểnhình vậy!"

The author fails to explain or convince me of the benefit in converting. What he/she proposes creates confusion, destroys and undermines creativity, makes the language rigid, inflexible, impersonal, indifferent, and most importantly, mechanical. Joining words to save spaces and saves paper, yes, but the world is going paperless, or e-paper very soon. I fail to see how a more compressed language is distinctly scientifically advanced. 

A Westerner (and a Vietnam-born engineer like me) would be very amused if the Vietnamese language is changed to save a few hundred bytes, while massive advances in computing power and technology have been made in the past 20 years and in many more years to come. I agree that words "imported" from a foreign language now and in the future can and should be joined or written in its native form, but other Vietnamese mono-syllable words should be left as is.

11) I would like to encourage the author to do some more reading, from the other viewpoint, on the Study of the Vietnamese Language by foreigners. He/she will then have a much more balanced viewpoint.

My suggestions for the movement of Vietnamese2020 are (no order of importance)

1- standardise on a Vietnamese computerised character set. Get rid of VISCII, VPS, VNI, .VN, etc and create one standard common accessible set for all Vietnamese web sites to use, eg. UNICODE.

2- make English a second compulsory language, it can not be stressed enough that most up-to-date world information are in English. To use an old saying "Biết mình biết ta trăm trận trăm thắng". To be competitive in the global village, every Vietnamese national should be able to follow and keep up to date with the latest information.

3- improve communication and networking infrastructure NOW! Something is easier to say than do, but every thing starts with a thought.

Vũ Vương Thao (David)



On David Vu's critics of 
"Sửađổi Cáchviết TiếngViệt"

by dchph

Thank you, David Vu, for writing me regarding this matter. 

I would like to take this opportunity to answer some of David Vu's critics and I am happy to have the communication channel open so that everyone interested in this subject will share their opinions.

Even though virtually he does not agree with most of what I write in the proposal, but I enjoy reading very much his meticulous writing because it shows that he does care about this matter. Thanks again, David Vu.

dchph is only my penname, just like any others such as TTKh, Trần Thị Ngh., etc. I picked this name partially because I think that the work of advocating the cause for changing Quốcngữ to the new Vietnamese2020 writing system is that of anybody who shares the same view, not of any particular individual's work. Anyone who wishes to write me can always do so by emailing to And I hope that in the near future, there will be a discussion board in this website for interested parties to post their different viewpoints.

David Vu is the first one among a few who wrote me shedding doubts about the validity of arguments in the proposal "Sửađổi Cáchviết ChữViệt.

He may be not alone in the opposing camp who may have the same difficulty accepting the fact that Vietnamese is a polysyllabic or, accurately, a dissyllabic language. One must see that a great number of Vietnamese words is composed of two syllables so that one can easily accept the new way to write Vietnamese, that is, dissyllabic words should be written in combined formation for words made of two syllables (or more) that clearly belong to a well defined concept. 

Here are some food for thoughts: bảvai, cùlét, cùichỏ, màngtang, bạttai, bỡngỡ, hốthoảng, quốcgia, sơnhà, gióheomay, ngậpngừng, mừngrỡ, loạnxàngầu, bảláp, dưahấu, dưaleo, bônghồngtrtắng, bánhdày, bánhđa... You name it!

In addition to the foregoing argument, which is seemingly enough as background on why we should reform the current writing system, here are my specific replies to David Vu's critics:

1) Linguistics is a science and its historical linguistics is a branch of philology that linguists use as tools to study the nature, characteristics, and history of a language: what it is all about, and how it has come about at its present state. "Scientific" is denoted in this meaning.

"It is not scientific" because the current writing sytem goes against the true nature of the Vietnamese language as not a monosyllabic language. 

In fact, its morphemics testifies that words made of syllables and if these words are comprised of two or more syllables but they consist of only one morpheme, the smallest unit that has meanings used to form words, they should not be broken down into unmeaning units as they are written now, e.g., "mồcôi" > "mồ côi", "cùichỏ" > "cùi chỏ", "bângkhuâng" > "bâng khuâng", etc...

Also, its sematics shows that "chodù", "sỡdĩ", "tuynhiên"... are grammatical entities (hưtự), made of syllables to signify one-concept words, that always come in morpheme-paired combination as elements to help form sentences. However, the syllabic and morphemic borders have been slurred by the fact that each syllable may carry its own independent meaning, so they have been treated as separate "words." This might have been the result of the old presentation of each syllable originally written by a squared-symbol block writing Chinese or Nôm character. However, one cannot deny the complete wholeness of each one-concept polysyllabic word, composed of more than one syllable, as signified by its meaning. So it is unscientific to break one-concept words and write them in spaced separate syllables, which may look good in composing poetic verses, but those disyllabic words still sound in pair just as in speech.

We can continue to go on with analysis of its lexicography, syntax, phonology... and we will be able to draw the same conclusion.

- Vietnamese UNICODE, in the meanwhile, is an application tool belongs to a diferent field of science, i.e., computer science. However, this is not contradictary to David Vu's notion that language is a form of art. In fact, I totally agree with him that language in a sense is an art, but that belongs to different displines of human activities when we utilize the language to write poetic verses, lyrics, or create literary work. 

- As I see it, all known languages, not some, existing on earth now are considered as polysyllabic ones in nature and transcribed as such even in block-writing characters such as Korean, Japanese, and even Chinese when written in Latin pinyin. I wish somebody can show me what language on earth is a purely monosyllabic one so we all can make a fair comparison.

- "This law (Divid Vu's words)" is made into laws in some countries, such as South Korea, China, and Thailand. And those among us, the ones who know teach those who don' know, together we form a concensus to pressure those who have the authority to "make laws."

2) and 10) The benefits are obvious, not only "to save space, reduce the redundancy and increase the compressibility of the language" as pointed out by David Vu, but this is only a minor one. Benefits in other areas are much greater because information will certainly be processed much faster in people's brain on just catching the mere shape of long word strings. Their brain won't have to work hard by going bit by bit of separate syllables. Just like English our brain doesn't "spell" each long polysyllabic words in reading, but instantly recognize and understand their meanings by catching just the sight of a whole word. Consequently, the development of a child's brain will tend to gear toward symbolistic and abstract concepts. 

In data processing, we will be able to record frequency of whole word usage, not just syllables, that will certainly benefit Vietnamese lexicography. Vietnamese spelling checkers will also work with much accuracy. Machine translators will be much more efficient because they will translate texts basing on concepts, not just words. We are still having problems in these areas because computer scientists, who are not linguists, like any average person, still treat Vietnamese words as monosyllabic ones.

3) and 10) English is one of the richest langage in the world in terms of its vocabulary stock and its flexiblity to absorb new words. This language enjoys its superior position in the communication world today due to its capability to evolve from monosyllabic to polysyllabic form -- not the other way around. And, of course, it still retains the beauty of artistic articulation in creative work. As a result, joining separate syllables to form words wil make things simpler, as in computing science, not more complicated, for instance, software as oppsed to software, harddisk to hard disk, website to web site, etc. 

Moreover, due to the fact that a total of syllables available in the Vietnamese language are confined to a regid amount, so "it takes at least two to tango." We can not coin or create a new word just by using only one syllable except for those newly imported English words such as phông, chip, bit, byte, meg... In order to create new words we need to use two or more available syllables in the Vietnamese language to coin new words such as "lênmạng", "liênmạng", "trangnhà", "vitính", "nốikết", "sựcố", "dữliệu", "diãcứng", "virút", "phầnmền", "lậptrình", etc. This mehod of making new words work almost the same as those in the English language, e.g, website, online, email, harddisk, hardware, software, database.... In other words, we cannot create something out of nothing, i.e., randomly picking up an unused one or two syllables to coin new Vietnamese words. Let's imagine a couple of them now: chụt(chụt) (tiếng hôn, kissing sound), bấc ("bug"), ruốt (for virus), cờ lick (click)... it is really a pain in the neck to pretend creating new words using David Vu's principle that "other Vietnamese mono-syllable words should be left as is" and avoiding (3) "joining words together [because that] makes it more complicated, restricted, rigid. The monosyllabic nature of present day Vietnamese respresents simplicity and flexibility, powers that enable the writer to create new words, new vocabulary" because "what [I]  proposes creates confusion, destroys and undermines creativity, makes the language rigid, inflexible, impersonal, indifferent, and most importantly, mechanical."

Among those new terms having appeared in Vietnamese in the last decade as cited above, which ones are "mono-syllable words"? As I understand the way David Vu has seen it, words like "dĩacứng", "phầnmền"... are made of "dĩa" and "cứng", so let's write "dĩa cứng", just like "hard" and "disk", and the Englisk "harddisk" or "software" has nothing to do with scientific advancement, as he writes, do not copy them. So, as for him, similarly, all other words should be written separately. He sees the trees but not the forest as a whole.

That is to emphasize, again and again, Vietnamese is not a monosyllabic language, but more acurately, it is a dissyllabic one in nature and in most part as far as its vocabulary stock of large numbers of dissyllabic words is concerned. I have written a pretty detail in my proposal about this matter, but it fails to convey the point due to my inability to communicate effectively, that's always my weakness -- I must admit. 

4) and 10) The main purpose of writing words in combined formation is not for compacting email massages or saving spaces in bits and bytes and paper, but to write the right way, logically, a dissyllabic language, like Vietnamese, deserves. Again, children's brain will undoubtedly benefit by processing information faster in symbolistic and abstract terms, not in concrete detail.

5) Writing dissyllabic words in their true form of combination of separate syllables, we are not copying English or any other languages. We just use one of them as a guideline in materializing and forming a new way of writing. In the old days we used to write them by placing a hyphen [-] between syllables in all dissyllabic words using HánViệt words as examples. Today as there are more and more people knowing English, it seems a natural thing to do is to pick up the notion that each word stands for a concept.

As seen in the cited English examples such as "although" or "faraway", sematically they are considered as one-concept words giving rise to the combined formation of polysyllabic words; therefore, it is illogical to break a word, or a concept, into smaller units, as seen in those Vietnamese equivalents: "xaxôi," "mặcdù..." and interestingly enough in these particular examples, these words will mean "halves" of something else if the morphemes of the two words are broken into smaller unmeaning parts. One may ask what is "xôi" and what is "mặc"?

6) I totally agree with David Vu that " the progress or dis-progress of the Vietnamese people can not be blamed on the language." When I write "Rõràng là lốiviết nầy phảnánh tính thiếukhoahọc và khôngtiếnbộ của ngườiViệtnam! " I did not really mean it, but it is a figurative exaggeration in writing as a means to emphasize an idea, or one may say that it is a rhetoric to incite indignation in many of us, patriotic but dormant or complacent Vietnamese. I hope you understand my "dụngtâm lươngkhổ" (letting others misundertand one's real intention or even exert hatred onto oneself in order to achieve a common benificial goal or consensus.)

7) Bầu, con, cái, quả... in these examples are unique classifiers in Vietnamese as in Chinese (the Chinese don't combine them in pinyin writing.) You have given an excellent point in arguing for not to combine. To put thing in perspective to be clear on this point, David Vu might have misunderstood me for advocating dropping all other classifiers and use only "cái" and "con." I do not advocate this idea, completely not at all. If that is the case the excerption of this passage as quoted by David Vu here is commented out of context. This (7) is only a figurative way of emphasizing the nature of dissyllabics in Vietnamese, i.e., a specific classifier can only go with certain words. 

The point I am trying to emphasize in my proposal is that whether we shall or shall not combine a classifier and its associate word together, and I do not advocate getting rid of them altogether. In fact, in my writing, I am just putting forward suggestions to further joining classifiers with associated words, even that seems like an overkill. In practice, which way is better is the way that is mostly used, that is, to combine or not to combine, will pave the new way of writing. 

8) For David Vu's raising the issue of "I" and "you", "tao" and "mày", I personnally think this a higher form addresses which embraces all aspects of delicate addresses in the Vietnamese language even though this matter is not advocated in my propsal because it belongs to cultural aspect of the language. 

One can cite Chinese examples for argument because in the Chinese language all forms of addresses still exist as they used to be from ancient days until present day, however the Chinese equivalents of "I" (wo) and "you" (ni) exist in parallel of other form of addresses similar to those in Vietnamese. Addressing forms in Chinese are mentioned here because all these Vietnamese addressing forms etymologically were derived from those of the Chinese language, e.g. cô, cậu, chú, bác, anh, chị, em, etc. 

This development seems to me as a transcending phenomenon in language evolution, for the better, not for the worst. We give this notion a negative reception just because we used to be associating the meaning of "I" and "you" as "tao" and "mày". We feel annoyed by the contempt connotation of the use of these addressing forms. If we think of them as "tôi" (partially embracing all the denotations of English "I", French "moi", or Chinese "wo") and the "other" ("toi" in French, "you" in English, and "ni" in Chinese, but still unknown in Vietnamese for an equivalent word) to imply anh, chị, em, cô, bác... then the negative perception will not be the same. When someone addresses to you in speaking English as "you", or French as "toi", or Chinese as "ni", you do not think that they mean "mầy" as in Vietnamese for sure.

I know that many of us don't like this conception, but that may be the truth. It is something very logical here.

9) Eventually David Vu agrees with me on this matter, but my whole passage of "TiếngAnh là vạnnăng! ..." is clearly a sacarstic way to say something while I really mean something else. If one carefully reads this passage and those paragraphs before and after that in my work, one will see that I am trying to gear the readers' focus back to the urgency and the need for reforming the present way of writing Vietnamese with the new Vietnamese2020 proposal, but not really mean "TiếngAnh là vạnnăng! ..."

10) Please refer back to the earlier items.

11) Thank you, David Vu, for your suggestions -- at least we still share many things in common that worth discussing. The truth may be lying somewhere in between our disagreement or not a all.


Revised 03/03/2007

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