Ian James
© September 2012

script name

I have never liked the Vietnamese alphabet, with all its diacritics and horned vowels. It is still almost never written side-by-side with non-Vietnamese text, so remains a separate system without cultural links to its obvious origins. It was designed by European missionaries in the 16th–17th centuries, who probably never thought their impromptu hack of Latin letters would become a national script.

So I wondered what might have resulted if they had sought a more aesthetic script. My attempt (hack) is inspired by Greek, with diacritics used only for tones. I refer to the current Vietnamese alphabet as Rhodes, after the Jesuit priest who developed its final form around 1651.


There are 32 letters in this alphabet, each dedicated to a single phoneme. The letters come mainly from Greek and Latin miniscule, with three letters from Old English (æ, g and y), one from Coptic (djandja for r), and one or two inspired by the IPA. Some letters are given very different functions (qoppa, eta, rho and pi). Although the Rhodes alphabet is currently quite well matched to phonemes, there are some duplications; so kappa holds Rhodes c, k and q, Latin c holds Rhodes ch and tr, zeta holds Rhodes d and gi, and sigma holds Rhodes s and x. In the chart, Rhodes letters are in bold blue, and IPA symbols are below them.

alphabet chart

Tones & Finals

Tones are the only marks added to the otherwise unadorned alphabet, and only above a vowel. The doubled accents reflect the break caused by glottalization. Unmarked vowels have a middle tone.

tone marks

Syllables may be closed by one of the following consonants:



This is from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (off Omniglot), with the Rhodes alphabet version in bold blue.

udhr in greco-annamese
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

All material on this page © Ian James.
Last modified Sep.9,2012