Language Policy & Language Legislation in Vietnam

Nguyen Van Khang. Language Policy & Language Legislation in Vietnam [Chính Sách Ngôn Ngữ & Lập Pháp Ngôn Ngữ ở Việt Nam]. Vietnam: Social Sciences Publishing House [Nhà Xuất Bản Khoa Học Xã Hội], 2014.

Reviewed by Huy Hoa Ai Chau (Ph.D. candidate, Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore)

This book is a systematic attempt to provide a detailed examination of language policy and legislation in Vietnam under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) from its establishment to the present day. There are two major sections containing ten chapters in total: Language Policy of the Communist Party and the Government of Vietnam and Language Legislation in Vietnam. Each chapter finishes with a brief evaluation of the merits or drawbacks of these policies and suggestions for future directions.

The book is organized in a logical and approachable manner. The first section opens with an introduction to major theoretical concepts and definitions in the field of language policy, including language policy and language planning, followed by specific examples of the linguistic situations of various countries around the world, with special focus on China and Russia. The author then provides an in-depth discussion of language policy and planning in Vietnam. The discussion is divided into three historical phrases: from the establishment of the CPV to 1945, from 1945 to 1954, and from 1975 to the present. In each phase, the intentions and guidelines of the CPV are highlighted with respect to the following issues: the role of Vietnamese as the national language and Quoc Ngu (national language) as the official orthography, the linguistic situation of ethnic minorities, and the teaching and learning of foreign languages. This sets the scene for the second section, in which the author discusses language legislation and language laws and the urgent need to construct a set of “National Language Laws for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam(475) within the context of globalization and increasing problems of linguistic impurities in present Vietnamese society.

As a comprehensive overview of language policy and language legislation in Vietnam, this book serves as a point of academic reference for readers of Vietnamese who are interested in these issues. The book documents a collection of governmental orders and decrees to highlight the role of the CPV in pinpointing the mission to maintain and develop Vietnamese and Quoc Ngu to fulfill their function as the national language and writing system of a unified Vietnam throughout the three historical phases. A huge effort is also made in reviewing the language policies for ethnic minorities and minority languages in order to foster a balanced diaglossic situation in which ethnic minority communities can use both Vietnamese and their mother tongue to meet their communication needs. This is, perhaps, the most vivid part of the book, as much effort has been placed into providing a fully documented and detailed account of the linguistic situations of the 53 ethnic minorities in Vietnam, as well as the existing problems that they are left to face with.

There are also certain limitations which should be considered. Firstly, the book has harsh words for the language policies of ‘the other side,’ when Vietnam was still under French colonialism in the late 19th and early 20th century. But this criticism is not matched with a detailed description of the various educational reforms done by the colonial government, which carried a direct impact on the formation and development of the romanized Vietnamese orthography– Quoc Ngu. For the language policies for ethnic minorities, although the author praises the CPV for creating conditions to foster multilingualism and language preservation of these ethnic groups, the supporting examples seem to contradict the praise, as many given accounts only focus on evaluating the success or failure of acquiring the national language and how to boost this acquisition process in these communities. In addition, the discussion of the impact of globalization and the spread of English only seems to scratch the surface and does not delve into the real consequences of this issue, especially considering that these consequences directly signal a need for an official set of language laws on the issue of preserving the purity of the national language in the context of globalization.