Nom: the Pre-Colonial Script of Vietnam

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Nom, the pre-colonial script of Vietnam

7 Responses

  1. Alan Shaw

    Very beautifully done!

    But I need information! What is the text? How come the “ren” character is off to the left? (I suspect that it’s the topic and all three lines refer to it.)

    Clearly the order is left-to-right, because there are a couple of pure Chinese words in there, such as the final two characters (“pengyou” in Mandarin). Would it have been written left-to-right when the script was current?

  2. Tim Brookes

    Alan, I’m glad to give you what information I can, but as with all the Endangered Alphabets, I only carve ’em, I don’t speak ’em. The text (as with all the boards in the original Endangered Alphabets exhibition) is Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
    For more detailed questions, I direct you to John Balaban of the University of North Carolina, who has done more than anyone else to bring the poetry of Vietnam and the Nom script to the attention of people in the U.S.

  3. ZH

    Alan — You may find it interesting to compare the text that Tim has carved with a version of the same text on the Omniglot page ( Nôm was historically always written top-to-bottom left-to-right, but these two versions are both “modernized” into horizontal, left-to-right forms. 人 is not a topic, it is simply an in-line character, there is no particular reason for the second line to start farther to the left than the other lines except for aesthetic reasons. Nôm was never standardized, which is why you see the very same Vietnamese word written in variant ways (compare the first character 必 in Tim’s carving with 畢 on the Omniglot page, both writing the identical Vietnamese syllable tất). In a few places the texts actually use different words to translate the original English of the declaration (e.g. the final word for ‘friendship’/’brotherhood’). (It does appear to me, although I’m not an expert, that Tim’s carving has accidentally omitted a character: the word for ‘rights’ should probably be 權利, as seen at the end of the last sentence in the Omniglot page, rather than just 權 as seen on this carving.)

    • Tim

      It has always been my ambition with this project that after I have leaped in with both feet, blundering around in languages I didn’t understand, that real experts would come along and start giving these scripts and these issues the attention they deserve. Clearly this is starting to happen!
      As for the omission, all I can say is that I carve what I’m sent, and as anyone who sends me texts knows much, much more than I do, I just copy with dogged and non-comprehending faithfulness. Is it possible that my authority in Hanoi has followed some idiomatic or unfamiliar usage?

  4. Tim

    You know, ZH, you may be right about my omission after all: if I recall, I’m the one who sent the jpeg or pdf of the Nom text over to Simon at Omniglot, and if that’s the case, any mistakes on my carving are my own fault!

  5. Alan Shaw

    Well, ZH, that’s interesting! Both of those tất characters are bì in Mandarin. Also, 權利 is straight Chinese, and in Chinese it’s often shortened to just 權 when it’s part of a fixed phrase such as 人權 ‘human rights’. But sorry to say it doesn’t appear to apply here: “tự do và bình đẳng” must be “free and equal”; “nhân phẩm và quyền lợi” must be “dignity and rights”, and you would indeed want the two-character form for the parallelism…

    Should I mention that Nom is neither endangered (having already entered stasis) nor an alphabet? Naah…

  6. Tim Brookes

    Very kind of you not to quibble over either (a) the fact that my word “alphabet” is elasticized to include syllabaries, abjads and all manner of writing systems, and (b) the other fact that I have never publicly defined my use of the word “endangered”!