The Latest Endangered Alphabet: Nom

July 27th, 2010

The latest of the EA family comes thanks to the efforts of the poet John Balaban, who has made a substantial reputation for himself by translating Vietnamese poetry into English, and has continued his work by founding a non-profit organization dedicated to reviving Nom, the traditional Vietnamese calligraphic script that was suppressed by the French in the 1920s.

“Nom keeps a flavor of a culture washed away with the language of the Roman alphabet,” Balaban told the New York Times. “There are real literary treasures, and still a lot of texts that have not been translated.”

He has also helped gather young Vietnamese “font carvers” who have digitized the script and his foundation has compiled a Nom dictionary, a collection of 20,000 characters, which he says can be more difficult to master than Chinese.

Carving it has certainly been more demanding than any of the other EA boards. Balaban himself reads and writes the contemporary Vietnamese script, but in order to get Article One translated into Nom he called on the services of Lê Văn Cường, of the Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation in Hanoi. Here’s a glimpse of Nom in progress: