Vietnamese words & views for “Nature”

Tự nhiên and Thiên nhiên are two main words in Vietnamese used for “nature”. The first one is rooted in the Chinese characters that are still used today in Chinese and Japanese (zìrán/shizen 自然), but its meaning is different. It refers to the nature of something or someone; its character and personality. The second one is the most widely used in Vietnamese today in the sense of nature as in the natural environment. It includes animals, plants, soil/water/air environments where animals and plants are living in.

The Kinh represents the ethnic majority in Vietnam, and their main worldview is characterized by three interacting worlds: Heaven, Earth and Humanity (Thien, Dia, Nhan) (Cuc 1999). The eternal world of Heaven includes natural phenomena of the sky such as rain and sun, and gods. The world of Earth encompasses forests, rivers and seas as well as gods and spirits. All things made by humans are included in the changing non-natural “human world” on Earth, as well as invisible ancestors. Spiritual entities such as gods, spirits and the ancestors exist in each of these three worlds, but usually remain invisible to people. Nature and people always go hand-in-hand in the Kinh worldview, and humans are supposed to “continually try to maintain balance and harmony while respecting nature” (Cuc 1999, 70). Another study by Duong and van den Born showed that most Vietnamese participants qualify their relation to the natural environment like “family”, in which humans and natural elements are mutually important (Duong and van den Born 2019, 7).

By Nguyen Duy Hung

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