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Missionary Scripts from Vietnam and Taiwan

Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung
The University of Texas at Arlington

Both Vietnam and Taiwan were introduced to the romanized writing systems by Western missionaries in the 17th century. In Vietnam, the romanized Chu Quoc Ngu system eventually replaced the traditional Chu Nom and Han characters and became the official national orthography in 1945. However, the use of romanization in Taiwan is still limited to church activities. Moreover, the later imported Han writing system is much more widely spread and has obtained dominant status in contemporary Taiwanese society. This paper examines the missionary scripts from Vietnam (Chu Quoc Ngu) and Taiwan (Peh-oe-ji) in terms of linguistics and sociolinguistics.

How romanization works and how efficient it is were analyzed. Compared to the Han system, romanization is much more efficient to learn to read and write. Less than the 26 letters of the roman script were used to represent the full range of speech in Vietnamese and Taiwanese. Generally speaking, their design each symbol was assigned to its corresponding phoneme. Because both Vietnamese and Taiwanese are tone languages, several diacritic marks were devised and added to the top or bottom of vowels to indicate different tones. Four other diacritic marks were also devised to distinguish different phonemes in Vietnamese. In Taiwanese orthography, a hyphen "-" is added between syllables in a word, such as Peh-oe-ji. But a hyphen is not normally used in Vietnamese orthography. The crucial weakness of these two systems is the problem of homophones. Although both Chu Quoc Ngu and Peh-oe-ji are efficient from the perspective of literacy, different political backgrounds have contributed to different outcomes of romanization in Vietnam and Taiwan.

Keywords: romanization, Chu Quoc Ngu, Peh-oe-ji,