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Who Invented the Vietnamese Alphabet

who-invented-the-vietnamese-alphabet-1

Many people believe that it was Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit missionary, who invented the Vietnamese alphabet. However, more recent research proved that Francisco de Pina, a Portuguese priest, and missionary, was the first inventor of the Vietnamese alphabet.

The Formation of the Vietnamese Alphabet

In the early 17th century, a Christian congregation of more than 20 priests and missionaries from different nations including Portugal, Italy, and France were sent to Cochinchina for the purpose of Catholic evangelism. Initially, it was challenging for them to carry out their mission due to the language barrier. Thus, the missionaries started using Latin characters to rewrite Vietnamese to study this language with the aim of preaching without translators. From the purpose of evangelism, these Vietnamese rewritten in Latin became an important foundation for today's Vietnamese alphabet, which was later popularized by Vietnamese scholars in their Modernization Movement to increase the people's literacy in the early 20th century.

Read more on An Overview of Religions in Vietnam and Saigon Attractions: Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Inventor of the Vietnamese Alphabet

Francisco de Pina (1585-1625)

A Vietnamese research group reported that a French priest, Roland Jacques, had discovered two Francisco de Pina’s unpublished works which were an uncompleted letter written in Portuguese in Macau and an essay on introduction to Cochinchine language in Portuguese. These works proved that it was Francisco de Pina who first invented the Vietnamese alphabet and Alexandre de Rhodes who systematized and compiled the work of precedent missionaries.

Francisco de Pina was a Portuguese priest and missionary. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1605, then studied and preached in Macau. Father de Pina arrived in Cochinchina either at the end of 1617 or the beginning of 1618. Francisco de Pina was said to be the first foreigner to master Vietnamese and preached without translators. This success had enabled him to develop a close rapport with local people, which helped him reinforce teaching and evangelization efforts.

Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660)

who invented the vietnamese alphabet alexandre de rhodes 1

Alexandre de Rhodes and the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum

Alexandre de Rhodes was a French Jesuit missionary as well as a lexicographer who wrote the first trilingual Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary (Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum) in Vietnam. The dictionary was published in 1651 in Rome with the name Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum. The dictionary was later used widely by many Vietnamese scholars in order to create the modern Vietnamese writing system which is largely based on the Roman alphabet. This system is called Quoc Ngu (literally means national language) and still used today.

Read more on Useful Phrases in Vietnamese.

Alexandre de Rhodes arrived in Hoi An, Vietnam in 1625 - many years later compared to Francisco de Pina. It was said that Alexandre had initially studied Vietnamese under the guidance of Father Francisco de Pina. Alexandre de Rhodes spent about 20 years in Vietnam and wrote several books about the country including History of the Kingdom of Tonkin (1650), The Glorious Death of Andrew, Catechist (1653) and Tunchinensis historiæ libri duo (1652).

Conclusion on Who Invented the Vietnamese Alphabet

With the purpose of Catholic evangelism, the evangelization efforts of several missionaries eventually made a great contribution to the development of the Vietnamese language. It can be said that the Vietnamese alphabet is the joint effort of many people; the pioneer was Father Francisco de Pina, and the one who developed it was Alexandre de Rhodes.

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Comments

Guest - Tom Lai on Sunday, 29 September 2019 16:15

As a French speaking Vietnamese, the Vietnamese may sound like French (!) to you, obviously you don't speak Portuguese.
Many Vietnamese words come from Chinese, they called Han-Viet, a lot more than you know.
This would be lost from now
Nho nuoc dau long con quoc quoc
Thuong nha moi mieng cai gia gia...

As a French speaking Vietnamese, the Vietnamese may sound like French (!) to you, obviously you don't speak Portuguese. Many Vietnamese words come from Chinese, they called Han-Viet, a lot more than you know. This would be lost from now Nho nuoc dau long con quoc quoc Thuong nha moi mieng cai gia gia...
Guest - van xuan on Thursday, 30 May 2019 22:32

the language was the oldest known language known to mankind, must be 100000 old

the language was the oldest known language known to mankind, must be 100000 old
Guest - Julie on Monday, 01 April 2019 21:26

[quote]No the Vietnamese does NOT SOUND like french. WRONG. The Vietnamese language was invented couple thousand years
ago and the vietnamese language DID NOt CHANGE . Howver, the vietnamese writing is created, combined and converted from
Chinese character to Alphabet my the Jesuit Priest Alexandre De Rhodes. How does it sound like FRench when it existed few thousands years ago??? It sounds like the neighbor Laos and small province in Southern China that were conquered by China. But China couldnever conquer VN forever. VN fought back almost thousand yrs ago and got their independence ,

[quote]No the Vietnamese does NOT SOUND like french. WRONG. The Vietnamese language was invented couple thousand years ago and the vietnamese language DID NOt CHANGE . Howver, the vietnamese writing is created, combined and converted from Chinese character to Alphabet my the Jesuit Priest Alexandre De Rhodes. How does it sound like FRench when it existed few thousands years ago??? It sounds like the neighbor Laos and small province in Southern China that were conquered by China. But China couldnever conquer VN forever. VN fought back almost thousand yrs ago and got their independence ,
Hoang Pham on Monday, 01 April 2019 22:26

Hi Julie,

When France took over Vietnam, there were a lot of social changes due to Western influences, or the French influence in particular. As a result, while it is true that Vietnamese bears certain characteristics of the language Chinese, Vietnamese has also adopted quite a few French words that are still used today. For example: ô tô - auto (a car); ga-tô - gâteau (a cake); măng-tô - manteau (a coat);... That's the reason why many people would think Vietnamese sounds a bit like French.

Hope this can answer your question

Hi Julie, When France took over Vietnam, there were a lot of social changes due to Western influences, or the French influence in particular. As a result, while it is true that Vietnamese bears certain characteristics of the language Chinese, Vietnamese has also adopted quite a few French words that are still used today. For example: ô tô - auto (a car); ga-tô - gâteau (a cake); măng-tô - manteau (a coat);... That's the reason why many people would think Vietnamese sounds a bit like French. Hope this can answer your question ;)
Guest - Aiden Vu on Sunday, 24 March 2019 21:07

As a Vietnamese, I can speak French. And Vietnamese sounds more like French than Portuguese. So I think a French person invented the Vietnamese alphabet

As a Vietnamese, I can speak French. And Vietnamese sounds more like French than Portuguese. So I think a French person invented the Vietnamese alphabet
Hoang Pham on Monday, 01 April 2019 19:32

During the colonial period, the Vietnamese adopted quite an amount of French language, so that's why Vietnamese sounds more like French. However, the alphabet itself was invented by the Portuguese to serve the purpose of Catholic evangelism.

During the colonial period, the Vietnamese adopted quite an amount of French language, so that's why Vietnamese sounds more like French. However, the alphabet itself was invented by the Portuguese to serve the purpose of Catholic evangelism.
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