For centuries, but only in spoken form for most of the earlier years, the Vietnamese language (in Vietnamese: Tiếng Việt, or Tieng Viet without accent marks) has existed. Classical Chinese (~9th =>13th Century), Chữ Nôm (13th => 17th) and Romanized script (17th => Present) were the writing systems used in Vietnam.

Distribution of Geography

More than 86 million Vietnamese in Vietnam and approximately 4 million Overseas Vietnamese are currently using the Vietnamese language, most notably.

The United States: 1.8 million The United States: 1.8 million

  • Cambodia: six hundred thousand
  • France: 250,000
  • Australia: 160,000
  • Taiwan: 120 thousand-200 thousand
  • Laos, Canada: 150 thousand
  • And others, including Russia or South Korea,

Vietnamese Core Features

The most notable features of the Vietnamese language, especially when compared with English, are as follows:

  • The Vietnamese Alphabet is closely linked to the English Alphabet, but with letters such as ă or ơ in addition. Read more about The Alphabet of Vietnam.
  • The Vietnamese language is a tonal language, with diacritics or accent marks written in its words. Different words are formed by the same underlying letters with different diacritics: different in both pronunciation and significance. The word ma, for instance, implies ghosts, while the word má means mother. There are 6 tones in Vietnamese.
  • The Vietnamese language is monosyllabic, i.e., like many other Southeast Asian languages, with only one syllable (vowel) per word. Contrast this to English where there are more syllables in words. The word beautiful, for instance, has 3 syllables. Please refer to this article to learn more about Vietnamese word structure.

There are also loan phrases from Chinese and French in the Vietnamese language. The theory is that, during the previous millennium, Vietnam was under Chinese rule several times and for long periods, and was a French colony for almost a hundred years (1985-1954). Sơ mi (from the French word chemise, meaning shirt), búp bê (from the French word poupée, meaning doll) are examples of words transliterated from French.

Dialects of the Vietnamese Language

There are 3 major Vietnamese language dialects:

  • The dialect of the North (represented by Hanoi, the capital)
  • The Central Dialect (represented during Feudalism by Hue, the former capital)
  • Southern Dialect (represented by Vietnam’s most dynamic region, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon))

There is one very significant note: all Vietnamese are mutually intelligible in these 3 dialects. They vary mostly in the pronunciation of some letters of the alphabet and in a few uses of words. On the scale of Chinese dialects, such as Mandarin and Cantonese or Hokkien, these 3 dialects do not vary.

Below are the main variations between the 3 Vietnamese dialects in pronunciation:

  • Northern Dialect: considered the Vietnamese pronunciation normal, with a strong differentiation in the pronunciation of various tones.
  • Central Dialect: noted because of the emphasis on low tones due to its heaviness.
  • Southern Dialect: don’t generally differentiate between the questioning tone (hook) and the tumbling tone (tilde); certain consonants are also pronounced differently.

Writing Method for Vietnamese

So far, the Vietnamese Writing System has gone through the following three transformational phases:

Ahead of the 13th century

The Vietnamese language existed then only in the spoken form. The writing was classical Chinese, whose indigenous name was Chữ Nho, since, from the 1st to 15th centuries, Vietnam was under Chinese rule several times.

From the 13th century to the 17th,

Invention of Chữ Nôm, which is largely based on Chinese characters but with phonetic elements at that present stage (in spoken form) to make it more suitable for the tones of the Vietnamese language. The fact that Chữ Nôm was practically unintelligible to the Chinese people was also important. During this time, Chữ Nôm was in widespread use, especially for poetry and literature with the masterpiece The Tale of Kieu, written by Nguyễn Du, which until now is still taught in Vietnamese schools. While receiving widespread acceptance, during this time, Chữ Nôm was not Vietnam’s official language; the official writing script was still classical Chinese.

From the 17th century to today,

The joint effort of Catholic missionaries to romanize the Vietnamese language has effectively created the national language, the Romanized writing method called Quốc Ngữ. The achievement was usually credited to Alexandre de Rhodes, a French missionary. In the 19th century, the initial adoption of Quốc Ngữ was not very popular and the script only gained further acceptance as the French colonial government forced the language to replace the Chinese-style Chữ Nôm[6]. And at the beginning of the 20th century, the French colonial government made Quốc Ngữ the official language. Until 1975, slight modifications were made to Quốc Ngữ. Please read this lesson on how to write Vietnamese in order to learn more.

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