Within the past four months, Vietnam National University Publishing House has withdrawn two high-volume dictionaries. One was removed due to copyright violation, while the other sparked controversy for its questionable spelling choices.

Spelling concerns in Vietnamese dictionaries

Linguist Hoang Tuan Cong has identified several instances of misspellings in Vietnamese dictionaries. Since 2014, around ten dictionaries with spelling errors have been published, but only half of them have been recalled by their publishers. Cong strongly condemns the irresponsibility of publishers who overlook errors in these essential academic publications.

Consequently, Cong supports stricter regulations in Vietnam’s Publishing Law to safeguard the purity of the Vietnamese language. He suggests that dictionary compilers should declare their identity and involve editors and independent professional councils. These parties would be held accountable for the accuracy of the dictionaries under new regulations.

Assoc. Prof. Nguyen Van Chinh from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi highlights a problem within the publishing industry. Currently, there are no legal documents regulating Vietnamese orthography. Vietnamese linguists have not agreed on a standardized spelling for certain words, leading to a lenient practice where two different spellings are accepted. Chinh supports the development of a standard Vietnamese orthography to address this issue.

Need for a leading agency in drafting laws

Voice of Vietnam (VOV) director Nguyen The Ky expresses significant concern about Vietnamese spelling issues and advocates for a standard Vietnamese orthography. VOV, the Linguistic Society of Vietnam (LSV), and the National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents, and Children (CCEYAC) have discussed the development of the potential “Law on the Vietnamese Language” in 2019, with VOV taking the lead in drafting the legislation.

Ky emphasizes the necessity of a strong legal framework to protect the Vietnamese language. With a law on the Vietnamese language in place, signage and official documentation would prioritize Vietnamese as the dominant language. Institutions would also adhere to a single standard for spelling. Phan Thanh Binh, chairman of CCEYAC, endorses the law, which would resolve various language-related dilemmas. The law would ensure consistent Vietnamese pronunciation teaching in schools and establish a framework for dialectic pronunciation in the National Assembly.

However, the lack of leadership in the legal drafting process presents a major obstacle. The government considers VOV ill-suited to take the lead, favoring the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism and the Ministry of Education and Training as more suitable options. CCEYAC plans to submit an official document to the National Assembly for discussion on the development of the Vietnamese orthography law.

CCEYAC has collaborated with VOV, LSV, the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS), and the Vietnam National University, Hanoi on the Vietnamese orthography law. They have unanimously agreed to proceed with studying the law.

Law crucial for protecting the Vietnamese language

The 2013 Constitution of Vietnam designates Vietnamese as the official language of the country, providing a crucial foundation for discussions on the law on Vietnamese orthography. Professor Nguyen Van Hiep, president of LSV, emphasizes that even with an orthography law in effect, it should not dictate every single use of the Vietnamese language in practice. Instead, the law should provide general guidelines, particularly concerning spelling and spelling standards.

The Vietnamese language has continuously evolved throughout history and achieved a certain level of stability. Previous reform initiatives to standardize the language were unsuccessful. However, efforts should continue to address the issue of establishing a common spelling system that resolves existing conflicts in the language.

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