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Is "Viet Nam" a mistake, a typo, an archaic spelling, a regional spelling, or an idiosyncrasy of the author? I found the word in this book, and I can't really tell what type of spelling it is.

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The country was called Việt Nam or Nam Việt along with some other names that have not influenced the two most common English spellings, of which some are no longer in any use.

Việt refers to a region that covers Viet Nam (particularly the north) and a region in southern China where the Việt or Kinh people come from. Nam means "south", hence Việt Nam means the south part of that region. Historically this wouldn't cover the very south of modern Viet Nam, but then considering that the etymology of Dutch means "Germanic", it's not like names and borders remain neatly aligned throughout all of history.

In Anglicising, some people merge the two words into a single word, as it is after all almost always used as a single name in English, and we are not familiar with the words Việt or Nam. Comparably, one could imagine a language transliterating "North America" as a single word, if they weren't familiar with "North" or "America", and so on.

At the same time, some people do not remove the space, as it is closer to the original Vietnamese form, and because Việt does appear without Nam in the names of some Vietnamese organisations, etc. that have also been relatively well known among English-speakers outside of Viet Nam, particularly the Viet Minh and Viet Cong.

  • Is the Vietnamese language ideographic, like Chinese or Korean? Presumably it is closely related to Chinese having been governed by Chinese Warlords for centuries. But I understand that there are overseas Chinese communities that form an economic elite in the country. So presumably their Chinese identity does not merge with the locals. – WS2 Nov 21 '13 at 10:37
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    @WS2 The modern Vietnamese alphabet is a form of the Latin alphabet, based mostly on Portugese pronunciation, with added diacritics (see e.g. english.stackexchange.com/a/102952/15770 as related). It was originally written in ideographs and this from has influenced the modern form in having spaces between most syllables. While I say "originally", ideographs where used from the 1400s, Latin letters from the 1500s and the two were rivals until the old form was abolished in 1918 and by 1930s Latin dominated. In Unicode jargon, "CKJ" is often used to mean ideographs as an abbreviation of... – Jon Hanna Nov 21 '13 at 10:56
  • @WS2 ... "Chinese, Korean and Japanese", but there is sometimes also talk of "CKJV" to include the older Vietnamese use, especially since Chữ nôm (the Vietnamese use of such characters) included some characters invented in Viet Nam, and unique to its use of those characters. – Jon Hanna Nov 21 '13 at 10:58
  • Yes, I've had some experience of Japanese, having lived there for 18 months many years ago. And when you talk of different language forms being in rivalry, that seems to be the essence of modern Japanese, an amalgam of ancient Japanese and Chinese, with the same characters having two or more clearly different readings. What little I've read of Vietnamese history sounds very interesting indeed. – WS2 Nov 21 '13 at 20:39
  • @WS2 I've had none apart from learning some of the technical details of encoding. It would be a bit like if Japanese had kanji and rōmaji, but no kana, and the rōmaji became more standardised on a single form, and then the kanji abolished. – Jon Hanna Nov 21 '13 at 23:35
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Việt Nam is the Vietnamese spelling of the country name, so Viet Nam is a rendering dropping the diacritics while Vietnam drops the space too. Losing diacritics in foreign words is common in English.

France was the colonial power: French renderings typically drop the diacritic below the e but often keep that above the e as it looks like a French circumflex. They are equally arbitrary about the space.

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