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Developing languages in the specified fields like one of the methods for resolving the problem of cultural diversities in the processes of regionalization and globalization (2)

Posted by daothu09 on August 19, 2009

24 = Bai bao HTQT 2003

Dr. DAO Hong Thu

IV. Vietnam – its languages and cultural diversities of its nations 

Nowadays, Vietnam is a unified country with numerous ethnic groups living side by side. Each ethnic group has its own characteristics and all contribute to Vietnam’s diverse culture. Studies conducted by the Institute of Ethnology show that Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups belonging to different ethno – linguistics families. According to researchers throughout the country, there are three main groups: 

1. The Austro – Asiatic family (97.5% of population). It includes 40 ethnic groups with different languages such as Viet – Muong, Mon – Khmer, Hmong – Dao, Tay – Thai and Ka Dai.

2. The Malayo – Polynesian (Austropolynesian) family (1.09% of population). It has only one language and five ethnic sub-groups.

3. The Sino – Tibetan family (1.35% of population). It includes nine ethnic groups and two languages: Sino – Han and Tibeto – Burman.

Among the enumerated above linguistic groups, the Vietnamese (Viet – Muong linguistic group) is used as the nation’s language. Vietnam, lying in a favourable position at the confluence of East-West and North-South population flows, represents the convergence of numerous ethnic groups with varied languages and cultural diversities. Among these groups, some are indigenous, others migrated from adjacent regions during the course of the country’s development.

From this, Indochina and South China are zones of ethnology and history. It is able to be considered that like many other zones throughout the world, borderlines of ethnic groups and their languages on nation borders and in the adjacent regions or territories are not easily defined. Therefore, ethnic groups living on national borders or  in adjacent regions often share the same cultural origin and frequently come and go across their borders casually.

Generally, Vietnam can be divided into two major ecological zones. These are the plain zone, including cities, and the midland and mountainous zone. In ecological and cultural areas, each zone can be sub-divided into different sub-zones. Each zone has its own ecological system and interactions between the natural environment and the people are also diversified. The distribution of the population is often uneven and incongruous. Some zones have varied ethnic and linguistic groups living together. The plain zone, comprising one-fourth of the total territory, accounts for three-fourths of the total population, while the mountainous and highland zones, with three-fourths of the total land area, accounts for just one-fourth of the total population of the country.

The Viet (or Kinh) group used to live chiefly on the plains and coastal regions. Nearly half a century ago a substantial part of the group moved to the mountainous provinces to earn their living. Now the Viet often live together with other groups in the different places throughout the country and account for about 68 percent of the total population.                           .

The people belonging to the Tay-Thai linguistic group chiefly live in the mountainous regions of the North.

The people belonging to the Hmong-Dao linguistic group chiefly live in the midlands and highlands of mountainous provinces from Nghe An northwards.

The people belonging to the Tibeto-Burman linguistic group tradi­tionally live along the Vietnam-China border.

Until now, those ethnic groups of the Malayo-Polynesian family have been characterized by matriarchy. They live between the two linguistic sub-groups of the Mon-Khmer in the north and south of the Central Highlands belonging to Gia Lai, Dak Lak, and Lam Dong provinces and in the western Central coastal provinces of Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan.

When the country was divided into two until 1954, Vietnam had a shifting distribution of ethnic groups. Apart from the move­ments of the Viet, other ethnic groups, such as the Chinese, Nung, Tay, Thai, and Muong, who had settled in mountainous regions in the North, began to move to the South, and to provinces in the Central Highlands.

In contrary, other local groups which had tradi­tionally lived in the Central mountainous and coastal regions and in the Central Highlands, moved northwards, many of them settling in mountainous areas. After 1975, when the country was finally unified, most of these people returned the South. This has caused appearing cultural diversities and affected use of Vietnamese as a language.  

Members of the Tibeto-Burman, Ka Dai, Mon-Khmer or Hmong-Dao languages usually live in the highlands or near the border; their houses – influenced by their itinerant life-style – are usually not very sturdy. Minorities with sedentary tradition such as the Tay, Nung, Thai, and Muong usually build their houses from stronger and more reliable materials. Depending on their customs, some ethnic minorities live in houses-on-stilts while others live in ground-level houses or semi houses-on-stilts. Even in the same ethno-linguistic group there are differences. For example, in the Viet-Muong group the Viet live in houses on the ground while the traditional homes of the Muong, Tho, Chut groups are stilt houses. Most groups live in houses-on-stilts, except for the Hmong-Dao group, some Nung and some Tibeto-Burman groups live in houses on the ground. Due to changes in the environment, these groups now are inclined to move gradually from houses-on-stilts to houses on the ground.

In the areas along the Vietnam-China border in the North West, where in the  past invaders, bandits and robbers frequently caused troubles and damage, the people lived in houses on the ground with thick fortress-like walls and the villages were designed in a defensive style. The village house was placed in the centre; the villagers’ houses encircled it. The village was protected by strong fences. For the purposes of defence, the houses were adjacent to each another. Every village had two gates: the main gate and the subordinate one and both were strictly guarded.

Mentioning clothes and food, those of mountain people were diverse and were usually governed by the natural conditions and local supplies of plants and animals. However, in Vietnam, rice has always dominated the structure of food for the most of the ethnic groups. The largest compo­nent in the daily food of people living in the midlands and bare-hill areas contains manioc, and in the highlands and mountain­ous areas the staple food is corn.

The ethnic groups in Vietnam wear clothes in the very diverse ways. The Viet wear their national dresses such as “ao dai” for Viet women with varied harmonious colours. Meanwhile, the favourite colours for most mountain people are indigo (dark blue) and green, being the colour of forest trees. Each ethnic minority, and each locality, has a diverse style of tailoring, patterning and dressing; generally, these styles are tidy, and suitable for traveling in mountainous regions. For example, people wear short-sleeved coats or coats that mould the body, short trousers; trousers are often very large, skirts are also large and convenient for climb­ing hills and mountains.

Before the twentieth century transportation and the means of transport whether in the rural plains or in cities often included long bamboo frames with elastic shoulder-poles to carry things effectively. However currently this mode is not in action in the cities. It is not suitable for mountainous regions. The minorities in the northeastern region carry things with frames and poles which are very short, so the poles can be inserted into basket handles. The Tibeto-Burman, Hmong and other groups in the west, from north to south, often use gili (pickaback basket). The Cham and some of the Viet (who live near rivers or hollow lands) often carry things on the heads. In places near large rivers or streams, people use boats, rafts or floats. Swallow tail boats and piraguas are widely used because these can easily weave their way up and down. For the highlands, the horse is a multi-purpose animal for travel and transport – it is not too fastidious about roads and does not require much investment.

In being concerned with hunting and gathering, most mountainous minorities, particularly those living high in the middle of moun­tains, lived on cultivating their upland fields. Upland fields have one advantage over water fields. They save labour, save money for fertilizers, for irrigation and the results are good. Slash-and-burn farming may destroy forests and the environment, but the mountainous minorities consider that with a density of population practising rotational crops every two or three years then leaving the land fallow for 10-15 years before returning, tropical trees and plants have good conditions in which to resuscitate and ameliorate the soil. When burning to make the fields, they accumulate experience of how to burn in general and how to burn forest, to make a field so that the fire will not expand and the soil will not erode. All these are arts and knowledge that have been handed down from generation to generation of their localities and their ethnic groups. It raises questions about the relationship between the population and the environment. While the proportion is increasing, the environ­ment is decreasing rapidly.

In relation to water cultivation, this is performed only by those who live in the lowlands and valleys at the base of moun­tains such as the Tay, Nung, Thai, Muong, Ede, Mnong, or Co ho. Meanwhile, the minorities in the midland regions such as the Dao, San Chay, Tho, Hre and some of the Hmong group use a number of techniques to use the plains, hills or mountains to create their farms and terraced fields. If the Viet in the plains and coastal areas have created a system of dykes and canals to combat floods, control irrigation, clean out the soil; then in the valleys, the minorities – typically the Thai, Muong, Tay and Hre – have created a peculiar system of irrigation with water-wheels carrying water to each field in a very scientific way.

Being aware of the rapid population growth, which is not in line with its socio-economic development, the State developed a policy on population and family planning 40 years ago. Nevertheless, this policy has not been strongly deployed or strictly carried out for the minorities living in mountainous regions. For a while those who lived on mountains were actually encouraged to increase their populations (Decision 94/CP dated May 1970). As a result, the natural growth rate of some minority groups has been very high. The annual growth on average during the last decade (1989-1999) was 1.7 percent throughout the country, in which the Viet account for 1.6 percent, while other groups such as the Hmong: 3.4 percent, the Sila: 3.5 percent, the Pa Then: 4.1 percent, and the Xinh Mun: 5.0 percent. Also, the growth of popu­lations in some mountainous regions has become a problem. Apart from planned moves, there have been free moves of popu­lations to the Central Highlands, to the coastal mountainous provinces in the Central region and to the eastern provinces in South Vietnam. This is a problem for the authorities of those localities. In addition, in those regions where there is the movement of ethnic groups, the languages used by them have become affected each other concurrently with the  cultural diversities appearing and changing rapidly in the development processes.

Besides the diversity of the material culture, the immate­rial culture also involves social customs of the ethnic groups of Vietnam. They are represented in marital customs, birth, chil­dren’s education, funerals, festivals, music, dances and creeds. Within the framework of this article, we are only able to enumerate some of these concerned with cultural diversities and affecting languages’ development. The cultures are changing rapidly with changes in the natural and social environment, and in the process of indus­trialization and modernization of the country. Nevertheless, it would be a defect not to say something about the languages and writing systems of these groups.

In Vietnam each of the 54 ethnic groups has its own language. However, some languages are no longer used (the Odu language, for instance). Furthermore, each ethnic group has several local sub-groups. In many cases, the languages of these sub-groups contain their own peculiarities, creating a mosaic of Vietnam’s diverse languages. In linguistics alone, our country may have more than 100 different languages. The situation relating to writing is diversified as well. While other ethnic groups have their own writing systems, some minorities still have no writing systems. Researches show that there are generally four ethnic linguistic groups with writing or without writing as follows:

1. Ethnic groups having their own, long – established writing systems: 5 groups (Thai, Lao, Hoa, Cham, Khmer).

2. Ethnic groups having Nom, Chinese-based languages: 10 groups (Tay, Nung, Giay, San Chay, San Diu, Ngai, Lo Lo, Muong, Tho, Dao).

3. Ethnic groups having Latin-based languages: 18 groups (Hmong, Bru-Van Kieu, Taoi, Co tu, Gie-Trieng, Co, Xu dang, Hre, Bana, Giarai, Ede, Mnong, Chu ru, Raglai, Co ho, Ma, Xtieng, Chu ro).

4. Ethnic groups without writing: 20 groups (Pathen, Phu La, La Hu, Cong, Si La, Ha Nhi, La Chi, La Ha, Co Lao, Pu Peo, Lu, BoY, Kho mu, Khang, Mang, Xinh Mun, Odu. Brau, Rmam, Chut).

It is clear that the rural environment in Vietnam is much diversified. People in mountainous areas are leading diverse socio-economic and cultural lives. However, their populations are increasing rapidly and the environment and natural resources are deteriorating. A tendency to regionalization and globalization as well as the process of indus­trialization, modernization and particularly the negative sides of the market economy have all had a significant impact on the people living in these areas.

In the processes of researching the problem it becomes more obvious, local intellectuals and ethnic intellec­tuals have come from the specific natural and social conditions. Now appearing the problem in fact and having no easy answer, when these conditions have changed, are how we can, on the one hand, preserve the values of the past and on the other, keep abreast of the rapid changes that are taking place every day. In my opinion, it is able to be resolved step by step on the basis of languages and understanding cultural diversities and its nuances.

The Vietnamese Communist Party has paid specific attention to the issue of Vietnam’s ethnic groups and their cultural heritage. The Party considers making and imple­menting policies on ethnic groups strategic tasks of the Vietnamese Revolution. Over half a century since our country gained independence, besides enacting the Constitution (over different periods of time) and a system of laws, in which the Constitution as well as many other laws dealt with the diversity of ethnic groups and culture, the Vietnamese Party and State have also promulgated hundreds of directives and decisions in the fields of economy, society, ethnic groups’ cultures and moun­tainous regions. Since then, there have been many specific poli­cies in these fields. The need in the processes of renovation in Vietnam is to accelerate relevant research to understand the concrete differences of each region and each ethnic group. On that basis, supplement, build on and better implement policies for ethnic groups, avoid making mistakes, stereotyping, arbitrary imposition, and improper forms of organization in the process of building and developing the economy, culture, and society in ethnic regions. (According to the Resolution of the 6th Party Congress).

The issue of language and writing recorded in this Resolution must be regarded as a spiritual step from the previous ordinances and decisions. Thus, the language and writing system of each ethnic minority in Vietnam, is not only a valuable treasure of that minority but is also a cultural heritage for the whole nation, of the ethnic minorities where their own languages are used in conjunction with the national language (According to the Decision No. 53/CP). Since 1990, Vietnam’s National Assembly has adopted and promulgated a number of laws concerning ethnic groups and ethnic groups’ culture.

Up to now, the system of universities which were set up in the mountainous regions, such as Thai Nguyen University in the North-East region (comprising Teacher Training University, Medical University, Agriculture University, etc.); Highlands University in Buon Ma Thuot, Da Lat University; North West University in Son La (newly-founded), there still exist two pre-universities for children of the minorities (one in the North and the other in the South), and particularly, a system of boarding schools and semi-boarding schools. Such schools were constructed not only for each region but for all provinces, districts, and even for several communes. In many schools, pupils from any minority can dress in the traditional costumes of people of their minority group. Numerous folk songs, dances and tradi­tional games are performed and popularized. At several univer­sities the local knowledge and the minorities’ cultures have been included in the curriculum.

It is clear that in the policies on culture in the period 1990 until now, the 5th Resolution of the Party Central Committee (8th tenure) is on “Building and Developing an Advanced Vietnamese Culture Imbued with National Identity.” This Resolution is solely on culture, and touches upon it in almost every respect on the tasks and solutions in a specific as well as theoretical and long-term manner. It is able to be seen in the Resolution, for example, over 50 ethnic groups living in our country have their own cultural values and identities. These values and identities combine and complement one another to enrich Vietnamese culture and strengthen national unity, thus laying the foundation for maintaining equality and bringing the diversity of fraternal ethnic groups into full play. The cultural heritage is the priceless treasure which links ethnic communities together. It is the kernel of ethnic identities, the foundation for creating new cultural values and exchanging relations. The traditional (scholarly and folk) and revolutionary cultural values, must be preserved, inherited and brought into full play; the policy on preserving and bringing our ethnic cultural legacies into play must focus on both tangible and intangible cultures. Inventorying and collecting the traditional treasure (including scholarly and folk cultures) of the Viet and other minorities; translating and publicizing the Han-Nom cultural treasure roust be carried out immediately. Historic and cultural sites, beauty spots, craft villages, and traditional handicrafts must be well preserved. Masterly artisans in trades and tradi­tional handicrafts must be well treated. (Resolution No. 03 NQ-TW on 16 July 1998).

As mentioned from researchers throughout the country, during about half of a century, the preservation of cultural legacies in general as well as the restoration, inheritance and improvement of ethnic and local cultural values in Vietnam have been steadily developed. In fact, programmes and projects to collect and preserve our ances­tors’ cultural heritage, in both tangible and intangible forms, have been organized. If in their region the Viet have a movement to draw out village conventions, then the mountainous minorities also have a movement to draw out regulations from village level to commune level based on their local traditions and customary laws and with consideration for the issues that have resulted from challenges in their natural and social environments. Among these are conventions about the restoration of their traditional costumes for holidays, festivals or rules on forms of holding festi­vals in a locality that inherited their ancestors’ traditions.

During the last few years, among many ethnic minorities, and in many localities, regions, or nation-wide, sports festivals, stage festivals, fashion contests, gastronomic, calligraphic, family and descent annals, handicrafts, fine arts exhibitions, and craft village presentations have been organized with a view to preserving and developing the ethnic groups’ cultural heritage. As well as the Voice of Vietnam – the national broadcasting station which has the broadcast in Vietnamese -, other local broadcasting stations have their own broadcasts in the languages of the minorities that capture the majority in the region; many publishers at both central and local levels have published scientific, cultural, literary and artis­tic works in the minorities’ languages or in bilingual form: Vietnamese and one of the minorities’ languages.


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