A reader (thanks, Caroline!) sent me a link to this Economist post about a decision by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education not to add the extra letters f, j, w, and z to the alphabet:
Vietnamese scholars took the opportunity to talk about what the script means to them. The debate has mostly been over modernisation and global integration versus cultural integrity. Pham Van Tinh, of the Institute of Lexicography and Encyclopaedia, argued that “these letters are very popular in many languages in the world” and that people already come across them in science and other areas. But another professor said that scripts are part of a country’s “cultural heritage”, perhaps forgetting for a moment how recently quoc ngu had been adopted.
In the end, inertia won out. Changing the alphabet would have taken a lot of work and cost. Add to that the fact that Vietnam has a habit of ignoring its own legislation, whether on public smoking or motorcycle helmets. Getting another generation to sing a new alphabet song and under-resourced schools to print up new alphabet posters would have taken scarce time and money. Those who want to use f and the rest are just going to have to do it without official sanction.
I always like the idea of doing things without official sanction. But while I’m on the subject, does anybody know the story with Zien Hong, name of a Vietnamese restaurant in Portland, Oregon, and of a former publishing house in Saigon? I’m thinking it may have to do with the fact that d and gi are both pronounced /z/ in the northern dialect, but I’d love to know the details.