This paper analyzes the Catholic contributions to the development of the Vietnamese alphabet—quốc ngữ, or the “national script”—during its first 250 years of existence, before it was popularized outside of Catholic circles. In particular, the article traces the evolution of quốc ngữ spelling in the writings and publications of European Catholic missionaries and Vietnamese catechists and priests from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. These texts include the dictionaries and descriptions of the Vietnamese language by Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) and Jean-Louis Tabert (1838), as well as lesser-known quốc ngữ writings before the twentieth century. Since the Vietnamese alphabet began as a transcription of spoken Vietnamese, its changing orthography also reflects changes in Vietnamese pronunciation.

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