History of Writing in Vietnam
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History of Writing in Vietnam
"I speak Vietnamese" (Tôi nói ti?ng Vi?t Nam - ) is written in currently used Latin (Vietnamese alphabet) and ch? Nôm (with ch? Hán letters not underlined).

Spoken and written Vietnamese today uses the Latin-script based Vietnamese alphabet, the lexicon altogether containing native Vietnamese words derived from the Latin script, Chinese-Vietnamese words (Hán-Vi?t), Nôm words (native Vietnamese derived from Chinese script), and other adapted foreign words. Historic Vietnamese literature was written by scholars in Nôm and before that Ch? Hán (Chinese characters).

During ancient times, the ancestors of the Vietnamese were considered to have been Proto-Austroasiatic (also called Proto-Mon-Khmer) speaking people, possibly traced to the ancient Dong Son culture. Modern linguists describe Vietnamese as having lost some Proto-Austroasiatic phonological and morphological features that the original Vietnamese language had. This was noted in the linguistic separation of Vietnamese from Vietnamese-Muong roughly one thousand years ago.[1][2][3] From 111 BC up to the 20th century, Vietnamese literature was written in Traditional Chinese (Vietnamese: c? v?n or v?n ngôn ), using Ch? Hán (Chinese characters) and then also Nôm from the 10th century to 20th century (Chinese characters adapted for vernacular Vietnamese).[4][5]

Nom had widespread use in the 10th century, and was begun to be used as early as the 8th century in prose fiction and poetry in Vietnamese, but was never officiated. Nom used Chinese characters for Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and an adapted set of characters to transcribe native Vietnamese, with Vietnamese approximations of Middle Chinese pronunciations.[6] The two concurrent scripts existed until the era of French Indochina when the Latin alphabet ch? qu?c ng? gradually became the current written medium of literature.[7] In the past, Sanskrit and Indic texts also contributed to Vietnamese literature either from religious ideas from Mahayana Buddhism, or from historical influence of Champa and Khmer.


In Vietnamese, Chinese characters go by several names, but all mean the same script:

The Vietnamese word ch? ? (character, script, writing, letter) is derived from a Middle Chinese pronunciation of ? (Modern Mandarin Chinese in Pinyin: zì), meaning 'character'.[13]

Sino-Vietnamese (Vietnamese: t? Hán Vi?t "Sino-Vietnamese words") refer to cognates or terms borrowed from Chinese into the Vietnamese language, usually preserving the phonology of the original Chinese. As for syntax and vocabulary this Sino-Vietnamese language was no more different from the Chinese of Beijing than medieval English Latin was different from the Latin of Rome. Its major influence comes from Vietnamese Literary Chinese (Ch? Hán).[14]

The term Ch? Nôm ( "Southern characters") refers to the former transcription system for vernacular Vietnamese-language texts, written using a mixture of original Chinese characters and locally coined Nôm characters not found in Chinese to phonetically represent local Vietnamese words, meanings and their sound.[15][16] However the character set for ch? Nôm is extensive, containing up to 37,000 characters, and many are both arbitrary in composition and inconsistent in pronunciation.[17][18]

Hán Nôm ( "Hán and ch? Nôm characters") may mean both Hán and Nôm taken together as in the research remit of Hanoi's Hán-Nôm Institute, or refer to texts which are written in a mixture of Hán and Nôm, or some Hán texts with parallel Nôm translations.[19] There is a significant orthographic overlap between Hán and Nôm and many characters are used in both Hán and Nôm with the same reading.[20] It may be simplest to think of Nôm as the Vietnamese extension of Han characters. The term ch? qu?c ng? ("national language script" or ) means Vietnamese in the romanized or transliteration script.


Ch? Hán

Bronze cash coin, 1st century AD with ancient Seal script

Chinese characters are specfically called Ch? Hán (), Ch? nho () or Hán t? (, lit.'Han Character') in Vietnamese. Ch? Hoa or Ti?ng Hoa is commonly used to describe Mandarin Chinese, as well as Ti?ng Tào for Chinese in general. Possibly even a thousand years earlier, in the late first millennium BC, Yuè elites in what is now southern China may have already adopted a form of writing based on Chinese characters to record terms from their own languages.[21] During the Chinese rule from 111 BC to 905 AD, Chinese characters had been used as the official writing of the region. Local texts written in Chinese probably also included some characters adapted to represent Proto-Viet-Mng sounds, usually personal names or Vietic toponyms that had no Chinese equivalent.[21] According to some scholars, the adoption Ch? Hán or Hán t? had been started by Shi Xie (137-226), but many disagree.[21] The first wholly vernacular Vietnamese writing transcribed in Chinese characters started in late-Tang period, around ninth century by Liêu H?u Phng.[22]

These writings were at first indistinguishable from contemporaneous classical Chinese works produced in China, Korea or Japan. These include the first poems in Literary Chinese by the monk Khuông Vi?t (), the Nam Qu?c S?n Hà (?), and many Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist scriptures.[5][23][24][25]

By 1174, Chinese characters Ch? Hán had become the official writing script of the court, mainly used by administration and literati, and continued to serve this role until mid-19th century when the traditional writing system was abolished in during French colonial rule, where the French education system which was taught in transliterated ch? qu?c ng?.[26]

Sino-Vietnamese readings of Ch? Hán

In Vietnam, Ch? Hán texts were read with the vocalization of Chinese text is called Hán v?n (), similar to Chinese on-yomi in Japanese kanbun (), or the assimilated vocalizations in Korean hanmun (/).[27][28] This occurred alongside the diffusion of Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary into vernacular Vietnamese,[29] and created a Sinoxenic dialect.[30] The Sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank was the one of the first linguists to actively employ "Sino-Vietnamese" to recover earlier histories of China.[31]

Ch? Nôm

Vietnamese birth certificate in 1938 showing different competing scripts in descending frequency: ch? qu?c ng?, ch? Nôm, ch? nho, French

From the 13th century, the dominance of Chinese characters began to be challenged by Ch? Nôm, a different set of writing system created based on the Chinese script to transcribe native Vietnamese words. These were even more difficult then Chinese characters themselves. Nôm script borrowed Chinese characters in their phonetic and semantic values to create new characters.[32]

Whilst designed for native Vietnamese words, Nôm required the user to have a fair knowledge of ch? Hán, and thus ch? Nôm was used primarily for literary writings by cultural elites (such as the poetry of Nguy?n Du and H? Xuân Hng), while almost all other official writings and documents continued to be written in classical Chinese until the 20th century.[33][34]

Though technically different from ch? Hán, it is simplest to think of it as a derivation of ch? Hán for vernacular Vietnamese - with modifications thereof as well as new Vietnamese-coined logograms. Together, they are called Hán Nôm. Unfortunately, the invention of this new script, although was in practice, was deemed as an inferior method of allowing mass communication and transcription of Vietnamese speech, with the Latin script often seen as the more popular method for vernacular Vietnamese.

Ch? qu?c ng?

Latin script of Vietnamese language, also called as Ch? qu?c ng? is the currently-used script. It was first developed by Portuguese missionaries in the 17th century, based on the pronunciation of Portuguese language and alphabet. For 200 years, chu quoc ngu was mainly used within the Catholic community.[35] However, during French administration, the alphabet was further modified and then later made a part of compulsory education in 1910.[36]

Meanwhile, the use of classical Chinese and its written form chu Hán started to decline. At this time there were briefly four competing writing systems in Vietnam; ch? Hán, ch? Nôm, ch? qu?c ng?, and French.[37] Although the first romanized script ch? qu?c ng? newspaper, Gia Dinh Bao, was founded in 1865, Vietnamese nationalists continued to use ch? Nôm until after the First World War.

After French rule, ch? qu?c ng? became the favored written language of the Vietnamese independence movement.[38]

As a result of extensive education in ch? qu?c ng?, Vietnamese unversed in Chinese characters or Chinese-origin words are unable to read earlier Vietnamese texts written in Hán-Nôm. The Hán Nôm Institute is the national centre for academic research into Hán-Nôm literature. Although there have been movements to restore Hán-Nôm in Vietnam, via education in schools or usage in every day life, almost all ancient poems and literary texts have been translated to and converted to Ch? Qu?c Ng?, which makes the need for literacy in Hán-Nôm almost obsolete. However, many Vietnamese find it difficult to detach themselves from their Hán-Nôm legacy, and may still feel an intimate relationship with Chinese characters.

Sanskrit, Cham, Khmer and Indic scripts

Sanskrit texts have often been passed over and translated to Vietnamese indirectly from Chinese texts via religious teachings from Buddhist sectors, or directly, such as from Champa and Khmer. One of the most significant landmarks still remaining to this day is the ancient M? S?n Hindu Temple which has Sanskrit and Champa inscriptions.[39] The Võ C?nh inscription is also the oldest Sanskrit inscription ever found in Southeast Asia, a legacy of Lâm ?p, Champa, and Funan kingdoms.[40][41] The most well-known modern Vietnamese phrase with Sanskrit phrase is from common religious Buddhist mantra / Namo Amit?bh?ya (Nam mô A Di ?à Ph?t / ), meaning, "Hail Buddha of Infinite Light" (translated directly from Sanskrit) or "I pay homage to the Enlightened One immeasurable" / "I turn to rely on the Enlightened One immeasurable".[42] Additionally, many sites in Vietnam have names that are Khmer in origin, from when the land was under Funan and Chenla reign, etc. For example, Srok Khleang is written as Sóc Tr?ng in Vietnamese. There is Khmer cultural influence in Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

Modern usage of Ch? Hán and Ch? Nôm

A calligrapher writing the Chinese character ? "good fortune" (Sino-Vietnamese reading: l?c) in preparation for T?t, at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi (2011)

Individual Ch? Hán are still written by calligraphers for special occasions such as the Vietnamese New Year, T?t.[43] They are still present outside Buddhist temples and are still studied for scholarly and religious purposes.

With the introduction of Viet Calligraphy (Th? pháp ch? Vi?t) since the 1950s, Viet Calligraphy enjoys tremendous success in Vietnamese Calligraphy at the expense of chu han Calligraphy.

Since the mid-1990s, there has been a resurgence in the teaching of Chinese characters, both for Ch? Hán and the additional characters used in Ch? Nôm. This is to enable the study of Vietnam's long history as well as cultural synthesis and unification.[44]

For linguists, the Sino-Vietnamese readings of Chinese characters provide data for the study of historical Chinese phonology and reconstruction of the Old Chinese language.

Additionally, many Vietnamese may study Han characters to learn other languages such as Chinese, Japanese, and sometimes Korean. This can make it easier to study these languages due to the high concentration of Chinese-cognate words. Hence, they also end up with some measure of fluency with Hán-Nôm characters.

The significance of the characters has occasionally entered western depiction of Vietnam, especially since French rule. For instance, novelist E. M. Nathanson mentions chu Hán in A Dirty Distant War (1987).[45]

Mixed script

Vietnamese Mixed Script in the Ho Chi Minh Museum in 2016

It is known that Ho Chi Minh wrote in a mixed Vietnamese Latin-Hán-Nôm script. In light of the history of Vietnamese Hán-Nôm, there have been successful movements restoring the script for transcribing native Vietnamese such as the Han Nom Revival Committee of Vietnam (, http://www.hannom-rcv.org/).[46]

Arabic Numerals Chinese characters Sino-Vietnamese pronunciation Chinese (Mandarin) Pinyin for comparison Ch? Nôm and modern

ch? Qu?c ng?

0 ? Linh Líng ? Không zéro
1 ? Nh?t Y? ? M?t un
2 ? Nh? Èr ? Hai deux
3 ? Tam S?n ? Ba trois
4 ? T? ? B?n quatre
5 ? Ng? W? ? N?m cinq
6 ? L?c Liù ? Sáu six
7 ? Th?t Q? ? B?y sept
8 ? Bát B? ? Tám huit
9 ? C?u Ji? ? Chín neuf
10 ? Th?p Shí ? Mi dix
100 ? Bách B?i ? Tr?m cent
1000 ? Thiên Qi?n ? Nghìn mille
10,000 ? V?n Wàn ? ? Mi Nghìn dix mille
1,000,000 Bách v?n B?i Wàn ? Tri?u un million

From the Sino-Vietnamese readings, some words have ended up in common vernacular Vietnamese. For example, "nh?t" (?) has come to mean "first" and "t?" (?) has come to mean fourth in vernacular Vietnamese. Modern Vietnamese can be thought of as a romanised or transliteration rendering of common Hán-Nôm words, that has since been used as the main medium of language in Vietnam.

See also

Related romanisations:


  1. ^ ?, Masaaki Shimizu. "The Mng features in the written Ancient Vietnamese". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ "Vietnamese literature". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved .
  3. ^ LaPolla, Randy J. (2010). "Language Contact and Language Change in the History of the Sinitic Languages". Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2 (5): 6858-6868. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.05.036. ISSN 1877-0428.
  4. ^ Nguy?n, Tri Tài (2002). Giáo trình ti?ng Hán. T?p I: C? s?. Nhà xu?t b?n i h?c Qu?c gia Thành ph? H? Chí Minh. p. 5.
  5. ^ a b "Vietnamese literature". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Asian & Pacific quarterly of cultural and social affairs - Volumes 20-21 Cultural and Social Centre for the Asian and Pacific Region 1988 - Page 7 "... known script that was used by the Vietnamese, the "Southerners," to transcribe their language, in contrast to the Chinese ideographs (called ch? Hán i.e., "Chinese script," or ch? nho i.e. "Confucian script") of the "Northerners," the Chinese."
  7. ^ Vietnam 10 - Page 522 Nick Ray, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, Iain Stewart - 2009 "For centuries, the Vietnamese language was written in standard Chinese characters (ch? nho). Around the 13th century, the Vietnamese devised their own writing system called ch? nôm (or just nôm), which was created by combining two Chinese words or by using single Chinese characters for their phonetic value. Both writing systems were in use until the 20th century - official business and scholarship was conducted in ch? nho, while ch? nôm was used for popular literature. The Latin-based qu?c ng? script, widely used since WWI, was developed in the 17th century by Alexandre de Rhodes (see the boxed text, right). Qu?c ng? served to undermine the position of Mandarin officials, whose power was based on traditional scholarship in ch? nho and ch? nôm, scripts that were largely inaccessible to the masses."
  8. ^ H?i Khai-trí ti?n-c (1954). Vi?t-nam t?-?i?n. V?n M?i. p. 228.
  9. ^ ?ào, Duy Anh (2005). Hán-Vi?t t?-?i?n gi?n y?u. Nhà xu?t b?n V?n hoá Thông tin. pp. 281, 900.
  10. ^ Nguy?n, Tài C?n (2001). Ngu?n g?c và quá trình hình thành cách c Hán Vi?t. Nhà xu?t b?n i h?c qu?c gia Hà N?i. p. 16.
  11. ^ H?i Khai-trí ti?n-c (1954). Vi?t-nam t?-?i?n. V?n M?i. pp. 141, 228.
  12. ^ ?ào, Duy Anh (2005). Hán-Vi?t t?-?i?n gi?n y?u. Nhà xu?t b?n V?n hoá Thông tin. p. 281.
  13. ^ Nguy?n, Tài C?n (1995). Giáo trình l?ch s? ng? âm ti?ng Vi?t (s? th?o). Nhà xu?t b?n Giáo d?c. p. 47.
  14. ^ Marr, David G. (1984), Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945, p. 141, Because the Chinese characters were pronounced according to Vietnamese preferences, and because certain stylistic modifications occurred over time, later scholars came to refer to a hybrid 'Sino-Vietnamese' (Han-Viet) language. However, there would seem to be no more justification for this term than for a Fifteenth Century 'Latin-English' versus the Latin written contemporaneously in Rome.
  15. ^ Nguy?n, Khuê (2009). Ch? Nôm: c? s? và nâng cao. Nhà xu?t b?n i h?c Qu?c gia Thành ph? H? Chí Minh. pp. 5, 215.
  16. ^ Hugh Dyson Walker East Asia A New History -2012 Page 262 "...chu nom, Vietnamese transcription, using Chinese and nom characters for Vietnamese sounds."
  17. ^ Denecke 2017, p. 525.
  18. ^ Hannas, Wm. C. (1997). Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780824818920. The linguistic defects are the same as those noted throughout this book for Chinese characters generally, caused by the large number of tokens (some twenty thousand in ch? nôm), the arbitrariness of their composition, and the inconsistent way the units and their components connect with the sounds of the language.
  19. ^ Tr?n, V?n Chánh (January 2012). "T?n m?n kinh nghi?m h?c ch? Hán c?". Su?i Ngu?n, T?p 3&4. Nhà xu?t b?n T?ng h?p Thành ph? H? Chí Minh: 82.
  20. ^ Hung, Eva; Wakabayashi, Judy (2005), Asian translation traditions, p. 174, A large portion of the lexicon of the Vietnamese language in recent centuries derives from Hán. Consequently, there is a significant orthographic overlap between Hán and Nôm, which is to say that many characters are used in both with the same meaning. This is primarily a lexical, not a syntactic, phenomenon, although Hán grammar did influence Nôm prose to a relatively significant extent (Xtankevich 1986).
  21. ^ a b c Kiernan, Ben (2017). Vi?t Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present. Oxford University Press. p. 152. ISBN 9780195160765.
  22. ^ Kornicki 2017, p. 568.
  23. ^ Coedès, George (1966). The Making of South East Asia. Translated by H. M. Wright. University of California Press. p. 87. ISBN 9780520050617. No work of literature from the brush of a Vietnamese survives from the period of Chinese rule prior to the rise of the first national dynasties; and from the Dinh, Former Le, and Ly dynasties, all that remains are some poems by Lac Thuan (end of the tenth century), Khuông Vi?t (same period), and Ly Thuong Kiet (last quarter of the eleventh century). Those competent to judge consider these works to be quite up to the best standards of Chinese literature.
  24. ^ Nick Ray; Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (2010). Lonely Planet Vietnam. Sino-Vietnamese literature was written in Chinese characters (ch? nho). Dominated by Confucian and Buddhist texts, it was governed by strict rules of metre and verse. Modern Vietnamese literature (quoc am) includes anything recorded in ...
  25. ^ Woodside, Alexander Barton (1971). Vietnam and the Chinese Model. p. 53. ISBN 9780674937215. Although traditional Vietnamese scholars called Sino-Vietnamese literature 'serious literature' and nôm literature 'the literature of pleasure', this dichotomy is obviously misleading.
  26. ^ Li 2020, p. 102.
  27. ^ Bjarke Frellesvig A History of the Japanese Language 2010 - Page 258 "... the rendition of Chinese text in Japanese, which affected grammar and usage (see 9.1) and (kanbun-)ondoku, the vocalization of Chinese text as such, which paved the way for the intake of a large number of loanwords from Chinese (9.2).
  28. ^ Nichibunken newsletter Kokusai Nihon Bunka Kenky? Sent? 1996 - No23-36 - Page 52 "The novel was then translated from Chinese into Vietnamese by a Vietnamese revolutionist. Knowledge of kanbun (classical Chinese) was quite common among Vietnamese intellectuals, and the new kanbun style of Liang Zhi-chau ..."
  29. ^ Hannas, Wm. C. (1997). Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 77. ISBN 9780824818920. Sifting out Sinitic from native vocabulary is more of a problem in Vietnamese than in Japanese or even in Korean because of the longer history of contact between Chinese and Vietnamese, and because of the intimacy (most Vietnamese would...) Vietnam was under Chinese 'suzerainty'... During this long period, the Vietnamese language itself was overshadowed and to some extent replaced by Chinese, opening the door to thousands of Chinese terms...
  30. ^ Language research - Seoul University Language Research Centre 1990 - Volume 26 - Page 327 "The term Sinoxenic dialects was first used by Samuel Martin to refer to the foreign readings of Chinese characters, such as Sino-Korean, Sino-Japanese, and Sino- Vietnamese. By Sino-Korean, Sino- Japanese, and Sino- Vietnamese, ..."
  31. ^ John R. Bentley A Descriptive Grammar of Early Old Japanese Prose 2001 - Page 39 "... (1975:195, fn. 3) and his reconstructions, but it is interesting to note that Pulleyblank's work actually supports Miller's claims. ... to have been one of the first linguists to notice the importance of SV in reconstructing earlier stages of Chinese."
  32. ^ Li 2020, p. 102-103.
  33. ^ Ha Minh Nguyen, Bac Hoai Tran, Tuan Duc Vuong Colloquial Vietnamese: The Complete Course for Beginners Routledge 2012 Page 3 "Because of thousands of years of Chinese domination and influence, the Vietnamese used Chinese characters known as chu nho as their official written language for many centuries. However chu nho was not easy to learn and only the ..."
  34. ^ D. W. Sloper, Th?c Cán Lê Higher Education in Vietnam: Change and Response 1995 Page 45 "All teaching materials are written in Han, Chinese classical characters known as chu nho. From about the thirteenth century a Vietnamese system of writing, chu nom or simply nom, was developed. ... chu nho was used for official business and scholarship, while chu nom was used for popular literature."
  35. ^ Li 2020, p. 106.
  36. ^ "Quoc-ngu | Vietnamese writing system". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved .
  37. ^ Andrew Simpson Language and national identity in Asia 2007 Page 428 "..there existed a situation in which there were briefly four different available writing systems in Vietnam, chu nho, chu nom, quoc ngu, and Romanized French. ... (4) The acceptability of quoc ngu was then further heightened by its use to translate works of literature from Chinese and chu nom, as well as through its ..."
  38. ^ Simon Eliot, Jonathan Rose A Companion to the History of the Book - Page 124 2009 "The first publication in quoc ngu was the first Vietnamese newspaper, Gia-dinh báo (Daily Paper, 1865), ... During World War I, the colonial administration encouraged quoc ngu journalism for propaganda purposes, and as a result journals"
  39. ^ "My Son Sanskrit texts to be translated into Vietnamese, English". en.nhandan.org.vn. Retrieved .
  40. ^ "The Inscription of Vo-Canh". www.meruheritage.com. Retrieved .
  41. ^ "Sanskrit inscriptions". Tamil and Vedas. Retrieved .
  42. ^ https://kienthuc.net.vn (2019-08-12). "Nam Mô A Di ?à Ph?t có ngh?a là gì?". trithuccuocsong.vn. Retrieved .
  43. ^ Vietnam Economic Times Volume 98 - Page 14 Vi?n kinh t? th? gi?i (Vietnam) "Today calligraphy is considered one of their most respected art forms. Vietnam also has a long history of calligraphy, but in its earliest form it was called Han Nom, a way of using the Chinese characters to convey Vietnamese words."
  44. ^ Simon Eliot, Jonathan Rose A Companion to the History of the Book Page 124 - 2011 "Since the use of quoc ngu for education has rendered most Vietnamese now incapable of reading earlier Vietnamese ... an increasing commitment to the publication of translations from Chinese or of transcriptions from nom texts to render ..."
  45. ^ E. M. Nathanson Dirty Distant War 1987 Page 121 "So they took the Chinese ideographs for those words, changed them a little to make them distinctive from the Chinese characters, and in that way developed a written language. That's the script that became what we refer to today as ch? nho."
  46. ^ " (?y ban ph?c sinh hán nôm vi?t nam)". www.hannomrcv.org. Retrieved .

Works cited

  • Denecke, Wiebke (2017), "Shared Literary Heritage", in Li, Wai-yee; Denecke, Wiebke; Tian, Xiaofen (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE-900 CE), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 510-532, ISBN 978-0-199-35659-1
  • Kornicki, Peter (2017), "Sino-Vietnamese literature", in Li, Wai-yee; Denecke, Wiebke; Tian, Xiaofen (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE-900 CE), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 568-578, ISBN 978-0-199-35659-1
  • Li, Yu (2020). The Chinese Writing System in Asia: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-00-069906-7.

External links

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