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Chính sách ngôn ngữ ở miền bắc Việt Nam trong thời chiến tranh

Đầu tháng 4 năm 2012, một người bạn đang học Master in Linguistics ở University of Western Sydney, có nhờ tôi dịch giùm một bài viết bằng tiếng Pháp đăng trên tạp chí ngôn ngữ ‘Europe” năm 1968 ra tiếng Anh để tiện cho việc viết luận án. Bài này là diễn văn của thủ tướng Phạm Văn Đồng nhân dịp Hội thảo về Bảo vệ sự thuần tiết và trong sáng của tiếng Việt.

Nhận thấy bài có những chi tiết thú vị về công tác bảo vệ tiếng Việt cách đây gần nữa thế kỷ (mà nếu so sánh với tình thế hiện nay thì tiếng Việt bây giờ sẽ bị cho là quá ô nhiễm), nên tôi đễ bài này lên blog. Cách hành văn và chấm câu trong nguyên bản cách đây gần 50 năm phần lớn được giữ nguyên vẹn, nên có thể khó đọc, nhất là ở đoạn cuối.

Dong, Pham Van, La pureté et la clarité de la langue, Europe, 46:473 (1968:sept), pp. 208

In defence of the purity and clarity of the Vietnamese language

(A speech by Prime Minister Pham Van Dong during

a Symposium on the defence of

the purity and clarity of the Vietnamese language)

Dear comrades

I permit myself to present to you a certain number of ideas in the proposal for the defence of the purity and clarity of Vietnamese language.

At the moment, we are very busy. We have to concentrate all our efforts in order to intensify the sacred combat undertaken by all of our people: the struggle against the American imperialism, in order to save the country, to defend the North, to liberate the South, to arrive at the peace and the reunification of our Vietnam….

Allow me to expose to you some ideas: some of my impressions. First, I will tell you how much our language is pure and clear. After that I will show you a few points concerning the development and evolution of our language and the bad tendencies that can influence on the language; and at the end, I will present some suggestions that one have to do to protect the clarity and purity of our mother language.

Our language is truly rich; rich in the life of thousand reflections, of the intellectual life…

Our Vietnamese language is very beautiful !. How beautiful is it, truly is difficult to define, like it is impossible to say how beautiful is light !… It is probably right to say that our language is beautiful as the soul of the Vietnamese is very beautiful, as the struggles conducted by our people, from ancient times to our present day are entirely noble, grandiose, of an incomparable beauty !

Two sources of the beauty and the richness of Vietnamese language are from this: It is the language of the mass of the people, full of sentiments, images, colours and musics, so natural, so spiritual, and charged of the senses; at the same time, it is also the language of the art and literature, that the great writers, poets of our people in the past, such as Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Du etc.. and then the poets and writers of the present, from the North to the South, have lead to a degree of high elevation of the art and techniques, giving the language this purity, this clarity, which is the essence of the same Vietnamese language, it is then the result of a long process, traversing a lot of efforts of enrichment and polishment…

I permit myself to take an example of this short popular song:

Hỡi cô tát nước bên đàng

Sao cô múc ánh trăng vang đỗ đi ?

(hey, tell me, young girl, who is irrigating on the side of the road, Why, you scoop in large bucket and throw away, the golden reflection of the moon).

Or take another example taken from “Truyện Kiều”:

Long lanh đáy nước in trời

Thành xây khói biếc, non phơi ánh vàng

(Mirroring, the sky is at the bottom of the water,

The ramparts strayed in a violet fog – on the mountain immersed in the golden reflect.)

These are very beautiful stanzas, two pearls, one still very rustic, coming from the people and another having already passed into the hand of a artisan of genius !

In truth, our language reflects the thought, the life that is affective so rich and so fecund of our people: image, full of colour and music. In the beautiful poems, the beautiful pieces of prose of our literature, appears the essence so particular, unique in its genre, of the Vietnamese language.


We can choose many examples. In our language, one word can be used to serve an expression of many concepts, or inversely, one concept can be materialised by multiple expressions. That is why, one can say with justification that our Vietnamese language has many large capacities to express the ideas and the sentiments in different styles. Don’t fear that our language is poor, but instead one has to worry that one  does not know how to handle it well !.

That is why our fundamental duty is to have a deep knowledge of our language, from the point of its richness and its beauty, as well as its unlimited possibilities; at the same time, we have to have a large “receptivity” in order to defend the clarity and purity of our language, this invaluable capital of our people, an instrument that is most effective in the revolutionary, ideological and cultural struggle.

Let us return one more to the question of language: the essential point is one have to know to love and to value what the people talk. This talk takes its source in the  many thousands years life of our people, it reflects the thinking, the sentiments of a grand community; each word, each expression is dotted with an exalting power on the soul of other Vietnamese. Take an example: to say : defend the air space, the expressions “bảo vệ không phận” and “bảo vệ vùng trời”, which one is more exact, better and for a Vietnamese, evoking the better, and idea and the sentiment ?. One can enumerate a series of examples such as: to designate a lighthouse, say “hải đăng” or “đèn biển” ?. – to say bridges and roads, say “kiều lộ” or “cầu đường” ? etc, etc.

Or let take this expression “trong sáng” that means the purity and the clarity. The words “trong sáng” itself suffice to demonstrate that our vocabulary is so rich and wonderful. “Trong”, that is purity, signifies again transparency, without impurity, without any trouble; “sáng”, that is clarity, wants to say again lighten, reflect, illuminate; associated to “trong”, “sáng” exalts the purity and by that, these two words “trong sáng” come to give a notion of an idea, of the sentiments of our Vietnamese: these two words give exactly and clearly the concepts that we want to express.

Let us return again to this verse in Truyện Kiều:

Long lanh đáy nước in trời

Why do I recite this verse? This verse makes us think of the problem charged of sense and flavour: Poetry, Nature, Art and Life ! what can be more beautiful than this ! . One can also make a comparison of Art and Life, if this verse makes us admiring more about the wonderful possibilities of the Art, of the Literature, of the Poetry; then at the same time, one don’t have the right to compare between, the Art and Life and then make them oppose each other – because this is an erroneous concept that leads a certain number of people toward a cul-de-sac, without issue, toward the theories of “Art for the Art”, and toward the attempts of “abstractionnism”, etc.!. Art have to reflect Life and serve Life. Without attaching Art to Life, Art will inescapably perish.

The same can be said of language: language have to reflect life and serve it; the daily life, the revolutionary struggle of the people, the struggle against the American imperialists to save the country of all of our people at this hour, the political, cultural, literary, artistic life, the life in science and technology. What does it means to reflect the life?. That is to express the ideas, the sentiments of the ones who talk, of the ones who write, that is to wake up the reflection, the emotion inside the people who listen as well as in the people who read. To achieve it, the language of the people has to be utilised, the phrases, the people conversation, it is simple like that. Not only this has a big advantage of easily being understood, but this also allows the strong emotions to be sustained among the listeners as well as the speakers.

That is why it is required to fight more categorically and efficiently against this “mania”, this “maladie” (sickness) of abusing the “savant” words, that Uncle Ho, regularly criticises and condemns: “The ignorants, he always says, love to use the “savant words”. This is very true. This “mania” of using the “savant words” is not only annoying, as it annoys people who listen to it or who read it, but it also risks making our language obscure and burdened with impurities. Moreover, this great flaw gradually leads to a habit that is very harmful, the habit of using the words that are currently widely used, the phrases that are currently widely made, the pre-fabricated language that one is currently using, and is present everywhere.: these “clichés” often does not contain any signification, they replace the reflection.

One idea or a true emotion, coming from the depth of the heart, can be expressed very well by a simple and natural talk and full of flavour, in the daily life, as well as in the political life. At present, this “maladie” of “cliches” have to retain our attention!. We have to watch it, because it can propagate to become a very bad habit!. It is not only true among adults but also among children as well, many love to express following a “cliché” that is popularly used, yes, widely used often for a long time ! And also all the young kids, in foyer or in the chairs at school, already have taken this “fold”, they open their mouth to let go the “learned” words. If they want to promenade, all very simply, they said “tham quan”, instead of “đi chơi”; they chat ? – they say “mạn đàm” instead of “nói chuyện” and I know more ! and “trao đổi”, and “tồn tại”, etc, etc… Watch !. Truly we have to watch it !


Now, I will touch on some points regarding the development of the Vietnamese language and the bad tendencies which can influence it.

We have a high and well-founded concept of the language of our people. That is why since the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, we have realised in this domain significant things and obtained good results. One part, we have employed the Vietnamese language widely in different domains of political, economic, social, cultural, artistic, scientific, technological… life. Other part, as soon as the new regime was established, we have liquidated illiteracy in a very short time, we have utilised Vietnamese to teach in different schools, and also in institutes and faculties: Vietnamese was used to teach in different chairs of sciences and technologies. If one compares this accomplishment with that of other countries having similar situation like ours, it is good to know that it is a magnificent achievement realised by our language, and this also is a proof of our high national conscience.

I have made a brief resume of these facts to share with you an overview of what we could do to popularise as widely as possible the Vietnamese language and its writing. Vietnamese becomes an instrument that is very effective in the cultural and ideological revolution. That is an essential point. But at the same time, we also have to realise the tendencies, the phenomena that could have a harmful influence on the purity and clarity of our language. At this hour, the political life, the social activity of our people are progressing and multiplying abundantly: people talk, write and read a lot….

Facing with this situation, what we can do ? – and who will be in charge ?. What do we have to do to safeguard the purity and clarity of our language – Defend these two eminently appreciated qualities that are its richness and beauty, – and furthermore, what we have to do to add more to its richness and beauty. It means we have to take initative, being resolute, sensible, at the same time, it also means being patient, engage in a long struggle, with a good organisation, and a serious program.

Here, it is necessary to pay attention to three tasks: the first is to safeguard and develop the “capital” of our language; the second is to speak and write correctly following the grammar, the third is to conserve the particularities, the essence, the proper style of our language in different literature forms (literature, politics, sciences, technologies, etc…)

Naturally, the third task is intimately linked to the first two tasks, at the moment this third task is much extended and very much important.

On the Vietnamese vocabulary

During the symposium, a number of comrades have already talked much about this “disease” (maladie): abuse of the “learned words” and exaggeration and useless importation of foreign words into our language. It is better to pay attention to this unfortunate tendency which can make our language losing its purity, its clarity and its characteristics.  It is necessary to conduct a general and deep study on this tendency, to find the means to fend it off. Here I can only show some examples:

–         Let’s return to the abuse of the “learned words”, because it is a contagious disease, and because of it can be very easy to treat.

Also utilise the imported words, while the Vietnamese vocabulary does not lack, for example: to say to fire a gun, one uses “xạ kích”, instead of “bắn súng”, to say space, one writes “cự ly”, instead of “khoảng cách”, etc., etc…

–         Then, utilising the words with incomplete meaning, or imprecise signification like “tồn tại” (existing), like “trao đổi” (exchange) which is too short. Then, what is existing, what does one exchange: exchange of view or exchange of merchandises etc.

–         Abuse the word “tiến hành” (proceed) replacing the word “làm” (do), the word “sử dụng” (utilise) replacing “dùng” (serve), the word “phát biểu” (express one‘s opinion) to replace the word “nói” (say).

Very recently, another new tendency and… unfortunate: as the expression “phát biểu” seems a bit… long, then people shortens it by saying only “phát(1). Then this tendency of abridging everything, in speaking and in writing, in a way that is… unjustified, like “sinh, tâm, lý” instead that one has to write “sinh lý, tâm lý” (physiology, psychology); “y bác sĩ” instead of  writing “y sĩ, bác sĩ” (nurse, doctor) etc…

True, in some cases people can do abbreviation, such as “việt minh” (that is “Việt Nam độc lập đồng minh”). But in reality, these cases are not comparable.

On the vocabulary, we are facing an urgent need: it is necessary that the new words, especially in the scientific and technological domains, also in numerous speciality areas, are in the process of being developed. Naturally, we have many new words. But how to fabricate them, and who is responsible?. Actually, up to this point, we haven’t devoted much attention on this problem, which is fairly important, in many fields, people has “imported” a very large number of new words, but without any regulation, and the common people can not understand at all ! Yes, absolutement !.

On the Vietnamese grammar

This is a very important problem. Important, because we need it, our students need it, and the foreigners who want to learn our language also have a great need for it.

I know at this hour, a great number of comrades are compiling a book on the Vietnamese grammar – that is also very good. But how to proceed? – I permit myself to make some suggestions:

To compile Vietnamese grammar, we have to start from a correct point of view and a serious method. On what basis this study and the departure points can be rested ?. It is based on the Vietnamese language itself. We have to make it as the base and study it, reflect on it, discover its particularities, its rules, its laws. There is no other way !. You can consult all the grammars of all other countries, it is necessary to do that. But don’t take other grammar as a departure point in order to construct the Vietnamese grammar. And this is the fundamental point of all our work.  We have our revolutionary regime, we have our strategy of people war, our politic of economic, cultural development, and nearly in any problem regarding our mode of life at the moment, as in the rice culture, architecture of our habitation, our clothing, our preparation for eating etc, etc.. we have to to take the basis of the departure point the natural condition of our country, our revolutionary practice, the social reality of our people. That is the method of thinking, the base for study and research of the Vietnamese grammar. We have to take this reality as the departure point for the study of the Vietnamese language.

On the Vietnamese language in general; way of speaking and writing of Vietnamese

Our language is rich and beautiful, it will be more so if we know to safeguard it, use it and develop it. All of us, we have to force ourselves to achieve this task. How do we do it ?. Here it is necessary to distinguish different styles that are suitable to different domains of the Art, politic, sciences, technologies.

In the domain of the Art, we have confidence of the immense possibilities of our language: don’t be afraid that it could lack its richness and beauty; on the contrary, it is certain that our language itself will develop in a fertile manner, on the rhythm as our revolutionary work, our infinitely rich life of our people


(1) “phát” by itself can have many meanings, leading to confusion, and above all a good laugh (joke) (N.d.T)


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