ACCORDING to a local news story in mid-August in Vietnam, the Vietnamese alphabet will not be receiving extra letters. The Ministry of Education denied a claim by the Department of Information Technology that it plans to add f, j, w and z to the current 29-letter alphabet. The back-and-forth nonetheless started a debate among the literati about language and heritage.
Authoritarian governments are often tempted by language planning, but in Vietnam’s case, fiddling about with the writing system predates the modern regime. The Roman script as used there is based on the work of a 17th-century French Jesuit scholar, Alexandre de Rhodes, who learned the language there in some six months and then transposed into his alphabet.
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