Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong and his Largest Nom Script Dictionary

Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong, the former vice president of the Institute of Han-Nom (Sino-Nom) Studies and the former President of the Vietnamese Linguistics Association is highly respected in the Vietnamese scientists circle as the leading expert in the domains of linguistics and Han and Nom research. He is famous for his works like “Khai luan van tu hoc chu Nom” (2008), “Am tiet va loai hinh ngon ngu” (2012) and particularly a dictionary of Nom scripts – the largest of its kind in Vietnam. The 2,323-page dictionary features 9,450 Nom scripts with more than 3,000 Nom scripts which have never appeared in other dictionaries and existing Nom fonts. 

We met Prof. Nguyen Hong Quang at his house on Kim Ma Thuong Street, Hanoi. In the cozy, quiet atmosphere, the professor told us about the process of compiling this dictionary. To complete the dictionary, he spent about ten years collecting, studying and classifying nearly ten thousand scripts from hundreds of original documents and then it took him seven years typing and editing them on his computer.

Careful and serious in his research, Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong pays much attention to the accuracy in processing the files so the Nom scripts in his dictionary have excerpted examples in detail from ancient documents, full of information about the excerpted source and pages. The meanings with different uses of each script is illustrated by at least one example sentence. Therefore, he did not put those which have no proof in the writing and accuracy into his dictionary.
He recalled duringthe process of research that he talked with his students about a Nom script that he had taken great effort to look for different ancient meanings and he failed. Luckily, a student told him he saw the script in his family’s annals that helped the professor complete the proofs and found enough meanings for that script.

Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong, Vietnam’s leading linguistic researcher (August, 2015). Photo: Tat Son

Despite being retired, Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong spends time and effort researching Nom scripts. Photo: Tat Son

Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong talks with US experts about the Nom front in 2009. Photo: File

Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong looks up information about Nom scripts in the work “Quoc am thi tap”
by Nguyen Trai at the Archive Centre of the Institute for Han-Nom Studies. Photo: Tat Son

Researching and looking up information from ancient documents
are of great significance in compiling his Nom dictionary. Photo: Tat Son

He has many famous researches of epitaphs. Photo: Tat Son

Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong has a research at Hai Ba Trung Temple in Hanoi. Photo: Tat Son

Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong, scholars and his colleagues at the ceremony
of introducing the Dictionary of Nom Characters with Quotations & Annotations in August 2015. Photo: File

Some works of Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong. Photo: Tat Son

His dictionary is believed to not only contain Nom scripts, but also a treasure of proofs of the history and culture of Vietnam. Through excerpted examples to define clearly meanings of scripts, they found famous works of great poetic and literary celebrities like Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Du, Ho Xuan Huong, Nguyen Khuyen, Nguyen Dinh Chieu and literary works such as “Truyen ky man luc giai am”, “Cac Thanh truyen” (Catholicism) and Co Chau luc (Buddhism) with great value from the ancestors. It also shows traditional cultural features and customs through poems and folk songs.

Associate Prof. Trinh Khac Manh, former Head of the Institute for Han-Nom Studies acknowledged that it is a new-styled Han-Nom dictionary with great content and high quality in comparison with the previous ones, showing thorough knowledge and new research methods and new conceptions of the author for the structure of Nom scripts.

Lee Collins, chairman of the Nom script Preservation Association in the US said that this dictionary with clear excerpts marked an important milestone of the progress in Han-Nom research that would serve as a reference for the next generation of scholars.

Related to the usage value of this dictionary, the expert circle said that it is not only for researchers but also a majority of readers, who can learn more about traditional culture. The old people in the countryside, can use it to look for meanings of Nom scripts in communal houses and parallel sentences.

Although having many research works of high scientific value, Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong has never felt satisfied with what he has achieved. Therefore, he still passionately conducts research and always thinks: “Any good thing in the present conveys imprints of the past and to learn about the past of our ancestor it must be through the writings – Nom scripts. Thus, we just understand the spirit and thoughts, and inherit the traditional culture of our ancestors”.

For the above reasons, Nom scripts with the Vietnamese language and Vietnamese culture is a great passion in the life and career of Prof. Nguyen Quang Hong.

Story: Thao Vy – Photos: Tat Son – Files