Vietnamese literature (Vietnamese: Văn học Việt Nam; chữ Hán: 文學越南) is the literature, both oral and written, created largely by the Vietnamese. Early Vietnamese literature has been greatly influenced by Chinese literature. As Literary Chinese was the formal written language for government documents, a majority of literary works were composed in Hán văn or as văn ngôn. From the 10th century, a minority of literary works were composed in chữ Nôm, the former writing system for the Vietnamese language. The Nôm script better represented Vietnamese literature as it led to the creation of different poetic forms like Lục bát and Song thất lục bát. It also allowed for Vietnamese reduplication to be used in Vietnamese poetry.
For a millennium before the tenth century, Vietnam was under the rule of various Chinese dynasties and as a result much of the written work during this period was in chữ Hán (Chinese characters), works written in chữ Hán were either called Hán văn or văn ngôn. Chữ Nôm, created around the tenth century, allowed writers to compose in Vietnamese using native characters that were coined by using Chinese radicals. It flourished in the 18th century when many notable Vietnamese writers and poets composed their works in chữ Nôm and when it briefly became the official written script during the Hồ dynasty and the Tây Sơn dynasty.
While the Vietnamese alphabet was created in 1631 by Francisco de Pina, it did not become popular outside of missionary groups until the early 20th century, when the French colonial administration mandated its use in French Indochina. By the mid-20th century, virtually all Vietnamese works of literature were composed in Vietnamese alphabet. Today, Francophone Vietnamese and English-speaking Vietnamese are counted by many critics as contributors to the ongoing history of Vietnamese literature.
Main article: Vietnamese poetry
Unlike written literature, early oral literature was composed in Vietnamese and is still accessible to ordinary Vietnamese today. Vietnamese folk literature is an intermingling of many forms. It is not only an oral tradition, but a mixing of three media: hidden (only retained in the memory of folk authors), fixed (written), and shown (performed). Folk literature usually exist in many versions, passed down orally, and have unknown authors.
Myths consist of stories about supernatural beings, heroes, creator gods, and reflect the viewpoint of ancient people about human life. They consist of creation stories, stories about their origins (Lạc Long Quân, Âu Cơ), culture heroes (Sơn Tinh or Mountain Spirit - Thủy Tinh or Water Spirit).
Main article: Literary Chinese in Vietnam
The earliest surviving literature by Vietnamese writers is written in chữ Hán (Chinese characters). Almost all of the official documents in Vietnamese history were written in chữ Hán, as were the first poems. Not only is the Chinese script foreign to modern Vietnamese speakers, these works are mostly unintelligible even when directly transliterated from Classical Chinese into the modern Vietnamese alphabet due to their Chinese grammar and vocabulary. As a result, these works must be translated into Vietnamese in order to be understood by the general public. These works include official proclamations by Vietnamese emperors, imperial histories, and declarations of independence from China, as well as Vietnamese poetry. In chronological order notable works include:
Some of these Literary Chinese texts are still taught in school. For example, the poem Nam quốc sơn hà (南國山河) by Lý Thường Kiệt, is in the textbook used by schools in Vietnam. The texts are generally and commonly is divided into three sections.
Phiên âm (Phonetic transliteration) - this section contains the original text transliterated into the Vietnamese alphabet. This section is not understood by any Vietnamese, as the text is in Literary Chinese which uses Classical Chinese syntax and vocabulary not used in Vietnamese.
|Classical Chinese||Vietnamese transliteration|
|南國山河南帝居||Nam quốc sơn hà nam đế cư|
|截然定分在天書||Tiệt nhiên định phận tại thiên thư|
|如何逆虜來侵犯||Như hà nghịch lỗ lai xâm phạm|
|汝等行看取敗虛||Nhữ đẳng hành khan thủ bại hư|
Dịch nghĩa (Translated meaning) - this section contains the translation of the poem, it is understood by Vietnamese speakers. It is often just a direct translation rather than a full fledged translated poem.
|Sông núi nước Nam, vua Nam ở|
|Giới phận đó đã được định rõ ràng ở sách trời|
|Cớ sao kẻ thù lại dám đến xâm phạm|
|Chúng mày nhất định sẽ nhìn thấy việc chuốc lấy bại vong|
Dịch thơ (Translated poem) - this section contains the translation version of the poem. It is understood by Vietnamese speakers and is a full fledged translated poem.
|Vietnamese translated poem|
|Sông núi nước Nam vua Nam ở|
|Vằng vặc sách trời chia xứ sở|
|Giặc dữ cớ sao phạm đến đây|
|Chúng mày nhất định phải tan vỡ|
Works written in chữ Nôm - a locally invented demotic script based on chữ Hán - was developed for writing the spoken Vietnamese language from the 13th Century onwards. For the most part, these chữ Nôm texts can be directly transliterated into the modern chữ Quốc ngữ and be readily understood by modern Vietnamese speakers. However, since chữ Nôm was never standardized, there are ambiguities as to which words are meant when a writer used certain characters. This resulted in many variations when transliterating works in chữ Nôm into Vietnamese alphabet. Some highly regarded works in Vietnamese literature were written in chữ Nôm, including Nguyễn Du's Truyện Kiều (傳翹), Đoàn Thị Điểm's chữ nôm translation of the poem Chinh Phụ Ngâm Khúc (征婦吟曲 - Song of the Soldier's Wife) from the Classical Chinese poem composed by her friend Đặng Trần Côn (famous in its own right), and poems by the renowned poet Hồ Xuân Hương.
Other notable works include:
Chinh Phụ Ngâm Khúc
Bánh Trôi Nước
Lục Vân Tiên
Qua đèo Ngang
|Modern Asian literature|
While created in the seventeenth century, the Vietnamese alphabet was not widely used outside of missionary circles until the early 20th century, when the French colonial government mandated its use in French Indochina. During the early years of the twentieth century, many periodicals in Vietnamese alphabet flourished and their popularity helped popularize Vietnamese alphabet. While some leaders resisted the popularity of Vietnamese alphabet as an imposition from the French, others embraced it as a convenient tool to boost literacy. After declaring independence from France in 1945, Empire of Vietnam's provisional government adopted a policy of increasing literacy with Vietnamese alphabet. Their efforts were hugely successful, as the literacy rate jumped overnight.
In those early years, there were many variations in orthography and there was no consensus on how to write certain words. After some conferences, the issues were mostly settled, but some still linger to this day. By the mid-20th century, all Vietnamese works of literature are written in Vietnamese alphabet, while works written in earlier scripts are transliterated into Vietnamese alphabet for accessibility to modern Vietnamese speakers. The use of the earlier scripts is now limited to historical references.
Works in modern Vietnamese include: