What is Nôm?

Chữ Nôm, is the ancient ideographic vernacular script of the Vietnamese language. After Vietnamese independence from China in 939 CE, chữ Nôm, an ideographic script that represents Vietnamese speech, became the national script. For the next 1000 years—from the 10th century and into the 20th—much of Vietnamese literature, philosophy, history, law, medicine, religion, and government policy was written in Nôm script. During the 24 years of the Tây-Sơn emperors (1788-1802), all administrative documents were written in Chữ Nôm. In other words, approximately 1,000 years of Vietnamese cultural history is recorded in this unique system.

This heritage is now nearly lost. With the 17th century advent of quốc ngữ -- the modern Roman-style script—Nôm literacy gradually died out. The French colonial government decreed against its use. Today, less than 100 scholars world-wide can read Nôm. Much of Việt Nam's vast, written history is, in effect, inaccessible to the 80 million speakers of the language. The Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation joined with scholars in Việt Nam and around the world to save this cultural heritage.