The Vietnamese language is written with Roman letters, a surprise to many Westerners who imagine vaguely that it still uses some kind of Chinese script.* Instead, Vietnamese calligraphers and type designers have created a distinctive--unique!--writing style that blends Asian brush techniques with the structure of the ABCs.
*Vietnam broke free of Chinese rule some 1000 years ago, evolved their own set of characters for a few centuries, then welcomed the alphabet 300 years ago. Roman letters have been the official national script for over a hundred years.
|Brush strokes, phonetic letters.|
To understand Vietnamese calligraphy we will first review traditional brush techniques. Strokes like these are also used to write the very different characters and letters of China, Japan, and Korea.
The antiquated Chinese-based nôm characters appear only on ceremonial occasions and holidays like New Year. Here, a traditionally-costumed sidewalk calligrapher writes New Year's wishes for hire, and monk Minh Duc finishes a scroll.
One expert estimates that "only 40 people remain who can read nôm characters."