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Language and Linguistics


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Title: Language and Linguistics

Language and Linguistics

  • This section of the course is about language ...
    the vehicle for holding and transmitting culture
  • We will cover the origins of human language the
    structure of language historical linguistics
    sociolinguistics and the history of writing.

Language origins

  • Evidence for the evolution of language comes from
    anatomy comparative anatomy of modern humans
    and chimps and comparative anatomy of hominids
    through time and from primate sign language,
    experiments in tool making, and comparative
  • The capacity for language, like the capacity for
    culture, was part of biological evolution.

  • Evidence for the evolution of language comes from
    anatomy comparative anatomy of modern humans
    and chimps and comparative anatomy of hominids
    through time and from primate sign language,
    experiments in tool making, and comparative

  • We do not know much about the details of language
    evolution but we do know that the capacity for
    language, like the capacity for culture, was part
    of biological evolution.
  • There have not been any hominids on Earth except
    for H. sapiens for 40,000 years. That is probably
    how long it has been since the currently
    observable human capacity for language has been
    part of our repertoire.

  • There are technologically primitive people on
    Earth hunters and gatherers who never took part
    in the Neolithic revolution, much less the
    preindustrial state revolution or the industrial
    revolution or the post-industrial revolution now
  • But there are no primitive people on Earth. All
    humans have the same capacity for acquiring a
    language and all human languages ever known are
    capable of transmitting any culture, even the
    most technologically complex.

  • The evolution of language and the development of
    the human hand and the ability to make tools are
    probably all related.
  • The voice box and neurological complexity have
    all evolved.
  • We know from endocranial casts that the area of
    the brain devoted to speech began developing as
    early as H. habilis.

Speech and handedness
  • The speech area of the brain is adjacent to the
    area devoted to the control of the human hand.
  • The makers of Oldowan tools were mostly right
  • Chimps can make stone tools they dont do that
    in the wild but when they do in experiments in
    captivity, they do not show any preference for
    right- or left handedness (Stanley Ambrose,
    Science 2001).
  • William Haviland points out that handedness is
    associated with lateralization of the brain, as
    is language.

Hypoglossal canal
  • By half a million years ago, in H. erectus, we
    see a major increase in the size of the
    hypoglossal canal which could accommodate
    larger nerves for controlling the tongue.
  • By the time we get to Neandertals, the
    hypoglossal canal is the same size as it is in
    fully modern humans (though this is

Hyoid bone
  • The hyoid bone U-shaped bone at the base of the
    tongue that supports the tongue muscles
  • In Neanderthals, the hyoid shows that the larynx
    was as developed as that in modern humans
  • And the thorax had expanded to the same size as
    that of modern humans breath control required
    for continual speech.

Washoe and other chimps
  • Experiments with chimps and other apes show they
    are capable of much more than we thought, in
    terms of language.
  • Chimps do not have the physical apparatus for
    human speech, but Beatrice and Allan Gardner
    taught Washoe, a female chimp, 160 signs in

Generalizing signs
  • Washoe moved beyond the signs and generalized
    them and combined them.
  • She learned open for one door, and then used it
    to ask for other doors to be opened
  • She asked for refrigerators to be opened and
    pointed to open drawers and briefcases.

  • Washoe and Lucy (who was trained by Roger Fouts)
    learned the sign for feces and generalized it to
    mean dirty.
  • Lucy used the term as an expletive when she got
    mad at Fouts for not giving her something.
  • Lucy invented cry hurt food three signs in
    Ameslan to talk about radishes and candy
    fruit to talk about watermelons. Chimps and
    other great apes achieve the linguistic capacity
    of a 23 year old human.

Comparative linguistics and language origins
  • Brent Berlin and Paul Kay studied 110 languages
    and found seven stages in the development of
    color terms.
  • All languages have at least two terms, white and
    black, or color and lack of color.
  • When languages acquire a third term, it is always
  • When languages acquire a fourth term, it is
    either green or yellow.

Berlin and Kays study
  • At five terms, green or yellow enters, depending
    on which one entered at stage IV.
  • At 6 terms, blue enters, and at 7 terms, brown
  • At the final stage of 8 or more terms, purple,
    pink, orange, grey or combinations of these terms
    enter the lexicon. Moreover, color lexicons
    become more complex as societies become more

Brown and Witkowskis study
  • Cecil Brown and Stanley Witkowski replicated
    Berlin and Kays work using plants and animals.
  • At the first stage of lexical complexity for
    organisms, languages have a word for plant.
  • Next they distinguish trees from all other
  • Then grerb enters the lexicon grass and/or herb.

  • Then bush enters, and then grass, and the vine.
  • In the animal kingdom, the simplest lexicons
    distinguish animals from plants.
  • Then fish enter the lexicon then bird then
    snake then wug (worm and bug) and finally,

Complexity of the lexicon
  • But complexity of the lexicon for organisms is
    very plastic, as comparisons between urban and
    primitive peoples shows.
  • People in small-scale societies can name from
    400-800 plants.
  • In urban areas, this is 40-80 and they recognize
    even fewer, as John Gatewood showed in his
    research on loose talk.

Pidgins and creoles
  • Recent studies of Pidgins and Creoles also shed
    light on the evolution of language.
  • Pidgin languages are always second languages.
  • They develop when speakers of different languages
    try to communicate, often for purposes of trade.
  • The lexicon usually comes from one language, and
    the grammar from the other.

  • Creole languages develop from pidgins, but as
    people develop native capacity in a pidgin, the
    structure changes.
  • Hawaii is a good case. In the late 19th century,
    Filipinos, Puerto-Ricans, Anglo-Americans,
    Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and American Blacks
    all came to work on the plantations there.

Bickertons study
  • Derek Bickerton studied Hawaiian Creole in 1975
    when it was a fully developed language.
  • Compared the structural properties of Hawaiian
    Creole to other creoles.
  • Found similarity in the use of particles for
    modifying verb roots to produce tense, and
    similarities in the use of singular, plural and
    neutral number markers.

  • Bickerton suggests that the similarities across
    creoles are because of a genetic substrate in
  • This substrate produces basic structural
    properties in languages at the early stage of
  • Noam Chomsky referred to as the biological basis
    of the capacity for language acquisition.

Language complexity and evolution
  • Some people are studying the properties of child
    languages across the world to test whether this
    is true.
  • If it is, then the theory would be that the more
    child-like a language, the easier it is to learn
    and the more like early language it must be.
  • But languages are getting simpler English and
    modern German from early German, Spanish, Italian
    and French from Latin.
  • So the whole picture is not yet clear.

Childrens language acquisition
  • 12 - 13 months name objects
  • 18 20 months one-word sentences
  • 18 24 months two-word sentences

  • The experiment at Washington State University on
    language origins.

Structure of language
  • Immediate constituents approach Leonard
  • Transformational grammar approach Noam Chomsky

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Chomskys observation
  • The IC approach doesnt account for the fact that
    humans can learn languages or for the fact that
    languages are generative
  • From a finite number of rules operating on a
    finite number of words, we can encode and decode
    an infinite number of well-formed sentences.

Transformational-generative grammar
  • TG grammar makes it possible to understand
    language play
  • It makes understandable the fact that sentences
    can have many meanings because they are similar
    surface representations of different roots.
  • Flying planes can be dangerous
  • I dont like Johns cooking

Four parts of grammar
  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Syntax
  • Semantics
  • The earliest part that we acquire is the
    phonology and it appears to be the most
    difficult part of a language to acquire after

Writing is not the same as language
  • As we look at grammar, the first thing to
    remember is that writing is not the same as
  • Language is an ideal concept, like race, and only
    exists in the surface representations.
  • Speech and writing are different surface
    representations of language, and writing is not a
    better representation than speech.

English phonology
  • English has 46 phonemes and many allophones
  • We discover the phonemes of a language by looking
    for short, minimal pairs, like pig/big in
    English to isolate distinctive features
  • Here we see that voicing is the distinctive
    feature because p and b are both bilabial stops,
    but only one is voiced
  • In English, we have stops, fricatives,
    affricates, nasals, and liquids.

  • Stops, or plosives, are made by forming the mouth
    and tongue in a particular way and forcing the
    air to stop temporarily on the way out of the
    mouth during speech.
  • The letters p, t, and k represent the three
    common voiceless stops in English.
  • The p sound is a bilabial stop
  • The t sound is an apico-dental stop
  • The k sound is a velar stop

Voiced stops
  • Each voiceless stop has its voiced counterpart in
    English, so be have
  • p, t, k and b, d, and g
  • Note the meaningful differences between the words
    ten and den, pig and big, cut and gut (curl/girl)
  • The difference is the single, distinctive feature
    of voicing

  • Many sound differences are not phonemic, but are
  • Recall the concept of an allele an alternative
    form of a gene
  • The t sound has several allophones in English
  • Word initial, before a vowel, the t sound is
    heavily aspirated
  • Put your hand up to your mouth and say torrid

  • Say itty bitty the t in the middle of each
    word has no aspiration. Word medially and
    intervocalically, the t sound is unaspirated.
  • Native speakers of English find it hard to make a
    word-initial, prevocalic, unaspirated t like
    the t in patter.
  • Native speakers of Spanish use this sound
    incorrectly, word initially and prevocalically,
    in English Spanish simply has no aspirated t.

  • The word saturate has an affricate in it for
    many dialects of American English
  • An affricate is a combination of a stop and a
    fricative, a t and a sh, in this case
  • One of the allophones of t is ch when followed
    by the glide sound y and the vowel sound u as
    in satch-yur-ate
  • Some people say matoor, leaving out the the glide
    before the u, and thus converting the phoneme t
    to its prevocalic aspirated allophone

Dialect allophones
  • British dialects of English dont have the ch
    allophone for t at all
  • They say matyoor, separating the glide and the u
    vowel and adopting the prevocalic aspirated
    allophone for t

English phonology
  • The phonology of the grammar comprises the rules
    for the sounds of the language which sounds can
    be made, and how the sounds can occur in various
    positions in words.
  • We have 46 phonemes in American English,
    including 11 vowels in most dialects of American
  • Sleek hawk high-front to low-back vowels

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The ten vowels of English
  • i see o sew
  • v sit U put
  • e set u ooze
  • æ cat b sofa
  • a hot
  • saw

  • Many Americans have nine, rather than ten vowels.
  • cot and caught
  • marry, merry, Mary
  • There are only six squiggles to represent the ten
    vowels, plus four diphthongs
  • say, toy, cow, my

The Kissinger effect
  • Why take you through these details of phonology?
    To show you how much you have to learn in order
    to become a native speaker of a language.
  • No one has a better vocabulary or a better
    command of the syntax and the semantics of
    English than Henry Kissinger does.
  • But Kissinger came to the U.S. when he was 15
    years old, by which time, his phonology was
    locked into German.

  • Morphology comprises the rules of the grammar for
    constructing meaningful chunks of sounds.
  • A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in a
  • Bound and unbound morphemes.
  • -un is a bound morpheme with many allomorphs
    illegal, immaterial, inactive, ignoble

Past tense and plural nouns in English
  • Plural s z ez
  • Past t d ed
  • Note that the e in ez and in ed is a shwa ?
  • part parts, bag bags, rose roses
  • slip slipped, bag bagged, want wanted

  • Language and gender
  • The use of honorifics and hedging in speech
  • Some language, like Japanese, have quite strong
    rules about how men and women should speak.

Gendered speech in Japanese
  • yamada ga musuko to syokuzi o tanosinda
  • yamada      son      dinner      enjoyed
  • yamada-san ga musuko-san to o-syokuzi o
  • yamada-hon      son-hon      hon-dinner   
  • Both sentences mean "Yamada enjoyed dinner with
    his son."
  • Bonvillain, Nancy. 2000. Language, culture, and
    communication the meaning of messages. 3rd ed.
    Upper Saddle River, NJ Prentice Hall, 2000.

  • Women in the U.S. use question mode for
    declarative statements as part of a softening, or
    hedging speech register.
  • Men also use softening modes, but in different
  • It remains to be seen whether the amount of
    softening differs between men and women.

Sociolinguistics dialects
  • Social status marked by language
  • Labovs study of the fourth floor r at Kleins
    (20), Macys (51) and Saks Fifth Avenue (62)
  • Code switching and dialects
  • Ebonics is a dialect of English

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis language and thought
  • We know that we can say things in one language
    that we cant in another.
  • But we also know that translation is possible.
  • Edward Sapir and his student, Benjamin Lee Whorf,
    articulated the idea that we think the way we
    think because of our language.

  • For example, there are two verbs for to be in
    Spanish, depending on whether a phenomenon is
    transitory or permanent.
  • There are two verb forms in Turkish, depending on
    whether one knows the action or knows about the
  • Verbs in Navajo are marked for the shape of the
    object spoken about.
  • SVO (English), SOV (Japanese), VSO (Welsh)

  • Spanish and German require that the speaker
    categorize everyone as familiar or not. What does
    all this do to our everyday thinking?
  • Sapir said that Human beings...are very much at
    the mercy of the particular language which has
    become the medium of expression for their
    society (1929)
  • This is the strong form of linguistic
    determinism, which is not accepted.

  • Note the weak form of linguistic relativity
    Variations in language structure do structure
    thought, but we do not know how much.
  • Note the difference in the meaning of the
    following verb forms worked, has worked, once
    worked, used to work, had worked
  • In Israel, the U.S., and Finland, children
    incorporate gender roles at different ages. The
    languages of these countries have correspondingly
    different levels of gender labeling.

Historical linguistics
  • Glottochronology is based on the idea that the
    core vocabulary of languages is changes at a
    constant rate about 14 per 1000 years.
  • Morris Swadesh showed that this was more-or-less
    the case for many written languages.
  • The claim is that, with caution, we can use this
    to examine the evolution of nonwritten languages.

  • Based on the systematic comparison of cognates
    across languages to determine the times since two
    languages separated from a common ancestor.

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  • We use these principles to reconstruct languages
    that do not have writing
  • Fox Cree Menomeni Ojibwa
  • pematesiwa pematesiw pematesew
  • niyawi niyaw neyaw niyaw
  • posiwa posiw posew pisi
  • he lives, my body, he embarks

1066 and all that
  • beef cattle
  • pork pig
  • mutton sheep
  • venison deer
  • chicken chicken
  • dine, cogitate, endeavor, acquire, read, thing,
    build, want, sad, big,
  • defecate, copulate, urinate, expectorate
  • garbage and target

When did we get these words?
  • village
  • garage
  • collage

Indo-European languages
  • Indo-Iranian
  • Italic
  • Germanic
  • Celtic
  • Baltic
  • Slavic
  • Albanian
  • Greek language
  • Armenian language
  • Thracian
  • Dacian
  • Phrygian
  • Anatolian
  • Tocharian

  • German, Frisian, Dutch, Afrikaans, English,
    Norwegian, Danish, Swedish
  • German Bavarian, Swabian, Alsatian, Cimbrian,
    Rimella, Reinfrankisch, Pennsylvania,
    Luxembourgeois, Swiss German, Yiddish

  • Portuguese, Galician, Spanish, Ladino, Asturian,
    Aragonese, Catalan, Valencian, French, Wallon,
    Jerais, Poitevain, Piccard, Occitan, Lengadocian,
    Gascon, Auvergnat, Limosin, Franco-Provencal,
    Rumantsch, Sursilvan, Fiulian, Ladin, Italian
    (and all its variants), Rumanian, Sardinian,

(No Transcript)
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  • Note, however, that 150m people speak Russian as
    a second language.
  • French and English are spoken as second languages
    by 50-75m people each.
  • Malay-Indonesian, French, Urdu, Punjabi, Korean,
    Telegu, Tamil, Marathi, Italian, Cantonese round
    out the top 20 and are spoken by at least 25m

The vanishing languages
  • 5 of the worlds languages are spoken by 95 of
    the worlds people
  • 95 of the worlds languages are spoken by 5 of
    the worlds people

A few facts about vanishing languages
  • Of 220 Indian languages still spoken in Mexico,
    17 are nearing extinction.
  • Of the 168 American Indian languages listed for
    the United States, 71 are extinct or soon will
  • Breton probably had 1.4m speakers in 1900. It is
    now down to perhaps 400k speakers.

The case of Navaho
  • Navajo was down to fewer than 5000 speakers in
    the 19th century. It made a dramatic comeback and
    had over 100,000 speakers in the 1970s.
  • Now, it too, may be headed for extinction, even
    though it is said to have over 150k speakers.

Whats the problem?
  • One could argue that language die-off is just
    part of natural evolution
  • The language of Cesar is not spoken today, and
    the language is Jesus is spoken by a few hundred
  • Nothing catastrophic seems to have happened . . .
    Why worry now?

Language diversity and survival
  • Language diversity did not cause the evolutionary
    success of Homo sapiens.
  • Some fraction of human knowledge however, is
    stored in the languages remaining today
  • Whatever that fraction is, can we afford to lose

The language disappearance experiment
  • I wouldnt be so worried about the mass
    extinction of languages if I had 20 or 30 planets
    on which to conduct this experiment
  • We do not know if its enough to rescue knowledge
    rather than languages

Whats being done?
  • Anthropologists and linguists who are concerned
    about language preservation are helping to
    preserve and to vitalize languages.

  • Writing was invented at least twice, perhaps
    three or four times
  • Spread through trade, proselytizing, and
  • First Middle East 3200 BCE (Uruk, S. Iraq)
  • Indus Valley 2500 BCE
  • Olmecs 600 BCE (up to 15 different writing
    systems in ancient Mexico)

  • Early scripts of the Middle East evolved into
    syllabaries and alphabets, or phonographic
  • The system invented in China during the Shang
    period (1750-1040 BCE) was logographic-syllabic
  • This system evolved into the characters used, in
    various forms, for writing Chinese, Japanese,
    Korean, and Vietnamese.

  • First writing system, cuneiform, was
    logographic-syllabic late fourth millennium BCE
    in what is today Iraq.
  • Developed to write Sumerian, and was later
    adapted by the Akkadians, a Semitic population,
    to write their own, entirely different language.
  • By 1100 BCE, speakers of Semitic languages
    (Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic) had developed a
    script that contained symbols representing
    consonants. Modern Arabic and Hebrew scripts are
    both derived from the early Semitic.

Hebrew and Arabic
  • Jews have been an isolated ethnic-religious group
    within multiethnic states and have adapted Hebrew
    to write the national languages they spoke.
  • Yiddish (derived primarily from German),
    Judeo-Arabic (spoken by Jews across the
    Arabic-speaking world), Judeo-Spanish (based on
    Spanish before 1492 when the Jews were expelled
    from Spain) and Judeo-Tat (20,000 Jews today in
    Russia and Azerbaijan)

  • Arabic is among the most widely used alphabetic
    scripts Arabic, the Berber languages, Pashto,
    Farsi, Kurdish, Urdu, Sindhi
  • 1300-1928 CE, Arabic used for writing Turkish
  • Arabic becoming alternative to Cyrillic for
    writing Turkic and Iranian languages of the
    former Soviet Union
  • One form of Arabic, Maltese, is written with a
    Roman script, the consequence of Christian

  • Persian (Farsi) is written today in Arabic
  • Ancient Persian written with a Semitic (Aramaic)
    script beginning in the second millennium BCE,
    and Persians brought their script to Altaic
    peoples (Turks, Mongols) during the 6th-8th
    centuries CE.

The Alphabet
  • Around 750 BCE, the Greeks adapted one variety of
    the Semitic script (probably Phoenician), adding
    some symbols for vowels and consonants that were
    needed for writing Greek.
  • This innovation produced the alphabet, a writing
    system on which many modern scripts are based.
  • Some of the earliest Greek texts were written
    right to left and boustrophendon.
  • Writing left to right was established around 500

  • The ancient Greek script adapted by Phrygian,
    Lycian, Lydian, Coptic, and Etruscan
  • Etruscan alphabet adapted by the Romans, and may
    have stimulated the Germanic and Scandinavian
    runes in the first century CE.
  • Germanic runic script brought by the Anglo-Saxons
    to England, around the fifth century CE.

  • Bishop Wulfila translated the Greek Bible into
    Gothic during the fourth century CE, devising
    early Gothic script from Greek characters.
  • The Armenian alphabet was developed early in the
    fifth century CE by Bishop Mesrop Mashtots (St.
    Mesrop) to make it easier for people to read the
  • Ninth century, St. Cyril (hence the term Cyrillic
    alphabet) and his brother St. Methodius
    translated the Bible into Slavonic, adapting the
    Greek alphabet and adding some characters as

  • Cyrillic-based scripts now used for writing
    Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Serbian
  • Cyrillic adapted to writing gt50 non-Slavic
    languages Moldovan, Tajik, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tatar,
    Azeri, Kirghiz, and Abkhaz, as well as Chuckchee
    and other tribal languages of the Russian Far

  • At around the same time that Cyrillic was
    developed, a separate adaptation of the Greek
    alphabet, called Glagolitic, was used for writing
    the Roman Catholic liturgy in Slavic-speaking
  • This was eventually replaced by a version of the
    Roman alphabet. Today, Serbians and Croatians in
    the former Yugoslavia speak the same language but
    Serbians, being mostly Orthodox, use Cyrillic
    script, while Croatians, being mostly Catholic,
    use a Roman script.

  • The Roman alphabet was adapted to the writing of
    many modern European languages (French, German,
    English, Welsh, Lithuanian, Polish, Estonian,
    Hungarian, Basque, among others).
  • Also adapted for writing Chinese (Pinyin),
    Japanese (Romaji), Vietnamese (Quoc Ngu), and
    hundreds of so-called preliterate, indigenous
    languages in Africa, Indonesia, New Guinea, North
    and South America, Australia, and the Pacific.

Preliterate was once us
  • Popular literacy was made possible only in the
    15th century with Gutenbergs invention
  • When St. Augustine arrived in England in 597 CE,
    a few Anglo-Saxons might have been able to write
    in Germanic runic script.
  • It would be another hundred years before Old
    English would be written with a variant of Roman
  • In the 6th century, Old English was a
    "preliterate, indigenous" language.

Brahmi script
  • South Asian scripts derived from Brahmi, fifth
    century BCE.
  • The Brahmi-derived scripts include Devanagari,
    used for writing Hindi.
  • Varieties of the Brahmi script are used for
    writing Khmer, Tibetan, Thai, and Sinhalese
  • As Arabic script followed the spread of Islam,
    the Brahmi script followed the spread of

Logographic scripts
  • By the third century BCE Chinese was being
    standardized and dictionaries were compiled in
    the first century CE.
  • Modern Mandarin Chinese dictionaries show more
    than 60,000 characters, but 2400 characters
    account for 99 of all characters in modern
    Chinese texts.
  • Koreans adopted Chinese characters in the fifth
    century CE.

The Korean case
  • Hangul introduced by King Seycong in 1444 CE to
    make it easier for people to become literate.
  • In 1949, North Korea abolished the use of Chinese
    characters in public writing, again to extend
  • South Korean newspapers still use Chinese
    characters and schoolchildren learn nearly 2000
    characters before graduating from high school

The Japanese case
  • The Japanese case the rate of literacy does not
    depend on the nature of the writing system, but
    on long-term schooling.
  • Japanese adopted Kanji, in third or fourth
    century CE, probably via Korea.
  • By 608 CE, Prince ShÇtoku began sending students
    to China, and they brought back many Chinese
    texts. Much Chinese culture (music and food, in
    addition to writing) was adopted in Japan,
    particularly by the elite, during the 7th and 8th

Syllabaries and logographs
  • Two syllabaries, Hiragana and Katakana, were
    developed in the 9th century.
  • Katakana evolved from auxiliary marks used by
    Buddhist monks who were reading Chinese texts and
    is used in conjunction with Kanji.
  • Hiragana is used entirely on its own, developed
    primarily as a women's script, just as Hangul in
    Korea was initially rejected by the elite and
    became a vehicle for literary expression among
    some people who would otherwise have remained

Phonographic and idiographic scripts
  • The Japanese were introduced to Roman script in
    the late 16th century by European missionaries.
  • During the American occupation, 1945-1952, the
    U.S. Education Mission to Japan pushed Romaji in
    the belief that Kanji could only be understood by
    a privileged, class, but after the occupation it
    was rejected.
  • Japanese students today learn about 2000
    characters, the two Kana syllabaries, and

The Vietnamese case
  • The Vietnamese case clear that literacy is more
    easily accomplished with romanized scripts than
    with Chinese characters under some conditions.
  • The Chinese colonial period in Vietnam was a
    millenium 111 BCE - 939 CE.
  • The Chinese did not actively introduce their
    writing system to Vietnam, but Buddhist and
    Confucian clergy used Chinese characters to write

  • Character-based writing system for Vietnamese,
    called Chu Nom, was established among the elite
    by the 14th century.
  • In 1651, a French Jesuit, Alexandre de Rhodes,
    produced a Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary
    and a catechism in Vietnamese, all in a special
    Roman-based, called Quoc Ngu, that he devised.
  • It was favored during French rule (1861-1945),
    because it was easier for administrators to learn
    than classical Chinese or Chu Nom. For precisely
    this reason, the Chu Nom system was used for
    anticolonial resistance literature during the
    French colonial period.

  • By the end of World War I, some nationalist
    leaders advocated adopting Quoc Ngu for mass
  • In 1939, less than 20 of the population was
    literate. In 1945, with the declaration of
    independence against the French, Ho Chi Minh
    launched a campaign of mass literacy explicitly
    to enlist people in the struggle against the

  • The Vietnamese first got writing from contact
    with their Chinese occupiers.
  • Chu Nom was an intermediate attempt to modify the
    writing system to Vietnamese realities.
  • The arrival of European missionaries brought a
    Latin-based script which, 200 years later, was
    used as an instrument of colonial control.
  • Then, a century after that, the same script
    became an instrument for overthrowing the
    colonial regime.

Indigenous scripts
  • Cherokee (Sequoya, 1820) a case of stimulus
  • Bamun (Cameroon)
  • Vai (Liberia)