Vietnamese Lexicography


Dinh-Hoa Nguyen
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, Illinois 62901

Professor Dinh-Hoa Nguyen at Sydney University, 1987

0.  This paper traces the history of lexicography in Vietnam and points out its successive tendencies both in monolingual and bilingual or multilingual modes through the traditional period, the colonial period, the independence period the partition period and the post-1975 period.


The first time frame considered covers lexicographical work based on Chinese scholarship, followed by contributions from Western missionaries serving in the kingdom that later became the major state in French Indochina.  In traditional Vietnam, when the learning of Chinese classics dominated the intellectual scene, schoolchildren were taught basic written Chinese by means of locally-authored texts such as The Book of 1,000 Characters (Nhat thiem tu), The Book of 3,000 Characters (Tam thien tu), The Book of 5,000 Characters (Ngu thien tu), etc., all of which are glossaries from Chinese to Vietnamese.  These volumes use verse as mnemonic devices to provide native equivalents of Chinese lexemes. In the so-called Sino-Vietnamese pronunciation with the words listed notionally in the manner of thesauri and the native term transcribed in the demotic script called nom, i.e. the southern script, as opposed to Chinese, referred to as the scholars’ writing system (Nguyen Dinh-Hoa 1981).

As the product of Vietnamese romanisation called quoc-ngu– -an international and collective undertaking–made its shy appearance in the 17th century, Western missionaries from Portugal, Italy and France began to compile bilingual dictionaries going from Vietnamese to Latin and from Latin to Vietnamese, and used to facilitate their religious purpose of converting the native population to Christianity.  The period from 1851 to 1884 was marked by the epoch-making pioneer efforts of Father Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660), who in adðition to writing a Latin-Vietnamese Catechism, authored a trilingual volume, Dictionarium Annamticum Lucitanum et Latinum.  This was truly the first dictionary printed in the Roman script: published in Rome in 1651 it gives some 8,000 Vietnamese entries with glosses in Portuguese and Latin.  De Rhodes, who was able, within a few months of his arrival in 1624, to preach in Vietnamese, was inpsired by two earlier works, since extinct, a Vietnamese-Portuguese dictionary and a Portuguese-Vietnamese dictionary authored respectively by Gasparal de Amoral and Antoine Barbosa.  The De Rhodes trilingual dictionary is important for two reasons;  it includes a Brief Declaratio on Vietnamese grammar, and it records among other things some consonant clusters /bl- ml- nh- tl-/ that reflect the pronunciation of the time, thus constituting a valuable document is historical linguistics (Nguyen 1986a, b; Gregerson 1969).

Besides, Alexandre de Rhodes’ role as codifier of the novel script used to transcribe the spoken language was later capably emulated by several generations of Catholic priests, always with the intent to perfect a convenient and effective tool needed for the evangelization of the country.  Among those there was even the Bishop of Adran, Msgr Pigneau de Behaine, upon whose work Bishop Taberd later built his excellent bidirectional Vietnamese-Latin and Latin-Vietnamese dictionary (1838) (Nguyen 1987), which mirrored the changes taking place in the Vietnamese language in the second half of the 17th century and in the 18th century, and which served as the foundation of a later work by Reverend Theurel (1877).

Legrand de lar Liraye’s Dictionnaire elementaire annamite-francais (1868) appears to be the first work going from Vietnamese to French, and in 1880 Father Ravier published his Dictionarium Latino-Anamiticum, on which P. Corbel based his Lexique Annamite-Latin.


Following the French conquest, completed with the capture of Hanoi in 1884, as the colonial administration encouraged both the teaching of French in local schools and the learning of Vietnamese by its civilian officials, military officers, police officers, clerks and teachers, there occurred an accelerated production of dictionaries going in both directions, with those volumes going from Vietnamese (then  called annamite) to French outnumbering those going from French to Vietnamese.

Petrus Truong Vinh-Ky, a profilic polyglot native scholar, wrote a Petit Dictionnaire Francais-Annamite (1887), one of the earliest bilingual dictionaries, to be followed  by several excellent works such as Vocabulaire Annamite-Francais (1893) and Dictionnaire Annamite-Francais (1898) by J.F.M. Genibrel, Dictionnaire Franco-Tonkinois illustre (1898) and Petit Dictionnaire Annamite-Francais (1901) by P.G. Vallot, a two-volume Dictionnaire Annamite-Francais by Jean Bonet (1899-1901), Dictionnaire Francais-Annamite (1919) and Dictionnaire Annamite-Francais (1922) by P. Barbier, and Nouveau Dictionnaire Francais-Annamite by P. Masseron (1922), etc.

Genibrel’s is truly a monument of scholarship to which he devoted fourteen years of patient research, aided by “an excellent native scholar.”  It immediately distinguished itself by lexicographic wealth (it had names for the flora and fauna of Indochina) as well as by the choice and variety of illustrative examples (taken sometimes from the Four Books of China) and their precise French equivalents.  Even today this dictionary proves to be immensely useful since like Bonet’s and Paulus Cua’s it provides the demotic Nom characters for all Vietnamese entrywords.

Bonet’s two-volume Vietnamese-French dictionary reflexted both the official language and the “langue vulgaire” of the country at the beginning of the colonial administration.  The author provided in Volume One a grammatical sketch, and in the second volume an appendix on the political and administrative divisions of the Annamite Empire, of Tonkin and of Cochinchina.  Beside a table of 214 radicals accompanied by their Vietnamese pronunciation in Tonkinese, Annamese and Cochinchinese, and French translations, Bonet’s work has the distinct feature of listing entries beginning with the letter d (“barred d”) before those beginning with the /z/ sound, spelled with plain d.  Of course the inclusion of a Nom character or a Han character next to each entry helps the identification of numerous homophonous words in the language.

Bonet’s dictionary, first made known at the International Congress of Orientalist held in Paris in September 1897, was meant to be useful to “our future functionaries in Indochina,” but also to make it easy for young Vietnamese to learn the French language.  “As more Vietnamese know French,” he wrote in his Preface, “the task of our administrators will be further simplified, and if the use of our language could one day become generalized among the native inhabitants of our beautiful colonies in the Far East, our civilization and our laws will be better understood and better received.”  (1899: iii).  “It is through exchanges of ideas more than by force and violence that nationalities learn more surely to know one another, to appreciate one another, and to melt together indissolubly,” the French lexicographer concluded.

A dictionary compiled in the missionary tradition is Dictionnaire annamite-chinois-francais (1937) by Reverend Gustave Hua.  As the title indicates, it included only Chinese characters, but the author had difficulites with his printer in getting the work published.  Hue praised the conciseness, suppleness and flavorsomeness of the Vietnamese language, which reminded him of La Fontaine, and he emphasized that “it is not the Vietnamese language that is poor, but rather its disparagers who are “poor in Vietnamese.” (Hue 1937: 4)

Several works produced in the early decades of this century were authored by native scholars, for instance a Vocabulaire Grammatical Franco-Tonkinois by Do-Than   Han-Thai-Duong (1923) and Le Dictionnaire des Lettres by Vu Dinh Hai and Eugene Conti (1928.

The policy of linguistic assimilation by the French not only did not succeed, but unexpectedly led to reacftions that were conducive to the development of the Vietnamese language; as a new press in the vernacular heralded by the two reviews  Nam-phong and Dong-duong Tap-chi contributed to the dissemination of knowledge and as political pamphlets, translations and textbooks also began to appear in increasing numbers, earlier dictionaries failed to fill the needs of Western-oriented intellectuals.  Thus Cordier’s Dictionnaire annamite-francais (1930 had to be followed by a supplement two years later, after Father Gustave Hue contributed a Petit passe-partout de la presse indigene in 1931).

In order to keep up with the newly enriched and cultivated language and also to assist in the learning of Western languages, modern bilingual dictionaries had to be compiled.  George Cordier, the French scholar who wrote several books on Vietnamese literatore as well, deserves credit for that excellent Vietnamese-French volume.  Although some of his translations lacked precision and a number of currently used expressions were omitted from his corpus, it was “de beaucoup l’oeuvre la plus considerable parue sur la langue annamite” (Nguyen Van To 1930: 434).

Three native scholars with the same family name brought forth their contributions in due time: Dao Duy Anh, author of among other works an excellent French-Vietnamese dictionary (1936), in which Chinese characters are provided for those Vietnamese equivalents that are loan compounds, Dao Van Tap, who produced the well known French-Vietnamese and Vietnamese-French pair (1960), and the late Dao Dang Vy, whose French-Vientamese and Vietnamese-French pair (1960), and the late Dao Dang Vy, whose French-Vietnamese volume (1962) distinguished itself by its accuracy and thoroughness.  Dao Duy Anh meant his French-Vietnamese volume to be a supplement to his Han-Viet tu-dien, a list of Chinese-borrowed words and expressions issued in 1932.  Dao Van Tap’s more selective corpus included only those Sino-Vietnamese terms that had been thoroughly integrated into the recipient language, and Dao Dang Vy later even tried to publish an encyclopedic dictionary, of which only three volumes had appeared in print (1960-61).

Next to the bilingual volumes, which usually involve either French or Chinese or another Western or Asian language, a second category included those monolingual dictionaries which aim at standardizing the native language through meaning discriminations as well as clarifications of synonyms and antonyms and even explanations of lliterary allusions used in works of poetry and prose, for example, Van-lieu  Tu -dien by Long-Dien Nguyen Van Minh (1941).

A third category, that of spelling dictionaries, comprises a dozen or so volumes by Nguyen Duyen Nien (volumes  1-2, 1933-34), Buu Cam, Ngo Van Luong and Ung Trung (1949), Dao Van Hoi (1960), Nguyen Van Hoai (1951), Nguyen Duyen Nien (vol.3, 1961), Le Van Hoe (1962), etc.  By far the most scholarly of those is Le Ngoc-Tru’s Viet-ngu chanh-ta tu-vi (1959), which won a literary prize in South Vietnam in 1961 and was reissued in a revised edition in 1973.

The fourth group consists of what can be called “cultural dictionaries” since they all include lexemes and graphemes borrowed from Chinese, a language often considered the Latin of Vietnam, having served for centuries as the language of education and government at least in its written forms (Nguyen Dinh-Hoa 1987).

The most popular of those dictionaries of Sino-Vietnamese (Han-Viet), i.e. Chinese loanwords pronounced in Vietnamese, is Han-Viet tu-dien by Dao Duy Anh, the sinologist-lexicographer mentioned above, who is indeed better known by it (1932) than by his French-Vietnamese dictionary of 1936.  The two parts of his copious listing record 40,000 compounds printed in the quoc-ngu script and derived from 5,000 individual characters.  It is truly a thesaurus of Chinese loanwords, wit some definitions also accompanied by French equivalents.

In this important compendium, which has served generations of teachers and students of alll political shades, all the four-syllable compounds follow Chinese syntax:  for instance, the entry kinh-te ‘economy’ is followed by kinh-te chien-tranh ‘guerre economique,’  kinh-te chinh-sach  ‘politique economique,’ etc. in contrast with the same compounds appearing in the reverse word order in the Vietnamese compounds:  chien-tranh kinh-te, chinh-sach kinh-te, etc.

Its good feature remains the inclusion of Chinese characters next to quoc-ngu spellings, which helps the discrimination of homonyms.  Volume 1, from A to Z (571 pages), covers 2,644 characters listed by the number of strokes on pages 572-588, and the Character Index of Volume 2, from N to X (588 pages), occupies Pages 589-605.

Several authors quickly emulated the pioneer lexicographer:  Nguyen Tran Ho contributed Nam-Hoa tu-dien (1940), Hoang Thuc TranHan-Viet tan-tu-dien (1939), whereas Buu Can, a scholar in Hue, wrote Han-Viet thanh-ngu,Lexique des expressions sino-vietnamiennes usuelles (1937, reprinted in 1971).  In the latter work, thirteen thousand binomial expressions are listed under their headwords, followed by French equivalents and citations from about 180 literary sources.  As far as coverage is concerned, the Han-Viet tu dien by Nguyen Van Khon (1960) complements the volume by Dao Duy Anh, since both list entries in romanization.

A most really valuable dictionary of Sino-Vietnamese by far is the one authored in 1942 by – -The Venerable Thieu-Chuu, a learned Buddhist monk:  entitled Han-Viet tu-dien, i.e., a “dictionary of characters,” — as opposed to Dao Duy Anh’s “dictionary of words and expressions” — it resembles a regular dictionary of Chinese in that it lists Chinese graphs by radicals and the number of strokes.  In the Prefact of this landmark work of scholarship, Monk Thieu-Chuu deplored that Han, i.e. Chinese, studies in Vietnam were losing ground, and that “only through Buddhist studies perhaps some parts could be preserved.”  He stated his objective as helping those individual characters, which could serve as “a foundation on which to rebuild the resplendent monument of Confucianism.”  (1942: iii-v).  In addition to a 817-page main corpus, this masterpiece also contains a 92-page index, where the words, especially homophonous words, are cross-referenced to their corresponding characters.


Throughout the French-Vietnamese hostilities, started in December 1946 and terminated only by the Geneva Armistice Agreements of 1954, there slowly developed a crying seed for the elaboration and grooming of the national language:  as it was prepared -by the French-educated intelligentsia  –to replace French as the medium of instruction at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education, a scientific and technical terminology had to be invented by teachers engaged in the translation and adaptation of textbook materials.  It was in this wartime context at home that Minh-Tan, a publishing house in Paris, had the intitiative of reprinting the two seminal works by Dao Duy Anh, his French-Vietnamese dictionary and his dictionary of Sino-Vietnamese words and expressions.  The 1950   reprint edition of the latter work reproduced a hand-written “open letter” dated 1949 and addressed to the author by Nguyen Ngoc Bich, the person in charge of the Paris publishing concern.  The letter was meant to inform Dao Duy Anh, then living in the maquis deep in the mountains of Tonkin, about the need to have the book reprinted for the common good and at the same time to assure the respected sinologist that his copyright would be fully protected.


(A)  The dictionaries of Nom characters

On the other hand the primers (mentioned in Section 1) that present both the Chinese graphs and the Vietnamese (Nom)  characters that represent the vernacular glosses, had thus served as practical textbooks for generations.  Analytic articles in journals and reviews often discussed the novel script which was still used under the French administration.  However, real repertories of those “southern” or demotic characters started appearing only in the 1960s as a result of academic courses offered at the University of Saigon Faculty of Letters:  first the mimeographed list of Tran Duc Rat (1961?) and that compiled by Vu Van Kinh and Nguyen Van Khanh (1970) as classroom materials, then a more systematic Collection of Chu Nom Scripts gathered by Chingho Chen, a former visiting professor at the universities of Saigon and Hue,and published at Keio Unitersity in Japan in 1970.  These useful compilations served scholars well until two printed dictionaries successively appeared in the 1970s, one in Saigon and the other in Hanoi.

The former volume, Tu-dien chu nom (1971) by Nguyen Quang Xy and Vu Van Kinh, was called “the first dictionary of nom characters, which could mark a meaningful step forward by modern-minded young Vietnamese intellectuals in the task of studying the national culture,” according to Professor Buu Cam, an authority on the nom script who contributed the Preface (p. vi).  The first part, which runs for 102 pages, contains about 10,000 characters written with one to thirty-two strokes and is followed by cross-references from quoc-ngu spellings  to the characters.  It is worth noting that the 100-page body of this dictionary, published by the Textbook Service in Saigon, has been reproduced in the back matter of the Vietnamese-German dictionary by Professor Otto Karow (Tu-dien Viet-Duc, Vietnamesisch-Deutsches Worterbuch), published in Viesbaden in 1972.  The other dictionary, compiled under the auspices of the Institute of Linguistics and published in Hanoi in 1976, bears a modest title:  Bang tra chu nom (1976) gives 8,187 nom characters “which are used to transcribe 12,000 syllables commonly occurring either as words or as word constituents in the language”  (Introduction, p.6).  This “finder list” of characters has been culled from fifteenf literary works by a team of linguists in consultation with traditionally trained senior scholars.  The first part of the book is designed to help find the readings of characters arranged by the number of strokes, and with the help of the second part, which is an index of romanized spellings, users can look up the shape of individual characters.  Although neither  volume gives a complete inventory of nom characters used in various literary compositions, including popular narratives in verse, they both are effective research tools and actually complement each other.

(B)  The monolingual dictionaries

The earliest monolingual dictionary of modern times is Viet-nam tu-dien, compiled by the Committee on Literature of Hoi Khai-tri Tien-duc, the society devoted to “the intellectual and moral advancement of the people” (1931).  But actually some decades before, Huinh-Tinh (Paulus) Cua, a French-educated scholar, had already produced a monumental work:  Dai-Nam quac-am tu-vi, Dictionnaire de la language nationale du Dai-nam (1895-1896).  Huinh-Tinh had meant at first to compile a Vietnamese-French dictionary, but after his would-be collaborators had left Cochinchina for the north, the work was to be simply a monolingual dictionary designed to reflect the southern dialect with a large number of Cambodian and Fukien or Chiuchow loanwords.  This early corpus is extremely  useful to scholars of classical literature since each entry is accompanied by either a nom, i.e. demotic, character or a Chinese character used in the transcription of pertinent literary sources, and today this precious two-volume work remains a reliable research tool.

As for the cooperative efforts of the scholars in the Khai-tri Tien-duc Society, they resulted in a dictionary that gives clear and succinct definitions of both Sino-Vietnamese and Vietnamese lexemes – – the former accompanied by corresponding Chinese characters —  and also systematically provides citations either in the form of idiomatic collocations or as used in popular works of prose or poetry.  As it first appeared in fascicles beginning in 1931 it was favorably reviewed for its scholarly nature, but native scholars also pointed out omissions as well as vague definitions.

Later works in the monolingual mode include dictionaries by Dao Van Tap (1951) and by Thanh-Nghi (1952).  These two authors judiciously tried to record the daily common parlance instead of giving words and expressions that are either deadwood or found only in works of classical literature, and therefore unfamiliar to the average user.  Both have been in due time surpassed by more recent works:  Viet-nam tu-dien by Le Van Duc, published in Saigon in 1970, and Tu-dien tieng Viet by Van-Tan and others, published in Hanoi in 1959 and revised in 1977.  There is a more ambitious work undertaken under the auspices of the Vietnam Social Sciences Commission (Uy-ban Khoa-hoc Xa-hoi Viet-nam) in Hanoi, but thus far only the first volume of Tu-dien tieng Viet pho-thong (1975) covering the letters A to C has been published.

(C)  The bilingual dictionaries

A work that deserves particular mention is another Vietnamese-Chinese-French dictionary, a magnum opus by Reverend Eugene Gouin:  his Dictionnaire Vietnamien-Chinois-Francais (1957) had first been constructed during his nearly six years of “forced leisure” spent in the Vietminh prison camp from 1946 to 1952.  Actually pursuing a labour of love for almost ten years, first to occupy his monotonous days in jail and “as a defence against despair and neurasthenia,” the French priest worked from Gustave Hue a corrected and revised personal copy of the latter’s own dictionary to produce a rather complete corpus followed by Chinese and French equivalents.  An excellent print job, this large format dictionary will long remain a model of multilingual lexicography involving at least two Asian languages and a Western language.

Bilingual dictionaries using another language than French as source language or target language are fiarly late comers.  To begin with, all those dictionaries that list Chinese loanwords and thus serve as etymological sources, should be distinguished from truly bilingual dictionaries going from Chinese to Vietnamese or vice versa.  One of these modern Vietnamese-Chinese volumes is Viet-Han tu-dien toi-tan (Saigon 1961) by Hoang Minh Xuan and others.  It contains over seventy thousand Vietnamese entries, including monomorphemic words, compounds and phrases, all accompanied by Chinese equivalents.  This 947-page “most modern” bilingual volume supplies some encyclopedic back  matter consisting of an Appendix which lists names of provinces and cities in South Vietnam, abbreviations in English-Chinese-Vietnamese, measures, and names of currency units of various countries.  Five years later, a 1,371-page similar work entitledTu-dien Viet-Han by Ha-Thanh and others was published in Beijing.  This Chinese-produced work has six appendices, including a Chinese-Vietnamese index, a list of international place names, a list of names of provinces and districts in Viet-nam, a chronology of Vietnamese and Chinese dynasties, a list of chemical elements, a list of measures, and a description of Vietnamese tones.  Since these two dictionaries are identical in terms of macro- and microstructure, it is difficult to tell which of the two groups of editors and plagiarized the other.  At any rate, the corpus of the one published in Beijing was found good enough for Joint Publications Research Service, a U.S. government agency, to translate the Chinese glosses into English, resulting in a two-volume Vietnamese-English Dictionary (JPRS 1966), in which the 65,000 terms represent “more modern usage than those in currently available dictionaries, particularly terms used in North Vietnamese publications” (page a).

Although English has been taught at the secondary level as a second foreigh language – –  next to Vietnamese in French-medium lycees of the colonial period, and then next to French since 1945 — dictionaries involving English did not appear until after World War 11.  The earliest volume was an Annamese-English Dictionary with an English-Annamese index, compiled for the Vietnamese language course organized by Professor Murray B. Emeneau under the Army Specialized Training Program.  The co-author of this small dittoed dictionary was Diether von den Steinen, and the Index was based on work by John Sherry.  This pocket-size book of 279 pages was very useful to the Gis who were taking the course in the 1940s at the universities of Wisconsin and California, according to Professor Emeneau himself, Mr Ly Duc Lam, his informant, and several members of the wartime language class.

Several works published since cultural contacts with British and Americans advisers and teachers were developed in the southern half of the country in the 1950s are Le Van Hung 1955 (in Paris), Le Ba Kong 1955, Nguyen Van Khon 1955, Nguyen Dinh-Hoa 1959, 1967, for Vietnamese-English, and for English-Vietnamese several reprints of Le Ba Kong and Nguyen Van Khon (some in pirate editions overseas since the spring of 1975, Nguyen Dinh-Hoa 1980, 1983 (in the US), etc.

In North Vietnam we have to mention Bui Phung’s Vietnamese-English dictionary (1978) and Dang Chan Lieu and Bui Y’s English-Vietnamese dictionary (1976) as well as a 65,000-entry volume sponsored by the Vien Ngon-ngu-hoc (Institute of Linguistics) in 1975.  This important English to Vietnamese work, a rigorous 1959-page compilation with a consistent format, was meant to serve a wider audience that the high school and college population.  Its coverage is extensive, and usage is primarily British although a number of Americanisms are noted.  While derivatives are fairly completely listed, there are easily noticeable omissions:  backpack, bagel, berserk, bikini, blackjack, black lung, bloodmobile, blue jeans, boll weevil, bologna, charisma, citizenry, claustrophobia, copilot, decaffeinated, decal, defrost, defuse, dehumidify, extrasensory, extrovert, hairpiece, hallucinogen, hang-up, headcheese, homesite, hometown, headroom, heist, helipad, heterosexual, hubcap, etc.  One does not find either expressway, freeway, or tollway, but only speedway and turnpike; the latter translated as “big road.”  The dictionary user cannot help feeling that these omissions, as well as mistaken glosses (for such simple items as apple cart, bathing trunks, bachelor of arts, driveway, elementary school, measles, fennel, etc.), are due to the compilers’ unfamiliarity with American and British foodstuffs, articles of clothing, gadgets, institutions, etc. Furthermore not enough attention is given to grammatical information or to various collocations of English lexemes.

It is interesting to note that the new illustrated dictionary of Vietnamese, Viet-Nam Tan-tu-dien minh-hoa  by Thanh-Nghi, though basically a monolingual dictionary incorporating many newly accepted words of politics, economics, philosophy and sciences, also gives French or English equivalents and even nearly 2,000 Buddhist terms with equivalents in Sanskrit.

Other languages involved are German, Russian, Norwegian, Esperanto, Japanese, Pali, Khmer, Thai, Tay-Nung, with the Summer Institute of Linguistics contributing a large number of words lists and glossaries for minority languages of the highlands, including a “tentative” edition of a Muong-Vietnamese-English dictionary by Milton and Muriel Barker (1975), which presents valuable materials on Muong, the archaic sister language of Vietnamese.

(D)  The scientific and technical dictionaries

Technical glossaries started appearing early in the 1940s, initially through efforts of individual science teachers and journalists – -even when the medium of instruction was still the French language – – then later through concerted efforts of educational leaders working around colleges and universitites and institutionalized bodies charged with this aspect of language planning and language treatment (Nguyen Dinh-Hoa 1977).  As an increasingly wealthy jargon in each branch of the social and natural sciences is elaborated, the innovative processes by Vietnamese intellectuals regardless of their political leanings have helped the collective production of a large number of glossaries and dictionaries.  Ever since Professor Hoang Xuan-Han, a French-trained mathematician-historian-philologist, published hisDanh-tu khoa-hoc, Vocabulaire Scientifique, a “collection of terms denoting scientific ideas (in math, physics, chemistry, mechanics and astronomy) and based on French” (Hoang 1948: vii), his colleagues and students have continued a highly productive terminological task thrust on them when Vietnamese was called upon in 1945 to serve as medium of instruction at all three levels of national education.  During the partition, 1954-75, teachers in both halves of the country patiently competed in the compilation of a large number of technical dictionaries in the natural and social sciences, using native words as well as translations and transliterations (Nguyen Dinh-Hoa 1981 and 1985), thus contributing to the standardization and stabilization of scientific and technical jargon in every discipline.


Since 1984, a new institute within the Social Sciences Commission has been publishing Tri-thuc Bach-khoa, a finely edited journal which contains technical discussions as well as draft entries for two planned works;  a “small-size” encyclopedic dictionary of Vietnamese and an encyclopedia of Vietnam.  Sample articles are Rice, Acupuncture, Energy, Yoga, History of Encyclo-pedias, Structure or an Encyclopedia, etc.

As linguists, scientists, scholars, writers and journalists both at home and abroad are endeavoring to enhance the purity and clarity of their mother tongue, lexicographic work in Vietnamese as evidenced in this hostorical sketch promises to be both rigorous and comprehensive and to constantly improve quantitatively as well as qualitatively.


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