Vietnamese is an Austroasiatic language spoken by about 82 million people mainly in Vietnam. There are also Vietnamese speakers in the USA, China, Cambodia, France, Australia, Laos, Canada and a number of other countries. Vietnamese has been the official language of Vietnam since the country gained independence from France in 1954.
Vietnamese was originally written with a Siniform (Chinese-like) script known as Chữ-nôm or Nôm. At first most Vietnamese literature was essentially Chinese in structure and vocabulary. Later literature developed a more Vietnamese style, but was still full of Chinese loan words. The greatest literary work in Vietnamese is Kim Van Kieu, the ‘Tale of Kieu’, a romance written by Nguyen-Du (1765-1820).
Chữ-nôm was used until the 20th century. Courses in the Chữ-nôm script were available at Ho Chi Minh University until 1993, and the script is still studied and taught at the Han-Nôm Institute in Hanoi, which has recently published a dictionary of all the nôm characters.
During the 17th century, Roman Catholic missionaries introduced a Latin-based orthography for Vietnamese, Quốc Ngữ (national language),which has been used ever since. Until the early 20th century, Quốc Ngữ was used in parallel with Chữ-nôm. Today only Quốc Ngữ is used.